Saturday, June 20, 2009

Book Review: Zongmi on Chan by Jeffrey Broughton

Zen Buddhism - Book Review: Zongmi on Chan (Translations from the Asian Classics) by Professor Jeffrey Lyle Broughton


Broughton’s “Zongmi on Chan” will be welcomed by Zen practitioners and anyone else interested in the foundational doctrines and techniques of Zen Buddhism.

Guifeng Zongmi [Tsung-mi] lived from 780 to 841, right in the thick of the so-called "Golden Age of Zen." Some of the "Zen Giants" who were contemporaries, and near-contemporaraies include, Ma-tsu [Baso] 709-788, Pai-chang [Hyakujo] 720-814, Nan-chuan [Nansen] 748-835, Lin-chi [Rinzai] d.866, Tung-shan [Tozan] 807-869, Hung-po [Obaku] d.850, and Chao-chou [Joshu] 778-897.

Besides his being a 4th generation dharma-heir of Huineng [Eno], Zongmi was highly educated, had a gift (and an inclination) for expressing the Dharma (Buddhist teaching), and, most fortunate for us, he was a prolific writer.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that his surviving works are considered to be some of the most reliable and comprehensive sources on the history, doctrines, and methodologies of Tang dynasty Zen. The works of this early Zen ancestor (also recognized as the 5th ancestor of Huayen Buddhism) were, and continue to be some of the most influential texts of Buddhist history.

In this thorough and fascinating treatment of Zongmi’s writings, Broughton offers up some lucidly (and well annotated) translations of Zongmi’s most important Zen works. These include a full translation of Zongmi's masterpiece, “The Chan Prolegomenon”, as well as translations of Zongmi’s, “Chan Letter”, “Chan Notes”, “Pei Xiu’s Preface” to The Chan Prolegomenon (Pei Xiu is the editor credited with compiling Huang-Po’s record).

But that's not all.

Also included is the Song Dynasty “Colophon to The Chan Prolegomenon” (from the Wanli 4 [1576] Korean Edition. Many of these translations are the first available in English. At the same time, Broughton brings those that have been previously translated (in partial and diverse works) together in this very accessible book.

Like the writings of the great Korean Zen (Soen) master, Chinul, and the eminent Japanese Zen master, Eihei Dogen, Zongmi’s works go far in debunking some of the major misrepresentations of Zen doctrine and praxis. (As with Chinul and Dogen) this is especially true regarding the variety of popular misunderstandings about the Zen axiom, “a seperate transmission outside scripture” and “not reliant on words and letters.” Zongmi’s works, perhaps even more forcefully than Chinul’s and Dogen’s, lucidly reveal how and why verbal teachings and textual study are integral and vital to authentic Zen practice/enlightenment.

In the Introduction, and throughout his annotation, Broughton skillfully walks the reader, step by step through Zongmi’s “Chan Prolegomenon” to reveal why the authentic transmission of Zen has never been, nor could ever be literally “separate” from the sutras, shastras, and Zen. In this illuminating explication, Broughton also delves deeply into the classic Zen text, “Mind Mirror” (of Yanshou) and its rationale (like Zongmi’s, Chinul’s, and Dogen’s) that Zen can only be authentically transmitted within the context of the sutras, shastras, and records of the Zen ancestors.

Whether you are new to Zen (or Zongmi) or you are a seasoned adept, this book will expand your understanding of Zen and deepen your admiration of Zongmi.

From the Product Description:

Japanese Zen often implies that textual learning ( gakumon) in Buddhism and personal experience ( taiken) in Zen are separate, but the career and writings of the Chinese Tang dynasty Chan master Guifeng Zongmi (780-841) undermine this division…

The Chan Prolegomenon persuasively argues that Chan “axiom realizations” are identical to the teachings embedded in canonical word and that one who transmits Chan must use the sutras and treatises as a standard. Japanese Rinzai Zen has, since the Edo period, marginalized the sutra-based Chan of the Chan Prolegomenon and its successor text, the Mind Mirror ( Zongjinglu) of Yongming Yanshou (904-976). This book contains the first in-depth treatment in English of the neglected Mind Mirror, positioning it as a restatement of Zongmi’s work for a Song dynasty audience.

The ideas and models of the Chan Prolegomenon, often disseminated in East Asia through the conduit of the Mind Mirror, were highly influential in the Chan traditions of Song and Ming China, Korea from the late Koryo onward, and Kamakura-Muromachi Japan. In addition, Tangut-language translations of Zongmi’s Chan Prolegomenon and Chan Letter constitute the very basis of the Chan tradition of the state of Xixia. As Broughton shows, the sutra-based Chan of Zongmi and Yanshou was much more normative in the East Asian world than previously believed, and readers who seek a deeper, more complete understanding of the Chan tradition will experience a surprising reorientation in this book.

About the Author

Jeffrey Broughton is professor of religious studies at California State University Long Beach and the author of The Bodhidharma Anthology: The Earliest Records of Zen.

Get the book, you won't be sorry!

Ted Biringer

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