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Chinese Buddhism



The Lu, or Disciplinary, School, is the Chinese transmission of one of the several Indian formulations of the Buddhist Vinaya, or monastic code.  As such, it is not concerned with religious or philosophical doctrine per se, but with the clarification and application of the regulations that order the individual and communal life of the Buddhist monk or nun.  Nonetheless, the notion of a Buddhist religious community or Sangha,guided by a set of rules, originated with the Buddha himself, and it has continued to be both Buddhism’s main physical manifestation, and its primary context for the practice of the religious life and the pursuit of enlightenment.  The monastic code, therefore, despite its practical and prosaic nature, is in principle spiritually orientated, in seeking to engender individuals and an environment in which the precepts of Buddhism are realised in daily life.
     The code itself is too detailed to be described here.  It suffices to say that it ranges from major moral injunctions forbidding killing, lying, stealing, sexual activity etc., to regulations for ordinations, the settlement of disputes, and council meetings.  The rules themselves can be divided into two types, those which say what must be done, and those which say what must not be done.  For the monk, there are 250 rules, and for the nun, 348.


Although there were translations of Vinaya texts during the early centuries of Buddhist presence in China, the transmission of monastic codes during this period was principally oral.  In 412 a translation was made of the Caturvarga vinaya,or Vinaya in Four Parts, of the Indian Hinayana sect founded by Dharmagupta and known by his name.  In the next two centuries this work, in Chinese the Ssu-fen lu, along with another Vinaya text, the Shih-sung lu, were studied by groups of scholars, with the former eventually gaining the support of the majority.  In the seventh century the monk Tao-hsuan (596-667) wrote what soon came to be recognised as the definitive commentary on the text, thus laying the foundation of the Lu School, also called the Nan-shan Lu, after the mountain near Ch’ang-an where Tao-hsuan was a monk.  That a school devoted solely to the study and promotion of the monastic code should arise, even a relatively minor one as the Lu was in terms of followers, was in itself unusual.  It was unprecedented in India, and such a school’s appearance in China doubtless came partly as a response to a general laxity in discipline in the monasteries, as the numbers within them swelled. 
     The Lu code came to be widely accepted, including by Ch'an monks, some of whom, in the early days of their own School, lived in Lu monasteries.  However in the eighth century the Ch'an master Pai-chang Huai-hai (720-814) supplemented the Lu code with another formulated specifically for his School.  Partly because of this new “Pure Rule” the Ch'an managed to come through the persecution of 845 in strength, whereas the Lu School seems to have just survived.  As a consequence of this difference in fortunes, the Lu came to be absorbed by the increasingly dominant monastic tradition of the Ch'an.  Thus today, somewhat ironically, their roles are reversed, and the Lu exists principally within Ch'an monasteries, firstly as the monastic code now accepted by all monks alongside Pai-chang’s Pure Rule, and secondly as the especial lineage of those monks who perform ordinations.


The Lu School, being concerned with written regulations, has no specific religious symbols of its own.


Reliable figures for the few remaining Lu monasteries, and for Buddhists in China as a whole, are not currently available (see Ch'an).  The Lu also survives in Japan as the Ritsu School, and in Korea as the Kyeyul.

Main Centre

The School was originally associated with Nan Shan, or Southern Mountain, near present day Hsi-an in Shensi Province.  Welch, writing just before the Cultural Revolution, notes the monastery of Pao-hua Shan, near Nanking in Kiangsu Province, as being a surviving centre of the Lu School (Welch 1967: 398).  An existing example of a Lu monastery is that of Ta-ming, three miles north-west of Yangchou city in Kiangsu Province.