Guifeng Zongmi  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Guifeng Zongmi (780–841) was a Tang dynasty Buddhist scholar and bhikkhu, installed as fifth patriarch of the Huayan school as well as a patriarch of the Heze school of Southern Chan Buddhism.

Zongmi was deeply affected by both Chan and Huayan. He wrote a number of works on the contemporary situation of Buddhism in Tang China, including critical analyses of Chan and Huayan, as well as numerous scriptural exegeses.

Zongmi was deeply interested in both the practical and doctrinal aspects of Buddhism. He was especially concerned about harmonizing the views of those that tended toward exclusivity in either direction. He provided doctrinal classifications of Buddhist teachings, accounting for the apparent disparities in doctrines by categorizing them according to their specific aims.



Early years (780-810)

Zongmi was born in 780 into the powerful and influential He (Template:Zh) family in what is now central Sichuan. In his early years, he studied the Chinese classics, hoping to for a career in the provincial government. When he was seventeen or eighteen, Zongmi lost his father and took up Buddhist studies. In an 811 letter to Chengguan, he wrote that for three years he "gave up eating meat, examined [Buddhist] scriptures and treatises, became familiar with the virtues of meditation and sought out the acquaintance of noted monks."Template:Sfn

At the age of twenty-two, he returned to the Confucian classics and deepened his understanding, studying at the Yixueyuan 義學院 Confucian Academy in Suizhou. His later writings reveal a detailed familiarity with the Analects, the Classic of Filial Piety, and the Book of Rites, as well as historical texts and Daoist classics such as the works of Laozi.

Chan (804-810)

At the age of twenty-four, Zongmi met the Chan master Suizhou Daoyuan (Template:ZhTemplate:Refn and trained in Chan for two or three years. He received Daoyuan’s seal in 807, the year he was fully ordained as a Buddhist monk.

In his autobiographical summary he states that it was the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment (Template:Zh) that led him to enlightenment, his "mind-ground opened thoroughly [...] Its [the scripture’s] meaning was as clear and bright as the heavens."Template:Sfn Zongmi’s sudden awakening after reading only two or three pages of the scripture had a profound impact upon his subsequent scholarly career. He propounded the necessity of scriptural studies in Chan, and was highly critical of what he saw as the antinomianism of the Hongzhou lineage derived from Mazu Daoyi (Template:CJKV, 709–788), which practiced "entrusting oneself to act freely according to the nature of one’s feelings".Template:Sfn But Zongmi’s Confucian moral values never left him and he spent much of his career attempting to integrate Confucian ethics with Buddhism.Template:Sfn

Hua-yan (810-816)

In 810, at the age of thirty, Zongmi met Lingfeng 靈峯, a disciple of the preeminent Buddhist scholar and Huayan exegete Chengguan (Template:Zh, 738-839). Lingfeng gave Zongmi a copy of Chengguan’s commentary and subcommentary on the Avatamsaka Sutra. The two texts were to have a profound impact on Zongmi. He studied these texts and the sūtra with great intensity, declaring later that due to his assiduous efforts, finally "all remaining doubts were completely washed away." Template:Sfn In 812 Zongmi travelled to the western capital, Chang'an, where he spent two years studying with Chengguan, who was not only the undisputed authority on Huayan, but was also highly knowledgeable in Chan, Tiantai, the vinaya and East Asian Mādhyamaka.

Mount Zhongnan (816-828)

Zongmi withdrew to the Zhongnan Mountains southwest of Chang'an in 816 and began his writing career, composing an annotated outline of the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, and a compilation of passages from four commentaries on the sūtra. For the next three years Zongmi continued his research into Buddhism, reading through the Buddhist canon, the Tripiṭaka, and traveling to various temples on Zhongnan. He returned Chang'an in 819 and continued his studies utilizing the extensive libraries of various monasteries in the capital city. In late 819 he completed a commentary (Template:Zh) and subcommentary (Template:Zh) on the Diamond Sutra. In early 821 he returned to Cottage Temple (Template:Zh) beneath Gui Peak and hence became known as "Guifeng Zongmi".Template:Sfn In mid-823, he finally finished his own commentary on the text that had led to his first awakening experience, Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, and the culmination of a vow he had made some fifteen years earlier.Template:Sfn For the next five years, Zongmi continued writing and studying in the Zhongnan Mountains as his fame grew.

Capital city (828-835)

He was summoned to the capital in 828 by Emperor Wenzong (r. 826-840) and awarded the purple robe and the honorific title "Great Worthy" (dade 大德; bhadanta). The two years he spent in the capital were significant for Zongmi. He was now a nationally honored Chan master with extensive contacts among the literati of the day. He turned his considerable knowledge and intellect towards writing for a broader audience rather than the technical exegetical works he had produced for a limited readership of Buddhist specialists. His scholarly efforts became directed towards the intellectual issues of the day and much of his subsequent work was produced at the appeals of assorted literati of the day.Template:Sfn He began collecting every extant Chan text in circulation with the goal of producing a Chan canon to create a new section of the Buddhist canon. This work is lost but the title, Collected Writings on the Source of Chan ( Chanyuan zhuquanji 禪源諸詮集) remains.Template:Sfn

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