Zetian, the Great Sage Empress, asked Chan Master Shen-hsiu: "The Dharma you transmit is the message of whose house?"
Shen-hsiu answered: "I have received the Dharma of East Mountain in Jizhou."
The Empress asked: "What text do you base yourself on?"
Shen-hsiu answered: "We go by the one-practice samadhi of the Prajna Sutra Spoken by Manjusri.
The Empress said: "For cultivating the Path, none goes beyond the Dharma Gate of East Mountain."
Since Shen-hsiu was a disciple of Hongren [on East Mountain], this became his sanction [from the Empress].
In ancient days, even rulers interested themselves in Buddhism, seeking instructions from Chan masters. In this case, the Empress started off with a sincere question, but Shen-hsiu was too polite to help her. What use is royalty if they go by the text? What us are Chan master if they go by the text?
The Great Sage Empress Zetian is more commonly known today as Empress Wu. Hongen was the Fifth Zen Ancestor. Shen-hsiu, also known as Shenxiu, founded the "Northern School" of Chan, and was a dharma brother of Huineng, the Sixth Zen Ancestor and founder of the "Southern School."