Tag Archives: Tsung-mi

The Sutra of Primordial Enlightenment

After years of gathering dust on a table full of books, awaiting its birth as a series here one day, The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment was dusted-off and examined for possible entry this February. It was pleasantly satisfying to find a lot of insights that weren’t present before on previous goings-over and so the time was ripe for its exegesis to commence. This type of pattern has occurred for other series as well, it seems that when the time is ripe the Dharma-master will reveal a deeper-comprehension of these timeless texts that is beyond the wildest imagination. Certainly this present sutra is a notable one in the vast schema of the Buddhadharma. It has its origins within both Ch’an and Hua-yen schools and was most likely composed during the advent of the eighth century. It was hence most influential in these “meditation-oriented” schools, first within Chinese Ch’an and then later implanted within the rich soil of Korean Sŏn as it continues to be the most prevalent vehicle in its monastic-institutions to this day. read more

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Karma’s Repository

The advent of Mahāyāna Buddhism that coincided with the beginning of the Christian-era gave birth to the most sublime innovations in Buddhist-thought that have not been surpassed even to this day. Colorful, dynamic and transcendent in scope, resplendent with rich metaphorical language founded in the rich soil of sūtra and śāstra laden literature, the Mahāyāna shaped a new and indefatigable-direction for the nature of the karma-effect. According to the Sarvāstivādin and Theravādin doctrine, one’s goal in unraveling the karmic-equation was to slowly and diligently eradicate it through determined demolition of its defilements, in essence, being empowered to save-oneself. In Mahāyāna doctrine the emphasis was not so much in eradicating its effects, but standing above and beyond it by not focusing so much on individual-salvation, but by the salvation of others by practicing the six perfections or pāramitās. This found its inestimable worth in the cult of the Bodhisattvas. Generally, the causes of birth for ordinary beings are past deeds (karman) and defilements (klesa). But the Bodhisattva’s birth is unique in that it is caused exclusively by his will and purpose. Thus, a Bodhisattva volunteers to be born (sacintyabhavopapatti—intentional birth) into a life of suffering for the precise purpose of alleviating the suffering of sentient beings. read more

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Eunuch Power and the Two Entrances

The Sweet-Dew Incident

It may sound hard to hear for modern ears that the great Tsung-mi’s downfall was at the hands of Eunuchs. However, these were no namby-pamby fellows that appear in some Mel Brook’s comedy, but rather fierce-warriors that were actually bred for maintaining power and control over the Emperor’s Court.  The year was 835 and Tsung-mi became implicated in what is known as the Sweet-Dew Incident. This involved a failed coup attempt to oust the Eunuch stronghold over the Emperor Wenzong. The main conspirator,  Li Xun, sought refuge in Tsung-mi’s monastery. Apparently, Tsung-mi favored Li Xun’s politics and after shaving his head to resemble one of the monks, granted him sanctuary.  For his action, Tsung-mi was later arrested and even faced possible execution. But once again Tsung-mi’s own powerful presence and powers of persuasion made an impact and his execution was stayed. Peter N. Gregory writes: read more

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Tsung-mi: An Intimate Study

Tsung-mi (780-841)

A good subtitle for this series would be, “The Spiritual Knowing that knows no darkness.” With brilliant erudition Tsung-mi (pronounced Zongmi—preferred spelling by modern-day scholars) set out to define Bodhidharma’s Mind Transmission as a silent knowing of Mind’s Substance; yet at the same time not eschewing the canonical words that are embedded in the silence. The prime reason for Bodhidharma’s phrase, Mind Transmission outside of scriptures, simply assuaged the Chinese mindset that, at the time, was infatuated with grasping at words while being blind to the Actual Mind-Substance that the words were pointing at. In this sense, the word “silent” referred to Bodhidharma’s own remaining still and quiet until the adept came to intuitively “know” on one’s own the nature of Mind’s Substance. It was after this “knowing” that he said to the adept, ‘That is how it really is [fang yan zhenshi shi]! This is in complete contradistinction to today’s Zennists’ understanding; the following is from a Zen dictionary published by the Sōtō Zen School: read more

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(5) The Black Dragon

When the birdcage is open and the illusion of the false bird dies
the virtuous one recollects the unborn essence.
Transcending the sensory addicted mind, finding the gateless gate to its original source of perfection.
This is a black dragon’s greatest quality and truth
No delusion to reject, no things to transcend
What battle can find nourishment in such an un-transforming mind?
All things equal and thus sunyata,
True nature luminous and vast, obstructive notions of closed or open minds
eternally cessated.
This dragon, a magnificent defender of the true law cuts off a thousand heads from heretic misconceptions.
The true lotus free to blossom on its own accord
Mind unbound, uncreated, radiating in all ten directions
perfectly illuminating a thousand dharmas.
How can petty desire or delusion of the worldling recollect such a thousand-fold instant wisdom?
This most sacred and unborn mani-pearl is always radiant and clear.
Who is he to defile its original bright nature with notions of good or evil?
The pure desire to awake is what drove Prince Gautama to recollect what was always there for him.
Guided by the light of countless Tathagatas read more

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Sudden Anointment

The eminent Tsung-mi holds the key to deciphering the enlightenment equation. Here is his assessment to Shen-hsiu’s verse: read more

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The Platform Sutra: Setting the Stage

The Platform Sutra of Hui-neng is quite unlike any other; usually a sutra has as its basis a teaching directly from the Tathagata, i.e., speaking Ex Tathata. Here we have elements, directly at the beginning, of a formalized autobiographical account with subsequent sermons from a human agency in the guise of Hui-neng. His name was actually fashioned by a 8th century Ch’an monk, Shen-hui (670-762). Breaking it down, Hui=bestowing beneficence on sentient beings, and neng=having the capacity to carry out the affairs of the Buddhadharma. In point of fact, it is Shen-hui who carries the most historical weight as to the origins and early development of this sutra. The story behind the iconic-figure Hui-neng is actually a hagiography—meaning a roughly imaginative account of someone bearing the stature of a saint. Hence, it was all a manufactured history, procured for political reasons at the time. This “political component” makes the origins of this sutra all the more fascinating; indeed, the early development of Ch’an Buddhism itself hinged on political catalysts. The classic-framework for this element of intrigue concerns the Northern School of Ch’an vs. the Southern School. read more

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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: read more

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