Chinese Tiantai Doctrine on Insentient Things' Buddha-Nature

From Buddha-Nature

< Articles

LibraryArticlesChinese Tiantai Doctrine on Insentient Things' Buddha-Nature

Chinese Tiantai Doctrine on Insentient Things’ Buddha-Nature
Citation: Chen, Shuman. "Chinese Tiantai Doctrine on Insentient Things' Buddha-Nature." Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal 24 (2011): 71–104.


This essay is an investigation into the concept of insentient things possessing Buddha-nature with a focus on Jingxi Zhanran’s thoughts. In the history of Chinese Buddhism, Zhanran was not the originator of such a concept; however, he was the first Tiantai thinker to advocate this idea. He strongly argues that according to the Tiantai Perfect Teaching, Buddha-nature certainly extends to insentient things, which refers to inanimate objects without a nervous system, i.e., tangible or formless nonliving existents. This essay therefore aims at revealing this intent of Zhanran by exploring his argument of insentient things’ Buddha-nature. For Zhanran, the key quality of Buddha-nature is all-pervasiveness, and thus naturally, not only animate beings but also inanimate things are imbued with Buddha-nature. According to the principle of mutual inclusion, each dharma realm includes the other nine realms. Also, because body and land are mutually identical, the bodies and lands of Buddhas are interfused with those of the dwellers in the other nine realms. Thus, the inanimate lands also have Buddhanature. Lastly, mutual inclusion reveals a two-way relationship between the sentient and the insentient, thereby giving the possibility of reversing the positions of the subjective observer and the objective phenomenon. As such, it is conducive to my conclusion that insentient things can also take up an active role on the path of Buddhahood, as Zhanran contends that they inherently possess the threefold Buddha-nature.


Primary Sources

  • T = Taishō shinshū daizōkyō 大正新脩大藏經 (CBETA Electronic Version 2007)
  • X = Wan xinzuan xuzangjing 卍新纂續藏經 (CBETA Electronic Version 2007)
  • Dabo niepan jing 大般涅槃經 (Mahā-parinirvāṇa Sūtra). T 374.
  • Dabo niepan jing shu 大般涅槃經疏, T 1767.
  • Da fangguang fo huayan jing 大方廣佛華嚴經 (Avataṃsaka Sūtra). T 279.
  • Dasheng xuanlun 大乘玄論. T 1853.
  • Dasheng yi zhang 大乘義章. T 1851.
  • Dazhidu lun 大智度論. attributed to Nāgārjuna (2nd-3rd century). T 1509.
  • Guanyin xuanyi ji 觀音玄義記. T 1727.
  • Huayan yisheng jiaoyi fenqi zhang 華嚴一乘教義分齊章. T 1866.
  • Jin'gangpi 金剛錍. T 1932.
  • Jin'gangpi lun shiwen 金剛錍論釋文 . X 937.
  • Jinguangming jing xuanyi 金光明經玄義. T 1783.
  • Miaofa lianhua jing 妙法蓮華經 (Saddharma-puṇḍarīka Sūtra). T 262.
  • Miaofa lianhua jing wenju 妙法蓮華經文句. T 1718.
  • Miaofa lianhua jing xuanyi 妙法蓮華經玄義. T 1716.
  • Mohe zhiguan 摩訶止觀. T 1911.
  • Shibuermen zhiyao chao 十不二門指要鈔. T 1928.
  • Shizhong xinyao 始終心要. T 1915.
  • Siming renyue yishuo congshu 四明仁岳異說叢書. X 948.
  • Siming zunzhe jiaoxinglu 四明尊者教行錄. T 1937.
  • Tiantaizong weijue fu shiyi 天台宗未決 (附釋疑). X 942.
  • Weimojie suoshou jing 維摩詰所說經 (Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra). T 475.
  • Zhiguan fuxing chuanhongjue 止觀輔行傳弘決. T 1912.
  • Zhiguan yili 止觀義例. T 1913.

Secondary Sources

  • Dong, Ping 董平. 2002. Tiantaizong Yanjiu 天臺宗研究 (A Study on the Tiantai School). Shanghai: Shanghai guji.
  • Guo, Chaoshun 郭朝順. 1999. Zhanran Wuqing Youxing Sixiang Zhong de Zhenru Gainian 湛然「無情有性」思想中的「真如」概念 (The Concept of Suchness in Zhanran's Thought on Insentient Things Having Buddha-nature). Yuanguang Buddhist Periodical 3:45-72.
  • Kantor, Hans-Rudolf. 2009. Zhiyi's Great Calming and Contemplation. Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings. Ed. William Edelglass and Jay L. Garfield. New York: Oxford. 334-347.
  • Klein, Anne Carolyn. 1995. Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhists, Feminists, and the Art of the Self. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Mou, Zongsan 牟宗三. 1989. Foxing yu Bore 佛性與般若 (Buddha-nature and Prajña). Taipei: Xuesheng shuju.
  • Ng, Yu-kwan. 1993. T'en-t'ai Buddhism and Early Madhyamika. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
  • Rujun zhu, Wu. 吳汝鈞. 2005. Chuncui Lidong Xianxiang Xue 純粹力動現象學 (Phänomenologie der reinen Vitalität). Taipei: Taiwan shangwu.
  • Pan, Guiming 潘桂明. 2006. Zhiyi Pingzhuan 智顗評傳 (A Critical Biography of Zhiyi). Nanjing: Nainjing University Press.
  • Pan, Guiming and Wu, Zhongwei 潘桂明, 吳忠偉. 2001. Zhongguo Tiantaizong Tongshi 中國天臺宗通史 (A General History of the Chinese Tiantai School). Nanjing: Jiangxu guji.
  • Penkower, Linda L. 1993. T'ien-t'ai During the T'ang Dynasty: Chan-jan and the Sinification of Buddhism. Ph.D. diss. Columbia University.
  • Penkower, Linda L. 1997. Making and Remaking Tradition: Chan-Jan's Strategies Toward a T'ang T'ien-t'ai Agenda. Tendai Daishi Kenkyū 天台大師研究 (A Study of Great Master Tiantai). Tokyo: Tendai gakkai.
  • Rambelli, Fabio. 2001. Vegetal Buddhas: Ideological Effects of Japanese Buddhist Doctrines on the Salvation of Inanimate Beings. Kyoto: Scuola Italiana di Studi sull' Asia Orientale.
  • Shih, Heng-Ching 釋恆清. 1997. Foxing Sixiang 佛性思想 (The Doctrine of Buddhanature). Taipei: Dongda.
  • Stone, Jacqueline I. 1999. Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
  • Sueki, Fumihiko 末木文美士. 2001. How Can Grasses and Trees Attain Buddhahood? An Aspect of the Japanization of Buddhism. Higashi Ajia Bukkyō no Shomondai: Seigen Hakushi Koki Kinen Ronshū 東アジア仏教の諸問題 (An Anthology of East Asian Buddhism). Ed. Shengyan, Chunghua Buddhist Institute and Seigen Hakushi Koki Kinen Ronshu Kankokai. Tokyo: Sankibo. 73-85.
  • Ziporyn, Brook. 2000. Evil and/or/as the Good: Omnicentrism, Intersubjectivity, and Value Paradox in Tiantai Buddhist Thought. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center.
  • Ziporyn, Brook. 2000. Setup, Punch Line, and the Mind-Body Problem: A Neo-Tiantai Approach. Philosophy East and West 50(4): 584-613.
  • Ziporyn, Brook. 2009. The Deluded Mind as World and Truth: Epistemological Implications of Tiantai Doctrine and Praxis in Jingxi Zhanran's Jingangpi and Zhiguan yili. Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings. Ed. William Edelglass and Jay L. Garfield. New York: Oxford. 238-250.
  • Ziporyn, Brook. 2010. Mind and Its 'Creation' of All Phenomena in Tiantai Buddhism. Journal of Chinese Philosophy 37(2): 156-180.