Chinese Tiantai Doctrine on Insentient Things' Buddha-Nature

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

Abstract

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.

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