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Master Chongyue

Songyuan Chongyue (1132-1202) was a famous Zen master in the Southern Song. Born in Zhejiang Province, he was named Chongyue and styled himself as Songyuan. According to records in Wu Deng Hui Yuan Xu Lue (Outlined Supplements to the Wu Deng Hui Yuan, a book about the history of Zen Buddhism), Wu Deng Quan Shu (Complete Collection of Wu Deng) and Xu Zhi Yue Lu (Sequence to Zhi Yue Lu), his life can be roughly divided into two phases: the first phase of studying Buddhist teachings and scriptures and the second phase of living in the temple and engaging in the propagation of Buddhist principles. In the first phase of his life, Songyuan Chongyue was from Longquan County, Chuzhou City. He left home at the age of 23 and went to Jing Mountain to learn from Zen Master Dahui Zonggao. Because Dahui Zonggao spoke highly of Zen Master Ying’an in Jiang Mountain, Songyuan Chongyue later went to learn from Ying’an, under whose direction he achieved enlightenment. Thus, Ying’an chanted for him and advised that he should become a Buddhist monk at Bailian Temple in Lin’an at the age of 33. Then he went to Fujian to learn from Zen Master Mu’an. In the second phase of his life, Songyuan Chongyue followed Zen Master Mi’an and became the abbot of Lingyin Temple after his enlightenment, and was known as Zen Master Chongyue. During this period he propagated Buddhism at the following temples: Chengzhao Temple in Yangshan, Pingjiangfu; Baoen Guangxiao Temple in Jun Mountain in Jiangyin; Shiji Temple in Yefu Mountain in Wuweijun Town; Jianfu Temple in Raozhou; Zhidu Temple in Xiang Mountain in Mingzhou; and Yunyan Temple in Huqiu Mountain in Pingjiangfu. Later he was officially assigned to be the abbot of Lingyin Temple.

During the period when Songyuan Chongyue served as the abbot of Lingyin Temple, in order to rectify some defects in the practices of the concentration on Hua Tou (“word-head”) and of silent illumination, he reformed certain methods of meditation, among which the most influential and famous one was the so-called Songyuan Er Zhuan Yu (literally two enlightening phrases of Songyuan), that is, “when expounding Buddhist principles, one cannot only depend on his tongue” and “why people cannot stride forward with great strength”. He used these two phrases to aim at the concentration on Hua Tuo and the silent illumination respectively. On the other hand, Songyuan Chongyue advocated “awakening” as the way to practice meditation. He emphasized “awakening” and “internalizing” so as to make the most common practice of speaking into something out of the ordinary, which also exerted a profound influence on the later Zen School and developed into “Songyuan Meditation” through promotion of his disciples.

More importantly, the way that Songyuan Chongyue practiced meditation had an influence on the Zen School in Japan, which can be illustrated by the relationship between Lanxi Daolong and Songyuan Chongyue. Not only was Lanxi Daolong the disciple of Songyuan Chongyue’s disciple, but he was also influenced by Songyuan Chongyue with regards to the way of practicing meditation, which was the emphasis on seated meditation. Thus influences of Songyuan Chongyue on Zen School in Japan were verified. Buddhist monks who went to Japan after studying his way of practicing meditation were Lanxi Daolong, Daxiu Zhengnian, Xijian Zitan, Mingji Chujun and Zhuxian Fanxian while those who came to China to study his way were Nanpu Shaoming, Wuxiang Jingzhao, Yuelin Daojiao and Shishi Shanjiu. His influences can be seen in the epilogue of the lately-published Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Songyuan Chongyue in Japan, “There were more than 20 schools of Buddhism that had been introduced to Japan, among which there were ten developed from Songyuan.”

Songyuan Chongyue died at the age of 71 in August, 1202 AD at Lingyin Temple. His teachings and works were recorded in the second volume of Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Songyuan Chongyue compiled by his disciples, such as Shankai and Guangmu.

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