Jacqueline Stone at the 2019 Tathāgatagarbha Symposium

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Jacqueline Stone at the 2019 Tathāgatagarbha Symposium - 21 of 23
Jacqueline Stone discusses the doctrine of original enlightenment (hongaku hōmon) and the debate over whether such a concept negates the need for practice and legitimates sinful acts. She explores the notion of original enlightenment as it is portrayed in the twelfth-century text known as Shinnyo kan (Contemplation of Suchness).

Abstract from the Author

From Buddha Nature to Original Enlightenment “Contemplating Suchness” in Medieval Japan
Most theories of buddha-nature circulating in medieval Japan entailed the proposition that all phenomena, being empty, are nondual and mutually inclusive, each encompassing and pervading all others without losing its individual character; thus the “buddha” is somehow present in ordinary beings. To many Buddhist thinkers, this suggested the possibility that buddhahood could be attained quickly. “Realizing buddhahood with this very body” (sokushin jōbutsu)—what it might mean, its preconditions, and the practices for achieving it—was vociferously debated. Concern for rapid attainment culminated in the Tendai Buddhist doctrine of original enlightenment (hongaku hōmon), which asserts that buddhahood is not a goal at all but the true status of all things: Suffering arises from the failure to realize this, while liberation lies in the insight, or even the faith, that one is buddha already. Hongaku thought has often been disparaged in modern scholarship as an uncritical world affirmation that, in valorizing all phenomena as expressions of original enlightenment, in effect negated the need for practice and legitimated sinful acts. It is more accurately understood, however, as a radical inversion of practice and attainment: buddhahood is not a future achievement but inherent from the outset, and practice is not a means to realize buddhahood but its paradigmatic expression. This paper will examine how original enlightenment thought grew out of major strands of East Asian Mahāyāna thinking about buddha-nature. It will also illustrate some of its defining features as seen through a twelfth-century text known as Shinnyo kan (Contemplation of Suchness), which asserts that buddhahood lies precisely in contemplating self and others—humans and animals, pebbles and trees—as buddhas, just as they are.

Sources Mentioned

People Mentioned

Hakamaya Noriaki
Matsumoto Shirō
942 ~ 1017
1173 ~ 1262
Featuring Jacqueline Stone
Creator University of Vienna, Tsadra Foundation
Event Tathāgatagarbha Across Asia (19 July 2019, University of Vienna, Austria)
Related Website Buddha-Nature Project
Video Web Location Tathāgatagarbha Across Asia
Creation Date 19 July 2019
Citation Stone, Jacqueline. "From Buddha Nature to Original Enlightenment: 'Contemplating Suchness' in Medieval Japan." Paper presented at the University of Vienna Symposium, Tathāgatagarbha Across Asia, Vienna, Austria, July 2019. Video, 47:26. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zXXWsD39hc.