‘CONFUSION DAWNING AS PRIMORDIAL AWARENESS’: the fourth Dharma, Chinese Zen and the debate on gradual vs instant awakening. ‘Four Dharmas of Gampopa’ by 17th Karmapa (Day 8: Part II)

“Next, is ‘confusion dawning as primordial awareness’, ultimately, when through the power of meditating on all phenomena as free from arising and ceasing, and whatever appears, or is thought, is severed into the essence, that is confusion dawning as primordial awareness.”

– Je Gampopa in ‘Four Dharmas: An Excellent Summary

For Dakini day today, am delighted to offer the second half of the Day 8 teaching by HH 17th Gyalwang Karmapa on the four Dharmas of Gampopa (video here).  The Karmapa concluded the teachings with the last of the four Dharmas of Gampopa: ‘confusion (‘khrul ba) dawning (‘char ba) as primordial awareness (ye she)’ [the oral translator says: ‘confusion arising as wisdom’]. Citing from the Gampopa text (and a commentary by Lho Lhayagpa), the Karmapa explained how there are two ways of ‘confusion dawning as awareness’, the path of secret mantra and the path of the paramitas/Sutra. The path of Sutra is the realization that all cognitions are like dreams and illusions. The path of mantra is the understanding that all confusion and non-confusion are both inseparable from the mind, that: “External apprehended objects and all that appears are not separate from the essence of mind. They must arise as non-dual, unelaborated great bliss.”

The Karmapa then finished the teaching with a discussion of the accusations (including that of Sakya Pandita) against Gampopa of following ‘Chinese Mahayana’, which advocates the possibility of instantaneous awakening (as opposed to a gradual enlightenment via study and practice). He discussed a well-known debate that happened in the 8th Century between Indian pandita Kamalaśīla (pad+ma’i ngang tshul, c. 740-795), an Indian Buddhist of Nalanda Mahavihara who was invited to Tibet at the request of Tibetan King Trisong Detsen) and Khenpo Heshang Moheyan ( 和尚摩訶衍; Héshang Móhēyǎn)[1] a late 8th century Buddhist monk associated with the East Mountain Teachings.  The debate was about whether enlightenment was gradual (rim gyis ‘jug pa) or could be instantaneous (cig car gyi ‘jug pa).  Later, due to Gampopa saying that enlightenment could be the latter, he was also accused of being a Chinese Heshang follower. The Karmapa said this topic was something that needed more research as it was not clear-cut that Moheyan had lost the debate and Gampopa does also assert that awakening can be instantaneous.

Here is a full edited transcript of the final day, second session. May it be of benefit!

Adele Tomlin, 8th January 2021.


“In the second session, I will speak about ‘confusion dawns (‘char ba) as primordial awareness. In Gampopa’s root text, it says:

‘Next, is ‘confusion dawning as primordial awareness’, ultimately, when through the power of meditating on all phenomena as free from arising and ceasing, and whatever appears, or is thought, is severed into the essence, that is confusion dawning as primordial awareness’.

Section of Je Gampopa text on the fourth Dharma
Confusion Dawning as Awareness

Generally, when we say ‘confusion dawns as primordial awareness’ most people explain this as the path of mantra. However, there is a way to express it in both sutra and mantra. In the Great Assembly of Dharma (Tshog Chos Chenmo) of Gampopa: “there are two ways to explain it, the tradition of the paramitas and the tradition of secret mantra. In the tradition of paramita, ‘confusion dawning as primordial awareness’ means that because of the way that relative cognition of confusion is like a dream or an illusion, all that is perceived and all perceivers have never been separate from the very outset. When you realize that the non-dual nature in its essence, does not appear, has no appearances and that the perceiver and perceived have been ‘severed’ and freed from conceptual extremes, that is confusion dawning as primordial awareness.  

According to the secret mantra tradition, ‘confusion dawning as primordial awareness’ means that all confusion and non-confusion are inseparable from your own mind. As they are not separate, they are the nature of mind, the essence of mind, the manifestation of mind. The confused nature is thought-free, clear, empty and unidentifiable, clear, empty and continuous; clear, empty and free of centre, it is naked and unsupported awareness. You must realize this meaning clearly in the ground. This is the co-emergent mind essence, it is the essence of the dharmakaya and co-emergent appearances are the light of the dharmakaya. External apprehended objects and all that appears are not separate from the essence of mind. They must arise as non-dual, unelaborated great bliss. When ‘confusion dawns as primordial awareness’, in sum, the path is the way of dualistic appearances and subject-object disappearing within the meditative equipoise, and seeing the ultimate nature directly. Then, in the post-meditation, without that awareness becoming lax, you see all appearances as like dreams and illusions.

So, in the secret mantra, all ‘confusion dawns as awareness’ though the unadulterated luminous mind (nyugmai osel) itself. Then, through the stages of light of increase and attainment, they dissolve into that unadulterated luminous mind itself. Or through that itself, they merely become manifest and all confusion ceases on its own. So here, at this point, the actual way confusion dawns as awareness in the secret mantra context, needs to be spoken about in connection to mahamudra.  The reason for this, as it says in Lho Lhayagpa’s commentary on the four Dharmas is:

 “Generally, when meditating on the specific Mahayana Path, all the adventitious stains and confusions are not regarded as something to discard; they can be made to manifest/dawn as primordial awareness. In particular, on this path of direct realization, all confusion is unobservable by nature. By the power of the play of the primordial awareness (ye shes) of blessings, they are realized in an instant. Thus, these are the sacred instructions on the 4th Dharma, confusion dawning as awareness.”

So, primarily when we talk about ‘confusion dawning as awareness’ on the path of secret mantra, it is mainly about joining it with the practice of mahamudra.

Three paths: Inference, blessing and direct manifestation
Je Gampopa with 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa

“Generally, there are various ways and methods of how to manifest the actual nature of reality, primordial awareness on both the causal and resultant vehicles.  What did Je Gampopa say about this? In his Dialogues with Dusum Khyenpa, he says there are three paths: taking inference as path, blessings as the path and direct manifestation as the path. In the context of paramitas and sutra, the meaning of the nature of reality (chos nyid) itself, in the context of sutra, is realised gradually though reasoning, evidence and inference.  In the context of mantra, it is in dependence on the blessings and power via the practice of deity yoga, winds and channels, that it is quickly realized.  In the context of mahamudra, it is in dependence on the unique method given by unmistaken instructions of the exalted guru, that the luminous primordial mind is introduced and recognized. So, there are various methods on the path.

There are also two types of individuals who enter onto the three paths, in the root text Gampopa says one is the gradualist, the other is the simultaneist[2]: ‘The simultaneist [one who asserts that awakening can be instantaneous] is one who has trained and has very shallow imprints of the impediments and deep imprints of the Dharma. This is extremely difficult.  I consider myself, Gampopa as a gradualist. There are two stages of the simultaneist.’ 

Section in Je Gampopa’s text on the ‘gradual’ and ‘instantaneous’ approaches to awakening

It is not someone who doesn’t need to train in this lifetime, but someone who had deep imprints from prior training in prior lifetimes. Some people think this means someone who in this life does not need to study or train at all and didn’t in prior lifetimes either. That is mistaken.

Sakya Pandita (1182–1251)

“In all scriptures, the most well known is the method of training by entering the three stages or the three types of individual of the gradual stages of the path in progressive order. This kind of approach is well-known and accepted in Tibet, but also there are many scholars and practitioners who criticized and blocked this idea of Gampopa and Dagpo Kagyu of an instantaneous awakening. The most famous of those who criticised the instantaneous approach and gave many objections to the Kagyu is Sakya Pandita (Sa-skya Paṇḍita Kun-dga’ Rgyal-mtshan, 1182–1251). In his Exposition on the Three Vows (Dom Sum Rabne) he gave many criticisms and rebuttals. One criticism is how one trains on the path:

“The present Mahamudra and Dzogchen of the Chinese tradition, going from top to bottom and bottom to top, other than giving them the names of instant and gradual, there is no difference in the meaning. So, the Dagpo Kagyu who say there is a difference between those of the simultaneist and gradualist, are following the Chinese traditions.’

Among these rebuttals, Sakya Trizin speaks about the ‘Chinese Dzogchen’, I am not aware of any Chinese Dzogchen, he is probably talking about the Zen tradition, and that is what they also call the Chinese Heshang. What such people mean to say is it came from the Chinese. The word ‘Heshang’ actually means Khenpo or Abbot, the person who gives the vows[3]. (The Karmapa explained that these days, when one says Khenpo it has become a level of scholarly achievement, but here it means someone who gives ordination. It can also be used to refer to all monks. For example, there is the word lama, but in general one doesn’t say lama for all monastics in Tibet. However, outside of Tibet one calls them lamas.)

The debate on instantaneous vs gradual enlightenment – was there a clear-cut ‘winner’?
Heshang Moheyan

The Karmapa then went on to discuss the famous 8th Century debate held in Tibet between Indian pandita, Kamalashila and the Chinese monk, Moheyan[4] and how Je Gampopa was subsequently also accused by some of being a follower of this approach, due to his teachings on the four Dharmas[5].

“In 786 A.D, the Tibetan emperor, Trisong Detsen, invited Khenpo Moheyan to Lhasa, Tibet. Kamalasila and other Indian scholars, said there was a controversial dispute between themselves and Moheyan. The Indian scholars said the Chinese explanations did not match the teachings of the Buddha and there was that controversy. This is called in Chinese, tun-men and chien-men in Tibetan history. If we translate these words, they mean gradual and instantaneous. Most of Tibetan histories, out of about ninety texts, say that Moheyan lost the debate and the Heshang view was not allowed to spread in Tibet[6]. That is why they also said that Dagpo Kagyu are followers of Heshang and that they spent many years wearing black hats teaching that.[7]

Chinese text from Dunhuang on the famous 8th Century Debate

There are many texts from Dunhang during the time of the Tibetan emperors, one text was written in 794, which was the same year that this famous debate was resolved. There are two manuscripts, one has been preserved in a library in Paris, France (see images below)[8] and another one in the British library[9]. There is an introduction in that manuscript that says the King Trisong Detsen, invited three Chinese masters including Khenpo Moheyan and thirty Indian Brahmins. This was when the Queen of Tibet took monastic vows and the person who gave the vows to her was Khenpo Moheyan. The following year, the Indian masters said the Heshang (Khenpo) view did not match the view of Buddha’s words and they requested the Emperor to have a debate and discussion with the Indian master. He agreed to that. So then Moheyan and the Indian masters had a long discussion over the course of two to three years, they had so much discussion they were unable to defeat Hashang and when they couldn’t defeat him, the Indian panditas then gathered the texts together and considered it as if he had been defeated. However, from the Hashang Moheyan perspective, he had many Buddhist texts supporting him during the debate and because  of that the Indians were afraid and did not know what to so. Then, in the Dog year, of the 15th day of the first month, the Emperor made an announcement and spread it among the monastics and everyone: He said that the Hashang fits with the Buddha’s words, there is no mistake there, and so you cannot stop it; everyone should respect it, and if anyone wants to practice it they may. Following that, there is a list of the topics they discussed.  The text that is stated in, is in Chinese. I saw that someone has translated it into Tibetan and I have translated the introduction of it into Tibetan[10].

Photos of the Chinese text found in Dunhuang that refers to the Moheyan debate

And so this is the instruction, and then following that later there is a list of all the topics and all the points of their discussions. And this is the text that we definitely have to examine. We have to research. But this text is in Chinese. I’ve seen that someone from Tibet has translated it into Tibetan, and I have translated the introduction into Tibetan. Not only is there that text, there is also the Index from the time of the emperor.

Not only that, there is the Index of Dharma texts compiled by the Emperor. In this index, there are many Chinese Zen tradition texts, probably around 10 000 around the time of the Tibetan emperors. So this is an index of dharma texts, it’s also called the Great Index. So there are three different indexes or codices compiled at that time. In any case in this index there are many tradition texts from the Chinese Zen tradition – probably ten thousand, but I haven’t listed it. It is from the time of the Tibetan empress, Trisong Detsen did allow it; there is that index. Likewise also Nubchen Sangye Yeshe – I am not exactly certain when he was born – but it seems that he probably was at the time of Trisong Detsen, and some people say that he was later. In any case, this is an old text that says the distinction between those of sharp and dull faculties are those of instantaneous and gradual, and they cite Kamalashila. Then, the last is that of the Heshang Mahayana texts, the complete scriptures. They say that is the Zen tradition that was passed down from Bodhidharma.

The Chinese Zen tradition – Indian origin and Southern and Northern traditions
Chinese painting of famous Indian master, Bodhidharma

“This tradition has both the provisional and definitive meanings. The Chinese Zen tradition, first originated in India, is not at all something that was invented by the Chinese. It was spread in China by the Indian master, Bodhidharma[11] who took as his primary sources, the Lankavatara Sutra and the teachings of the final turning of the wheel of Dharma. Then there was the sixth patriarch Huineng, also recognised some sutras of the middle wheel turning of Dharma. The sixth Patriarch was illiterate but had a natural faith in Prajnaparamita and only relied on pith instructions and his tradition is called Southern Tradition[12]. There is also another Shenhui also became well known and learned  but as these teachings were given to Huineng, he went North and his is called the Northern tradition[13]. So, when they mean gradual path they mean someone who has studied and eliminated confusion gradually. Instantaneous path means those who do not rely on texts and study, but realize it directly. However, it is not true that all those in the Chinese tradition are simultaneists[14]. There is also another Chinese tradition, the ‘tiantai’ tradition, of the White Lotus Sutra of the potential of the Bodhisattva arising simultaneously. Those who had not yet given rise to it were of the gradual approach.

Dajian Huineng, also commonly known as the Sixth Patriarch or Sixth Ancestor of Chan, is a semi-legendary but central figure in the early history of Chinese Chan Buddhism (638 – 713 AD).

The term Heshang as the name of the lineage and view is wrong. It is not a person, the lineage is the Chinese Zen tradition. It is the view of that tradition, not that of a single person. These days, Zen is spread all over the world. If we were to say that is all wrong view that would be difficult. However, in Tibet, it was an isolated country and then, we made a big noise about it being wrong[15]. Now we need to say things that people can accept. If we continue to say things we used to say in the old times. then it will be difficult to get along with other people. In Tibet, people follow people’s hearsay, there are very few who do their own independent research. So, if someone made a mistake in their explanation, then all their followers will have the same mistaken view. However, you cannot just follow others’ hearsay. You need to examine and use your own intelligence and check if what is asserted in the Tibetan tradition is true or not.

Thus, there is gradual and instantaneous approaches, and the four yogas in Kagyu (which they say is not in Kangyur but in Tengyur) and so on, however there is no time to explain these now. In the future, I would like to explain more about these. Generally, I have done as much as I could to give the best teachings I could during this Annual Debate, but I do not think that it turned out a hundred percent as I wanted it, but basically in order not to break the cycle of interdependence, and so as not to disappoint you, I think I have taught enough to do that.

[HH also added at the end of the teaching, that over the last two years he had more courage and pride in the Kagyu teachings, and that whatever good or bad things happen, we should have courage when it comes to benefiting beings and the teachings. The Karmapa stated that he felt it was important to have a long life these days and that he may be able to do something that is beneficial for beings and teachings and so had an aspiration to live long. He thanked people for doing many prayers as requested for his ‘obstacle year’; and that only point of living long was if one could benefit beings and the teachings:

“When I look out generally I do not have the qualities of abandonment and realization as the great masters of the Practice Lineage of the past did, but now in this degenerate time, in particular at a time when the Kagyu teachings are in a difficult situation, I feel a bit of enthusiasm or determination about that. Particularly, for the past couple of years, the feeling that I had is: I think perhaps I am going to live for a long time; I thought this. Now I never had this thought much before, but I do see a few reasons. If I can do something for the beings and the teachings this isn’t a question of my own capacity but it is a sense of if I get the opportunity I can do it. To say someone else is going to do it, and to hope someone else will do it, is not going to work. In particular, for the future there are the masters and the great Kagyu Rinpoches who can do this now but if we all get old and leave, this will be difficult. So no matter what difficulties or hardships are happening, I think if I should take it on myself, I feel courage to do this. I decided maybe I should live for a long time. Of course, I can’t say how long I will live but I do have the resolve to live a long life. That’s the feeling I have in my mind. This year is my obstacle year but all the monasteries and nunneries have really done a lot of pujas on my behalf, you have done them very well, and I thank you very much, that is very kind of you. All of you are making the aspirations, and as I have just mentioned, if I can stay and do something to benefit the beings and the teachings, then I have that aspiration and idea. However, the main thing, the most important thing, is that I can do that for a long lifetime. I have read many life stories and many masters didn’t live very long. Thus, no matter how many qualities of being learned, venerable and good they had, since they didn’t live a long time, not much came of it. So, I decided that I should stay here and live long. So all of you please pray that this may come to pass.”

Written and edited by Adele Tomlin, 8th January 2021. Based on the original Tibetan (and English translation by David Karma Chophel).

Further Reading/Bibliography

Barber, A. W. (1990), “The Unifying of Rdzogs Pa Chen Po and Ch’an”, Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal, 3, retrieved November 30, 2007

Broughton, Jeffrey (1983), “Early Ch’an Schools in Tibet”, in Gimello, Robert M.; Gregory, Peter N. (eds.), Studies in Ch’an and Hua-yen, University of Hawaii Press.

Dumoulin, Heinrich (author); Heisig, James W. (trans.) & Knitter, Paul (trans.) (1988). Zen Buddhism: A History. Volume 1 India and China. New York, N.Y.: Macmillan Publishing Company. (2 vol. set; paper).

Gōmez, Luis O (1983), “The Direct and the Gradual Approaches of Zen Master Mahayana: Fragments of the Teachings of Mo-ho-yen in Studies in Ch’an and Hua-yen”, in Gimello, Robert M.; Gregory, Peter N. (eds.), Studies in Ch’an and Hua-yen, University of Hawaii Press.

Hanson-Barber, A.W. (1985), “‘No-Thought’ in Pao-T’ang Ch’an and Early Ati-Yoga”, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 8 (2): 61–73.

Powers, John (2004), History as Propaganda: Tibetan Exiles versus the People’s Republic of China, Oxford University Press.

Ray, Gary L. (2005), The Northern Ch’an School and Sudden Versus Gradual Enlightenment Debates in China and Tibet.

Schaik, Sam van (2007), The Great Perfection and the Chinese Monk: rNyingmapa defences of Hwashang Mahāyāna in the Eighteenth Century, see: The Great Perfection and the Chinese Monk: Nyingmapa Defenses of Hashang Mahāyāna | early Tibet

Schaik, Sam van (2010), Tibetan Chan IV: The Great Debate | early Tibet

Schrempf, Mona (2006), “Hwa shang at the Border: Transformations of History and Reconstructions of Identity in Modern A mdo”, JIATS, 2: 1–32.

Seyfort Ruegg, D.S. 1989. Buddha-nature, Mind and the Problem of Gradualism. London: SOAS.

Seyfort Ruegg, D.S. 1992. ‘On the Historiography and Doxography of the ‘Great Debate of bSam yas”, Ihara, Shoren (ed.), Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 5th Seminar of the International Associaton for Tibetan Studies (Narita 1989). Tokyo: Naritisan Shinshoji.

Yamaguchi, Zuihō (1997), “The Core Elements of Indian Buddhism Introduced into Tibet”, in Hubbard, Jamie; Swanson, Paul L. (eds.), Pruning the Bodhi Tree: The Storm over Critical Buddhism, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Northern/Southern Schools (thezensite.com)


[1] Moheyan (摩訶衍) is said to be a brief translation of Mahayana in Chinese, so the name literally means a Mahayana monk.

[2] I am using the terms Sam Van Schaik uses to describe the two types of approach/people. However, the word ‘instantaneous’ is the best translation of the view of that tradition.

[3] Hashang is a Tibetan approximation of the Chinese héshang “Buddhist monk (和尚). This, in turn, is said to come from the Sanskrit title upādhyāya “teacher”.

[4] Moheyan was said to have been sent by Emperor T’ai-tsung of China with an elegently worded letter to invite the Sixteen Arhats to China. He accompanied them as they travelled to China where they observed the three Months’ Rains Retreat and taught extensively from the three pitakas, the three collections or ‘baskets’ into which the Word of the Buddha is divided.

[5] It was not just Gampopa accused of this. According Gomez (1983) The teachings of Moheyan and other Chan masters were also said to have been unified with the Kham Dzogchen (“Great Perfection”) lineages through the Kunkhyen (Tibetan for “omniscient”), Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo. The Dzogchen of the Nyingma was often identified with the subitist (“sudden enlightenment”)of Moheyan, and was called to defend itself against this charge by avowed members of the Sarma lineages that held to the staunch view of “gradual enlightenment”

[6] Van Schaik (2010) states that: “The classic account of the debate and the source for all later Tibetan historians, is the Testament of Ba. And this, even in the earliest form available to us, is clearly not a disinterested account. It gives the proponent of the Chinese view a brief paragraph to defend his position, followed by pages and pages of the proponents of the Indian view. And most of the refutation of the Chinese approach is spoken by a Tibetan nobleman from the Ba clan. But hang on, isn’t the Testament of Ba all about the Ba clan? Well, it certainly seems to have been put together by people from that clan, and it certainly places the Ba clan in the middle of the action in the story of how Buddhism came to Tibet.”

[7] As Sam Van Schaik (2007) writes: “For Tibetan scholars of later generations, Hashang Mahāyāna came to be an emblem for a particular kind of erroneous doctrine, the belief in an simultaneous realisation caused by the mere cessation of concepts (mi rtog pa or mi bsam pa), which became a standard object of rebuttal. Later, Hashang’s defeat was put to polemical use against certain Tibetan practice traditions, in particular the Mahāmudrā (phyag chen) of the bKa’ brgyud school and the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen) of the Nyingma school.[5] The Great Perfection’s teachings on technique free meditation were subject to accusations of being no more than the simultaneous method of Hashang. Nyingma scholars were often forced to defend the validity of the Great Perfection against this accusation in polemical texts. The following passage by Khedrupjé (1385-1438) is a good example of the kind of criticisms levelled against Nyingma practitioners:

Many who hold themselves to be meditators of the Snow mountains [of Tibet] talk, in exalted cryptic terms, of theory free from all affirmation, of meditative realisation free from all mentation, of [philosophical] practice free from all denial and assertion and of a fruit free from all wishes and qualms. And they imagine that understanding is born in the conscious stream when – because in a state where there is no mentation about anything at all there arises something like non-identification of anything at all – one thinks that there exists nothing that is either identical or different. By so doing one has proclaimed great nihilism where there is nothing to be affirmed according to a doctrinal system of one’s own, as well as the thesis of the Hashang in which nothing can be the object of mentation.”

[8] See: Aperçu de l’objet (bnf.fr)

[9] Most of what is known of Moheyan’s teaching comes from fragments of writings in Chinese and Tibetan found in the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang (now in Gansu, China). The manuscript given the appellation IOL Tib J 709 is a collection of nine Chan texts, commencing with the teachings of Moheyan.

[10] Van Schaik (2010) states that:”There’s a Chinese manuscript from Dunhuang (Pelliot chinois 4646) that tells another debate story. As in Testament of Ba, the Chinese side is represented by the Chinese monk Moheyan, but the proponents of the other view are only mentioned as “Brahmin monks.” This manuscript also talks about “discussions” by letter over several months, rather than a staged debate. And the biggest difference is that it ends with the Tibetan emperor giving his seal of approval to the Chinese teaching:

The Chan doctrine taught by Mahayana is a fully-justified development based on the text of the sutras; it is without error. From now on the monks and laity are permitted to practise and train in it under this edict.

But what is most relevant to us is that it mentions that Moheyan was invited by one of Tri Song Detsen’s queens, the one from the Dro clan. The Chinese author of the text makes this quite clear.”

[11] Bodhidharma was a semi-legendary Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th or 6th century. He is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Chan Buddhism to China, and regarded as its first Chinese patriarch. According to Chinese legend, he also began the physical training of the monks of Shaolin Monastery that led to the creation of Shaolin kungfu. See also: Who Was Bodhidharma? – Lion’s Roar

[12] According to some sources: “Originally Shenxiu was considered to be the “Sixth Patriarch”, carrying the mantle of Bodhidharma’s Zen through the East Mountain School. After the death of Shenxiu, his student Shenhui started a campaign to establish Huineng as the Sixth Ancestor. Eventually Shenhui’s position won the day, and Huineng was recognized as the Sixth Patriarch. The successful promulgation of Shenhui’s views led to Shenxiu’s branch being widely referred to by others as the “Northern School.” This nomenclature has continued in western scholarship, which for the most part has largely viewed Chinese Zen through the lens of southern Chan.”

[13] Broughton (1983: 9) identifies the Chinese and Tibetan terms for Mohoyen’s teachings and identifies them principally with the Northern [East Mountain] Teachings:

“Mo-ho-yen’s teaching in Tibet as the famed proponent of the all-at-once gate can be summarized as “gazing-at-mind” ([Chinese:] k’an-hsin, [Tibetan:] sems la bltas) and “no examining” ([Chinese:] pu-kuan, [Tibetan:] myi rtog pa) or “no-thought no-examining” ([Chinese:] pu-ssu pu-kuan, [Tibetan:] myi bsam myi rtog). “Gazing-at-mind” is an original Northern (or East Mountain Dharma Gate) teaching. As will become clear, Poa-t’ang and the Northern Ch’an dovetail in the Tibetan sources. Mo-ho-yen’s teaching seems typical of late Northern Ch’an.”

[14] According to Dumoulin (1988: 107), the basic difference between the Northern and Southern traditions are between approaches. Shenhui characterised the Northern School as employing gradual teachings, while his Southern school employed sudden teachings: “suddenness of the South, gradualness of the North” (Chinese: nan-tun bei qian).”

However, Dumoulin also asserts that the characterization of Shenxiu’s East Mountain Teaching as gradualist is unfounded in light of the documents found amongst Dunhuang manuscripts recovered from the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang.Shenhui’s Southern School incorporated Northern teachings as well, and Shenhui himself admittedly saw the need of further practice after initial awakening.

[15] Van Schaik (2010) asserts that it was tribal clans competing for power and so on, that led to such a division in Tibet regarding this debate: “So where does the story of the debate fit into this? Obviously it puts the representatives of the Ba clan at the side of the greatest Buddhist emperor. It may also be a not-so-subtle attack on another major clan, the Dro, the clan that most frequently crops up in the Ba clan’s power struggles. And as the empire began to fall apart the first  civil war was between the governor of Tibet’s northeastern territories (who was from the Dro clan) and a general who wanted to set himself up as a local warlord (from the Ba clan). The governor sided with the new Chinese power in the region, and the general was, after committing some appalling brutalities, eventually executed. For more about this see here and here.”

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