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ZONGMI (780841), more fully, Guifeng Zongmi; Chinese Buddhist Chan and Huayan scholar, traditionally reckoned as the fifth "patriarch" both in the Heze line of Southern Chan and in the Huayan tradition. Zongmi was born in Xichong County, Guo prefecture, in Szechwan province. His family, the Ho, was one of local prominence, and as a youth he received a traditional education in the Confucian classics. He became interested in Buddhism as an adolescent, but he continued his Confucian studies at a local academy in preparation for the imperial examinations that would open the door to an official career. In 804, however, he met the Chan priest Daoyuan and was so impressed that he abandoned his worldly ambitions and became his disciple. Later, while still a novice monk, he experienced his first awakening after reading only two or three pages of the Yuanjue jing (The scripture of perfect enlightenment) at the home of a lay patron. Zongmi continued his Chan study under Daoyuan, receiving full ordination from him in 808. Two years later he was introduced to the commentary and subcommentary to the Avatasaka Sūtra written by the famous Huayan scholar Chengguan (738839). This work so impressed him that in 812 he became a disciple of Chengguan and studied intensely with him for two years. In 816 he withdrew to Mount Zhongnan outside the eastern capital of Luoyang to read the Buddhist canon. He now began a productive career as a scholar, writing numerous commentaries on a wide range of Buddhist texts. His greatest exegetical energies, however, were devoted to the Yuanjue jing, which he regarded as better suited to the age than the Avatasaka. His scholarly activity came to an abrupt stop in 835, when he became implicated in an abortive attempt to oust the eunuchs from power at court. Afterward he withdrew from public life, and nothing further is known about him until his death in 841.

Zongmi's Chan training played a key role in the new thrust that he gave to Huayan metaphysics. His emphasis on the ultimate ground from which phenomena arise over their unimpeded interpenetrationan idea characteristic of the classical Huayan thought of Fazang (643712)reveals his interest in clarifying the ontological basis for religious practice. He also found in Huayan hermeneutics a framework in which to harmonize the conflicting tendencies evident in the Buddhist world of his day. His Chanyuan zhuquanji duxu (Preface to the collected writings on the source of Chan), for instance, in addition to affording valuable historical insight into the Chan of the late eighth and early ninth centuries, seeks to reconcile the split that had developed between Chan practitioners and textual scholars, as well as between the various Chan lineages. His efforts to articulate a comprehensive framework in which apparently opposing positions could be sublated also extended to non-Buddhist traditions, as can best be seen in his Yuanren lun (Inquiry into the origin of man). Zongmi's writings represent an important stage in the complex unfolding of the dialogue among the "Three Religions" (Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism) in Chinese history.

See Also



The most thorough study of Zongmi's life and thought is Kamata Shigeo's Shūmitsu kyōgaku no shisōshiteki kenkyū (Tokyo, 1975), which includes a summary in English. Although not entirely reliable in details, the best introduction to Zongmi in English is still Jan Yunhua's "Zongmi: His Analysis of Chan Buddhism," T'oung pao 58 (1972): 153. Two of Zongmi's most important works are also available in English translation. For a study and translation of his, see Jeffrey L. Broughton's "Guifeng Zongmi: The Convergence of Chan and the Teachings" (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1975). For a study and translation of his Yuanren lun, see my own work, "Zongmi's Inquiry into the Origin of Man: A Study of Chinese Buddhist Hermeneutics" (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1981).

New Sources

Gregory, Peter N. "Sudden Enlightenment Followed by Gradual Cultivation: Zongmi's Analysis of Mind." In Sudden and Gradual: Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought, edited by Peter Gregory, pp. 279320. Honolulu, 1987.

Gregory, Peter N. Zongmi and the Sinification of Buddhism. Honolulu, 1991.

Gregory, Peter N. "Tsung Mi's Perfect Enlightenment Retreat: Ch'an Ritual during the T'ang Dynasty." Cahiers d'Extreme-Asie 7 (19931994): 115148.

Peter N. Gregory (1987)

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