Chi-tsang's Ta-ch'eng-hsüan-lun: The Two Truths and the Buddha-Nature

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Chi-tsang's Ta-ch'eng-hsüan-lun: The Two Truths and the Buddha-Nature

As the title indicates, the present study is primarily devoted to a textual examination of the Ta-ch'eng-hsüan-lun (hereafter referred to as Hsüan-lun), a work written by the Sanlun monk Chi-tsang (549-623) to serve as an outline of the major teachings of his Three Treatises tradition.[1] The text consists of several independent essays on subjects such as the "Two Truths," "Eight Negations," "Buddha-nature," "Ekayāna," "Nirvāṇa," and "Two Knowledges."[2] From this compendium on Sanlun doctrine, the essays on the "Two Truths" and the "Buddha-nature" will primarily serve as the textual basis for this study. The objective of this dissertation is to discuss how the Sanlun theory of two truths (saṁvṛti-satya and paramārtha-satya) and the Nirvāṇa-sūtra concept of Buddha-nature (buddha-dhātu) were defined and interpreted by Chi-tsang.[3] More specifically, this study will explore the relationship between the theory and practice of the two truths and the Buddha-nature. In these two significant components of Chi-tsang's thought, one can see the synthesis of the Prajñāpāramitā doctrine of emptiness (śūnyatā) and the Buddha-nature theory of "not-empty" (aśūnya). In combining these two major doctrinal trends of Mahāyāna Buddhism, Chi-tsang's thought is innovative and constitutes an important phase in Chinese intellectual history. (Koseki, introduction, 1)


1. Biographical data on Chi-tsang can be found in the Hsü Kao-seng-chuan (T5O, 513c-515a). The material selected by Tao-hsüan explains that Chi-tsang was a third generation Chinese whose ancestors originally came from Parthia {An-hsi). Passing through what is now North Vietnam, his family eventually settled in Chin-ling {Nanching), where Chi-tsang was born. According to the biography, Chi-tsang's countenance was Central Asian, but his speech was Chinese, and he apparently never forgot his ethnic background. Many of his works are often signed, "Hu Chi-tsang," again indicating his Central Asian origins. Chi-tsang came from a family of Buddhists; his father was also a monk who took the name, Tao-liang. Two points in the biography are rather hazy. First, the biography states that Chi-tsang became a novice under Fa-lang (507–581) when he was seven. Material on Fa-lang indicates that he left Mt. She, the center of San-lun studies in the south (Chiang-nan), in 558 to reside at the Hsing-huang ssu in Chien-k'ang (Nanching). At that time, Chi-tsang was ten or eleven. Second, the biography also notes contact with Paramārtha, the Tripiṭaka-master, who arrived in China in 546. According to Kanakura Enshō, Paramārtha entered Chin-ling in 548 and immediately left the following year. Chi-tsang may have received his name from Paramārtha, but during Paramārtha's brief stay in Chin-ling, Chi-tsang_probably had not made his appearance in the world. See Kanakura Enshō, Sanron Gengi (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1941), pp. 191–92. In addition to the primary material, see, also, Ōchō Enichi, "Eon to Kichizō," Bukkyō Shisō-shi Ronshū (Tokyo: Daizō Shuppansha, 1964), pp. 433–450; Hirai Shunei, Chūgoku Hannya Shisō-shi Kenkyū (Tokyo: Shunjū-sha, 1976), pp. 346–50. For a discussion of the three Mādhyamika texts (Sanlun), translated by Kumārajīva (Middle Treatise, Twelve Topic Treatise, and the Hundred Treatise by Āryadeva), see Richard Robinson, Early Mādhyamika in India and China (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967), pp. 28–39.
2. In addition to these six essays, two additional essays have been added, a content analysis of sūtras and śāstras. The material in these sections is taken from Chi-tsang's other work, the Sanlun-hsüan-i. The essay on the two truths is similar in content to an independent work on the two truths, the Erh-t_i-i. Material on ekayāna is also similar to his large work on the Lotus Sūtra, the Fa-hua-hsüan-lun. The essay on the "Two Knowledges" draws much of its material from a large commentary on the Vimalakīrti-sūtra, the Ching-ming~hsüan-lun. Finally, the essays on Buddha-nature and nirvāṇa are independent works and do not overlap with his other writings. The origins of the essay on the "Eight Negations" is not clear. Ui Hakuju, for example, believes that this essay was not written by Chi-tsang. Early Sanron scholars such as Chinkai also question the authenticity of this essay (cf. Daijo genron mondō, T70, 572c- 573a). Whether Chi-tsang actually wrote this essay still remains a question, and the most common answer given is that this essay was written by Chi-tsang's contemporary, Chün-cheng. Chün-cheng is the author of another Sui Sanlun work, the Ta-ch'eng-ssu-lun-hsüan-i. Despite the problem of authorship, Hirai believes that the Hsüan-lun as a whole is a work written by Chi-tsang (or compiled by a disciple). The content of the essays is consistent with Chi-tsang's other works, and all the Japanese catalogs and commentators agree that it is a work written by the "Great Master of Chia-hsiang ssu," Chi-tsang's posthumous title. Ui also noted that the text was known as the Ta-ch'eng-hsüan-i or the Ta-ch'eng-hsüan-chang; he also referred to a twenty chüan version of the text, but did not give his source. Again, the Japanese catalogs and commentators all agree that the text was written in five chüan. See Ui Hakuju, "Daijo genron kaidai," Kokuyaku Issaikyō, Shoshubu I (Tokyo: Daitō Shuppansha, 1965), pp. 67–73. See, also, Hirai Chūgoku Hannya, pp. 356; 378.
3. The Sanskrit for Buddha-nature (buddha-dhātu or buddha-gotra) follows Takasaki Jikidō, Nyoraizo Shisō no Kenkyū (Tokyo: Shunjūsha, 1974), p. 11. See, also, his article, "Nyoraizō-Busshō shisō," Kōza Bukkyō Shisō, vol. 3 (Tokyo: Risōsha, 1975), pp. 101–133. Further, see Ogawa Ichijō, Nyoraizo-Busshō no Kenkyū (Kyoto: Buneidō, 1974), pp. 62–66.

Citation Koseki, Aaron K. "Chi-tsang's Ta-ch'eng-hsüan-lun: The Two Truths and the Buddha-Nature." PhD diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1977.