A Re-examination of the Relationship between the Awakening of Faith and Dilun School Thought, Focusing on the Works of Huiyuan

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A Re-examination of the Relationship between the Awakening of Faith and Dilun School Thought, Focusing on the Works of Huiyuan
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Citation: Keng, Ching. "A Re-examination of the Relationship between the Awakening of Faith and Dilun School Thought, Focusing on the Works of Huiyuan." In A Distant Mirror: Articulating Indic Ideas in Sixth and Seventh Century Chinese Buddhism, edited by Chen-kuo Lin and Michael Radich, 183–215. Hamburg: Hamburg University Press, 2014. https://hup.sub.uni-hamburg.de/volltexte/2014/146/chapter/HamburgUP_HBS03_Keng_LinRadich_Mirror.pdf.

Article Summary

Ching Keng’s paper challenges the prevalent assumption that the Awakening of Faith was composed under the influence of the Dilun School. Keng aims to show that in the representative works of Huiyuan, arguably the most important Dilun master, we do not find the essential doctrinal feature of the Awakening of Faith, namely, the compromise or even the total obliteration of the distinction between unconditioned (asaṃskṛta) and conditioned (saṃskṛta) dharmas. Keng observes that almost all available studies of Huiyuan focus on a small piece entitled "Bashi yi" (八識義, "On the Meaning of the Eight Consciousnesses"), which shows strong influence from the "Awakening of Faith"; but that other works of Huiyuan outline a very different conceptual scheme. Taking these other works as representing Huiyuan's earlier thought, and therefore Dilun thought, Keng argues that the hallmark of Huiyuan's thought is a dualist scheme, in which the inherently pure aspect is unambiguously unconditioned, with no blending with conditioned dharmas; this inherently pure aspect can adjust to falsity (suiwang 隨妄) and give rise to misconception, but without compromising its unconditioned nature. Upon this basis, Keng contends that the compromise between unconditioned and conditioned in the Awakening of Faith should be regarded as an innovation, rather than a direct outgrowth from Dilun thought. An important broader implication of Keng's argument is that Huiyuan’s thought, Dilun thought, and even the thought of the Laṅkāvatāra-sūtra has been anachronistically misinterpreted through the later, typically Chinese lens of the Awakening of Faith. This suggests the sobering possibility that typically "sinitic" (or even "sinified") developments became so pervasive in the later East Asian tradition that their stamp may still lie heavy upon parts of modern Buddhology itself, and that we might therefore overlook both evidence and products of "sinifying" processes, and even the actual features of Indic materials. (Radich and Lin, introduction to A Distant Mirror, 25–26)