The Hekigan-roku or Blue Cliff Record was composed by two of the greatest Zen ancestors, and they never knew one another, living in China 100 years apart. Hseueh-tou (Jp. Setcho, 980-1052), a successor in the Unmon School, gathered 100 brief excerpts from the biographies of Zen master teachers. These “cases” bring us into the lives of these ancestors, showing their interactions with their communities and individual students. Hseueh-tou wrote a verse for each case and left us his succinct, acerbic, most often humorous comments on aspects of each case and on his verses. These are called in Japanese, jakugo or “capping phrases.”
Yuan-wu (Jp. Engo, 1063-1135), a successor in the Rinzai School, studied Hsueh-tou’s work assiduously and after decades he gave talks to his community on the 100 cases. Afterward, for each case, he composed an introduction and two commentaries, one on the case itself and the other on the verse. He had delivered these talks on Mt. Chia in modern-day Hunan Province at a temple named in Chinese, Blue Cliff. Hence, the combined volume gained its name and great esteem. Dogen Zenji spent his final night in China before returning to Japan copying this text. Dogen Zenji spent his final night in China before returning to Japan copying this text. 400 years later, Hakuuin Zenji wrote a 900-page commentary on the Blue Cliff Record.
After four decades of studying this text and two decades of teaching it to senior students, Genki felt an urge to speak with Hseuh-tou and Yuan-wu himself. Afterward, wash your eyes and ears out well, if you were foolish enough to bend down and listen.
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