Straight to the Heart: The Contemporary Legacy of Zongmi's Huayan-Chan Fusion

- through Francois Leclercq

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Today in China, the Huayan tradition no longer survives as a living institution. The best one can do is to meet and take refuge with Chan monks who have considerable knowledge of the world. Huayan Jing (Avatamsaka Sutra), or even come across Buddhist organizations that invoke the Huayan tradition. From a more positive perspective, it could be said that Huayan has always had a significant influence on Chinese Buddhism as a whole. As one of the two largest surviving "institutional" lineages in China today (along with Pure Land), Chan has done the most to absorb Huayan thought. This was a process that had occurred even in the late Tang dynasty (618–907), the last imperial dynasty during which Huayan was an active force. During this period, Guifeng Zongmi (780-841) became a notable Chinese Buddhist monk and an important bridge between Chan and Huayan Buddhism.

Zongmi's teachings transformed Chinese Buddhism by seeking to reconcile the introspective and experiential methods of Chan with the intellectual and cosmological views of Huayan. Its framework offered a comprehensive approach that emphasizes the development of Both direct experiential understanding and intellectual exploration of Buddhist teachings. Even today, Buddhists, lay and monastic, straddle both worlds, meditative and philosophical. It is an integrated approach that avoids the extremes of self-denial (the dark side of meditation) and excessive speculation (the dark side of philosophy).

Guifeng Zongmi, late 95th to 53th century. Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk. XNUMX×XNUMXcm. One of four portraits of the patriarchs of the Kegon school in the possession of Kumida-dera, Osaka. From

The integration of Huayan and Chan into the teachings of Zongmi

Zongmi is recognized for his contributions to synthesizing the principles of the Huan educational heritage with the doctrines propagated by the short-lived but influential Heze (菏泽) Chan lineage. The approach proposed by Zongmi could be considered as a determined, educational and pragmatic synthesis of the doctrines of Chan and Huayan.

The main emphasis is placed on the judicious assimilation of the principles of Lishi Guan (理事觀), the contemplation of fundamental principles and observable facts, and xinshi guan (心識觀), the contemplation of the mind and consciousness. which are attributed to the teachings of the Heze lineage (Wang 2019, 149). Zongmi diligently and methodically incorporated these notions into his theoretical framework. The connection between these two ideas had a significant influence on subsequent writers. Lishi Wuai (理事無礙) and yuanrong wujin (圓融無盡) are concepts featured prominently in Huayan-Chan texts dating from the 11th century (Wang, 2019, 149). Furthermore, Zongmi skillfully synthesized multiple viewpoints on Chan doctrine, including perspectives on practice, alongside Huayan teachings that prioritize critical theoretical and logical methodologies (such as scriptural exegesis).

Therefore, he formulated what eventually evolved into the “Huayan-Chan” ideology. Based on discussions within the Yuanjue Jing regarding the yuanjue miaoxin (圓覺妙心) (wonderful and profound spirit of perfect enlightenment), as well as the traditional Chinese text Dasheng qixin mon (大乘起信論), Zongmi was inspired by it and integrated the teachings of yixin (一心) (one mind) of Heze Chan and the concepts of Lingzhi Bumei (靈知不昧) (numinous consciousness that is not obscured) and jizhi (knowing immobility) of zhizhi yizi et zhongmiao zhimen (知之一字,眾妙之門; focus on the single character as the deep door) of Chan.

Bodhidharma, the semi-mythical founder of Chan Buddhism. At

In his works, zhenxin is written interchangeably as zhenshi xin 真實心 (truthful mind), or juedai zhenxin (絕待真心) (absolute sincere spirit), lingxin (靈心) (numinous or spiritual spirit), yixin (一心) (one/one mind), and more. According to Ran Yunhua, “This concept of zhenshixin represents the highest level of Zongmi's theoretical framework and the core of its philosophy. (Wang 2019, 153)

zhenxin can be further expanded as zhenshi xin (真實心) (truthful mind), jue-dai zhenxin (絕待真心) (authentic and absolute spirit), lingxin (靈心) (numinous or spiritual spirit), yixin (一心) (representing a single or unified mind), and more. For Ran, zhenshixin encapsulates the pinnacle of Zongmi's theoretical structure and constitutes the fundamental essence of his philosophical perspective.

Classify Buddhist teachings

At Zongmi Preface Chan offers a comprehensive categorization of several Buddhist doctrines, positioning Chan and Huayan as the highest levels of this framework. He proposes that attaining ultimate truth requires the integration of Chan's intuitive insight with Huayan's doctrinal understanding. According to Peter Gregory, this categorization is based on the belief that Chan and Huayan are interdependent and mutually supportive (Gregory 1991: 280). At a time Preface Chan and Investigation into the origin of manZongmi refers to Huayan Jing as a canonical source to support his description of the Buddha's highest teachings. This particular text is of significant importance in the Chan tradition, as it is believed to contain the Buddha's first words after his enlightenment. (Grégoire 1991, 287)

Zongmi's teachings relating to the practice of meditation demonstrate his penchant for a synthetic methodology that integrates elements of the Chan and Huayan traditions. According to Gregory, Zongmi adopted a method that integrated the Chan tradition's emphasis on immediate understanding and mindfulness with the Huayan tradition's emphasis on the interconnectivity of phenomena and the attainment of "positive" emptiness. (Grégoire 1991, 308)

European illustration of Bao'en Monastery and Nanjing Porcelain Tower. Fischer von Erlach, A civil and historical architectural plan (1721). From

Zongmi's approach to meditation offers a pragmatic way to develop mindfulness, concentration and insight in a world characterized by speed and distraction. This is achieved through the integration of Chan's emphasis on direct insight and mindfulness, as well as Huayan's emphasis on the interpenetration of all things in the universe. This practice offers individuals a way to achieve a state of inner tranquility and mental clarity in the face of the many difficulties and diversions encountered in our daily lives.

Chan frequently highlights the concept of sudden enlightenment. But Zongmi presented a more equitable perspective by arguing that enlightenment should include both a sudden experiential awareness of Buddha nature (Chan) and a gradual development of wisdom and compassion (Huayan) (Gregory 1991 : 281-82). In this sense, Huayan was deeply integrated into Chan, with the aim of achieving a comprehensive picture of the nature of Nirvana and the Buddhist path. This habit of syncretism continued long into the future, finding a place in the Liao (918-1125) and Western Xia (1038-1227) empires, the Song dynasty (960-1279), and the entire Ming-Qing period ( 1368-1279). 1911).

Contemporary relevance

Zongmi's legacy of Huayan-Chan Buddhism enjoys a quiet influence in the spiritual landscape of contemporary China. There are echoes of its fusion with China's relative cultural comfort with syncretism. Overall, it is an essential tool for understanding and practicing Buddhism. His balanced recognition of the importance of immediate realization and progressive cultivation resonates with practitioners seeking a holistic understanding of enlightenment. This approach emphasizes the integration of different aspects of practice, enabling a holistic and transformative spiritual journey. Additionally, his work provides a basis for ecumenical dialogue, enabling the exchange of ideas and views between different Buddhist traditions.

Huayan may no longer be an institutional "thing" and, in fact, Huayan-Chan did not last as a formal school either. Yet the thought that animated him has ensured Zongmi's relevance in the modern world, as his ideas continue to guide Buddhists on their spiritual journeys and deepen their understanding.

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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