The Genius of Tsung-Mi

Tsung-mi (781-841) was a truly a singular spirit most erudite in both historical and Mahayana-spiritual development. In terms of the latter he once formulated a marvelous systematized analysis revolving around the intertwining ten-fold paths of delusion and awakening. The following is reproduced in full from a work entitled UNDERSTANDING TSUNG-MI’S VIEW ON BUDDHA NATURE, by Seong-Uk Kim:

1. The Process of Delusion

Original Awakening. All sentient beings possess original awakened mind as an ontological ground for the next nine stages to evolve. The Awakening of Faith defines “original awakening” as the essence of mind that is free from thought and nothing other than the essence of Buddha mind.Tsung-mi’s analogy is a noble, rich man who lives freely at his home.
Non-Awakening. This refers to the non-awakened aspect of ālayavijñāna. The Awakening of Faith says about non-awakening that all sentient beings are deluded by beginningless ignorance.Tsung-mi compares this stage to the rich and noble man falling asleep, forgetting who he is.
Arising of Thoughts. This stage corresponds to the first aspect of the three subtle phenomena (san-hsi-hsiang) from the Awakening of Faith: ignorance agitates mind, commencing the process of phenomenal evolution. Tsung-mi compares this stage to the dreams that naturally arise while sleeping.
Arising of the Perceiving Subject. Because agitation gives rise to discrimination within the mind, there appears the perceiving subject. This stage corresponds to the second aspect of the three subtle phenomena from the Awakening of Faith. Tsung-mi’s analogy for this stage is the consciousness of the dreaming man.
Arising of the Perceived Objects. The body and the world manifest as the objects of the perceiving subject within the mind. This stage accords with the final aspect of the three subtle phenomena from the Awakening of Faith. Tsung-mi compares this stage to the noble and rich man who finds himself suffering from poverty and perceives things that he likes and dislikes within his dream.
Attachment to Things. At this stage, one takes phenomenal appearances as real and is attached to them. This stage is equivalent to the first movement of the six coarse phenomena (liu-ts’u-hsiang) from the Awakening of Faith: “discrimination of intellect and second discrimination of feelings with regard to things.” Tsung-mi compares this stage to the man’s attachment to the realistic view of what he perceives within his dream.
Attachment to Self. At this stage, one develops self-consciousness distinct from the perceived objects, corresponding to the third and the fourth movements of the six coarse phenomena from the Awakening of Faith: “attachment and speculation.” Tsung-mi’s analogy for this stage is the man’s identification with the person within his dream.
Three Poisons. The three poisons of greed, anger, and folly occur according to feelings of like and dislike. Tsung-mi compares this stage to the man who produces three poisons in ac-cord with his feelings.
Giving Rise to Karma. At this stage, one generates karma, based on three poisonous minds. This stage corresponds to the fifth of the six coarse phenomena from the Awakening of Faith. Tsung-mi compares this stage to the man doing diverse good or evil acts.
(10) Receiving Consequences of Karma. Sentient beings suffer the consequences of karma within the six destinies. This stage corresponds to the sixth movement of the six coarse phenomena from the Awakening of Faith. Tsung-mi allegorizes the inevitability of the consequences of karmas as follows: “one cannot avoid [the consequences of] generated karmas just as shadows and echoes follow forms and sounds.” Tsung-mi compares this stage to the man being punished for his evil deeds and rewarded for his good deeds.

This ten-stage process of delusion provides the model for cosmogony as well as soteriology: it elucidates the process through which all diverse phenomena originate from the mind and at the same time presents the soteriological path by showing the cause of delusion and karmic causality. Tsung-mi expounds this soteriological path in the process of awakening, which reverses the direction of the process of delusion.

2. The Process of Awakening

Sudden Awakening. At this stage, one meets a good friend who leads him to gain “under-standing awakening.” Tsung-mi describes “understanding awakening” as follows: “one believes that four great elements are not self, that five aggregates are empty, and that his true mind is not empty of Buddha’s virtues and unchanging.”200 He asserts that “understanding awakening” is the result of good deeds in the past lives and relates it to the four faiths from the Awakening of Faith: (a) faith in the ultimate source, (b) faith in the numberless excellent quali-ties of the Buddhas, (c) faith in the great benefits of the Dharma (teaching), and (d) faith in the Sangha whose members are able to devote themselves to the practice of benefiting both themselves and others.This stage counteracts the second stage of the process of delusion: “non-awakening.”
Resolving to Attain Awakening. The process of “gradual cultivation” starts with this stage. One raises the three minds of wisdom, compassion, and vow. Tsung-mi relates them to the three minds from the Awakening of Faith: (a) the mind filled with great compassion, (b) the mind of profoundness, and (c) the mind characterized by straightforwardness. This stage counteracts the tenth stage of the process of delusion: “receiving consequences of karma.”
Cultivating Five Practices. At this stage, one cultivates five practices to strengthen the roots of belief raised at the first stage. Tsung-mi enumerates these five practices, based on the Awakening of Faith: giving (dāna), morality (śīla), patience (kshānti), vigor (vīrya), and cessation [of illusion] and clear contemplation (śamatha-vipaśyanā). This stage counteracts the ninth stage of the process of delusion: “giving rise to karma.”
Developing Three Minds. At this stage, the three minds from the second stage develop through the cultivation of five practices. This stage counteracts the eighth stage of the process of delusion: “three poisons.”
Emptiness of Self. At this stage, one realizes that his or her self is empty of any substantial qualities. This stage counteracts the seventh stage of the process of delusion: “attachment to self.”
Emptiness of Things. One keeps cultivating the five practices until he or she realizes that phenomenal appearances have no substantial self. This stage counteracts the sixth stage of the process of delusion: “attachment to things.”
Mastery of Things. Having realized the emptiness of things and self in the previous two stages, one realizes that all things are interdependent and interpenetrate each other without obstruction and, as a result, masters all things at this stage. This stage counteracts the fifth stage of the process of delusion: “arising of the perceived objects.”
Mastery of Mind. At this stage, one realizes that all myriad phenomena derive from the mind and that the mind and things interpenetrate each other. He or she masters the mind. This stage counteracts the fourth stage of the process of delusion: “arising of the perceiving subject.”
Freedom from Myriad Thoughts. At this stage, one’s true nature of mind is present in every thought. He or she cultivates the practice of no-thought, soon achieves a state of no-thought, and enters Buddha’s rank. This stage counteracts the third stage of the process of delusion: “arising of thoughts.”
(10) Accomplishment of Buddhahood. At this stage, one accomplishes the whole process of “gradual cultivation” and reaches “realization awakening.” As Tsung-mi explains, “When one is in no-thought, it is equivalent to ‘experiential awakening’ (shih-chüeh) . . . [One’s] mind is always in dharma-realm when he or she sees phenomenal appearances. . . . He or she also sees that all sentient beings share true awakening.”

As Gregory points out, these two processes of delusion and awakening constitute a continuum, not two distinct directions. The final stage of delusion introduces the first stage of awakening: Thanks to the consequences of good deeds, one meets a good friend who reveals the true nature of mind and gains “sudden awakening” of the Truth. Based on this sudden awakening, one follows along the path of “gradual cultivation” and eventually accomplishes the whole process of awakening: “understanding awakening – gradual cultivation – realization awakening.” In the same manner, the final stage of the process of awakening indicates the first stage of the process of delusion: one realizes that the final fruit of “experiential awakening” is none other than original awakening and that all the last nine stages of the process of delusion evolve from the first stage: empty tranquil awareness. For Tsung-mi, empty tranquil awareness is the inherent ontological ground for human beings’ experience of awakening and non-awakening.”

*Seong-Uk Kim, 70-73

As Zerthimon thoughtfully replied in another blog post (The Root of the Matter), the “Awakening of Faith Shastra” was a marvelous systemization (like the German philosophers) of the Mahayana; in similarity we see Tsung-Mi—in Hegelian-like fashion—refining that refinement of the Awakening of Faith.

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2 Responses to The Genius of Tsung-Mi

  1. Jure says:

    Somehow I missed this excellent blog in the past. Found it when Googling about Tsung-Mi. Very useful information here.

  2. Samwise says:

    It is great stuff. We need more writers like the author here; insight is something you cannot put on your CV, but it speaks for itself 😉

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