Heze Shenhui (Shen-hui) (670-762) seems to have been a man of charismatic presence — an extremely popular public speaker. Weaving spellbinding tales and avoiding tedious theorizing, he inspired followers easily.
Shenhui began his Chan training as a disciple and attendant of Huineng.
Huineng, addressing the community: "I
have some thing which has no head or tail. It is nameless and
can't be described. It has no
back and no front. Do any of you know what it is ?"
Shenhui: "It is the source of all things. It is the buddha nature of Shenhui."
Huineng: "I said that it has no name
and no description. How
can you say it is the source of buddha nature?"
Shenhui bowed and retreated.
Huineng: "In the future if this youngster heads a monastery, it will certainly bring forth fully realized disciples of our school."
In the year 732, at a convocation of Chan worthies , Shenhui declared that the great Chan organizations of China, heretofore beholden to Shenxiu as Sixth Ancestor, were following a false master. With superb audacity, Shenhui went on to spell out a new history of Chan that supported his claims. His revised chronicle culminated with the name of his old teacher Huineng, theretofore an obscure follower of the Fifth Ancestor, Hongren, whom he declared Sixth Ancestor. He insisted that Shenxiu, the man honored by Empress Wu, had posed falsely as the heir of Hongren. The Northern school bf Shenxiu and his heir, Puji (P'u-chi), had perpetrated a historical deceit, said Shenhui, robbing the true Sixth Ancestor, the southerner Huineng, of his due recognition.
For Shenhui to have challenged the hand-picked school of the ruling family was an incredibly courageous act, but through a bizarre turn of events his version of Chan's history became officially accepted. Solely through his persistence, the obscure Southern Chan monk Huineng was installed as Sixth Ancestor in Chan histories (replacing Shenxiu). (One history went so far as to declare Shenhui himself the Seventh Ancestor!)