The Doctrinal Transformation of Twentieth-Century Chinese Buddhism: Master Yinshun's Interpretation of the Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine

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The Doctrinal Transformation of Twentieth-Century Chinese Buddhism: Master Yinshun's Interpretation of the Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine
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Citation: Hurley, Scott. "The Doctrinal Transformation of Twentieth-Century Chinese Buddhism: Master Yinshun's Interpretation of the Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine." Contemporary Buddhism 5, no. 1 (2004): 29–46.

Abstract

In this paper, I examine Yinshun’s interpretation of the tathāgatagarbha (rulaizang) and its relationship to the following concepts: the Buddha’s epithet ‘the thus come one’ (Skt. tathāgata; Chn. rulai) and the theory of ‘the selfhood of the tathāgatagarbha’ (rulaizangwo). Yinshun regards these two ideas as playing substantial roles in the evolution of the tathāgatagarbha theory. His conception of their connection to the theory clarifies what I contend has been and continues to be Yinshun’s doctrinal agenda; namely, re-asserting the doctrine of emptiness (Skt. śūnyatā; Chn. kong) as the definitive expression of Buddhist truth and relegating the tathāgatagarbha teaching to the category of expedient means. I base the following discussion primarily on Yinshun’s text A Study of the Tathāgatagarbha (Rulaizang Zhi Yanjiu), for it serves as his most exhaustive statement about the tathāgatagarbha and related doctrines. Finally, the interpretation of the relationship between the tathāgatagarbha and the doctrine of emptiness has been and continues to be a contested issue in the Buddhist tradition. Therefore, before turning to Yinshun’s explanation of its connection to the aforementioned concepts, I first place his interpretation of the tathāgatagarbha within the context of this on-going dispute. (Hurley, "The Doctrinal Transformation of Twentieth-Century Chinese Buddhism," 30)