Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Price: $38.50

Paperback 360 pp.
6.125" x 9.25"



Publication date:
May 2016

Imprint: OUP US

Share on Facebook

Add to Favourites Tell a Friend

Chan Rhetoric of Uncertainty in the Blue Cliff Record

Sharpening a Sword at the Dragon Gate

Steven Heine

This book provides an in-depth textual and literary analysis of the Blue Cliff Record (Chinese Biyanlu, Japanese Hekiganroku), a seminal Chan/Zen Buddhist collection of commentaries on one hundred gonganan cases, considered in light of historical, cultural, and intellectual trends from the Song dynasty (960-1279). Compiled by the disciples of Yuanwu Keqin in 1128, the Blue Cliff Record is considered a classic of East Asian literature for its creative integration of prose and verse as well as hybrid or capping-phrase interpretations of perplexing cases. The collection employs a variety of rhetorical devices culled from both classic and vernacular literary sources and styles and is particularly notable for its use of indirection, allusiveness, irony, paradox, and wordplay, all characteristic of the approach of literary or lettered Chan.

However, as instrumental and influential as it is considered to be, the Blue Cliff Record has long been shrouded in controversy. The collection is probably best known today for having been destroyed in the 1130s at the dawn of the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) by Dahui Zonggao, Yuanwu's main disciple and harshest critic. It was out of circulation for nearly two centuries before being revived and partially reconstructed in the early 1300s. In this book, Steven Heine examines the diverse ideological connections and disconnections behind subsequent commentaries and translations of the Blue Cliff Record, thereby shedding light on the broad range of gongan literature produced in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries and beyond.

Readership : Graduate and undergraduate students of Japanese Religions, East Asian Buddhism, and Comparative Religious Studies.


  • "Drawing from his impressive expertise and mastery of Chan literature, Steven Heine has written a tour de force. In this first extensive scholarly treatment of the Blue Cliff Record Koan collection, Heine explores how the text, with its open-ended rhetoric of uncertainty, functions to extricate its readers from all assumptions and promote the existential doubt that precedes religious awakening. Scholars and Chan/Zen practitioners alike will relish this innovative and groundbreaking achievement."

    --Christopher Ives, author of Imperial-Way Zen

1. Prolegomenon to a New Hermeneutic: On Being Uncertain About Uncertainty
2. Entering the Dragon Gate: Textual Formation in Historical and Rhetorical Contexts
3. Unintended Baggage? Part One: Yuanwu in His Own Write Vis-à-vis Xuedou
4. Unintended Baggage? Part Two: Yuanwu in His Own Write Vis-à-vis Dahui
5. Sharpening a Sword: Case Studies of Representative Gongan
6. Questions Are in the Answers: Enduring Legacy in Relation to Textual Controversies
Sino-Japanese Glossary

There are no Instructor/Student Resources available at this time.

Steven Heine is Professor of History and Religion and Director of the Institute for Asian Studies at Florida International University.

Making Sense - Margot Northey and Joan McKibbin
Leaving for the Rising Sun - Jiang Wu

Special Features

  • Avoids sectarian stereotypes that tend to either blur or exaggerate the sets of relations between Yuanwu and the figures whose teachings he absorbed or influenced.
  • Incorporates numerous collections, commentaries, and translations produced in the rhetorical and conceptual pattern of the Blue Cliff Record in China, Japan, Korea, as well as the contemporary West.
  • Reveals the broad range of developments of gongan literature in the formative period of the 11th-13th centuries and beyond.