Astus wrote:It is called 文字禪 (wenzi chan), Literary Chan. While literacy and culture has a lot to do with Chan that is not the only thing there is to it. Besides those of high status who composed many works you should consider the hermits and forest monks too - who of course seldom left anything to future generations. One exceptional person is Miyun Yuanwu from 17th century who was from a lowly family and had minimal education. But then his simplistic "hit and shout" Chan was ridiculed and attacked by Hanshan Deqing and many others while at the same time he revived Chan throughout China.
There are accounts in the literature of various hermits.
Take into consideration the following:
Record of the Transmission of the Lamp《景德傳燈錄》
Chan Master Fachang of Damei Shan in Mingzhou was a man of Xiang Yang. His surname was Zheng. In his youth he followed his master in Jingzhou at Yuquan-si. The first time he visited Daji [Mazu Daoyi] he asked him what the Buddha is. Daji said, “This mind is Buddha.” The master then had a great awakening.
During the Tang era of Zhenyuan (785-805) he lived as a hermit in Meizi Zhen seventy miles south of Mount Tiantai's Yuyao. At the time Yan'guan sent a monk into the mountains to find a staff. He lost his way back to the hut. He asked, “How long has it been since the preceptor came to this mountain?” The Master said, “I just see the green and yellow of the four directions.” Again he asked, “Where do I go to get to the road leaving the mountain?” The Master said, “Follow the stream and go.”
The monk returned and reported to Yan'guan. Yan'guan said, “When I was at Jiangxi, I once saw a monk and since then have not known of his condition. Is it not this monk?” He then dispatched the monk to enquire after the Master.
The Master had a verse and said, “The ravaged dead tree leans in the cold forest. How many times does it meet spring without changing its mind? The firewood collector encounters it and does not even look at it. Can even the famous carpenter recollect and revisit old things?”
Daji heard of the Master residing in the mountain. He dispatched a monk who arrived and asked, “What did you obtain seeing Master Ma and then to reside in this mountain?” The Master said, “Master Ma said to me that the mind is Buddha and I then came to reside here.” The monk said, “Master Ma's recent Buddha-dharma is now different.” The Master said, “How is it different?” The monk said, “Now it is said not mind and not Buddha.” The Master said, “This old man is not yet done deluding people! No matter you [insist] it is not mind and not Buddha, I will just [say] the mind is Buddha!” The monk returned and informed Patriarch Ma. Mazu Daoyi said, “Assembly! The plum is ripe.”
Here is an account of Damei Fachang. It is full of vague literary allusions. It is also probably a fictional portrayal. Did he really go live out in the mountains for some great length of time? Maybe, maybe not.
There no doubt were hermits who would spend much time in solitude meditating, but then Chan lineage in the Song Dynasty onward was especially relevant in selecting abbots. If you were that prominent a member in the lineage, you probably had other matters to tend to other than meditation.
On that note in East Asian Buddhism meditation is not really limited to any one school. Tiantai's Zhiyi wrote a manual on meditation which is still in use today. Pure Land practitioners have their own meditation methods, too. Shingon also has their own program.
It can probably be said that in all other traditions too meditation was largely left to a few individuals. The difference is that Chan / Zen somehow gets the reputation of being the 'meditation school' when in reality it is largely just a literary movement coupled with a deep interest in genealogical matters.