In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Linji and the Linjilu

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works and Dictionaries for Reading the LJL
  • Editions
  • Themes
  • The “Crazy Trickster” Puhua
  • Linji Chan of the Song and Yuan Dynasties
  • The “Zen-Thought” (Zen shisō禅思想) Approach to the LJL and Chan/Zen

Buddhism Linji and the Linjilu
Jeffrey L. Broughton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0185


The Zhenzhou Linji Huizhao chanshi yulu 鎮州臨濟慧照禪師語錄 (Record of the Sayings of Chan Master Linji Huizhao of Zhenzhou), long known in Japan as “the king of the recorded-sayings books” (goroku no ō語録の王), is one of the most prominent works in all Chinese Chan literature. This hauntingly beautiful text—filled with poetic wordplay and ambiguity—showcases an indelibly memorable character, the Master Linji. He is renowned for the shout, the whack of the rattan stick, and the declaration that the sutras are “toilet paper.” The Linjilu 臨濟錄 (hereafter LJL) consists of a record of Master Linji’s formal convocations; addresses of the Master to his gathered monks; radiant sketches in which the participants “calibrate and adjudicate” (kanbian 勘辨) each other’s level of beholding reality as it truly is; further sketches of episodes in the master’s career; and his biographical inscription. The trend in Chan studies has been toward emphasizing the Linji of the LJL as a literary image, and it seems clear that the “scriptwriters” behind the LJL heightened, omitted, changed, engaged in appropriation, and, in some cases, simply made things up. Many discrete modules of the LJL consist of “carefully scripted playlets,” that is, Linji is depicted in a series of strategically framed vignettes and discourses. The bold Linji imago of these playlets dances about in the imagination of later Chan/Zen masters. In recent scholarship, the historicity of Linji Yixuan 臨濟義玄 (d. 866/867), a provincial Chan teacher, has taken a back seat. Though he was of the late Tang, and our earliest LJL fragments date to the Five Dynasties period (the Record of the Patriarchal Hall/Zutangji 祖堂集of 952), the LJL is, in terms of language patterns (heavy use of vernacular) and organization of materials (into sections such as “Calibrating and Adjudicating” and “Record of the Karma of the Master’s Career”), a Song-style Chan record. The earliest complete version, a Linji entry embedded in a much longer work, and the freestanding “standard” version of Yuanjue Zongyan圓覺宗演 both date to the Northern Song (1036 and 1120, respectively). In the late 10th and early 11th centuries, Chan masters claiming descent from Linji and powerful literati worked in tandem at court to make Linji Chan into Chan orthodoxy. The Song Linji master Dahui Zonggao (大慧宗杲; b. 1089–d. 1163) contributed to Linji Chan an effective method of practice called kan ge huatou 看箇話頭 (keeping your eye on the huatou). That sort of Linji Chan became widespread. The state-sponsored “Five-Mountains” Chan of the Southern Song was heavily Linji in its orientation. Most abbots of the Five Mountains and Ten Monasteries were of the Linji school.

General Overviews

The place to begin the study of the Linji and the LJL is Welter 2008, an attempt to describe the process of yulu 語錄 (recorded sayings) formation in the Chan tradition, using the LJL as a test case. The “Historical Introduction” by Yanagida Seizan in Sasaki and Kirchner 2009, though outdated now, is still useful as a preliminary foray into Linji and the LJL. Yanagida 1972 is an English translation of a historical essay on Linji and the LJL originally prepared in Japanese as a draft for the “Historical Introduction” in Sasaki and Kirchner 2009; Yanagida 1971 in Japanese covers some of the same ground. Rikukawa 1949 is a detailed study of the biography of Linji, showing the emphasis on the historical Linji in older scholarship. The best up-to-date overview of Linji Chan in Song, Yuan, and Ming China is contained in Tanaka 2006, an excellent handbook of Chan studies that reviews the best of Japanese scholarship.

  • Rikukawa Taiun. Rinzai oyobi Rinzairoku no kenkyū. Nagano-ken, Okatani-shi: Kikuya shoten, 1949.

    An attempt at a comprehensive historiographical treatment of Linji, which is no longer in fashion.

  • Sasaki, Ruth Fuller, and Thomas Yūhō Kirchner. The Record of Linji. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2009.

    Yanagida declined to revise the “Historical Introduction.” Kirchner states (p. xxiv) that Yanagida felt that the original possessed “its own unique historical value as a work of the times.”

  • Tanaka Ryōshō. Zengaku kenkyū nyūmon. Tokyo: Daitō shuppansha, 2006.

    The essay on “Song-Period Chan” by Ishii Shūdō is useful for gaining an overview of Chan during the Song, the period during which the Linji School became the mainstream.

  • Welter, Albert. The Linji lu and the Creation of Chan Orthodoxy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195329575.001.0001

    In this first book-length study of Linji and the LJL, Welter “analyzes the forces that determined Linji’s image and demonstrates how these forces shaped the way that Linji’s teachings would come to be remembered” (p. 9). He argues that evolving notions of orthodoxy played a major role in creating the “Linji” we know.

  • Yanagida Seizan. Rinzai nōto. Tokyo: Shunjūsha, 1971.

    Consists of jottings on Linji and his book; focuses on his “human Buddhism.”

  • Yanagida Seizan. “The Life of Lin-chi I-hsüan.” The Eastern Buddhist 5.2 (1972): 70–94.

    Written originally in Japanese as preparation for the introduction to the LJL English translation being worked on by Sasaki’s research group.

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