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Master Qisong

Zen Master Qisong (1007-1072), was an eminent monk of the Northern Song who was born in what is now called Taiping Town of Teng County, Wuzhou. His secular surname was Li and he styled himself as Zhongling. His father was a pious layman Buddhist, so he called his son Zhongling wishing him to become a Buddhist monk one day. At the age of seven, Qisong’s father passed away, and in order to honor the father’s last wish his mother sent him to Guangfa Temple (in what is now Dongshan of Teng County). But he did not officially became a Buddhist monk until he was thirteen, and before that, he served as a servant in the temple, meditating, reading sutras, cultivating his heart for Buddhism, and collecting water and chopping wood. Apart from reading sutras, he extensively exposed himself to secular knowledge. When he was fourteen, he received Bhikku precepts, and by the age of nineteen, he left the temple and travelled to other places to visit and learn. He visited Zen Master Hongyan in Mountain Hongding and Zen Master Xiaocong in Dongshan Temple, and acknowledged the latter as his master.

Between 1041 and 1048, Zen Master Qisong came to Hangzhou when he was thirty-five and was overwhelmed by the beautiful scenery there. So he decided to settle down in Yong’an Hall of Lingyin Temple. While he was there, what he witnessed was that some famous prose writers, such as Ouyang Xiu, advocated a literary movement, which put emphasis on the orthodox position of Confucianism and pushed aside Buddhism. It placed Buddhism in a difficult situation. The sight of this motivated Zen Master Qisong to wrote more than ten essays. To refute the disapproval of scholar-bureaucrats against Buddhism, one of the essays, The Essence of Confucianism and Buddhism, expressed the idea that the ultimate goal of both Confucianism and Buddhism was to expostulate with people about goodness and it was not rational trying to squeeze out Buddhism. Another essay, On Filial Piety, analyzed whether Buddhist monks should fulfill their filial obligations and took for example some stories of eminent monks, such as Master Huineng being filial to their parents. This essay made clear that practicing Buddhism did not necessarily mean that one had to abandon kin affections. Zen Master Qisong managed to change the minds of many Confucian scholar-bureaucrats who originally opposed Buddhism. In this sense, he contributed to the integration of Confucianism and Buddhism. In his late years, he wrote Confuting Han Yu, a book comprising 30 essays, the focus of which was to refute the opinion in The Orthodox Confucianism by Han Yu. This is a major contribution made by Zen Master Qisong to the propagation of Buddhism at that time.

With regard to the Buddhist community itself, Zen Master Qisong also identified a serious mistake about the previous Zen successors. By then, Tiantai School of Buddhism based on Fufazang Sutra and recorded that there were 24 patriarchs from India to China. But Zen Master Qisong thought it was contradictory with historical facts. Therefore, he referred to classic works, such as Great Treatise on the Perfection of Wisdom, to verify his thoughts. He found out that Mahakassapa was the first patriarch and that along the line Bodhidharma was the 28th patriarch. Thus the record of “24 patriarchs” was wrong. Zen Master Qisong compiled his stories of verification into Chuan Fa Zheng Zong Ji, which was a record of verifying the patriarchs. In order to popularize his results, Zen Master Qisong drew a map of the succession on silk and named it Chuan Fa Zheng Zong Ding Zu Tu, which was the illustration of the verified succession of patriarchs. Later he made a textual research on the details of the patriarchs’ stories and put them into the two-volume work called Chuan Fa Zheng Zong Lun, which were the verified stories of patriarchs. This book was also opposed by Tiantai School of Buddhism. What Zen Master Qisong did corrected the mistake in previous Buddhist scripts and influenced the popularization of Zen Buddhism.

Zen Master Qisong rectified Confucian scholars’ exclusive mindset and helped establishing Buddhism as one of the orthodox philosophies, which was quite a blast to the Buddhist community south of Yangtze River and brought local officials’ attention to him. He then was granted by the imperial court a purple cassock. Before long, after Emperor Renzong of the Song Dynasty finished reading Zen Master Qisong’s books, he ordered to incorporate them into the Tripitaka and granted him a Dharma name “Master Mingjiao”.

Zen Master Qisong accomplished over 100 volumes of works, but unfortunately many of them got lost by the time of the Southern Song. Now there are only 22 volumes of Tanjin Collection, appendix included. In 1072, Zen Master Qisong passed away at Yong’an Hall of Lingyin Temple at the age of 66.

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