Zongmi on the Two Hindrances

Translated from the Chinese Text

By Charles Muller

Translation published on the Internet at http://www.acmuller.net/twohindrances/zongmi.html

Source: From Zongmi's Yuanjuejing dashu 圓覺經大疏 (Great Commentary on the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment) Zokuzōkyō 243.9.333-334.

Created: 2003-03-17

Updated: 2009-03-12

Send comments to Charles Muller: acmuller[a]l.u-tokyo.ac.jp


The line from the SPE says:

What are the two hindrances? The first is the hindrance of principle, which obstructs correct awareness. The second is the phenomenal hindrance, which [impels] the continuation of life and death.

解曰。二門分別。初總釋二障、後別釋理障。初中此二障者、有體有義。義同唯識 煩惱所知。謂事是煩惱。煩惱卽障又能續生死故。理是所知。所知非障、是障障於所知 理故。

I will explain the point in two parts. The first part is a general treatment of both hindrances, and the second part is a special explanation of the hindrances of principle. The two hindrances as explained in the first part have an essential aspect and a formal aspect. The formal aspect is equivalent to the Yogācāra teaching of the hindrances of afflictive and cognitive hindrances.1 [In this context] "Phenomenal" refers to the "afflictions" [in the Yogācāra system]. The afflictions act as hindrances, and are the agents that impel the continuity of life and death. "Principle" maps to the "knowables" [of the Yogācāra system]. The knowables themselves are not the hindrances; rather, the reference here is to it is the hindrances that hinder the principle that is to be known.

體卽起信根本無明及六染心。染心各一分義[Interlinear Note: 六中各二 義。一不覺義、二相生義。今取相生也。]卽此事障、染汚淨心。展轉相生乃至 執取計名能起諸業。皆是連續生死義故。

In the essential interpretation these two map to the fundamental ignorance and six defiled mental states of the Awakening of Faith. One sense of the meaning of the defiled mental states[Interlinear Note: The six kinds of defiled mind have two aspects. One is the aspect of non-enlightenment; the other is the aspect of continuity of rebirth. First I will address the matter from the aspect of continuity of rebirth.] is equivalent to the hindrances of phenomena, which defile the pure mind. This impels it into continued rebirth, as well as the reification of imagined names, which give rise to all kinds of karmic activities. These all have the connotation of continuity of life-and-death [as is attributed to the phenomenal hindrances in the SPE].

各餘一分[Interlinear Note: 不覺義也]及根本無明皆此理障、覆翳法界眞心。不覺妄念生起不達諸法性相。是礙正知見義。[Interlinear Note: 若唯依法相宗說則二障數同。但是用別。]

The other aspect of the defiled mental states [Interlinear Note: I.e., the aspect of non-enlightenment.], together with intrinsic ignorance, is equivalent to the hindrances of principle, which obscure the true mind of the experiential realm. Unenlightened deluded conceptualization renders one unable to apprehend the nature and characteristics of all phenomena. This is the meaning of [the line in the sutra that says] "obstructs correct awareness." [Interlinear Note: "In terms of the theory of the Faxiang school only, the mental factors that constitute the two hindrances are the same; their difference lies in their function."]

故彼論云、是心從本巳來自性淸淨(云云)。以不達一法界故心不相應[Interlinear Note: 未有能所王數之別]忽然念起[Interlinear Note: 更無染法能爲此本故云忽然]名爲無明(云云)。爲無明所 染有其染心。

Therefore, the AMF says: "This mind is originally pure in its own-nature...since one does not apprehend the single reality-realm, the mind loses its association [with suchness] (T 1666.32.577c2-6)[Interlinear Note: At this point the distinction has not yet been made between the overall cognitive function of one's consciousness and the distinctive mental functions.], and thought spontaneously arises,[Interlinear Note: Since there is no pre-existent defiled phenomenon to serve as the basis for the arising of this thought, the AMF says "spontaneously."] and "this is called ignorance." (T 1666.32.577c6) These defiled states of mind are defiled by none other than this ignorance."

染心義者、名煩惱礙。能障眞如根本智故。[Interlinear Note: 卽寂之照如理智也。故下說眞如自體本有眞實識知大智慧等。卽經中知字、染心喧動、違此寂靜故。云障也。]

[The AMF says] "The aspect of defiled states of mind is called the obstructions of affliction, as they are able to obstruct the fundamental wisdom of suchness." [Interlinear Note: Thus quiescent illumination is the wisdom of the principle of suchness. Therefore the text below says that the substance of true suchness is instrinsically aware of true consciousness and great wisdom, etc. In the SPE, the character (cognition) refers to the agitation from the defiled states of mind, which acts in opposition to quiescence. Thus it is called a hindrance.].

無明義者、名爲智礙、能障世間自然業智故 [Interlinear Note: 如量智也。言自然者、如月無心頓應千水。 經中見字又知見倶通。前是知見之性、此是知見之相。無明昏昏、無所分別。違此智用 名爲智礙。經雖但 云理障而實通於理事論局於事。智礙理障皆從所障得稱也。]

"The aspect of ignorance is called the obstructions to [discriminating wisdom], as it is able to hinder the natural karmic wisdom of the conventional world." T 1666.32.577c21 ff.[Interlinear Note: This refers to experiential wisdom. The meaning of 'natural' is like the moon's immediate reflection in all bodies of water without contrivance. In the SPE, the term (views, insight) is synonymous with 知見 . The prior refers to the nature of insight, whereas this refers to the aspects of insight. Ignorance has the function of blurring, such that things are not properly distinguished. Since this opposes the function of [discriminating] wisdom, it is called the obstruction to wisdom. Even though the sutra attributes this kind of activity to the hindrances of principle, in fact they operate within both the hindrances of principle and phenomena. In the AMF, they are limited to the realm of phenomena. In the cases of both the obstructions to wisdom [AMF] and the hindrances of principle [SPE], they are named in reference to that which is obstructed [rather than in reference to the obstructing agent].]

問。准論配經障眞如智、全合取爲理障。障世間智合爲事障。如何上 配與此參差。

Question: It would seem that if we are trying to match the accounts of the AMF and SPE on this point, then the AMF's obstruction of the wisdom of suchness matches perfectly to the [SPE's] hindrances of principle; and the hindrance to conventional wisdom matches with the [SPE's] phenomenal hindrances [which is diametrically opposite from the way they are named]. How can the correspondences outlined above be reconciled with these?

答上巳明言此障有體。體在此論、須如上配。義同唯識與此似違。[Interlinear Note: 此論藏疏亦云、今此二障約本末相依門、以明不約人法二執故。與唯識義意稍殊。]

Answer: As was stated above, these hindrances have an essential aspect. This essential aspect is as taught in the AMF, and thus accords with what has just been taught. The formal aspect2 is the same as that taught in Yogācāra, which differs somewhat from that taught in the AMF. [Interlinear Note: As Fazang's commentary to the AMF says: 'The two hindrances presently under discussion are to be understood from the perspective of the mutual dependence of root and branch, so as to clarify that they are not established in relation to the two reifications of person and phenomena, therefore this is somewhat different from the Yogācāra perspective.' (Zongmi has here cited Fazang's commentary (T 1846.44.268b25), but Fazang originally got this interpretation from Wonhyo's commentary (T 1844.44.212a21))]

然通釋理事二障。就障理智、令不明顯倶名無明。就障心行令不解脫倶名煩惱。經 以宗於理智故、總取論中二障合爲理障[Interlinear Note: 眞如世間是理二智。 是正知見皆所障也。無明及染中一分爲能障卽前上對]

Yet if we approach the two hindrances of principle and phenomena in a general sense, then anything that obstructs either the principle or [discriminating] wisdom, causing them not to be clearly manifest, can be collectively called ignorance. And that which prevents mental functioning from attaining liberation, can be collectively called affliction. Since the emphasis of the teaching in the SPE is on principle and [discriminating] wisdom, both of the hindrances taught in the AMF can be generally subsumed under the category of hindrances of principle taught in the SPE.[Interlinear Note: The two wisdoms of the principle—that of true suchness and conventional—both are the objects of the obstruction in the obstruction of correct awareness. [In the context of the AMF] this refers to ignorance and the aspect of non-enlightenment in the defiled states of mind, which, as shown above, act as the agents of obstruction.]

唯取染中生起一分爲事障。此但約過患以爲障義。無所障法。若欲立之卽解脫、是 生死相續不解脫故。[Interlinear Note: 所障是解脫能障煩惱卽前下對] 以解脫無能攝歸眞理故、含其義、不立其名。

Only the aspect of the defiled mental states [from the AMF] that is concerned with impelling rebirth should be understood as applicable to the phenomenal hindrances of the SPE. In this case though, the passions themselves are understood as the agent of hindrance, and nothing is posited as being subject to the obstruction. If we wanted to posit something as being subject to [obstruction], it would be "liberation," since, when life and death are perpetuated, one does not obtain liberation.[Interlinear Note: The object of hindrance being liberation, and the agent of hindrance being affliction agrees with both the former and latter interpretations.] Since the concept of liberation is not subsumed under "reality-principle," its connotation is included, even if it is not directly expressed.

論則但約相違爲障故、六染却障眞如智。無明却障世間智。由此渉於相反、故論自 徵云、此義云何[Interlinear Note: 徵能所障不相應之意也。]釋云、 以依染心能見能現妄取境界違平等性。[Interlinear Note: 染心展轉生起差別 眞如平等故、相違也。成前上句。]以一切法常靜無有起相、無明不覺妄與法違 故不能得隨順世間種種智故。[Interlinear Note: 無明冥然世智種種故、相違 也。成前下句。]

Since, in the case of the Awakening of Faith, it is opposites that obstruct each other, the six defiled mental states obstruct the wisdom of suchness, and ignorance obstructs the wisdom that discriminates the world. It is precisely because this relationship seems contradictory that the author of that treatise saw the need to clarify himself, saying "what does this mean" ?[Interlinear Note: This is to clarify the apparent lack of relationship between subject and object.] His explanation says: "Since depending upon the defiled mind, one is able to see, manifest, and deludedly grasp to objects, the mental function is contrary to the equal nature of suchness." T 1666.32.577c22[Interlinear Note: adds: Defiled states of mind continue in a series, producing discriminations in regard to the equality of suchness; therefore their function is contrary. This matches the prior point.] This is because all phenomena are eternally quiescent, lacking the marks of activity, and so the ignorance of non-enlightenment is deluded in regard to the differences between phenomena, and is unable to function in accordance with the discriminating wisdom that grasps the various phenomena.[Interlinear Note: Since ignorance blurs the distinctions made by worldly discriminating wisdom, it acts contrary to it. This confirms the latter point.]

會經論雖各從一勢。理無違故、所配釋能義誠非 謬矣總釋二障竟。

In conclusion, even though the SPE and the AMF each have their own approach, there is no conflict in terms of the principle being expressed. Therefore each explanation can, according to its situation, be considered to be authentic, and not mistaken. This concludes the general explanation of both hindrances.

次別釋理障。若此中所障之法須識其體。初云理障、但是標名礙知見者、正出體相。 此宗以知見爲理故。故經與論每拂病、窮法皆歸覺心。不以空寂虛無、便爲眞極[Interlinear Note: 眞如是流出涅槃如昨夢]圓頓宗教、顯體皆然故。華嚴亦以眞 知爲所迷法。文云、無一衆生而不具有如來智慧。

Next is the special explanation of the hindrances of principle. When, in this sutra, there is something that is obstructed, then consciousness has to be the substance of the obstruction. The sutra initially says "hindrances of principle," but this is [merely] a term referring to the obstruction of correct awareness, which is in fact a matter that transcends such categories as essence and characteristics. This is because this sutra takes correct awareness as its the "principle." Therefore, the SPE and the AMF each expel disease, exhaustively returning all dharmas to the enlightened mind. Rather than relying on upon the doctrines of voidness or nothingness, but instead directly manifest reality to its fullest[Interlinear Note: suchness flows out T 842.17.913b18; Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment p. 75.; nirvana is like last night's dream.T 842.17.915a16; Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment p. 116.], using the perfect and sudden teaching to express the essence as it is. Therefore the Huayan jing also sees suchness as the thing which is misunderstood. That sutra says: "There is not a single sentient being who lacks the tathāgata's wisdom." T 279.10.272c05

但以妄想執著而不證得。[Interlinear Note: 智本有而未證卽知不以斷證 方爲智也]若離妄想、一切智、無師智[Interlinear Note: 不因學得] 自然智[Interlinear Note: 不因修得] 無礙智[Interlinear Note: 徧聖徧凡]卽得現前。

However, due to attachment to deluded concepts, one does not actualize [this wisdom].[Interlinear Note: Wisdom is originally our possession, but we do not actualize it. This being the case, awareness has no way to eliminate evil and actualize the truth. Hence, corrective practices must serve as wisdom.] Once one is freed from deluded conceptualization, the wisdom of omniscience, the untaught wisdom[Interlinear Note: Wisdom attained without study.], natural wisdom,[Interlinear Note: Wisdom attained without practice.] and unobstructed wisdom[Interlinear Note: The wisdom that is possessed equally by sages and worldlings.]are all manifested right here.


1. Zongmi's "formal aspect" is the same as Wonhyo's "exoteric" category.[back]

2. Wonhyo's "exoteric aspect." [back]

Creative Commons License

This document is licensed under a Creative Commons License