Becoming Chinese Buddhas: Claims to Authority and the Making of Chan Buddhist Identity

Kevin Buckelew*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


According to many recent scholars, by the Song dynasty Chan Buddhists had come to identify not primarily as meditation experts-following the literal meaning of chan-but rather as full-fledged buddhas. This article pursues a deeper understanding of how, exactly, Chan Buddhists claimed to be buddhas during the eighth through eleventh centuries, a critical period in the formation of Chan identity. It also addresses the relationship between Chan Buddhists' claims to the personal status of buddhahood, their claims to membership in lineages extending back to the Buddha, and their appeals to doctrines of universal buddhahood. Closely examining Chan Buddhists' claims to be buddhas helps explain the tradition's rise to virtually unrivaled elite status in Song-era Buddhist monasticism, and illuminates the emergence of new genres of Chan Buddhist literature-such as "discourse records" (yulu)-that came to be treated with the respect previously reserved for canonical Buddhist scriptures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-400
Number of pages44
JournalT'oung Pao
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • authority
  • Buddhism
  • Chan
  • identity
  • Song dynasty
  • Tang dynasty
  • Zen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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