Chinese Texts, Texts, The Masters

Alive Without Being Born

Master Hongzhi Zhengjue was a 12th century Chinese monk and author of the famous collection of koans, the Book of Serenity. Like Eihei Dogen, he was also resident on Mount Tiantong (close to present-day Shanghai), but preceded the Japanese master by about a century. Nonetheless, Dogen was inspired by Hongzhi’s writings and quoted him a lot in his teachings. This extract, as featured in Thomas Cleary’s The Five Houses of Zen, touches on Hongzhi’s conception of silent illumination.


Extinct without passing away, you merge consciously with space; alive without being born, you function subtly in concert with all things. Traceless before time, you are at home after embodiment. The crane dreams in its nest, cold; faintly light, there’s the moon in the dark green forest. When the dragon murmurs, the night lasts long; persistent are clouds surrounding the withered tree.

At precisely such a time, there is no birth or death, no coming or going, but there subtly exists a way to act; do you get it?

Mist engulfs the blue-green reeds –
snow upon the sand.
Wind plays with the white water plants-
autumn on the river.


Hongzhi Zhengjue / Hung-Chih (1091-1157)
From: The Five Houses of Zen by Thomas Cleary

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