Zhenzhou Pǔhuà

A modern depiction of the folkloric Puhua ringing his hand-bell, by artist John Singer c. 2001.
Religion Buddhism
School Mahayana
Lineage Chán (Zen)
Sect Linji (Rinzai),
"Sudden Enlightenment" school
Order Puhua (Fuke)
(Note: Puhua is considered, or at least fabled to have most likely founded "Pǔhuà zōng" or the eponymic Fuke-shū sect, historically speaking. While he tends to be revered as the lineage's forefather, other theories abound. — See article for details.)
Monastic name P'u Hua Chán Shih
Nationality Tang Chinese
Born 770
China (Tang Dynasty)
Died Ambiguous (840 or 860)
– {see below}
China (T.D.)
Senior posting
Predecessor Panshan Baoji
Successor Debatable/Ambiguous:
Ennin or
Zhang Bai
Rank 1st 'Patriarch' of Fuke Zen
Religious career
Teacher Panshan Baoji, Linji Yixuan
Students Ennin, Zhang Bai
Profession Zen mendicant, Zen master, religious leader
Part of a series on
The Five Houses
Caodong / Sōtō
Linji / Rinzai
Fayan / Hōgen
Guiyang / Igyō
Yunmen / Unmon
Doctrine and practice
Sitting meditation
Group meditation
Dharma transmission
Kōan practice
Principal texts
Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra
Diamond Sūtra
Heart Sūtra
Śūraṅgama Sūtra
Platform Sūtra
Kōan collections
Mahāyāna Buddhism
Outline of Buddhism
view · Ch. traditional: 鎮州普化, simplified: 普化, pinyin: Zhenzhou Pǔhuà; Ja. rōmaji: Jinshu Fukeca. 770-840 or 860 {see below}), [1][2] referred to honorably as P'u Hua Chán Shih (J. Fuke-zenji or Fuke Zenshi; lit. "Chán Master Puhua" or "Zen Master Fuke", respectively), was a Chinese Chán (J. Zen) oshō, bhikku-priest, shramana and eccentric, considered both an important and at the same time obscure figure in the lineage of Chán Buddhism. He is perhaps best known for his alleged role as the traditional antecedent, at least in philosophical terms, of the former Fuke Zen (J. 普化禪 Fuke-shū) or Hotto-ha sect, or sub-sect, of Japanese Buddhism – formally established in the 13th century by the monk Kakushin.

The few records of Puhua's life and affairs are those accounted, if only briefly, in several East Asian religious or historical references: namely the Tang Dynasty Record of Linji (Linji lu), as well as the Japanese Kyotaku Denki and, more recently, the Monumenta Nipponica. He is also mentioned in some of the writings of Osho, along with later publications concerning the Fuke-shū.

Consequently, the existence of Fuke-zenji borders on myth, lore or legend as a culturally and spiritually-memorable figure in the history of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, and Zen generally.



There is much open to speculation and further understanding concerning Puhua's life; it isn't fully determined whether he was a real individual or mythical, whose existence was simply fabricated by the order of Fuke monks in Japan as a means to garner shogunate support for their sect. Mostly drawn into question is the legitimacy of Kyotaku Denki (also called the Kyotaku Denki Kokujikai (虚鐸伝記国字解), in English The Legend of the Empty Bell), from which most of Puhua's chronology is derived. The text was purportedly written some time in either the 1640s or, by contrast, 1795 by the writer Yamamoto Morihide. Many scholars consider it a forgery of sorts, its contents dubious at best.

Puhua was known for absurd personality and character, as well as personal interactions with prominent Chán patriarchs in China, and most notably his peculiar, indistinct and yet essential connection to the origin of the Fuke school (in Chinese rendered literally as Pǔhuà zōng).

It is naturally to Puhua (or in this case, transliterated to the Japanese Fuke) that the Fuke school owes its namesake; and historically he is referred to as the order's founder. However Fuke Zen's most notable and unique characteristics (many more of which are still considered ill-defined or unknown), such as the development and practice of suizen (吹禅?, "blowing zen" or "blowing meditation") with the shakuhachi (尺八?, pronounced [ɕakɯhatɕi]) or – in some cases known as the kyotaku and/or hotchiku (法竹?)bamboo flute[s], and the school's mendicant adherents called komusō, are seemingly unrelated to the life of the monk, as it is known.

While much of the information regarding Puhua's connection to the komusō is most-certainly scarce, he is inextricably linked to the rise of the sect in the Kamakura period of Japan's history – if not merely its ideological basis – despite the fact that accounts place him in China several centuries earlier.

Life and lineage

Born in Tang Dynasty China in the year 770, Puhua lived, at least according to the Kyotaku Denki, in the Chen province town of "Chenchou" or "Zhenzhou" (hence his namesake), which was likely either located in the modern-day provinces of Henan or Hunan. It is possible that this locality can be equated with the current city of Chenzhou, if Puhua indeed resided in the latter provincial area.

He was a known contemporary of Linji Yixuan (临济义玄; pinyin: Línjì Yìxuán; J. Rinzai Gigen; 800866) and a late disciple of the eponymous Linji/Rinzai lineage. The relationship between Linji and Puhua – while indefinite – is important in that a minority of scholars argue that Fuke Zen's beginnings lie not with Puhua, but rather as an alternative to the Rinzai school Linji transmitted himself, alongside it. In any case, the school was considered even by its own members to have either been majorly influenced by or an offshoot of the Rinzai sect.

That aside, Puhua is traditionally regarded as one of the most prominent students of his master, shīfu Panshan Baoji (J. rōshi Banzan Hoshaku), himself a student of Mazu, a Patriarch in the line of Dharma transmission from the ambiguous and vague "Sudden Enlightenment" (頓教) southern Chán [proto-]school originating with the sixth and final Patriarch of Chán, Huineng.

Most of the details regarding Puhua's affairs are recorded in the Record of Linji (perhaps furthering the concept of a Yixuan-originated sect), where he is presented (albeit briefly) as Panshan's chief student. Under Panshan, he had a rather notorious reputation as a multi-talented Zen ascetic who was at once inventive, innovative and often absurdly spontaneous, as well as rough and uncompromising in the way he expressed himself. The monk was well-known for typically acting in such a strange or outlandish manner, considered by some his method of communicating nonverbally to others [on] the experiential basis of an ineffable nature inherent in all things. (A notably Zen approach to enlightenment, elucidated as Bodhidharma's (J. Daruma) "transmission outside the scriptures, not founded upon words or letters", which is clearly apparent in the koans as well.)

One story of Puhua particularly demonstrates this:

When Panshan Baoji was near death, he said to the monks, "Is there anyone among you who can draw my likeness?"

Many of the monks made drawings for Panshan, but none were to his liking.

The monk Puhua stepped forward and said, "I can draw it."

Panshan said, "Why don't you show it to me?"

Puhua then turned a somersault and went out.

Panshan said, "Someday, that fellow will teach others in a crazy manner!"

Many stories about Puhua that appear in the Record add to his reputation of having a bizarre and even shocking manner of expressing the dharma. For example:

44.a. One day the master (Linji Yixuan) and Puhua went to a vegetarian banquet given them by a believer. During it, the master asked Puhua: "'A hair swallows the vast ocean, a mustard seed contains Mt. Sumeru' – does this happen by means of supernatural powers, or is the whole body (substance, essence) like this?" Puhua kicked over the table. The master said: "Rough fellow." Puhua retorted: "What place is this here to speak of rough and refined?"

b. The next day, they went again to a vegetarian banquet. During it, the master asked: "Today's fare, how does it compare with yesterday's?" Puhua (as before) kicked over the table. The master said: "Understand it you do – but still, you are a rough fellow." Puhua replied: "Blind fellow, does one preach of any roughness or finesse in the Buddha-Dharma?" The master stuck out his tongue.

There is some controversy as to the degree and nature of his musical talents (as per a connection to the Fuke school's practice of suizen), but his followers would often reflect on a certain story for inspiration: the story describes Puhua going through his hometown, ringing a bell to summon others to Enlightenment. The same, for many Fuke practitioners, applied to the shakuhachi, and its mastery was seen as a path to the realization of unconditioned existence.


The passing of Puhua is recounted in the Record[when?]. In addition to giving a special importance to Puhua's ringing bell, it is particularly striking as a story of Buddhic resurrection that equals the famous resurrection story of Bodhidharma who, as was previously touched upon, was the Indian master who brought the Ekayana school from India to China, which became the Chan sect of Buddhism. The story:[3]

65. One day at the street market Fuke was begging all and sundry to give him a robe. Everybody offered him one, but he did not want any of them. The master [Linji] made the superior buy a coffin, and when Fuke returned, said to him: "There, I had this robe made for you." Fuke shouldered the coffin, and went back to the street market, calling loudly: "Rinzai had this robe made for me! I am off to the East Gate to enter transformation" (to die). The people of the market crowded after him, eager to look. Fuke said: "No, not today. Tomorrow, I shall go to the South Gate to enter transformation." And so for three days. Nobody believed it any longer. On the fourth day, and now without any spectators, Fuke went alone outside the city walls, and laid himself into the coffin. He asked a traveler who chanced by to nail down the lid.

The news spread at once, and the people of the market rushed there. On opening the coffin, they found that the body had vanished, but from high up in the sky they heard the ring of his hand bell.

According to the Record of Linji, Puhua was accounted as dying in the year 860, as opposed to 840 – when other sources mark his time of death.

The Fuke-shū

On a very basic level, Fuke Zen as it was once extent could be defined as, "a branch of Zen Buddhism which existed in Japan from the 13th century until the late 19th century. Fuke monks were noted for playing the shakuhachi flute as a form of meditation. It was characterized in the public imagination of Japan by its monks playing of the shakuhachi flute while wearing a large woven basket hat that covered their entire head as they went on pilgrimage."

Puhua is traditionally considered to either be the direct founder of, or at least the philosophical and spiritual antecedent to the Fuke-shū. However Fuke Zen's origins are to this day a point of contention for students of Zen, as well as academics studying the religious and philosophical histories of Buddhism in China and Japan.

Historical issues and ambiguities

Historical gap

Puhua/Fuke lived in the late Tang Dynasty China much earlier than there were any major accounts of an individual "Fuke sect" coming into being: He was recorded as dying approximately 360 years before the Feudal Japanese Kemmu Restoration (J. 日本国; Nippon-koku) began, when the Fuke school started to emerge from the Rinzai as the state-backed Shinbutsu shūgō syncretism thrived in the country. Given this, no notion of a specific creed, teaching or practice based upon Zhenzhou is cited in history. (That is, aside from the brief descriptions of his interactions with other Chán practitioners – limited almost completely to the Record of Linji, as well as the school's various influences from the Rinzai/Linji, and possibly the Ōbaku, sects.) It would then appear that consequently, if not due at least to a lack of historiography and general knowledge surrounding the matter, there was no exemplary or viably tenable "Fuke/Puhua" sect or organization-proper that was influential, large or sufficiently-palpable enough in the Tang Dynasty, in order to have been noteworthy among Chinese religious chronology.

The early Puhua sect in China

What constituted the Puhua school (in Chinese rendered literally as Pǔhuà zōng) in China was at least limited to a small number of teachers, many of whom lived and taught in obscurity, and thus like their precursor Puhua remained – along with their transmission of his sect – equally inconspicuous.

Of the few known prominent students of of the Pǔhuà zōng in China, there are only several major individuals noted in extent historical accounts:

  • Ennin (794-864)
  • Zhang Bai (8th century)
  • Chosan (8th century)
  • Shinchi Kakushin (心地覺心; 1207–1298)

The first mention of a major institution called the "Fuke school" was as one that appeared and seemed to exist only among the islands of Japan. As such, the practices of suizen and the mysteriously-unique characteristics of the komusō had only ever been noted as Japanese cultural phenomena, rather than Chinese – perhaps implying a major change in the school's nature of structure and discipline within the historically ambiguous gap that occurred between its equally-temporal-and-spatial transmission from the Tang Dynasty to Feudal Japan. The shakuhachi, for instance, is by distinction a Japanese instrument; and the garb of the komusō evidently derived from Japonic culture.

The founder of the Fuke school

Linji's influence and relationship with Puhua

As aforementioned, either the originator and first Patriarch of the Linji/Rinzai school – Linji Yixuan – or his subsequent teachings and practices unique to his school, are known to have had some degree of influence upon the Fuke school as it appeared in Japan. Master Linji has been speculatively asserted, at one time or another, to have taken on any of the following roles in regards to the Fuke sect:

  • 1. By a minority of historians, the founder of the Fuke school alongside his much more prevalent lineage of the Linji/Rinzai-shū, Puhua only bearing the sect's namesake;
  • 2. By a minority of historians, the co-founder in tandem with Puhua/Fuke, the latter by whom the school bears its name;
  • 3. By a large minority of historians, the actual and only individual to have founded the Fuke sect, "Puhua" merely being a pseudonym or second name of Rinzai/Linji himself;

... or, as the more prevalent theory...

  • 4. An influential figure, but not the sect's founding 'Patriarch', i.e.
    • 4(a). As a contemporary, and later on either a teacher or influencer, of Puhua – who according to the Record adopted Linji's views and was an early Linji/Rinzai school adherent, however somewhat contradictory in that he either had changed his view from that of merely one school: that is, in this case, diverging from Huineng's ill-defined and Zen-pre-schism "Sudden Enlightenment" lineage whom he was trained under by instruction of Panshan, or reconciled Huineng's southern Chán with the Linji sect. The former would effectively make the Fuke sect a sub-sect of the Rinzai, and the latter a sort of post-syncretism.
    • 4(b). As a contemporary, etc. of Puhua, whose school however was not in effect the parent lineage of Fuke Zen, but merely influenced it. Therefore the Fuke-shū could neither be regarded as limited in its influence to the "Sudden Enlightenment" or Rinzai/Linji lineages unto themselves, or as a form of Zen syncretism – in this case rather as an independent school unto itself.

Either way, the Linji school, and by extension, Rinzai/Linji himself, would have had considerable influence over Puhua and his sect as it appeared in Japan. Nonetheless, Puhua is still regarded as the historically-accurate founder, at least in terms of tradition, of his eponymous lineage.

See also


  1. ^ "Zhenzhou Puhua - Zen Master" (in English) (HTML). Zen Masters. Osho Bob's [The] Living Workshop. Archived from the original on an ambiguous date. http://www.livingworkshop.net/. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  2. ^ Yixuan, L. (d. 867) (2009) [Composed 1120] Thomas Yuho Kirchner ed. The Record of Linji Trans. Ruth Fuller Sasaki; (1975 ed.) United States: University of Hawai'i Press p. 97 ISBN 978-0-8248-2821-9 
  3. ^ Schloegl, page76.

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