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  • Yongming Yanshou’s Conception of Chan in the Zongjing lu: A Special Transmission within the Scriptures
  • Yi-hsun Huang (bio)
Albert Welter. Yongming Yanshou’s Conception of Chan in the Zongjing lu: A Special Transmission within the Scriptures New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. vii, 381 pp. Hardcover $74.00, ISBN 978-0-19-976031-2.

As a text of one hundred fascicles in length, the Zongjing lu 宗鏡錄 is like a treasure mountain: no one who enters comes out empty-handed. This is why Albert Welter is still able to find new perspectives that challenge our traditional understanding of Yanshou, despite the fact that several books have been published on Yongming Yanshou 永明延壽 (904–976) and his Zongjing lu.

Welter’s book is divided into six chapters, which are followed by a reliable annotated translation of the first fascicle of the Zongjing lu. Chapter 1 focuses on a long-term problematic issue: the Buddhist sectarian identity of Yanshou. Welter carries out a critical examination of the records of Yanshou’s life. The complexity of Yanshou’s identity derives from two types of source material: Yanshou’s own works, which contain Buddhist practices and ideas, and biographies of Yanshou that emerged in later generations. Of course, there is a certain relationship [End Page 116] between them: the first type provides rich material for the compilers of the second type, which portray Yanshou as he appears to them from their perspectives, generations later. Welter clearly shows the direct connection between Yanshou’s own writings and his identity as promoter of blessings (xingfu 興福) in the Song gaoseng zhuan 宋高僧傳, Chan master in the Jingde Chuandeng lu 景德傳燈錄, and Pure Land master in the Longshu jingtu wen 龍舒淨土文. Welter demonstrates that Yanshou may also be considered an advocate of Bodhisattva practices, based on Yanshou’s work on Bodhisattva precepts. Welter further demonstrates that in dealing with the biographies of a given monk, it is necessary to undertake a comparative analysis in chronological order of compilation to see the discrepancies and developments exhibited in each biography. Last, Yanshou’s identity as a Chan master, ignored by the dominant Linji and Rinzai traditions, is what Welter would like to emphasize among his various identities.

Chapter 2 discusses Yanshou’s notion of zong in the Zongjing lu. In his “Zongjingtang ji” 宗鏡堂記 (Records of Zongjing hall), Song historian Huihong 惠洪 (1071–1128) describes Yanshou’s motivation for compiling his Zongjing lu. Yanshou lamented that scholarly monks specializing in Huayan 華嚴, Faxiang 法 相, and Tiantai 天台 frequently argued with each other. Yanshou thus assigned his disciples to study the doctrines of each of these schools and had them debate with each other. He then reconciled their arguments with “the tenet of mind” (xinzong 心宗) as a means of harmonizing their differences.1 The tenet of mind is the tenet of Chan, and Welter further states, “Yanshou’s use of the term zong implies that the principles and teachings of Chan are in harmony with those of the scholastic Buddhist tradition” (p. 51). Yanshou’s method of compiling the Zongjing lu not only demonstrated a new approach in integrating Buddhist thought in the Five Dynasties, but also confirmed Chan’s role in the path to enlightenment by referring to the mind as “the deep abode of myriad good deeds” (wanshan 萬善) (p. 54).

Chapter 3 explains how Yanshou’s Zongjing lu uses the tenet of mind to connect the teachings of Śākyamuni Buddha and Bodhidharma. Yanshou reveres scriptural teachings as the basis of Chan and, at the same time, emphasizes that Chan patriarchs are people who are awakened to their true mind by penetrating the words in Buddhist scriptures. Yanshou understands perfectly that any means, including words and the Zongjing lu, is an expedient, but he skillfully “employs words and letters to demonstrate the truth in them” (p. 91). Yanshou’s attitude of treating scriptural teachings as a raft before reaching the other shore was not the only exception among Chan masters before the Song dynasty and has exerted a lasting influence since the Five Dynasties.2 Welter, thus, strongly argues that Yanshou’s understanding of Chan and his role in the history of Chan Buddhism are worth reevaluating.

Chapter 4 provides an overview of Chan patriarchs and...