The Yogācārā and Mādhyamika Interpretations of the Buddha-nature Concept in Chinese Buddhism

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The Yogācārā and Mādhyamika Interpretations of the Buddha-nature Concept in Chinese Buddhism
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Citation: Liu, Ming-Wood. "The Yogācārā and Mādhyamika Interpretations of the Buddha-nature Concept in Chinese Buddhism." Philosophy East and West 35, no. 2 (1985): 171–93.

Article Summary

The idea of Buddha-nature was first made popular in China in the early fifth century with the translation of the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra (hereafter cited as MNS),[1] and since then, it has remained one of the central themes of Chinese Buddhist thought. Already in the fifth and early sixth centuries, a wide variety of theories on the Buddha-nature had begun to appear, but extant information about them remains scanty and scattered.[2] It is in the writings of Ching-ying Hui-yüan (523–592),[3] the Yogācārin, and in Chi-tsang (549–623), the Mādhyamika, that we find the earliest available full-scale treatments of the subject. Hui-yüan and Chi-tsang hold a number of views in common with respect to the question of Buddha -nature:

(a) Both regard the Buddha-nature doctrine as among the principal tenets of Mahāyāna Buddhism.[4]
(b) Both accept the MNS as the final canonical authority on the problem of Buddha-nature.[5]
(c} Both affirm that all sentient beings without exception possess the Buddha-nature in the sense that every one of them will attain Buddha hood one day.[6]

Nevertheless, given their very different theoretical upbringings and doctrinal affiliations, it is inevitable that they would carry to their explanations of the Buddha-nature concept some of the basic principles and assumptions of their respective philosophical traditions. In examining and comparing the Buddha-nature teachings of Hui-yüan and Chi-tsang our present study attempts to show how the Buddha-nature concept has come to assume divergent significances when read in the context of the two main streams of thought in Mahāyāna Buddhism: Yogācāra and Mādhyamika. (Liu, "The Yogācāra and Mādhyamika Interpretations of the Buddha-nature Concept in Chinese Buddhism," 171)
  1. For discussions of the leaching of Buddha-nature in the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra (Hereafter cited as MNS), consult Mou Tsung-san, Fo-hsing yü pan-jo, (Taipei, 1977), vol. 1. pp. 179–182 and 189–216; and Ming-Wood Liu, "The Doctrine of the Buddha-nature in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra," Journal of the lnternational Association of Buddhist Studies 5. no. 2 (1982): 63–94; hereafter cited as Liu, "Doctrine."
  2. On the early Chinese Buddha-nature theories, refer 10 Fuse Kōgaku. Nehanshū no kenkyū, 2nd ed. (Tokyo, 1973), vol. 2; T'ang Yung-t'ung, Han Wei Liang-Chin Nan-pai-ch'ao fo-chiao shih, 2d ed. (Peking, 1963), pp . 677–717: Mou Tsung-san, Fo-hsing yü pan-jo, pp. 182–189; and Whalen Lai, "Sinitic Speculations on Buddha-nature: The Nirvāṇa School." Philosophy East & West 32, no. 2 (April 1982): 135–149.
  3. Posterity often refers to Hui-yüan as "Hui-yüan of the Ching-ying Temple," in order to avoid confusion with the famous Hui-Yüan of Lu-shan (344–416),
  4. Hui-yuan regards the idea of Buddha-nature as the fundamental principle of the one vehicle teaching. See Ta-ch'eng i-chang (Essentials of the Mahāyāna, hereafter cited as Essentials). Takakusu Junjirō and Watenabe Kaikyokū, eds., Taishō shinshū daizōkyō, 85 vols. (Tokyo. 1924–1934), vol. 44. p. 649a. 11.27– 28, hereafter cited as T. Chi-tsang also mentions the Buddha-nature as the most important issue of the Buddha Dharma. See Sheng-man-ching pao-k'u, T. vol. 37. p. 85a, 1.27.
  5. Both Hui-yuan and Chi-tsang have compiled commentaries on the MNS. Refer to the lists of works of 1he two masters in Ōchō Enichi, Chūgoku bukkyō no kenkyü, vol. 3 (Kyoto, 1979), pp. 153–1§4. As we shall see, a large pan of their expositions of the Buddha-nature are presented as exegeses of key passages on the subject in the MNS.
  6. Refer to Essentials, T. vol. 44. p. 477c, and Chi-tsang's Sheng-man-ching pao=k'u, T, vol. 37, p. 67 a–b. and Chung-kuan-lun su, T. vol. 42. p. 153c.