The Soul of Chinese Buddhism: Buddha-Nature and Universal Awakening; The Rise of Chinese Buddhist Humanism

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The Soul of Chinese Buddhism: Buddha-Nature and Universal Awakening; The Rise of Chinese Buddhist Humanism
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Citation: Tan, Piya. "The Soul of Chinese Buddhism: Buddha-Nature and Universal Awakening; The Rise of Chinese Buddhist Humanism." 3rd ed. Chapt. 4 in How Buddhism Became Chinese. Vol. 40B of Sutta Discovery. Living Word of the Buddha. Singapore, 2009. http://www.themindingcentre.org/dharmafarer/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/40b.4-The-soul-of-Chinese-Buddhism.pdf.

Article Summary

4.1 Buddhicizing the Chinese “soul”

      4.1.1 The Nirvāṇa Sūtras. Like many other ancient cultures, the Chinese, too, have a concept of a soul or abiding entity that survives the person‘s death. The Chinese word for such an abiding entity is línghún 靈魂. One of ancient China‘s largest and wealthiest temple, built in 328 (Eastern Jin dynasty) by the Indian monk, Huìlǐ 慧理,[1] is called Língyǐn Sì 靈隐寺, the "Temple of the Soul‘s Retreat," belonging to the Chán school, located north-west of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. In its heyday, during the kingdom of Wúyuè guó 吳越國 (907-978) [5.1.2.1], the temple boasted of 9 multi-storey buildings, 18 pavilions, 72 halls, more than 1300 dormitory rooms, inhabited by more than 3000 monks. Many of the rich Buddhist carvings in the Fēilái fēng 飛來峰 grottos and surrounding mountains also date from this era.
      The Chinese word for anattā (P) or anātman (Skt) (non-self) is wúwǒ 無我, literally meaning "not-I." There is no Chinese word for not-linghun. As such, although a Chinese Buddhist would intellectually or verbally accept the notion that there is no I (that is, an agent in an action), he would probably unconsciously hold on to the idea of some sort of independent abiding entity or eternal identity, that is, the linghun, which is in effect the equivalent of the brahmanical ātman. The situation becomes more complicated with Mahāyāna discourses, such as the Nirvāṇa Sūtra, that speak of a transcendent Buddhanature as the true self.[2]


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  1. Not to be confused with Huìlì 慧立/惠立 (615 -?), a Táng monk, who respected the works of Xuánzàng Sānzàng 玄奘三藏, and wrote a biography on him entitled Dàcíēnsì sānzàng fǎshī zhuàn 大慈恩寺三藏法師傳. When Huìlǐ 慧理 came to Hángzhōu in 326, he was drawn to the mountainous ambience as a place of "the soul‘s retreat," and founded Língyŭn monastery there. In the Liáng 梁 dynasty, Wǔdì (武帝, emperor 502-550) who generally had a positive attitude toward Buddhism endowed Língyǐn Temple with rich land properties. Emperor Jiǎnwén (簡文, r 550-552) wrote a report on this donation, one which is titled Cì língyǐnsì tián jì (賜靈隱寺田記 Report Concerning the Donation of Land to Língyǐn Temple). See http://www.buddhism-dict.net/cgi-bin/xpr-ddb.pl?97.xml+id('b9748-96b1-5bfa‘).
  2. See Dictionary of Buddhism, sv ātman