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Shitou Xiqian

Shitou Xiqian

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Shítóu Xīqiān was a 8th-century Chinese Chán
Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism founded by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma. The word Zen is from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chán , which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as "meditation" or "meditative state."Zen...

 (Zen) Buddhist teacher and author. All existing branches of Zen throughout the world are said to descend either from Shitou Xiqian or from his contemporary Mazu Daoyi
Mazu Daoyi
Mazu Daoyi was a Ch'an Buddhist master in China during the Tang dynasty. In dharma-succession through Nanyue to the Sixth Patriarch, Mazu Daoyi contributed far-reaching insights and changes in teaching methods regarding the transmission of awareness...


The details of Shítóu's life are found in traditional biographies. His years of life are conventionally given as 700 to 790. He was born in Gaoyao County in Guangdong
Guangdong is a province on the South China Sea coast of the People's Republic of China. The province was previously often written with the alternative English name Kwangtung Province...

 with the surname Chen
Chen (surname)
Chén or Chan is one of the most common East Asian family names. It ranks as the 5th most common surname in China, as of 2007 and the most common surname in Singapore and Taiwan . Chen is also the most common family name in Guangdong, Zhejiang, Fujian, Hong Kong...

. At a young age, he became a student of the great Zen patriarch Huineng
Dajian Huineng was a Chinese Chán monastic who is one of the most important figures in the entire tradition, according to standard Zen hagiographies...

 for a short time prior to the latter's death. Shítóu later became a disciple of Huineng's successor, Qingyuan Xingsi
Qingyuan Xingsi
Qīngyuán Xíngsī was a patriarch of Zen Buddhism. Three of the Five Houses of classical Ch'an developed out of his Lineage: the Caodong, Yunmen, and Fayan....

. After becoming, in turn, Xingsi's successor, Shítóu resided and taught at Nantai Temple on Mt. Nanyue Heng
Mount Heng (Hunan)
Mount Heng , also known as Nan Yue , is located in Hunan Province, People's Republic of China and is one of the Five Sacred Mountains of Taoism in China. Heng Shan is a mountain range long with 72 peaks and lies at 27.254798°N and 112.655743°E...

 in Hunan
' is a province of South-Central China, located to the south of the middle reaches of the Yangtze River and south of Lake Dongting...

. After his death, he was given the honorary posthumous name Wuji Dashi (無際大師).

Shítóu is credited with the authorship of two well-known Zen Buddhist poems. The Sandokai
The Sandōkai is a poem by the eighth Chinese Zen ancestor Shitou Xiqian and a fundamental text of the Sōtō school of Zen, chanted daily in temples throughout the world.-Title:...

lays out a comprehensive view of the nature of truth. The Song of the Grass Hut is a paean to a life of secluded meditation.

Scholar Mario Poceski writes that Shítóu does not appear to have been influential or famous during his lifetime: "he was a little-known teacher who led a reclusive life and had relatively few disciples. For decades after Shitou's death, his lineage remained an obscure provincial tradition". Sayings to the effect that Shitou and Mazu were the two great masters of their day date from decades after their respective deaths. Shítóu's retrospective prominence owes much to the importance of Dongshan Liangjie, a 9th century teacher who traced his lineage back to Shítóu.

There have been a series of disputed claims regarding the current location of Shitou's physical remains. There is a mummy at Mt. Sekito Temple in Japan which is said to be Shítóu's. Various Japanese sources state that this mummy was rescued by a Japanese traveller from a fire at a temple in Hunan during the chaos of the rebellion
Xinhai Revolution
The Xinhai Revolution or Hsinhai Revolution, also known as Revolution of 1911 or the Chinese Revolution, was a revolution that overthrew China's last imperial dynasty, the Qing , and established the Republic of China...

 that overthrew the Qing Dynasty
Qing Dynasty
The Qing Dynasty was the last dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912 with a brief, abortive restoration in 1917. It was preceded by the Ming Dynasty and followed by the Republic of China....

 (1911–1912). Chinese sources often state instead that it was stolen by Japanese forces during the Second Sino-Japanese War
Second Sino-Japanese War
The Second Sino-Japanese War was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan. From 1937 to 1941, China fought Japan with some economic help from Germany , the Soviet Union and the United States...

(1937–1945). Researcher James Robson argues that there is little evidence Shitou's body was mummified and that the remains enshrined at Mt. Sekito Temple are likely those of a different monk also named Wuji.