Gyōnen (1240–1321) was a brilliant Japanese scholar-monk of the Kegon school (Chinese, Huayan) who lived in the great monastic center of Tōdaiji in Nara. Born into the aristocratic Fujiwara clan, Gyōnen entered the priesthood at the age of sixteen and at eighteen moved to the Kaidan'in (Hall of Ordination) at Tōdaiji, where he later became abbot and remained for the rest of his life.
With an eclectic approach to scholarship and practice, Gyōnen dedicated himself to exhaustive studies of nearly every school of Buddhism, writing monographs on Buddhist thought and history from the age of twenty-eight, beginning with his Hasshū kōyō (Essentials of the Eight Doctrines), a survey of the core doctrines of the eight established schools of Buddhism in Japan in his time. Lucid and extremely informative, this work has served as a textbook for students of Buddhist thought from the thirteenth century into the modern period. Writing in Chinese, Gyōnen went on to compose more than 125 learned works, exploring sūtra exegesis, biography, ritual music, and so on. He also wrote the first detailed histories of individual schools in Japan and survey histories of Buddhism as a whole, carefully tracing the lineage, authoritative scriptures, and doctrinal evolution of all major traditions from their origins in India or China to Japan. Gyōnen has had a profound impact upon Japanese Buddhist studies, not only through the wealth of information his writings contain (modern Buddhist dictionaries in East Asia frequently use Gyōnen's works as source material), but also because his historical view defining Buddhism as a collection of schools identified by a doctrinal and transmission lineage became the normative Japanese approach to the study of religion, an approach that began to be challenged only at the end of the twentieth century.
Ketelaar, James. Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan: Buddhism and Its Persecution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.
Mark L. Blum