Silent accord: Qi 契 as a metaphor for enlightenment and transmission in Chan buddhist discourse

Aleksi Järvelä, Tero Tähtinen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


In this paper, we explore the historical background and the semantic underpinnings of a central, if marginally treated, metaphor of enlightenment and transmission in Chan discourse, “silent accord” 默契. It features centrally in Essentials of the Transmission of Mind 傳心法要, a text that gathers the teachings of Chan master Huangbo Xiyun (d. ca. 850), a major Tang dynasty figure. “Silent accord” is related to the concept of mind-to-mind transmission, which lies at the very core of Chan Buddhist self-understanding. However, Chan historiography has shown that this selfunderstanding was partially a product of the Song dynasty lineage records, historically retroactive syncretic constructs produced by monks and literati as efforts towards doctrinal and political recognition and orthodoxy. There are thus lacunae in the history of Chan thought opened up by the retrospective fictions of Song dynasty, and a lack of reliable, dateable documents from the preceding Tang dynasty era, possibly fraught with later additions. We situate the metaphor “silent accord” in the history of Chan thought by searching for its origins, mapping its functions in Chan literature, arguing for its influence and thereby its role in helping to bridge the ninth century gap.

Original languageEnglish
Article number279
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Chan (Zen) Buddhism
  • Enlightenment
  • Huangbo Xiyun
  • Pei Xiu
  • Silent accord
  • Transmission

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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