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Jingqi, (present-day Jiangsu province)
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This thesis, a comparison of the concepts of buddha-nature and dao-nature in the medieval period (from the 5th to the 10th centuries) of China, presents a historical investigation of the formation of the idea that insentient things are able to possess buddha-nature in medieval Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhism. In Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhism, the concept of buddha-nature was originally defined as a potential possessed by sentient beings that enabled them to achieve buddhahood. From the 6th century, the concept was reinterpreted within the Chinese Buddhist tradition so that insentient things were also able to possess buddha-nature. Recent scholarship has pointed out that the idea of insentient things having buddha-nature is a combination of Buddhist and Daoist ideas based on the concept of the all-pervading Dao found in the Zhuangzi 莊子. In this sense, buddha-nature seems to be interpreted as equivalent with the Dao of Daoism. My project suggests that the reinterpretation of buddha-nature in association with the insentient realm should be elucidated in a more nuanced way than the idea of all-pervasiveness of the Dao. A historical, doctrinal investigation of the intellectual formation of the concept of buddha-nature in Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhism demonstrates a new interpretation of buddha-nature in the context of insentient things having buddha-nature. Further, through a historical investigation of intellectual exchange between Buddhism and Daoism, some evidence provided in this project illustrates that the idea of insentient things having dao-nature in Daoism was not inherited from Buddhism, but drawn from Daoist tradition. This new perspective is different from that of some contemporary scholars who have claimed that the idea of insentient things having dao-nature was borrowed from Chinese Buddhism. A chronological investigation of the discussion of nature in Chinese thought demonstrates that the idea of insentient things having buddha-nature incorporates earlier Daoist traditions found in Arcane Study.
This dissertation examines the notion that not only sentient beings but also insentient
ones, e.g., flora, mountains, rivers, and manmade objects, have Buddha-nature. Employing an
exegetical approach, I investigate Jingxi Zhanran’s (711-782) theory of the Buddha-nature of
insentient beings. Emphasizing the all-pervasiveness of Buddha-nature and the nonduality of
mind and material, he eliminates the absolute distinction between sentient and insentient beings
and contends that Buddha-nature includes all beings. Additionally, insisting on the Tiantai notion
of mutual inclusion, which reveals a two-way relationship between sentience and insentience,
Zhanran reverses the positions of the subjective observer and the objective phenomenon,
subjectifying insentient beings.
In addition to examining the theoretical profundity of Zhanran’s theory, my study examines the issues of sentience versus insentience and Buddha-nature that took place before Zhanran and discusses the subsequent Tiantai concerns with the Buddha-nature of insentient beings. Through textual analysis, I reexamine the emergence of the Chinese thought that connects Buddha-nature to insentient things, initially presented by Jingying Huiyuan (523-592) and Jiaxiang Jizang (549-623). I also illustrate that the concept of the Buddha-nature of insentient beings is implied in Zhiyi’s (538-597) thought by interpreting Zhiyi’s teachings that inspired Zhanran’s advocacy. Furthermore, I analyze, on doctrinal grounds, Chinese Tiantai descendants’ endorsement of Zhanran’s theory, contrasting it with their Japanese counterparts’, the latter who found it difficult to conceptualize how insentient beings’ spiritual cultivation might occur.
From this, we can draw the conclusions that for a Tang Dynasty (618–907) monk, trained on the teachings and traditions of a Sinitic school of Buddhism, the title of a Buddhist writing is highly important, for mainly two reasons: (1.) it can bear the very essence, the 'subtle' meaning of the whole work, and (2.) it can serve as an anchor, that bounds it to the 'original' Buddhist teachings, serving as a means of legitimatisation, at the same time. These two aims can be detected in Zhanran's'"`UNIQ--ref-00000643-QINU`"' 湛然 (711−782) choice of the title for his Diamond Scalpel (Jin’gang bei 金剛錍; T46:1932) treatise. The Diamond Scalpel treatise, in one fascicle, written in his old age, is a relatively short work, compared to his lengthy commentaries, yet well deserves to be considered his most creative, genuine work. The main theme of the treatise is the Tiantai interpretation of the teaching of Buddha-nature, as inherently including insentient realm, as well as all sentient beings. While expounding the topic, and presenting his arguments, the main tenets of the Tiantai school emerge one after the another, offering the reader a complete picture of the self and the world, suffering and the ways to liberation, etc. – i.e. problems of utmost importance for a Buddhist practitioner –, as seen by a Tang Dynasty Buddhist monk. At a first reading, the title of the treatise does not seem to tell us a lot about its content, but taking a closer look, and applying a more careful, meticulous examination, we find that Zhanran's choice of title must have been the result of a thoughtful consideration, for it perfectly suites the above mentioned two criteria. Following Zhiyi’s legacy, Zhanran chooses a title, which 'symbolizes and summarizes' the main issues to be discussed in his treatise. More precisely, first of all, it hides an allusion to a simile from a mahāyāna sūtra (thought to render the words of the Buddha), and thus anchors, bounds the whole work to the 'original' teachings of the Buddha, and secondly, after decoding the symbols and references, and interpreting them in the light of Tiantai philosophy, we find that these three characters can truly be regarded the quintessence of the work, the very argument in support of the theory of Buddha-nature of the insentient. Zhanran, following the example of his great predecessor, Zhiyi, expounds and argues based on the most important texts and tenets of mahāyāna Buddhism, while interpreting, reinterpreting, and often furnishing these with new, ingenious meanings.
First, we are going to examine the provenance and possible interpretations of the title – i.e. the context in which the basic notions appear, before Zhanran's time –, Zhanran's own explanation of the title, i.e. the very first paragraph of his work, and further interpretations of the title (and its explanation) found in later commentaries, written to the treatise, by Tang and Song Dynasty monks. Through this one, particular example we can get a glimpse into the complex process of how Chinese monks interpreted and reinterpreted the texts inherited from India, the way in which through focusing on, and/or consciously selecting certain motifs, similes or even terms, embellished these with new meanings, which were further used as tools to prove their own ideas and theories, as if these were identical with the original teachings of Buddha Śākyamuni. Secondly, we are going to examine the most important arguments Zhanran is using to prove his theory about the Buddha-nature of the insentient. I will argue that these arguments can be grouped around two key concepts, already concealed within the title. (Pap, "Zhanran’s Arguments in Support of his Buddha-Nature Theory," 129–130)
- Qi (戚) · other names
- Jingqi 荊溪 · other names
- Great Master Miaole (Sublime Bliss) · other names
- Dharma Master Jizhu (Lord of Exegesis) · other names
Affiliations & relations
- Tiantai · religious affiliation
- Xuanlang (673–754) · teacher