Northern and Southern Chan and the Nature of "Mind"

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As you will see in the next lesson, it was Shenhui's championing of the Southern "school" of Chan and Huineng's place in Chan history more than anything else which not only led to the ascendancy of the Southern school but also affected what records of Chinese Zen were preserved and passed on. Before we look at the results of this "victory," let's look at the two "schools" and what they represented. This historical look is not irrelevant today, as you will see, for the "gradual" and "sudden" methods are still debated today.

As well, in looking at the two approaches we can explore the various views on the role of mind, for we shall see that the concept of mind is central to Zen but how mind is understood varies significantly.

As Shenxiu wrote in his Treatise of Perfect Illumination:

Only the single factor of contemplating the mind which completely encompasses all practice is quintessential [to enlightenment]. . . Of all things, the mind is fundamental; all phenomena are simply products of the mind. Therefore know that all good and evil arises from your own mind. To seek Enlightenment somewhere outside of the mind is an utter impossibility.