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The Five Buddha Districts system prevailed from the 1790s to the 1880s on the frontier between Yunnan, in Southwest China, and the Burmese Kingdom, in the mountainous areas to the west of the Mekong River. Through more than a century of political mobilization, the Lahu communities in this area became an integrated and militarized society, and their culture was reconstructed in the historical context of ethnic conflicts, competition, and cooperation among the Wa, Dai, and Han Chinese settlers. The political elites of the Five Buddha Districts, however, were monks who had escaped the strict orthodoxy of the Qing government to become local chieftains, or rebels, depending on political changes in southern Yunnan.

It was during this fertile period—[the seventh and eighth centuries, or] “early Chan”—that the lineage myths, doctrinal innovations, and distinctive rhetorical voice of the Chan, Zen, Son, and Thien schools first emerged. Although hundreds of books and articles have appeared on the textual and doctrinal developments associated with Chan, relatively little has been written on the distinctive meditation practices, if any, of this movement. This essay emerged from an attempt to answer a seemingly straightforward question: what kinds of meditation techniques were promulgated in early Chan circles? The answer, it turned out, involved historical and philosophical forays into the notion of “mindfulness”

No one enters Burmese traffic with any assumptions about fundamental rights. Pedestrians, certainly, enjoy no “right of way.” No one, by the same token, is ever excluded from the game as long as they remain in motion. […] If you get ahead, you were right to try. If you don’t, you were right to yield. What’s to argue?