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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The man in the middle: an introduction to the life and work of Gui-feng Zong-mi Ainbinder, Lori Denise


This thesis presents a biographical study of the Tang Dynasty monk Gui-feng Zong-mi (780-841) together with an introduction to his thought. The biography contained herein draws upon original biographical and autobiographical sources to provide as complete a picture of the life of Zong-mi as possible within the scope of this thesis. Zong-mi defied categorization in both the manner in which he lived his life and his religious philosophy. He is simultaneously honored as a patriarch in both the Chan and Hua-yan Schools of Buddhism, while also being well-versed in the Confucian classics. As a model of Chinese Buddhist syncretism, he was able to create harmonious interaction between rival schools and religious systems in his writings and his practice. With a foot in both the exegetical and meditative traditions, Zong-mi was able to combine the best of both approaches to Buddhist religious life and philosophy. A native of Sichuan, Zong-mi entered Buddhism through the He-ze lineage of Southern Chan. He first experienced awakening while reading a passage from the Yuan-jue jing and pledged himself to explicating that text. After encountering the writings of the Fourth Hua-yan Patriarch, Cheng-guan, Zong-mi sought him out and changed his affiliation to Huayan. He maintained close ties with the Chan tradition, because he perceived the exegetical and meditative approaches were complementary. Zong-mi enjoyed a prosperous career and received numerous honors, including the purple robe granted by the emperor. Following his involvement in the Sweet Dew Incident of 835, he disappeared from view. Zong-mi was primarily driven by soteriological concerns. More specifically, he worked to develop a doctrinal basis for meditative practice and his major contributions to Chinese Buddhist thought lie in this area. The model which he developed drew from the Hua-yan vision of the harmonious interpenetration of principle and phenomena, and he used this as a basis for Chan meditative practice. This model, advocating sudden enlightenment followed by gradual cultivation, was based on his understanding of the tathagatagarbha doctrine of the Awakening of Faith.

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