23: Schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism

Wed., Aug. 20th, 09:00-16:30

The Incorporation and Development of Tanluan's Thought on the Nianfo in Daochuo's Anleji

Conway, Michael (The Eastern Buddhist Society, Kyoto, JPN)

Daochuo 道綽 (562-645) is said to have become a devotee of Pure Land Buddhism after encountering a passage related to Tanluan 曇鸞 (476-542?). Although the content of that passage is unclear, since Daochuo’s Anleji 安樂集 (T no. 1958) contains twenty-seven passages based on Tanluan’s works, it is very clear that Tanluan’s thought had a strong impact on the ideas that Daochuo presents there. That said, Daochuo rarely attributes his quotations from Tanluan’s Jingtulunzhu 浄土論註 (T no. 1819) and Lüelunanlejingtuyi 略論安樂淨土義 (T no. 1957) to Tanluan himself, instead offering Nāgārjuna (c. third century) or Vasubandhu (c. 400-480) as a source, or treating the passages as Daochuo’s own words. In addition, he creatively rewrites a great many of these passages, in some cases clarifying the significance of the original passage and in others adding a new meaning not found in Tanluan’s original. Further, Daochuo takes these passages out of the context in which they were written and restructures them in order to serve his purposes in the Anleji.

By exploring Daochuo’s unique application and re-expression of Tanluan’s words, this paper will show how Daochuo reshaped Tanluan’s arguments to answer to the concerns of the Buddhist world in the early Tang dynasty and further developed Tanluan’s stance on the nature of the nianfo 念佛, highlighting the central importance of Amitābha’s name and the mind of faith in Pure Land soteriology.

Although Daochuo either quotes or paraphrases Tanluan’s works in seven of the twelve chapters of the Anleji, this paper will focus on the third section of its second chapter, where Daochuo takes eleven questions and answers from various parts of the Jingtulunzhu and the Lüelunanlejingtuyi and presents them with significant revisions as a single dialogue discussing the soteriological efficacy of the nianfo. In the passage directly preceding this section, Daochuo addresses the issue of the application of the category of the Buddha’s preaching as “words intended to express a different time” (bieshiyi 別時意), which is discussed in the Shedachenglun 攝大乘論 (T no. 1592) and the Shedachenglunshi 攝大乘論釋 (T no. 1595), to the nianfo as preached in the Guanwuliangshoujing 觀無量壽經 (T no. 1749). Proponents of this position criticized Pure Land devotion, arguing that the nianfo does not lead directly to birth in Amitābha’s Pure Land and the incumbent high level of attainment on the Buddhist path (the stage of non-retrogression, butuizhuan 不退転), but only serves as an initial cause for a birth at some point in the very distant future. I will show that Daochuo employs Tanluan’s various questions and answers in order to dispel this doubt about the ability of the nianfo to effect genuine progress on the Buddhist path and to show that it is effective for the person with the mind of faith because Amitābha’s name is endowed with the transcendental wisdom and virtues that he perfected in his extensive practice.


Difficulty of Translating Chinese Buddhist Texts in Japan

Ishida, Kazuhiro (Jodo Shu Research Institute, Tokyo, JPN)

How do we treat Chinese Buddhist texts in Japan? These are not only texts written in Chinese, but they also have a traditional understanding affected by Japanese culture. In other words, Japanese Buddhists have interpreted many Chinese Buddhist texts since those had been brought over to Japan. Moreover, the cultural background of texts was often not considered in those Japanese interpretations. The history of Japanese Buddhism is made by interpreting the Chinese Buddhist texts. On the other hand, the Chinese Buddhist texts reflect its culture. In addition, those texts as translation inform scholars of Indian Buddhist philosophy.

When we try to translate a classical Chinese Buddhist text into a modern language, we should treat it carefully. If we translate a Chinese Buddhist text to understand the Buddhist philosophy in China or India, we should consider original Sanskrit texts reflecting pan-Indian culture and history. However, when we try to translate the Three Pure Land Sutras in order to introduce Japanese Buddhism to the world, contextualization of Indian and Chinese Buddhism into Japan has to be considered.

The Jodo Shu Research Institute has translated the Three Pure Land Sutras into English. In this work many problems occurred. The cause of these problems is the Chinese translations of the Three Pure Land Sutras which were made between India and Japan. That means that we can understand a passage in these sutras based on either the Indian context or the Japanese one. Both understandings, however, are not the same. Generally speaking, the understanding of the Chinese Buddhist texts based on the Japanese tradition is criticized because it is different from the understanding based on the original Sanskrit text or the Indian context.

The Jodo Shu Research Institute has translated the Three Pure Land Sutras into English based on the Japanese tradition since 2003. We referred to original Sanskrit texts for precise translation. However when determining meanings of a passage or word, we relied on traditional Japanese interpretations, because the Chinese translations of the Three Pure Land Sutras in Japan cannot be separated from those interpretations. In a sense, there is the essence of Buddhism in this point. If we try to comprehend Buddhist philosophy, we should carefully consider the history of Buddhism and the place where Buddhism spread. We must not neglect the Japanese Buddhist tradition in order to grasp the whole picture of Buddhism from India, China to Japan.

In this presentation, I will demonstrate the problems and methods of translations by showing concrete examples. I believe that my presentation will be helpful to scholars to understand Indian, Chinese, and Japanese Buddhist philosophy.


The Power of Giving: Sanjie and Sōtō Teachings on Dāna and the Ethical Efficacy of Ritual

Kalmanson, Leah (Drake University, Des Moines, USA)

This presentation draws on recent research in the Tang-dynasty Sanjie or “Three Stages” Buddhist sect, whose doctrinal developments prefigure many key issues in Chan, including debates over sudden enlightenment and tensions between spontaneity and ritualism. Sanjie’s innovative perspective on the power of charitable giving helps contextualize similar ethical imperatives within Chan and especially Sōtō Zen. Sanjie’s founder Xinxing (540–594) teaches that karmic debts are insurmountable and cannot be repaid one by one. Yet, we can immediately discharge our own karmic burden and that of our families by making a single charitable donation to the Inexhaustible Storehouse. This lending institution—an odd experiment in the power of giving—enjoyed a period of widespread success before eventually being branded as heretical. While in operation, the Storehouse accepted charity from the surrounding populations, and the act of donating was thought to generate karmic merit for the giver, a system already relied upon by Buddhist monasteries to raise money for themselves. However, unique to Xinxing’s Storehouse, anyone could borrow money and goods as needed, and repayment was optional and interest-free. Through my gift to the Storehouse, Xinxing taught that I would immediately be connected through chains of interdependence to Xinxing himself—his bodhisattva-like compassion would become my own. In this way, Xinxing interprets Buddhist teachings on interdependence in distinctly institutional terms: my participation in an institution of generosity not only amplifies my small contribution, but it directly links me to Xinxing himself, elevating me to the status of a bodhisattva and thus dispelling my otherwise insurmountable karmic debt. Complementing this emphasis on institutional structure, Xinxing expresses a preference for formal acts of giving over sporadic outbursts, no matter how sincere an act of spontaneous giving might be. He encourages practitioners to put their energy not toward giving sincerely but toward giving in what we might call “good form,” where form refers to the structure and formality of a sustained practice. This emphasis on good form is evident when one of his followers asks him why donors to the storehouse do not appear immediately enlightened. In other words, if a single donation to the Storehouse makes me a bodhisattva, then why is my new status not readily apparent? Xinxing replies: “It is like putting a snake into a bamboo tube—the tube is straight and so the snake also becomes straight.” Xinxing’s focus on correct form prefigures the later Sōtō Zen emphasis on correct sitting posture: the point is to put yourself in the right position, go through the right motions, and trust in the process. At no time should you worry about whether you are “really” becoming enlightened. So, too, Xinxing says, we should not worry about whether the snake is “really” straight, or whether through my donation I am “really” a bodhisattva. This snake simile, and its focus on the efficacy of good form, helps us assess the ethical import of Chan and especially later Sōtō Zen ritual practices. One common objection to ritualistic behavior is that practitioners are just “going through the motions.” This criticism only stings if we are already in the grip of a substance ontology that allots more so-called reality to the self than to the self’s actions. Going through motions is less of a problem when motions are seen as constitutive of entities. Reading Dōgen’s writings on practice-enlightenment alongside his writings on dāna reveal a position not dissimilar to the now defunct Sanjie sect: the power of giving is deeply tied to the efficacy of good form. I consider the relevance of this ethical view on charitableness in contemporary terms.


A Comparative Study on the Eighteenth Chapter of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārabhāṣya and the Sūtrālaṃkāravṛttibhāṣya with Special Focus on their Canonical Citations

Kishi, Sayaka (University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba-Shi Ibaraki, JPN)

The Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārabhāṣya (MSABh) attributed to Vasubandhu (5th c.) is an extensive commentary on the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra (MSA). The Sūtrālaṃkāravṛttibhāṣya (SAVBh) attributed to Sthiramati (6th c.) is one of the sub-commentaries on the MSA. The SAVBh provides valuable information and a great help for our correct understanding of the MSABh. In his commentary, however, Sthiramati resorts to different canonical sources from those which the MSABh has relied on. This seems to be a result of his intention to accentuate a distinct character of the MSA/MSABh as a Mahāyāna treatise. In this study, I will examine what kind of canonical sources the MSABh and the SAVBh used in their explanations of thirty-seven practices for attaining enlightenment (saptatriṃśadbodhipakṣadharma), which is one of the main topics in the MSA XVIII, and clarify the difference in their purport of canonical citations. It is well-known that the MSABh shares many teachings and practices with the Yogācārabhūmi (YBh). The MSABh’s chapter structure corresponds to that of the Maulībhūmi of the YBh. As for the topics and contents of each chapter too, there are a lot of similarities between them. The thirty-seven practices for attaining enlightenment find their correspondence in the Vastusaṃgrahaṇī of the YBh. For example, the YBh cites a simile of seven treasures having a wheel-turning king from an āgama, which is identified as the Saṃyutta-āgama in the explanation of the practice of the seven aids for enlightenment (saptabodhyaṅga) that is one of the thirty-seven practices. Vasubandhu cites the same simile in his MSABh XVIII without indicating that it is from the Saṃyutta-āgama. It is highly probable that the MSABh followed the YBh. Thereby, Vasubandhu seems to have intended to demonstrate that his composition, i.e., the MSABh, is one of the treatises belonging to the Yogācāra tradition and therefore to the Mahāyāna stream as well.

After hundred years, however, Sthiramati explains the seven aids for enlightenment based on different scriptural sources. He quotes several Mahāyāna sūtras. Among them, his main source is the Akṣayamatinirdeśasūtra (ANSū), one of the most influential Mahāyāna sūtras. In my view, Sthiramati used those Mahāyāna sūtras for the purpose of emphasizing the superiority of Mahāyāna-Bodhisattvas over Śrāvakas and Pratyekabuddhas. Compared with the MSABh, Sthiramati thus demonstrates their Mahāyāna position by quoting Mahāyāna sūtras as scriptural authority. In this paper, I will discuss Sthiramati’s elucidation of the thirty-seven practices in detail and indicate a certain theoretical development from Vasubandhu to Sthiramati.


Killing the Buddha: Chan Buddhism and Antinomian Ethics

Nelson, Eric (Lowell, USA)

Critical Buddhism and recent scholarship have aimed at deconstructing the aura of Zen Buddhism by delegitimating its development from Tang Dynasty Chan Buddhism. It has been argued that (1) the images of “wild” Chan masters such as Mazu and Linji have been retrospectively refashioned and stylistically radicalized and (2) the rhetoric of radical spontaneity, non-duality, immediacy, and emptiness associated with the Hongzhou-Linji style of Chan has destructive antinomian and nihilistic consequences. However, the second claim is not a new one but has sources in Tang dynasty Chan Buddhism itself. One of Mazu’s early critics, Zongmi, was concerned with whether the priority of ordinary mind undermined the disciplined cultivation of the Buddhist path and whether his anti-conventionalism entailed the destruction of morality and the ethical life of the community.

In this paper, I examine how and to what extent Chan challenges to conventional morality not only have sources within Buddhism but can be ethically inspired and considered a deeply ethical project. Whereas the standard literature frequently opposes antinomianism to morality, as a system of fixed rules and conventions, I explore whether emptiness (kong) can be understood as a practice of emptying that opens up the capacity to encounter and respond to things. The practice of emptiness is enacted through a rich variety of Chan linguistic and behavioral strategies and provocations. These challenge conventional morality, absorbed in calculation and exchange from an anthropocentric perspective, not for the sake of indifference or immorality but in order to encounter and liberate things and others in their interdependence and uniqueness; through the destructuring of ordinary ethical life and the Buddhist path as conventional, the antinomian aporetic ethics of “killing the Buddha” in Hongzhou and Linji Chan points followers of the way toward the ordinary mind and its capacities to encounter and respond in the midst of the world.



laukikaṃ paramārtham: Textual Problems in the Commentary on Chapter 24, Verse 10 in the Prasannapadā

Niisaku, Yoshiaki (University of Tokyo, Tokyo, JPN)

It goes without saying that the theory of the two truths of paramārtha and saṃvṛti is one of the most important concepts in Madhyamaka Philosophy and that this theory is explained in chapter 24, verses 8-10, of Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (MMK). In 24.10ab, Nāgārjuna uses the term ‘‘verbal expression (vyavahāra)’’ with nearly the same meaning as “verbal convention (saṃvrti)’’ and explains the relationship of the two truths as follows: “without relying on verbal expression (vyavahāra), the ultimate object (paramārtha) is not taught.” (MMK 24.10ab)

Candrakīrti’s commentary on this part can be found in Louis de la Vallée Poussin’s (LVP) text of the Prasannapadā (PSP), which is one of the best known commentaries on the MMK, as follows: “without admitting worldly verbal expression (laukikaṃ vyavahāram), the characteristic of which is name and what is named and cognition and what is cognized and so on, the ultimate object cannot be taught.” (laukikaṃ vyavahāram anabhyupagamyābhidhānābhidheyajñānajñeyādilakṣaṇam aśakyate eva paramārtho deśayituṃ) [LVP ed. 494.8-9]

Although the text of the PSP was edited by LVP in 1903-1913, many scholars still use his text even today. However, there are some textual problems in LVP’s text and some scholars have begun revising it by referring to newly-discovered manuscripts. Anne MacDonald, who revised the first chapter of the PSP, regarded six “better’’ manuscripts as important among about twenty available manuscripts.

In this presentation, I will discuss textual problems regarding the term “[laukikaṃ] vyavahāram’’ in the preceding quotation from the PSP. Although I checked the six “better’’ manuscripts and several other manuscripts directly or indirectly as well as five versions of Tibetan translations, I found no evidence to support the reading of “[laukikaṃ] vyavahāram’’ as is seen in LVP’s text.

The term “[laukikaṃ] paramārtham’’ is found in almost all Sanskrit manuscripts —except for the Oxford manuscript—, and the term “’jig rten pa’i don dam pa (*laukikaṃ paramārtham)’’ is also found in five versions of Tibetan translations instead of “[laukikaṃ] vyavahāram’’, which we would have expected to find.

            De Jong, who made many corrections to LVP’s text based on the Roman manuscript and comparing it to the Tibetan translations, adopted the reading of “[laukikaṃ] vyavahāram’’ in spite of having found the term “[laukikaṃ] paramārtham’’ in the Roman manuscript in his paper, and many scholars also adopt the reading of LVP’s text because it seems to fit the context. However, since the term “[laukikaṃ] paramārtham’’ is found in almost all Sanskrit manuscripts and five Tibetan translations, we need to examine its possible reading.

Although a few studies have already dealt with this problem and pointed out that the term “laukikaṃ paramārtham’’ was found in Candrakīrti’s Yuktiṣaṣṭikāvṛtti and Catuḥśatakaṭīkā, there are still a few issues in the interpretation of this expression that need to be looked at again. Accordingly, I will re-examine these examples and reconsider them in the context of the PSP.


The Theory of the Conventional Truth Presented in the Prajñāpradīpa and its Ṭīkā

Nishiyama, Ryo (Ryukoku University Research Center for Buddhist Cultures in Asia, Koka, Shiga, JPN)

The theory of the two truths is a heuristic device that has been continually used by Mahāyāna Buddhists since Nāgārjuna. Bhāviveka, the sixth century Mādhyamika philosopher, is known to have introduced the Yogācāra theory of the multi-leveled two truths into the Mādhyamika interpretation of the two truths. In this presentation I would like to focus upon his unique theory of the conventional truth. In the 24th chapter of the Prajñāpradīpa Bhāviveka distinguishes two kinds of worldly convention: (1) the statements of Abhidharmic dharmas, such as “Color-form arises, stays and perishes”, and (2) those of persons (pudgala), such as “Devadatta goes”. In the first chapter of the Prajñāpradīpa-ṭīkā Avalokitavrata considers the statements of “non-substantiality” (niḥsvabhāvatā) or “non-arising” (anutpāda) of dharmas also to be the conventional truth. Thus, it is most likely that Bhāviveka and his followers distinguished three levels of the conventional truth. I would like to discuss their theory together with its historical background.


Lineage: Transmission through Master or Text?

Tam, Wei Keong (Centre of Buddhist Studies, The University of Hong Kong, HKG)

The idea of religious lineage is one of the elements in Chinese Buddhist monastic tradition that poses significant dynamics in which changes would dramatically impact the contours of the school itself. It not only shapes each school’s tradition and principles, but also presents a strategy upon which authority and legitimacy are established.[1]

During the tenth and eleventh centuries, the issues of lineage and dharma transmission were highly debated among each school, particularly evident in the clash between Tiantai and Chan. Each emphasized their own retrospective lineage transmission that traced its roots back through an Indian lineage. In contrast, Yuanzhao, 元照 (1050–1115), in his writings on the Vinaya School’s lineage, formulated the structure and criteria of his lineage tradition. His approach on this issue was slightly different from the Tiantai and Chan Schools. He claimed that the Vinaya School of the Nanshan tradition received authentic transmission through Dharmasena (Fashi 法時), who, in 220 AD, was the first master that initiated the proper Bhikkhu ordination ceremony in China at Luoyang. The Nanshan lineage could therefore assert its own authority starting within China and, at the same time, did not need to answer the inquiry of the dharma transmission from India.

The development of the Nanshan Vinaya lineage, although still far from being fully understood, has not been researched and interpreted by many scholars. For our purposes, we will consider its history with attention directed towards the inquiry of what constitutes the most pertinent aspects of understanding the Vinaya School’s notions of lineage.

This paper reviews the notion of lineage constructed by Yuanzhao during the Song Dynasty and is based on the “The Chart of Patriarchs’ Transmission of Nanshan Vinaya Lineage” [2]. Thus the Nanshan Vinaya lineage and its historical development form our main narrative.

The reconstruction of the Vinaya School of Nanshan lineage, in other words, is not only about gaining legitimacy in the eyes of others. For much of the Nanshan tradition’s history, lineage has also been fundamental in maintaining the internal coherence of Vinaya’s monastic rules that were inherited from the foreign Indian culture and adapted within the local Chinese tradition. This study offers insight into the Nanshan tradition—and related issues, including conceptions of the Nanshan tradition and intellectual authority, its relationship with the state, primarily focusing on the contribution of Yuanzhao.

Again, Yuanzhao never postulated an unbroken Nanshan Vinaya line of transmission dating back to ancient India. Indeed, he focused on the significant contributions of patriarchs in regards to their reliability and ability of writing the Vinaya exegesis and annotation, thereby promoting and promulgating the Vinaya practice in China. Yuanzhao’s approach was totally different from his counterparts affiliated to the Chan School masters, asserted a stronger reliance upon the master-disciple relationship in understanding their mode of lineage transmission.

Furthermore, this work is valuable as it offers a contemporary account of other traditions of Vinaya School during the Song dynasty, thereby providing a clearer picture of the Vinaya development in China during the tenth and eleventh centuries.

[1] Morrison, E. The Power of Patriarch, p. 13

[2] 南山律宗祖承圖錄 CBETA, X59, no. 1104, p. 646.


Is Madhyamaka a Form of Nihilism?

Westerhoff, Jan (Oxford University, Oxford, GBR)

Madhyamaka philosophy has been frequently characterized as nihilism, not just by its Buddhist and non-Buddhist opponents, but also by some contemporary Buddhologists. This characterization might well strike us as surprising.

First, nihilism appears to be straightforwardly inconsistent (“if there is nothing, there is still the fact that there is nothing, so there is something”). It would be curious if a philosophical school holding such an obviously deficient view would have acquired the kind of importance Madhyamaka has acquired in the Asian intellectual landscape over the last two millenia.

Second, Madhyamaka by its very name proclaims to tread the “middle way”, and what if anything would count as an extreme position but the view that there is nothing?

This paper will address both the systematic status of nihilist theories as well as the historical contexts in which Madhyamaka has been characterized as nihilistic, aiming to throw some light on plausible and implausible ways of understanding the Madhyamaka intellectual enterprise. 


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