- The Yogaacaaraa and
- Of The
Buddha-Nature Concept in Chinese Buddhism
The idea of Buddha-nature was first made
popular in China in the early fifth century with the translation of the Mahaayaana
Mahaaparinirvaa.nasuutra (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-yuan(a) (523-592), (3) the Yogaacaarin, and in Chi-tsang(b) (549-623), the
Maadhyamika, that we find the earliest available full-scale treatments of the subject.
Hui-yuan and Chi-tsang hold a number of views in common with respect to the question of
(a) Both regard the Buddha-nature doctrine
as among the principal tenets of Mahayana 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 Buddhahood 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-yuan 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 Mahaayaana Buddhism: Yogaacaara and
TEACHING OF BUDDHA-NATURE (7)
In calling Hui-yuan a Yogaacaarin, we have
in consideration his close connection with the Ti-lun(c) and She-lun(d) schools, (8) which
trace doctrinal lineages back to the Dasabhuumikasuutra`saastra (Ti-lun) and
Mahaayaanasa.mgraha`saastra (She-lun) of Vasubandhu and Asa.nga, the founders of
Yogaacaara Buddhism in India, respectively. The teachings of these two schools represent
the initial Chinese response to Yogaacaara thought when the latter was first imported into
China in the sixth and seventh centuries,(9) their most distinctive characteristic being
their belief in the existence in every sentient being of an intrinsically pure
consciousness, from which evolves the entire phenomenal world which the individual
experiences.(10) This belief finds its clearest expression in the writings of Hui-yuan,
who declares that "All dharmas without exception originate and are formed from the
true[-mind], and other than the true[-mind], there exists absolutely nothing which can
give rise to false thoughts."(11) Hui-yuan equates this true-consciousness with the
aalaya or the eighth consciousness in the Yogaacaara scheme of reality,(12) and designates
it with such terms as "the Tathaagatagarbha, "(13) "the substance of
enlightenment, "(14) "the Tathataa-consciousness,"(15) and so forth.
However, despite its immaculate nature, the true-consciousness gives birth to the first
seven consciousnesses and their corresponding objects, that is, the entire sa.msaaric
realm, due to the permeation of ignorance and bad habits accumulated from the
beginningless past, like ocean forming waves when stirred by wing.(16) But just as ocean
water never loses its wet nature even when assuming an undulating appearance, the
true-consciousness also never forfeits its inherent purity when serving as ground for the
appearance of defiled phenomena. And once ignorance is destroyed, the true-mind's tainted
functions will also cease, and it will be its unpolluted self again.(17) Thus,
enlightenment in the Hui-yuan system of thought is basically the revealing of a
preexistent true essence:
By "true awakening, " [we have
in mind those practitioners who understand perfectly that] the true nature of
enlightenment has always been the substance of their being. [In the past,] their [true-]
mind was covered by false thoughts. As they were unaware of what is actually present [in
themselves], they considered [the nature of enlightenment] as something external, and
tried to procure it by reaching outward. Later, having brought an end to false thoughts,
they apprehend fully their own [true] essence. Knowing that enlightenment has always been
the substance of their being, they do not turn to outside sources to obtain it.(18)
The preceding constitutes the general
conceptual framework within which Hui-yuan constructs his interpretation of the
"Buddha-nature" (fo-hsing(e) )
is the Chinese translation of a number of closely related Sanskrit terms such as
"buddhadhaatu," "buddhagotra," "buddhagarbha,"
"tathaagatagarbha," and so forth(20) and its connotation usually varies with
context. In the MNS, it is primarily used to indicate what constitutes a Buddha, that is,
the nature or realm of the Buddha.(21) Since Hui-yuan, like most of the theorists of the
Buddha-nature of his time. takes the MNS as the point of departure of his expositions of
the Buddha-nature, this explains why it comes to be associated with such apparently
mutually exclusive concepts as sa.msaara and nirvana, identity and difference, being and
emptiness, external and internal, and so forth in the MNS.(23) He also describes the
Buddha-nature as something that "in truth trascends [all] forms and names, and can
not be comprehended by thought and language. It is the object of the true knowledge which
neither procures nor abandons; and embodies [all] the mysteries [pertaining to] the
wonderful understanding of the holy wisdom."(24) But unlike the MNS, in which
discussions of the Buddha-nature are in general devoid of ontological implication, (25) in
Hui-yuan's philosophy of true-mind, the nature of the Buddha is pictured as a metaphysical
principle which all sentient beings share and which ensures their final enlightenment.
This conception of Buddha-nature is clearly reflected in Hui-yuan's explanation of the
four meanings of Buddha-nature, when the word "nature" is interpreted as
i. The essence of the cause of Buddhahood
is known as Buddha-nature. This is the true-consciousness.
ii. The essence of the fruit of Buddhahood
is known as Buddha-nature. This is the dharmakaaya.
iii. The same nature of enlightenment
which is present in both the cause of Buddhahood and the fruit of Buddhahood is known as
Buddha-nature. While the cause and the fruit [of Buddhahood] are always distinct, their
essence is not different.
The preceding three meanings constitute
the cognitive aspect" (neng-chih ksing(g) ) [of buddha-nature]. They pertain only to
sentient beings and are not shared by the nonsentient.
iv. We designate in general the essence of
dharmas as "nature." This nature is perfectly comprehended by the Buddhas only.
Considering the essence of dharmas as [the object of comprehension of] the Buddhas, we
call it Buddha-nature.
This last meaning constitutes the
"cognized aspect" (so chih hsing(h)) [of Buddha-nature]. It covers both the
internal (that is, sentient beings) and the external (that is, non-sentient objects)
By the "cognitive" and
"cognized" aspects of Buddha-nature, Hui-yuan is referring primarily to the
essence of enlightenment (iii) and the essence of reality (iv). respectively; the former
"pertains only to sentient beings" because only the sentient can attain
enlightenment, whereas the latter covers both the realms of the sentient and the
nonsentient because reality comprises inanimate as well as animate objects.(28) In the
Yogaacaara teaching of Hui-yuan, the essence of enlightenment is conceived of as embodied
in all sentient beings as their true-mind, which forms the metaphysical ground of their
eventual deliverance from ills. So the true-mind is known as "the essence of the
cause of Buddhahood" (i). When the true-mind of sentient beings is set free from its
association with adventitious defilements and fully realizes its originally endowed
non-defiled nature, it becomes the Buddha-body per se, that is, the dharmakaaya (ii).
So the dharmakaaya is known as "the
essence of the fruit of Buddhahood." Since the true-mind and the dharmakaaya are
actually two states of the same essence of enlightenment, they can be designated as
"Buddha-nature" in the same manner that the essence of enlightenment itself and
the essence of reality are called the "Buddha-nature."
All in all, we can say that in the hands
of Hui-yuan, the Buddha-nature concept has been integrated into the system of thought of
Yogaacaara Buddhism and as a consequence assumes distinct ontological significances which
are either not found or only dimly suggested in the MNS Buddha-Nature qua Cause and
Effect. Since the Buddha-nature indicates in the MNS the realm of the Buddha, the category
of cause and effect, which pertains to the realm of conditioned existence only, is
strictly speaking not applicable to it. Nevertheless, as the Buddha-nature is not yet
attained by sentient beings, and sentient beings are beings of the conditioned realm, the
MNS often resorts to the notions of "cause" and "effect" in discussing
the fulfillment of Buddha-nature in sentient beings.
This practice receives additional impetus
in the thinking of Hui-yuan, for as we have seen, Hui-yuan considers the nature of the
Buddha as a transcendental reality which is at once present in all beings, with life of
the conditioned realm as their intrinsically pure consciousness. The MNS talks of two
types of causes of Buddha-nature when the Buddha-nature is considered with respect to
Good sons! With respect to sentient
beings, the Buddha-nature also consists of two types of causes: first, direct cause
(cheng-yin(i)), and secondly, auxiliary cause (yuan-yin(j)). The direct cause [of
Buddha-nature] is sentient beings, and the auxiliary cause is the six paaramitaas.(29)
With respect to the fulfillment of the Buddha-nature by sentient beings, sentient beings
are the "direct causes," for only animate creatures can assume the excellences
of the Tathaagata. However, enmeshed in defilements in the realm of sa.msaara. sentient
beings would not be able to reach the state of Buddhahood without first following proper
religious disciplines, among the most important of which are the six paaramitaas of
charity, virtuous conduct, forbearance, zeal, meditation and wisdom. So the six
paaramitaas are designated as the "auxiliary causes.'' Hui-yuan brings in the tenet
of the true-mind in commenting on the above passage: It is because sentient beings are
formed of [both aspects of] the true and the false, just as mineral stones [are
constituted of both earth and mineral]. As [sentient beings] are formed of [both aspects
of] the true and the false, [their true aspect] can act as the basis of the abandoning. of
defilements and the achieving of pure virtues. So they are described as "direct
causes." Since [the functions of] the various paaramitaas are limited to the
revealing of the true [aspect] by bringing to an end the false [aspect]. they are referred
to as "auxiliary causes."(30)
While the MNS regards sentient beings in
general to be the direct cause of Buddha-nature because only beings with life can assume
the excellences of the Buddha, it remains entirely indefinite with respect to the
metaphysical ground of this belief.(31) Hui-yuan gives this thesis of universal
enlightenment of the sentient of the MNS a definite ontological twist by linking it with
the idea of the two aspects of the mind made famous by the Ta-ch'eng ch'i-hsin lun(k).(32)
Since the mind of sentient beings possesses a true aspect, that is, the true-mind, it
"can act as the basis of the abandoning of defilements and the achieving of pure
virtues." That explains why sentient beings are called "direct causes'' of
Buddha-nature. While the mind of sentient beings is true in essence, it comes to assume a
false aspect due to the permeation of ignorance, and so needs the practising of the six
paaramitaas to recover its original purity. So the six paaramitaas are called the
"auxiliary causes." The six paaramitaas are called "auxiliary,"
because they do not create but only "reveal" the nature of enlightenment which
Besides the thesis of the two types of
causes of Buddha-nature, the analysis of the Buddha-nature in the MNS into "cause,''
"cause vis-a-vis cause,'' "effect," "effect vis-a-vis effect,"
and "neither cause nor effect" also receives considerable attention from
Good sons! The Buddha-nature has [the
aspects of] cause, cause vis-a-vis cause, effect, and effect vis-a-vis effect. The cause
is the twelve fold chain of dependent origination, the cause vis-a-vis cause is wisdom,
the effect is the most perfect enlightenment, and the effect vis-a-vis effect is the
supreme nirvaa.na....As for to be "neither cause nor effect", it is what is
known as the Buddha-nature.(33)
Hui-yuan again resorts to the idea of the
true-mind in explaining why the twelve fold chain of dependent origination (Buddha-nature
qua "cause") can be described as the "cause" of the supreme nirvaa.na
(Buddha-nature qua "effect vis-a-vis effect"): [The realm of] dependent
origination is formed of [both aspects of] the true and the false. Viewed from [the aspect
of] the false, it is the creation of the false mind. Being illusory and empty, it[can]not
be called Buddha-nature. Viewed from [the aspect of] the true, it is totally the product
of the true mind.... Since it is formed from the true[-mind], the complete disclosure of
its real substance is known as nirvaa.na. So [the realm of dependent origination] can be
taken as the cause [of nirvaa.na]. And as the cause [of nirvaa.na], it can be called
Since the mind of sentient beings
comprises the double aspect of the true and the false, the sa.msaaric realm of dependent
origination, which is regarded in Yogaacaara Buddhism as formation of the mind,(35) also
shares the same feature. On the on hand, the realm of dependent origination is false, for
it stems directly from the activities of the false aspect of the mind, and is in nature
"illusory and empty." On the other hand, the realm of dependent origination is
true, for the false aspect of the mind from which it originates arises in turn dependent
origination has as true aspect, and so ultimately speaking, the realm of dependent
origination has as its "real substance" the true aspect of the mind, that is, in
the true-mind. In Hui-yuan's opinion, when the MNS calls the twelve fold chain of
dependent origination the "Buddha-nature qua cause" and gives as its
"effect" and "effect vis-a-vis effect" the most perfect enlightenment
and nirvaa.na, it has in view this "true-mind" which is its "real
Buddha-Nature and the Phenomenal World Our
discussions thus far have shown that the term "Buddha-nature" is employed by
Hui-yuan not only to indicate the nature of the Buddha per se as in the MNS, but also to
denote this nature in its capacity as the true essence of man, that is, as the
intrinsically pure mind.(36) If we remember that in the Yogaacaara teaching of Hui-yuan
the intrinsically pure mind is given as the origin of the phenomenal world as well as the
ontological basis of enlightenment, (37) it would not be g to find Hui-yuan telling us
that the Buddha-nature is the cause of both sa.msaara and nirvaa.na,(38) and that all
forms of existence, be they soiled or unsoiled, are the creations of the
"Buddha-nature as the true-mind" (fo-hsing chen-hsin(l)).(39)
The idea that the Buddha-nature as the
true-mind is the source of the false phenomenal order is clearly brought out in Hui-yuan's
division of Buddha-nature into the three aspects of "substance",
"characteristic" (hsiang(m) ) , and "function" (yung(n)), in which the
Buddha-nature is said to have defiled as well as pure functions: As is taught by
A`svagho.sa [in the Ta-ch'eng ch'i-hsin lun, the Buddha-nature can be] divided into three
aspects according to its substance, characteristic, and function:
i. Greatness of "substance,"
that is, the nature of the tathataa.
ii. Greatness of"characteristic,
"thatis, the excellent qualities more numerous than the sand of the Ganges embodied
in the tathataa.
iii. greatness of "function,"
that, the defiled and pure functions of the dharmad-haatu all arising from the pure
As this scheme of "substance,"
"characteristic," and "function" is first proposed in the Ta-ch'eng
ch'i-hsin lun as analysis of the mind,(41) and is often used by Hui-yuan in his writings
as such,(42)we can safely conclude that by "Buddha-nature" in the above
quotation, Hui-yuan has none other than the original true-mind of sentient beings under
consideration. While the true-mind is in "substance" the essence of the Tathataa
and has as its "characteristic" innumerable merits, it is nevertheless not
immune from the influence of ignorance, and it is due to the permeation of ignorance that
it gives rise to defiled functions" and becomes the source of the formation of impure
phenomena. So Hui-yuan writes of the two forms of false functions of the true mind:
i. The function of ground and support: The
tathaagathagarbha is the ground of the defiled and can support the defiled. If there is
not the true [mind], defiled [phenomena] will not subsist....
ii. The function of origination: Formerly,
[the true-mind] does not produce the defiled even while existing in the midst of
Now, it unites with falsehood (that is.
ignorance) and gives rise to defiled [phenomena], just as water fives rise to waves in
response to wind.(43)
"The function of ground and
support" denotes the true-mind as the underlying substance which accounts for the
subsistence of the defiled phenomenal order. "The function of origination"
denotes the true-mind as the fountainhead from which the defiled phenomenal order
proceeds. Together, they teach that the impure has its root in the pure, and the nature of
enlightenment, that is, the Buddha-nature, is what makes the existence of the world of
TEACHING OF BUDDHA-NATURE(44)
Hui-yuan's interpretation of the
Buddha-nature doctrine represents the culmination of a long process of transformation of
the "Buddha-nature" from a basically practical to an ontological concept.(45)
Since one of the distinctive features of Maadhyamika Buddhism is its strong aversion to
ontological speculation, it is to be expected that Chi-tsang, the leading figure in the
revival of Maadhyamika thought in China in the late sixth century, would view this
development with much suspicion.(46) Chi-tsang's basic approach with respect to the
Problem of Buddha-nature is to stick fast to the original signification of the term
"Buddha-nature" In the MNS as the nature or realm of the Buddha,(47) and to
expurgate all the ontic connotations which the term has come to take on as subsequent
generations begin to speculate on the metaphysical basis of the belief, likewise present
in the MNS, that all sentient beings will eventually assume the station of Buddhahood.
Considered as such, Chi-tsang's teaching of Buddha-nature is essentially a return to the
more rudimentary and soteriologically oriented version of the Buddha-nature doctrine as
found in the MNS.(48) What Is Buddha-Nature?
That Chi-tsang takes
"Buddha-nature" to mean primarily what constitutes a Buddha is attested by the
series of terms which he cites as synonymous with "Buddha-nature," among which
are "tathataa," "dharmadhaatu," "ekayaana," "wisdom, ''
"ultimate reality," and so on.(49) It is also demonstrated in his frequent
associating of the Buddha-nature with the "Middle-way," the concept which gives
the name to Maadhyamika Buddhism.(50) Chi-tsang's famous thesis of "the Middle-way as
the Buddha-nature" is based on a well-known passage in the MNS, in which the author,
after identifying the Buddha-nature with "the supreme form of emptiness" and
"wisdom, " continues to equate it with the Middle-way:
Speaking of "emptiness." [the
`sraavakas and pratyeka-buddhas can] not comprehend both emptiness and non-emptiness (pu
chien k'ung yu pu-k'ung(o)), whereas the wise can see both emptiness and non-emptiness,
the eternal and the non-eternal, the painful, and the blissful, the personal and the
non-personal. "Emptiness" [includes] all [beings of the realm of] sa.msaara
whereas "non-emptiness" refers to the supreme nirvaa.na, and so forth, "the
non-personal" is [the nature of the realm of] sa.msaara and "the personal"
refers to the supreme nirvaa.na. The realization of the emptiness of all [beings of the
realm of sa.msaara] unaccompanied by the realization of the nonemptiness [of nirvana] is
not called the Middle-way, and so forth, the realization of the nonpersonal nature of all
[beings of the realm of sa.msaara] unaccompanied by the realization of the personal nature
[of nirvana] is not called the Middle-way. The Middle-way is called the Buddha-nature.(51)
In this passage, the "Middle-way is
made out as the simultaneous comprehension of the empty, transient, painful. and
nonpersonal nature of sa.msaara on the one hand, and the nonempty, permanent, blissful,
and personal nature of nirvaa.na on the other hand.(52) This reading of the
"Middle-way" constitutes a significant deviation from the orthodox Buddhist
understanding of the term, which from Early Buddhism onward usually signifies the
abandoning rather than the embracing of dichotomic ideas and concepts.(53)
Furthermore, as one of the chief concerns
of Maadhvamika Buddhism is the criticism of one-sided views and positions, Chi-tsang is
naturally very interested in maintaining the traditional interpretation of the term
"Middle-way" as the forgoing and transcending of all determinate opinions, to
the extent of departing from the original import of the MNS in his exegesis of the above
Again, [the MNS] states, "Speaking of
'emptiness' [the Buddha] sees neither emptiness nor non-emptiness (pu chien k'ung yu
pu-k'ung). Similarly, we should [also] say, "Speaking of wisdom, [the Buddha] sees
neither wisdom nor non-wisdom?" That is to say, [the Buddha, ] in not seeing
emptiness, eschews [the extreme view of] emptiness; and in not seeing non-emptiness,
eschews [the extreme view of] non-emptiness. He eschews [attachment to] non-wisdom. This
complete detachment from tow extremes is known as the sacred Middle-way. Again, [the MNS]
states, "Such dualistic opinions can not be called the Middle-way. [Only] the
abandoning of [the extreme positions of] permanent existence and total extinction is
called the Middle-way" [T, vol. 12, p. 523c, 11.25-26]. Is this not the idea that the
Middle-way is the Buddha-nature? Thus. in eschewing [the view of] non-emptiness, [the
Buddha] is free from the extreme of permanence, and again, in eschewing [the view of]
emptiness, [the Buddha] is free from the extreme of extinction. The same can be said of
[the Buddha's] not seeing wisdom and non-wisdom. So, it is maintained that the Middle-way
is the Buddhha-nature.(54)
While in the MNS, the clause "pu
chien k'ung yu pu-k'ung" means "can not comprehend both emptiness and
non-emptiness" and is a rebuke of the Hiinayaanist's failure to apprehend the
non-empty nature of nirvaa.na as well as the empty nature of sa.msaara, Chi-tsang
interprets it as "seeing neither emptiness nor non-emptiness," and takes it to
be a description of the transcendental wisdom of the Tathaagata, who eschews both the
one-sided positions of emptiness and non-emptiness. When so construed, the whole paragraph
is turned into a reaffirmation of the notion of Middle-way as the avoidance of all fixed
standpoints, such as emptiness or non-emptiness, wisdom or non-wisdom, permanence, or
impermanence. and so forth. This spirit of nonattachment to views, as the foregoing
quotation suggests, is what constitutes the essence of the Buddha, that is, the
Buddha-Nature through Cause and Effect
As indicated in the preceding, Hui-yuan
also often uses the term ''Buddha-nature" to denote the nature or realm of the
Buddha. However, since in Hui-yuan's system of thought, the nature of the Buddha is an
ontological principle which is present in all sentient beings as their intrinsically pure
mind and it is with this pure mind as "cause" that sentient beings will
eventually attain the "fruit" of the dharmakaaya, Hui-yuan likewise refers to
the "cause" which is the pure mind and the "fruit" which is the
dharmakaaya as "Buddha-nature," for they are the same nature of the Buddha when
looked at differently. Chi-tsang criticizes strongly those who make the Buddha-nature out
as exclusively "cause," "effect," or "both cause and effect"
In explaining the meaning of
"Buddha-nature.'' all masters either maintain that Buddha-nature is cause and not
effect, or maintain that it is effect and not cause. Such dualistic conception of cause
and effect is not "Buddha-nature." As the Suutra says, "Whatever entails
dualism is a perverted view." (MNS, T, vol. 12, p. 523c). So we know that all these
masters do not understand what the Buddha-nature is. Holding on to one extreme, they argue
with each other and lose sight of [the true meaning of] Buddha-nature. Only when one sees
that cause and effect are equal and nondual can one speak of Buddha-nature. Thus, the
Sutra says, "As for to be neither cause nor effect, it is what is known as the
Buddha-nature." (See n.33 above.)(56)
This refusal of Chi-tsang to identify
Buddha-nature with either the pole of "cause" or the pole of "effect"
is a natural outcome of his idea of the Buddha-nature as the Middle-way, that is, as
"equal and non-dual." It also reflects Chi-tsang's general policy of distancing
the "Buddha-nature" concept from any reference to an ontological ground or
metaphysical reality, with which Buddhist masters like Hui-yuan explains its fulfillment
in sentient beings.
In this connection, a comparison of
Chi-tsang's account of the "direct cause of Buddha-nature" with that of Hui-yuan
is particularly illuminating. We have witnessed already that Hui-yuan equates the
"direct cause of Buddha-nature" with the true-mind in the teaching of Yogaacaara
Buddhism, and in this way easily explains why the MNS calls sentient beings the
"direct causes of Buddha-nature," for only beings endowed with the true-mind can
assume the character of a Buddha. Chi-tsang examines eleven theories of the "direct
cause of Buddha-nature" current at his time, including that of the Ti-lun School of
which Hui-yuan is the representative figure, and dismisses all of them because they see
the "direct cause" as "the principle [which ensures] the attainment of
Buddha-hood" (te-fo chih li(p) ) (57) We find no clear explanation in Chi-tsang's
writings for the remark in the MNS that sentient beings are the direct cause of
Chi-tsang's exposition of the concept
"direct cause," however, indicates that he makes little difference between
"direct cause of Buddha-nature'' and "Buddha-nature." We have noted before
that Chi-tsang describes the Buddha-nature as the "Middle-way" and "neither
cause nor effect," and these same concepts are used by him to refer to the
So it is said that the Middle-way, which
is neither the absolute [truth] nor the mundane [truth], is the direct cause of
As for the direct cause, how can it be
[described as] cause [or] effect? So [the truth of] neither cause nor effect, which is the
Middle-way, is called the "direct cause." So it is maintained that the
Middle-way is the "direct cause of Buddha-nature."(60) To Chi-tsang, to
understand the "Buddha-nature"and to comprehend the "direct cause of
Buddha-nature" amounts virtually to the same thing:
As for Buddha-nature, it is neither being
nor nonbeing, neither "within [the true] principle'' (li-nei(q) ) nor "outside
[the true] principle" (li-wai(r)).(61) So, only when one comprehends that being and
nonbeing, "within [principle]" and "outside [principle],'' are equal and
non-dual can one talk about the "direct cause of Buddha-nature."(62) In
Chi-tsang's account of the "direct cause." The sense of "cause'' is so much
subdued that instead of being called by its full name "cheng(s) (direct), yin(t)
(cause), fo(u) (buddha), hsing(v) (nature," it is on several occasions alluded to
simply as "cheng-hsing(w)", and as such carries the connotation of"real
[Buddha-] nature" or "true [Buddha-] nature."(63)
It is also helpful to contrast Chi-tsang's
and Hui-yuan's comments on the analysis of Buddha-nature into the five aspects of
"cause," "cause vis-vis cause," "effect," "effect
vis-a-vis effect," and "neither cause nor effect" in the MNS. We have
observed already how Hui-yuan explains the designation of the twelve fold chain of
dependent origination in the MNS as the "Buddha-nature qua cause" by falling
back on the Yogaacaara thesis of the production of the realm of dependent origination from
the true-mind. Chi-tsang, however, gives a totally different interpretation of the matter
by connecting the doctrine of dependent origination with the Middle-way. In doing so, he
is basically following the suggestion of the MNS, which opens its discussion of the five
aspects of Buddha-nature with the following remark:
Again, good sons, the [erroneous] views of
sentient beings fall under two categories: first, the view of permanent existence, and
secondly, the view to total extinction, Such dualistic opinions can not be called the
Middle-way. [Only] the abandoning of [the extreme positions of] permanent existence and
total extinction is called the Middle-way. The abandoning of [the extreme positions of]
permanent existence and total extinction is the wisdom [obtained from] contemplating on
the twelve fold chain of dependent origination; and the wisdom [obtained from such]
contemplation is known as "Buddha-nature"....
Good sons! The wisdom arising from
contemplating the twelve fold chain of dependent origination is the seed of the most
perfect enlightenment. Thus, we call the twelve fold chain of dependent origination
Good sons! Just as cucumbers are referred
to as "fever. Why? For it is conducive to fever. The same is the case [when we refer
to] the Twelve fold chain of dependent origination [as Buddha-nature].(64)
The doctrine of dependent origination, as
is well known, teaches the conditioned genesis of the twelve factors (namely, ignorance,
karman-formation, consciousness, and so forth) which make up the continuity of life, and
it accounts for the phenomena of retribution and transmigration without recording to the
notion of an abiding self. In this way, it has always been looked upon in Buddhism as a
powerful corrective of the fallacies of annihilism (which denies the efficacy of karman
and the existence of life after death) and eternalism (which affirms the existence of
eternal souls which are one in essence with the Universal Soul), and a perfect
exemplification of the truth of the Middle-way in eschewing both the extreme views of
"total extinction" and "permanent existence.''(65) When this is understood,
it is not difficult to perceive why the MNS come to connect the twelve fold chain of
dependent origination and the wisdom arising from the contemplation of it with the
Buddha-nature in the above quotation, for have we not been told all along in the Sutra
that the Middle-way is the Buddha-nature?(66) This is apparently the rationale behind the
following remarks of Chi-tsang on the first four aspects of Buddha-nature:
What is referred to as "cause"
is the objective cause, which is the twelve fold chain of dependent origination. What is
referred to as "cause vis-a-vis cause" is the auxiliary cause, (67) which is the
wisdom [obtained from the] contemplation of the twelve fold chain of dependent
origination. As the objective [cause which is the twelve fold chain of dependent
origination] is already [known as] "cause, " the wisdom [obtained from the]
contemplation [of it is a "cause"] derived from [another] cause, and is thereby
called "cause vis-a-vis cause"....
What is referred to as "effect"
is the most perfect enlightenment. Since [enlightenment] is achieved through [the
fulfillment of the aforementioned two types of] causes, it is known as "effect."
What is referred to as "effect vis-a-vis effect" is the mahaaparinirvaa.na.
Since nirvaa.na is attained [as a consequence of] enlightenment [which is the
"effect"], it is thereby described as the "effect vis-a-vis
The twelve fold chain of dependent
origination is the "Buddha-nature qua cause," for as the expression of the truth
of the Middle, the contemplation of it will bring about the "wisdom" (cause
vis-a-vis cause) which will lead to the achieving of "the most perfect
enlightenment" (effect) and the "mahaaparinirvaa.na" (effect vis-a-vis
effect). Again on the authority on the MNS,(69) Chi-tsang goes on to associate the twelve
fold chain of dependent origination with the fifth aspect of Buddha-nature, that is,
"Buddha-nature qua neither cause nor effect" or "direct cause of
Buddha-nature," and writers:
The MNS expounds five types of
Buddha-nature.... The twelve fold chain of dependent origination which neither comes into
nor goes out of existence is the "Buddha-nature qua object" (that is,
Buddha-nature qua "cause") . The true insight arising from [contemplating] the
neither coming into nor going out of existence of the twelve fold chain of dependent
origination is the "Buddha-nature qua contemplative wisdom" (that is,
Buddha-nature qua "cause vis-a-vis cause). The consummation of this insight is known
as enlightenment, [which is the] "Buddha-nature qua 'effect'." The complete
eradication of the bonds of sa.msaara as a consequence of the fulfillment of the true
insight is the mahaaparinirvaa.na, [which is the] "Buddha-nature qua 'effect
vis-a-vis effect'.'' But the twelve fold chain of dependent origination is calm in
essence. It is [in itself] neither the object [of wisdom] nor wisdom, and is also neither
cause nor effect. Not knowing how to name it, we call it provisionally "direct [cause
of Buddha-] nature" (cheng-hsing(w)). The "direct [cause of Buddha-]
nature" is the basis of the five [aspects of Buddha-] nature.(70)
When Chi-tsang asserts that the twelve
fold chain of dependent origination "neither comes into nor goes out of
existence," he undoubtedly has in mind the doctrine of dependent origination as a
refutation of the one-sided opinions of existence and nonexistence and as an instance of
the teaching of eightfold negations, (71) in short, as the Middle-way.(72) As knowledge of
the Middle-way is a prerequisite of the attainment of the Buddha-nature, the twelve fold
chain of dependent origination is made out to be the "Buddha-nature qua object"
or "Buddha-nature qua cause." However, to consider the Middle-way as
"object" or "cause" is to think of it in connection with its
realization in sentient beings, whereas the Middle-way as the Buddha-nature per se
transcends all differences and distinctions, and as a consequence such dichotomies as
"cause and effect," "object and subject," and so forth are strictly
speaking not applicable to it. That is why Chi-tsang proceeds to remark that the twelve
fold chain of dependent origination as the Middle-way is "neither the object of
wisdom nor wisdom, and is also neither cause nor effect,'' and is in itself none other
than the "direct cause of Buddha-nature."(73) Buddha-Nature and Sentient Beings
The upshot of our discussion is that Chi-tsang's concept of Buddha-nature is entirely free
of ontological implications. This reflects the general antimetaphysical position of
Maadhyamika Buddhism of which Chi-tsang is the leading proponent. It also points to where
the real significance of Chi-tsang's teaching of Buddha-nature lies:
Chi-tsang's contribution to the history of
the development of the Buddha-nature doctrine rests not upon philosophical originality in
the ordinary sense of the term, but upon his being one of the earliest Maadhyamikas to
expound the doctrine in such a way that it becomes fully consistent with the Maadhyamika
way of thinking.
To conclude, we would examine briefly how
Chi-tsang conceives of the relation between Buddha-nature on the one hand, and sentient
beings and the phenomenal world on the other hand, and contrast his opinion with that of
Hui-yuan. Let us take up sentient beings first. We have noted several times in the
preceding that in the case of Hui-yuan, the Buddha-nature is conceived of as a
metaphysical essence at once present in all beings of life as the true-mind and this
possession of the true-mind by all sentient beings is what ensures their eventual
enlightenment. Chi-tsang labels this belief of the immanence of the Buddha-nature in man
as the thesis of "inherent existence" (pen-yu(x)),(74) criticizes it for missing
the skillful intent of the Buddha's Buddha-nature message, (75) and even associates it
with the idea of the pudgala, considered heretical by most Buddhists.(76) While Chi-tsang
does not deny that the MNS and other sutras contain passages suggesting that sentient
beings are originally endowed with the Buddha-nature, he understands the matter as
Speaking of the Buddha-nature [itself], it
is in truth not [an entity] inherent of or to be newly acquired [by man]. However, the
Tathaagata is skillful, and in order to dispel the erroneous view of impermanence
(prevalent among) sentient beings, he teaches that all sentient beings originally possess
the Buddha-nature and as a consequence will (sooner or later) realize the Way of the
In Chi-tsang's opinion, the Buddha-nature
as the Middle-way is not an entity intrinsic to or to be newly acquired by man. When the
Tathaagata speaks of sentient beings originally possessing the Buddha-nature, he is not
referring to a metaphysical reality which all of them share. but is emphasizing in a
figurative way the practical truth that all beings of life will be able to "realize
the Way of the Buddha" if they tread the Buddhist path, with the intention of
dispelling the "erroneous view of impermanence" which leads to scepticism of the
efficacy of religious practice. That Chi-tsang sees the significance of the Buddha-nature
teaching often in pragmatic rather than in philosophical terms is clearly evidenced by the
following remarks on the purpose of the teaching of the tathaagatagarbha, generally
considered to be a synonym of "Buddha-nature":(78)
Again, [the idea of tathaagatagarbha is
put forward by the Buddha] for the sake of the Nihilists, who maintain that sentient
beings are in nature similar to grass and trees: they last for one life only, and there is
no existence after death. To counter such [false opinion, the Buddha] then teaches [the
concept of] tathaagatagarbha, [and asserts that all sentient beings] will definitely
become the Buddha, unlike grass and trees which last for one life only. Thus the MNS says,
"The Buddha-nature is not like walls, tiles, and stones." (T, vol. 12, p. 581a,
11.22-23) Again, in order to make sentient beings aware that they have in themselves the
Buddha-nature [and so] resolve to attain enlightenment and strive for Buddhahood, [the
Buddha] teaches [the concept of] Buddha-nature. Again, [the concept of Buddha-nature is
taught] in order to make sentient beings aware that [living beings] other than themselves
all have in them the Buddha-nature, and [so] not to commit the ten evil deeds such as
killing.(79) Again, [the concept of Buddha-nature is taught] in order to prevent sentient
beings from entertaining the views of the two vehicles (that is, the Hiinayaana views of
the `sraavakas and pratyekabuddhas). [Knowing that they] have solely the nature of the
Buddha and not [the nature of] the two vehicles, sentient beings would not entertain the
views of the two vehicles.(80)
In proclaiming that all sentient beings
have the Buddha-nature, the Tathaagata means to instill in his listeners confidence in
themselves and respect for others. For on knowing that they they possess the
Buddha-nature, they would think of themselves as different from grass and trees and not
doubt the possibility of future salvation. Also, on knowing that their fellow creatures
likewise possess the Buddha-nature, they would treat them with consideration and
compassion, and would not try to hurt them in words or in deeds. Furthermore, on realizing
that Buddhahood is open to everyone, they would not be satisfied with the inferior
achievements of `sraavakahood or pratyekabuddhahood, and would strive for the supreme end
of becoming the Tathaagata. All in all, in Chi-tsang's eyes, the mainstay of the
Buddha-nature teaching rests with its usefulness as a means of religious deliverance, and
not with its truthfulness as a reflection of the nature of reality.
Since in the Yogaacaara teaching of
Hui-yuan, the Buddha-nature as the true-mind is the property of every sentient being from
the very start but remains unnoticed and unrealized due to the permeation of defilements,
the attainment of the nature of the Buddha by man is pictured in his philosophy largely as
the revelation of a preexistent but concealed essence.(81) The notions
"concealment" (yin(y)) and "revelation" (hsien(z)) also figure in
Chi-tsang's depiction of the relation between Buddha-nature and sentient beings, but with
totally diverse connotations: Question: Ti-lun [masters] also speak of the concealment and
revelation [of Buddha-nature].
In what way is it different from [what you
are teaching] now? Explanation: Though they use the same expressions as [ours], what they
mean is completely different. They hold that there is [in sentient beings] a [true]
substance which is the tathaagatagarbha, which is covered by falsehood and so is described
as "concealed." When [sentient beings] regain [their original nature], this
[true] substance would become apparent and so is described as "revealed".... In
our case, [however,] it is only due to [the existence of] delusions that [the
Buddha-nature] is described as "concealed" and as the "[tathaagata-]
garbha." How could there be any substance which is concealed? It is only due to [the
realization of] enlightenment that [the Buddha-nature] is described as
"revealed" and as the "dharmakaaya." There is [actually] no substance
which is revealed. [Since] it is due to [the existence of] delusions that [the
Buddha-nature] is described as concealed, nothing is actually concealed even though [we
use the term] "concealment." [Since] it is due to [the realization of]
enlightenment that [the Buddha-nature] is described as revealed, nothing is actually
revealed even though [we use the term] "revelation." It is only because there is
delusion that there is the concealment [of Buddha-nature], and it is [only] because there
is enlightenment that there is the revelation [of Buddha-nature].(82)
In the case of the Ti-lun School,
"concealment" and "revelation" are spoken of in connection with a
"true substance" which is immanent. Since Chi-tsang excludes all optic allusions
from his idea of Buddha-nature, the "concealment" and "revelation" of
Buddha-nature naturally mean something quite different in his system of thought. According
to Chi-tsang, by "concealment" of Buddha-nature is meant that the Buddha-nature
as the Middle-way is screened from the view of the common run of mankind due to the
existence of delusion. When the Buddha-nature is so concealed from the understanding of
the non-enlightened, it is known as the "Tathaagatagarbha" (that is, embryo of
the Tathaagata) with respect to them. By "revelation of Buddha-nature" is meant
that the Buddha-nature as the Middle-way would become known to practitioners who have worn
away the last remarks of delusion through diligent religious practice. When the
Buddha-nature is so revealed to the wisdom of the enlightened, it is known as the
"dharmakaaya" with respect to them. In Chi-tsang's discourse on the
"concealment" and "revelation" of Buddha-nature, there is no reference
whatever to an eternal, pure substance which stays hidden or becomes disclosed as
circumstance varies, and Chi-tsang is obviously trying to draw our attention to this when
he affirms that "nothing is actually concealed even though we use the term
`con-cealment', " and "nothing is actually revealed even though we use the term
As we have seen, in Hui-yuan's Yogaacaara
philosophy, the Buddha-nature as the true-mind is given out as the metaphysical basis of
the phenomenal world. Chi-tsang, true to the Maadhyamika tradition to which he belongs, is
not interested in exploring into the ontological origin of the phenomenal order. However,
he does on occasion talk about the relation of the Buddha-nature with non-sentient
objects, and in this connection comes forth with the very startling thesis that not only
sentient beings but also non-sentient objects such as grass and trees possess the
Buddha-nature. This thesis is startling not only because it seems to fly in the face of
the tacit agreement among all Buddhists that only beings with life are capable of
cultivating the Buddhist path and so attaining the Buddhist goal. It also appears to
undercut the very ground of Chi-tsang's own explication of the purpose of the
Buddha-nature teaching: for has Chi-tsang not repeatedly told us that the Tathaagata
teaches the possession of Buddha-nature by all sentient beings in order to remind them
that they are not like grass and trees which "last for one life only" and can
never achieve the supreme fruit of Buddhahood?(83) Chi-tsang's demonstration of the
possession of Buddha-nature by nonsentient objects is preceded by the elucidation of a
distinction: "outside the true principle" (li-wai(r) ) and "within the true
principle" (li-nei(q)).(84) By "outside the true principle," Chi-tsang
refers to the common people, the two vehicles, and the misguided Mahaayaanists who fail to
comprehend the empty nature of dharmas and whose life and actions are characterized by
attachment. The opposite are the buddhas and bodhisattvas, who perceive that dharmas
neither come into nor go out of existence and whose life and actions exemplify the truth
of the Middle-way, and so are said to be "within the true principle."(85)
Chi-tsang does not deny that there exist
these two fundamental categories of the non-enlightened and enlightened in the actual
world, but he continues to reason how sentient beings "outside the true principle,
" and, for that matter, non-sentient objects as well, would figure in the
non-discriminating vision of those who are "within" it:
These passages(86) teach that in the true
principle, all dharmas [including both] the "individual" (cheng(s) ) and his
"environment" (i(aa) ) are non-dual.(87) Since the individual and his
environment are nondual, if sentient beings have the Buddha-nature, grass and trees [also]
have the Buddha-nature. For this reason, [we maintain that] not only sentient beings have
the Buddha-nature, but grass and trees also have the Buddha-nature.
When one comprehends the equal nature of
all dharmas and does not see any distinction between oneself and one's environment, [one
will apprehend that] there exists in the [true] principle no mark of attainment and
non-attainment. Since there is no [mark of] non-attainment [in the true principle],
we[can] speak provisionally of the attainment of Buddhahood [by grass and trees]. For this
reason, [we hold] that when sentient beings attain Buddhahood, all grass and trees also
So the [Vimalakiirti-] suutra says,
"All dharmas are the tathata, and so is Maitreya. If Maitreya attains enlightenment,
so should all sentient beings? " (T, vol. 14, p. 532b, 11.12-19) This [passage]
teaches that since sentient beings and Maitreya are of one tathataa, not two, if Maitreya
attains enlightenment, so should all sentient beings. As this is the case with sentient
beings, the same is true of grass and trees. Since the [true] principle is [all]
pervasive, there is nowhere the aspiration [of those "within it] does not reach. This
is what is known as [the way of] non-obstruction of the Mahayana.(88)
To Buddha and bodhisattvas who are
"within the true principle" and practice the way of nonattachment, all dharmas
would appear "equal" and "non-dual" and all forms of differences would
vanish, even the differences between "within the true principle" and
"outside the true principle," between "oneself' and one's
"environment," and so forth. Indeed, given the teaching of the Buddha-nature as
the Middle-way and the definition of the Middle-way as the transcending of all
discriminations, it is natural to conclude that to one who truly attains the
Buddha-nature, all distinctions, including the distinction between "attaining"
and "non-attaining," would come to an end. As a result, all objects of the
phenomenal world, from sentient beings "outside the true principle" down to such
lifeless entities as grass and trees, would be envisaged by him as participating in his
"all pervasive" enlightenment experience and so assuming the nature of the
Buddha like himself. It is on this count that Chi-tsang, following the suggestion of the
Vimalakiirtisuutra, asserts that "If Maitreya attains enlightenment, so should all
sentient beings. As this is the case with sentient beings, the same is true of grass and
All that the above discussion demonstrates
is that non-sentient objects are experienced by those who are "within the true
principle" to be one with themselves and so possessing the Buddha-nature like
themselves. It by no means shows that grass and trees are capable of actively following
the true principle and thus really coming to embody in their being the nature of the
Tathaagata. Indeed, Chi-tsang is the first person to remind us of that. So he continues:
This is the "general way" (t'ung
men(ab) ) of describing the matter. But when looked at in the "specific way"
(pieh men(ac)), the situation is not like that.(89) Why? [For in actual life,] sentient
beings have the mind of delusion and so can realize enlightenment. As grass and trees are
devoid of a mind and can [never] become deluded, how can they ever become enlightened?
Just as when there is dream, there is awakening, and when there is no dream, there is no
awakening [from dream]. For this reason, [the Buddha] declares that sentient beings have
the Buddha-nature and so will attain Buddhahood, [whereas] grass and trees do not have the
Buddha-nature and will not [ever] attain Buddhahood. That [grass and trees] "will
attain" and "will not attain" [Buddhahood] are equally the words of the
Buddha. What is there so astonishing [about the idea of the possession of Buddha-nature by
That grass and trees "will
attain" and "will not attain" Buddhahood can simultaneously be "the
words of the Buddha," for the term "attain" carries diverse meanings in the
two cases. When the Tathaagata teaches that non-sentient objects "will attain
Buddhahood," he is telling us that in the all-encompassing wisdom of the enlightened,
all objects are perceived as sharing in its fulfillment of the nature of the Buddha. But
that need not preclude the Tathaagata from also teaching that Non-sentient objects
"will not attain Buddhahood,'' when "attaining Buddhahood" is taken to
signify the active pursuing and actual realization of the nature of the Buddha in their
life. When so understood, there is indeed little in the thesis of the attaining of
Buddhahood and so the possession of Buddha-nature by grass and trees to be surprised
about. It is the logical outcome of the theory of the Buddha-nature as the Middle-way. It
does not in any way contradict the orthodox view that Buddhahood is only open to beings
with life, and is also completely in line with Chi-tsang's explanation of the purpose of
the Buddha-nature teaching as set out in the previous section.
In the above exposition, we have seen that
both Hui-yuan and Chi-tsang base their teachings of Buddha-nature on the MNS, from which
they borrow most of the key terms for their analyses of the concept. Nevertheless, their
general approach to the problem, their understanding of the Import of the doctrine, their
description of the relation of Buddha-nature with sentient beings, their interpretations
of the meaning of "direct cause of Buddha-nature," and so forth remain widely
different owing to their respective Yogaacaara and Maadyhamik backgrounds. Subsequent
development of the Buddha-nature theory in China follows in main the two basic directions
initiated by Hui-yuan and Chi-tsang, but to demonstrate that would require the space of
1. For discussions of the teaching of
Buddha-nature in the Mahaaparinirvaa.nasuutra (hereafter cited as MNS), consult Mou
Tsung-san(ad), Fo-hsing yu pan-jo(ae) (Taipei, 1977), vol. 1, pp. 179-182 and 189-216; and
Ming-Wood Liu, "The Doctrine of the Buddha-nature in the Mahaayaana
Mahaaparinirvaa.na-suutra, " Journal of the International Association of Buddhist
Studies 5, no. 2(1982): 63-94; hereafrer cited as Liu, "Doctrine."
2. On the early Chinese Buddha-nature
theories, refer to Fuse Kogaku(af), Nehanshuu no kenkyuu(ag), 2nd ed. (Tokyo, 1973), vol.
2; T'ang Yung-t'ung(ah), Han Wei Liang-Chin Nan-pei-ch'ao fo-chiao shih(ai), 2d ed.
(Peking, 1963), pp. 677-717; Mou Tsung-san, Fo-hsing yu pan-jo, pp. 182-189; and Whalen
Lai, "Sinitic Speculations on Buddha-nature: The Nirvaa.na School," Philosophy
East & West 32, no. (April 1982): 135-149.
3. Posterity often refers to Hui-yuan as
"Hui-yuan of the Ching-ying Temple," in order to avoid confusion with the famous
Hui-Yuan of Lu-shan(aj) (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(ak) (Essentials of the Mahaayaana, hereafter cited as Essentials), Takakusu
Junjiro(al) and Watenabe Kaikyoku(am), eds., Taisho shinshuu daizokyo(an), 85 vols.
(Tokyo, 1924- 1934), vol. 44, p. 649a, 1 1.27-28, 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-h'u(ao), T, vol. 37, p. 85a, I.27.
5. Both Hui-yuan and Chi-tsang have
compiled commentaries on the MNS. Refer to the lists of works of the two masters in Ocho
Enichi(ap), Chuugoku buukyo no kenkyuu(aq), vol. 3 (Kyoto, 1979), pp. 153 -154. As we
shall see, a large part 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(ar), T,vol. 42, p. 153c.
7. Biography of Hui-yuan, in
Tao-hsuan(as), Hsu kao-seng-chuan(at) , T. vol. 50, pp. 489c-492b; hereafter cited as
Tao-hsuan, Hsu kao-seng-chuan. For recent studies of the life and writings of Hui-yuan,
refer to Kamata Shigeo(au) , Chuugoku bukkyo shiso-shi kenkyuu(av) (Tokyo, 1968), pp.
298-312. and Ocho Enichi, Chuugoku bukkyo no kenkyuu, pp. 146-150.
8. Hu-yuan undertook his apprenticeship as
a Buddhist master under Fa-shang(aw) (495-580), one of the most prominent Ti-lun masters
of his time. He also came under the influence of the teaching of the She-lun School
through T'an-ch'ien(ax) (542-607) in the final years of his life. See Tao-hsuan, Hsu
kao-seng-chuan,, T, vol. 50, p. 490a and p. 572c.
9. For more information on these early
Chinese Yogaacaara schools, see D. S. Ruegg, La Theorie du Tathaagatagarbha et du Gotra
(Paris: Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient, 1969), pp. 439-442; Alfonso Verdu, Dialectical
Aspects in Buddhist Thought (Kansas City, Kansas: Center for East Asian Studies.
University of Kansas, 1974), pp. 29-39; Paul Magnin, La Vie er l'Oeuvre de Huisi (Paris:
Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient, 1979), pp. 96-97, notes 101 and 102, and, Diana Y. Paul,
Philosophy of Mind In Sixth Century China (Stanford, California: Stanford
University Press, (1984), chapter 2.
10. In this essay, the term
"Yogaacaara" is used to refer to this teaching of the true-consciousness of the
early Chinese Yogaacaarins. It should be noted that the concept of true-consciousness is
not a characteristic feature of Indian Yogaacaarsim in general.
11. Ta-ch'eng ch'i-hsin lun i-su(ay), T,
vol. 44, p. 183c, 11.27-28.
12. Hui-yuan adopts the Yogaacaara system
of eight consciousnesses in his analysis of the character and function of the mind. For
example, see Essentials, T, vol. 44. p. 524b-c.
13. Ibid., p. 524c, 1.20.
14. Ibid., p. 829c, 1.13.
15. Ibid., p. 524c, 11.26-27.
16. For a detailed picture of Hui-yuan's
theory of origination of false phenomena from the true-mind, see Ta-ch'eng ch'i-hsin lan
i-su. T, vol.
44, pp. 532c-533a.
17. For more information on the mind-only
teaching of Hui-yuan, consult Kamata Shigeo, Chuugoku bukkyo shiso-shi kenkyuu, pp.
312-355; Kaginushi Ryokei(az) , Kegon kyogaku josetsu(ba) (Tyoto, 1968), pp. 107-115;
Katsumata Shunkyo(bb), Bukkyo ni okeru shinshiki-setsu no kenkyuu(bc) (Tokyo, 1961), pp.
668-677; Takamine Ryoshuu(bd), Kegon shiso shi(be), 2d ed. (Tokyo, 1963), pp.101-114; and
Han Ching-ch'ing(bf) , "Ching-ying Hui-yuan pa-shih i-shu(bg)," in Wei-shi
ssu-shing lun-chi(bh), vol. 2, ed. Chang Man-t'ao(bi) (Taipei, 1978), pp. 345-381.
18. Essentials T, vol. 44, p. 636a,
19. Hui-yuan devotes an entire section to
the problem of Buddha-nature in the Essentials, and his commentaries on the MNS and the
Ta-ch'eng ch'i-hsin lun(k) , entitled the Ta-pan nieh-p'an ching i-chi(bj) and Ta-ch'eng
ch'i-hsin lun i-su, respectively, also contain interesting observations on the subject.
However, most of Hui-yuan's expositions on the Buddha-nature are posed as exegeses of
pronouncements on the concept found in various suutras and saastras, and, on the
whole, Hui-yuan appears to be more concerned with clarifying and coordinating ideas on the
Buddha-nature as passed down in various canonical traditions than in giving a systematic
account of his personal view. In the following study, we shall try to bring into focus
Hui-yuan's own opinion on the question of Buddha-nature by relating his remarks on the
subject with his general philosophical position and by contrasting his stand with that of
Chi-tsang. For accounts which more truthfully reflect the actual manner of deliberation of
Hui-yuan, consult Tokiwa Daijo(bk), Bussho no kenkyuu(bl), revised ed. (Tokyo, 1944), pp.
193-201; Ogawa Kokan(bm), Chuugoku nyoraizo shiso kenkyuu(bn) (Tokyo, 1976), pp. 252-289;
Hukihara Shoshin(bo), "Joyo Eon bussho-setsu(bp)," in Hokugi bukkyo no
kenkyuu(bq), 2d ed., ed. Ocho Enichi (Kyoto, 1978), pp. 203-260.
20. For discussions on the Sanskrit
original of the term "Buddha-nature, " refer to Mizutani Kosho(br) ,
"Bussho ni tsuite, "(bs) Indogaku bukkyogaku no kenkyuu(bt), 4, no. 2(1956):
550-553 (hereafter cited as IBK); Shinoda Masashige(bu), "Bussho to sono
gengo(bv)," IBK 11, no. 1 (1963): 223-226; Ogawa Ichijo(bw), "Bussho to
buddhatva(bx)," IBK 11, no. 2 (1963): 544-545, and his Bussho shiso (by) (Kyoto,
1982), pp. 21-30.
21. See Liu, "Doctrine," sec. II
22. See note 4 herein.
23. Essentials, T, vol. 44, p. 472b.
24. Ibid., p. 476b, 11.7-9.
25. Refer to Liu, "Doctrine,"
sec. III, 3 and 4.
26. The section on the Buddha-nature in
the Essentials opens with a long exposition of the meaning of the words "Buddha"
and nature." According to Hui-yuan, the word "nature" has four basic
significations: (i) seed, cause, or root, (ii) essence, (iii) immutability, and (iv)
distinction (T, vol. 44, p. 472a-b).
27. Ibid., p. 472a, 11.15-23.
28. When Hui-yuan deals with the
"cognitive" and "cognized" aspects of Buddha-nature a few paragraphs
later, he refers to the former as the true-mind and the latter as the nature of dharmas,
the dharmadhaatu, the supreme form of emptiness, the Middle-way, and so forth. See ibid.,
29. T, vol. 12, p. 530c, 11.15-17.
30. Ta-pan nieh-p'an ching i-chi, T, vol.
37, p. 836b, 11.16-19.
31. Indeed, the entire early history of
the Buddha-nature doctrine in China can be read as an ongoing attempt to identify that
precise element in the constitution of sentient beings which explains their special status
of being the "direct cause of Buddha-nature." Refer to Liu, "Early
32. Allegedly compiled by A`svagho.sa the
famous Buddhist poet and author of the Buddhacaritamahaakaavya, the Ta-ch'eng ch'i-hsin
lun is most probably the work of a Chinese Yogaacaara master of the middle sixth century.
According to the Ta-ch'eng Ch'i-hsin lun, there is in every sentient being a mind which
has both an absolute and a phenomenal aspect. In its absolute aspect, the mind is the
realm of truth (dharmadhaatu) and as such is pure, unborn, imperishable. and
undifferentiated. This absolute mind takes on a phenomenal aspect when it comes under the
influence of falsehood. and it is this phenomenal aspect of the mind which directly gives
rise to the world of common experience. (See T. vol. 32, pp. 575c-576c.) This idea of two
aspects of the mind is taken over by Hui-yuan and Forms the backbone of his mind-only
philosophy. as can be seen from our sketch of his teaching in section II,
33. T, vol. 12, p. 524a, 11.5-15.
34. Essentials, T, vol. 44, p. 473c,
35. See "Background," in section
36. See notes 27 and 34, herein.
37. See "Background," in section
38. Essentials, T, vol. 44, p. 472c,
11.6-10, and p. 473a, 11.25-27.
39. Ibid., p. 526a, 11.22-23, and p. 651b,
40. Ibid., p. 473a, 1.29-b, 1.3.
41. See T, vol. 32, p. 575c, 1.20-p. 576a,
42. For example, see Essentials, T, vol.
44, p. 530a, 1.18-b, 1.5, and p. 652a, 1.1-10.
43. Ibid., p. 530a, 11.24-28.
44. Biography of Chi-tsang in Tao-hsuan,
Hsu-kao-seng-chuan, T, vol. 50, pp. 513c-515a. Hirai Shunei's(bz) Chuugoku hannya
shiso-shi kenkyuu(ca) (Tokyo 1976) is by far the most detailed and penetrating study on
the life, works, and thought of Chi-tsang available at present; hereafter cited as Hisai
Shunei, Chuugoku hannya shisho-shi kenkyuu. For discussions on the teaching of Chi-tsang,
consult Hsueh-li Cheng, "Zen and San-lun Maadhyamika Thought: Exploring the
Theoretical Foundations of Zen Teachings and Practices," Religious Studies 15, no. 3
(1979): 343-352; "Naagaarjuna, Kant, and Wittgenstein: The San-lun Maadhyamika
Exposition of Exptiness," Religious Studies 17, no. 1 (1981): 67-73: and
"Chi-tsang's Treatment of Metaphysical Issues." Journal of Chinese Philosophy 8.
no. 3 (1981): 371 389. Also consult Aaron K. Koseki, "Chi-tsang's Ta-ch'eng
hsuan-lun: The Two Truths and the Buddha-nature" (Ph.d. diss, University of
Wisconsin, 1977) (hereafter cited as Koseki, "Chi-tsang's Ta-ch'eng hsuan-lun"),
and "The Concept of Practice in San-lun Thought: Chi-tsang and the 'Concurrent
Insight' of the Two Truths." Philosophy East & West 31, no. 4 (October 1981):
45. See note 31 herein.
46. See Chi-tsang's criticism of the
Buddha-nature theories of his predecessors and contemporaries, including those of Ti-lun
and She-lun masters, in the Ta-ch'eng hsuan-lun(cb) (The profound teachings of the
Mahayana; hereafter cited as Profound Teachings), T, vol. 45. pp. 35b-37a.
47. Sec note 21 herein.
48. The most important original source for
the study of the Buddha-nature doctrine of Chi-tsang is the Profound Teachings, in which a
whole section is given to the exposition of the problem. Many of Chi-tsang's other
compilations also contain discussions on the subject, such as the Chung-kuan-lun su,
Ching-ming hsuan-lun(cc), Fa-hua hsuan-lun(cd), and Sheng-man-ching pao-k'u. This study
aims primarily at bringing out the Maadhyamika orientation of Chi-tsang's Buddha-nature
teaching by contrasting it with that of Hui-yuan, and does not pretend to be an exhaustive
examination of all aspects of Chi-tsang's ideas on the question. Interested readers may
consult Tokiwa Daijo, Bussho no kenkyuu, pp. 206-220; Ogawa Kokan, Chuugoku nyoraizo shiso
kenkyuu, 324-330; Kamata Shigeo, Chuugoku bukkyo shiso-shi kenkyuu, pp. 30-50: Hirai
Shunei, Chuugoku hannya shiso-shi kenkyuu, pp. 617-640; Aaron K. Koseki, "Chi-tsang's
Ta-ch'eng hsuuan-lun," chap. 4, and "Praj~naaparamitaa and the Buddhahood of the
Non-sentient World: The San-lun Assimilation of Buddha-Nature and Middle Path
Doctrine," Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 3, no. 1
(1980): 16-33: and Mint-Wood Liu, "Chi-tsang ti fo-hsing kuan(cc)," Journal of
Oriental Studies 19, no. 1 (1981): 44-72.
49. Profound Teachings, T, vol. 45, p.
41c. Chi-tsang also includes in the list of synonyms of "Buddha-nature" the
"tathaagatagarbha," "intrinsically pure mind" and "eighth
consciousness," which, as we have seen, are the basic furniture of Yogaacaara
thought. He does so largely because these concepts appear in such authoritative canonical
texts as the `Sriimaalaadeviisi.mhanaadasuutra and L.ankaavataarasuutra, and so cannot be
dismissed offhand. Chi-tsang's general policy is incorporate them into his writings, but
meanwhile interpret them in such a way that they lose all their original ontological
implications. See Hirai Shunei, Chugoku hannya shiso-shi kenkyuu, pp. 636-637, and note 80
50. Chi-tsang writes in the Jen-wang
pan-jo ching su(cf) : "Neither-birth-nor-extinction is synonymous with the
Middle-way, and is the other name for the profound nirvaa.na. It is also called the
Buddha-nature"(T. vol. 33, p. 315a, 11.28-29). Chi-tsang often couples the
"Middle-way" with "Buddha-nature,'' for instance, in the Chung-kuan-lun su,
T. vol. 42, p. 9c, 1.15 and p. 21b, 1.9.
51. T, vol. 12, p. 523b, 11.13-18.
52. A central teaching of the MNS is that
nirvaa.na is eternal, blissful, personal, and pure. See Kenneth K. S. Ch'en, Buddhism in
China (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1964), pp. 14-115.
53. The concept "Middle-way" is
propounded in Early Buddhism in connection with religious practice and metaphysical
speculation. In the former case, it denotes avoidance of the extreme of devotion to sense
pleasure on the one hand, and to self-mortification on the other hand:
Monks, these two extremes should not be
followed by one who has gone forth as a wanderer. What two? Devotion to the pleasure of
sense, a low practice of villagers, a practice unworthy, unprofitable, the way of the
world [on the one hand]; and [on the other] devotion to self-mortification, which is
painful, unworthy and unprofitable.
By avoiding these two extremes, the
Tathaagata has gained knowledge of that middle path which gives vision, which gives
knowledge, which causes calm, special knowledge, enlightenment, Nibbaana.
(Sa.myuttanikaaya 56, 2, i, in F. L. Woodward, trans., The Book of Kindred Sayings, 5
vols. (London: Pali Text Society, 1917-1930), vol. 5, pp. 356-357; hereafter cited as
Woodward, Book of Kindred Sayings). In the latter case, it indicates abstinence from
taking sides on the so called "indeterminate questions," such as the existence
or nonexistence of the world, the existence or non-existence of the self, and so forth.
Everything exists:- this is one extreme.
Nothing exists:- this is the other extreme. Not approaching either extreme the Tathaagata
teaches you a doctrine by the middle[way]: - Conditioned by ignorance activities come to
pass, conditioned by activities consciousness; thus conditioned [arises] name-and-shape;
and sense arises, contact, feeling, craving, grasping, becoming, birth, decay-and-death,
grief, suffering,... even such is the uprising of this entire mass of ill. But from the
utter fading away and ceasing of ignorance [arises] ceasing of activities, and thus comes
ceasing of this entire mass of ill. (Sa.myutta-nikaaya XIII 15, in F. L. Woodward, Book of
Kindred Sayings, vol. 2, p. 13)
54. Profound Teachings, T, vol. 44, p.
55. Chi-tsang considers the spirit of
"nonattachment, " which underlies the notion of Middle-way, as the central
principle of Buddhism. So he observes, "Even though the Buddha expounds myriads of
concepts and teachings, he has in mind the one mark and one taste of nonattachment''
(Chuang-kuan-lun su, T, vol.42, p.32a, 11.10-11). He further asserts, "Thus, it is
said that partiality and attachment are the roots of sa.msaara, and impartiality and
nonattachment are the main theses of [all] suutras and `saastras" (Son-inn
hsuan-i(cg), T, vol. 45, p. 7a, 11.25-26).
It should be noted that in his long lost
commentary on the MNS titled Ta-pan nieh-p'an ching su(ch), Chi-tsang closely follows the
wording of the suutra and regards the union of the extremes of "emptiness" and
"nonemptiness" as the Middle-way. See the fragment of the commentary collected
by Hirai Shunei in "Kichizo cho 'Daihatsu-nehan-gyo she' itsubun no kenkyuu(ci)"
Nanto bukkyo(cj)(29) (1972) : 60; hereafter cited as Hirai Shunei, "Kichizo cho
Daihatsu-nehan-gyo sho' itsubun no kenkyuu."
56. Profound Teachings, T, vol. 45, p.
57. Ibid., p. 36c, 11.17-18.
58. Instead. Chi-tsang criticizes
vehemently those who, following the suggestion of the MNS, advocate that sentient beings
are the direct cause of Buddha-nature. See ibid., p. 36a.
59. Ibid., p. 37a, 11.9-10.
60. Ibid., p. 38a, 11.17-19.
61. For explanation of the meaning of
"within the true principle" and "outside the true principle," see the
section later in this paper entitled "Buddha-Nature and Nonsentient Objects."
62. Profound Teachings, T, vol. 45, p.
63. For example, when Chi-tsang comments
on the analysis of the Buddha-nature, in the MNS, into the five aspects of
"cause," "cause vis-i-vis cause," "effect," "effect
vis-i-vis effect." and "neither cause nor effect." he sometimes refers to
the aspect of "neither cause nor effect" as "cheng-yin fo-hsing" (see
note 60 herein) and sometimes as "cheng-hsing" (see note 70 herein).
64. T, vol. 12, p. 523c, 1.24-p. 524a,
1.5. See note 33 herein.
65. The idea that the doctrine of
dependent origination signifies the Middle-way can be found in the oldest Buddhist texts.
For example, we find the following conversation in the Sa.myuttanikaaya:
When the Exalted One was staying at
Saavatthii a certain brahmin came into the presence of the Exalted One, and exchanged
gretings with him and in courteous and friendly converse sat down at one side. So seated
he said to the Exalted One:
'What [say you] here. Master Gotama:- He
who does the deed, is he the one to experience?' 'He who does the deed and he who
experiences are the same:- this brahmin, is one extreme. 'Well. then, Master Gotama, [what
of this:]- he who does the deed is not the same as he who experiences?'
'He who does the deed is not the same as
he who experiences:- this, brahmin, is the other extreme. The Tathaagata. not approaching
either of these extremes, teaches you a Doctrine by a middle [way]:- conditioned by
ignorance activitie, consciousness, and so on. Such is the arising of this entire mass of
ill. But by the utter fading away and ceasing of ignorance activities cease, by the
ceasing of activities consciousness ceases, and so on. Such is the ceasing of this entire
mass of ill' (Sa.myuttanikaaya XII 46, in F. L. Woodward, trans., Book of Kindred Sayings,
vol. 2, pp. 51-52). Also see second quotation in note 53 herein.
66. See note 51 herein.
67. Refer to section II,
"Buddha-Nature qua Cause and Effect," herein, for explanation of the meaning of
68. Profound Teachings, T, vol. 45, p.
69. A few lines after the quotation in
note 64 herein the MNS asserts, "The twelve-fold chain of dependent origination
neither comes into nor goes out of existence, neither exists permanently nor becomes
extinct. is neither identical nor different, neither comes hither nor goes thither. and is
neither cause nor effect" (T, vol. 12, p. 524a, 11.11-12). The first four pairs of
"neither... nor'' are commonly known as the eightfold negations, which are generally
considered as a peculiar teaching of Madhyamika Buddhism. for the become will-known as a
group largely through Naagaarjuna's Muulamadhyaamakakaarikaa.
70. Chung-kuan-lun su. T, vol. 42, p. 6b,
71. See note 69 preceding.
72. Chi-tsang often links the eightfold
negations with the Middle-way. For example, see Profound Teachings, T, vol. 45. pp.
73. We have just observed that Chi-tsang
makes little difference between "Buddha-nature" and "direct cause of
Buddha-nature." From the preceding exposition. it should be clear that. Strictly
speaking, it is the Middle-way which is the "Buddha-nature qua 'neither cause nor
Chi-tsang's Theory of the Five Aspects of
Buddha-Nature Based on the MNS 1.Buddha-nature qua "cause" twelve-fold chain of
dependent origination, 2. Buddha-nature qua "cause wisdom vis-a-vis cause",
3.Buddha-nature qua "effect" the most perfect enlightenment, 4. Buddha-nature
qua "effect maahaparinirvaa.na vis-a-vis effect", 5. Buddha-nature qua
"neither Middle-way (as exemplified by cause nor effect"the twelve fold chain of
dependent origination, and so forth) See Chi-tsang's exposition of the five aspects in the
Profound Teachings, T, vol. 45, pp. 37c-38b. In his Ta-pan nieh-pan ching su, Chi-tsang
further distinguishes between "neither cause nor effect" as applied to the
"twelve fold chain of dependent origination" and the "Middle-way."
Refer to Hirai Shunei, "Kichizo cho 'Daihatsu-nehan-gyo she' itsubun no
kenkyuu," p. 63.
74. Profound Teachings, T, vol. 45, p.
75. Ibid., p. 39b, 11.15-25.
76. Ching-ming hsuan-lun, T, vol. 38, pp.
77. Profound Teachings, T, vol. 45, p.
78. See note 20 herein and next paragraph.
79. The ten evil deeds are killing,
stealing, adultery, lying, double-tongue, coarse language, filthy language, covertousness,
anger, and perverted views.
80. Sheng-men-ching pao-k'u, T, vol. 37,
p. 67a, 1.22-b,1.2.
81. See section II, What Is
82. Nieh-p'an ching yu-k(ck), T, vol. 38,
p. 231c, 11.12-20.
83. Refer to note 80 herein.
84. See Profound Teachings, T, vol. 45. p.
85. For detailed description of these two
categories of beings, refer to ibid., p. 40b, ] 1.5-8, and Ching-ming hsuan-lun, T, vol.
38, p. 868a, 11.19-24.
86. The following remarks come after a
series of citations from the Avata.msakasuutra, the Mahaasa.mnipaatasuutra, the MNS, and
so forth, all of which, in Chi-tsang's opinion, likewise teach the presence of
Buddha-nature in nonsentient objects.
87. "Cheng" and "i"
are two forms of retribution, the former being the resultant person and the latter being
the world in which the resultant person dwells, comprising both other sentient beings and
88. Profound Teachings, T. vol. 45, p.
89. "General" and
"specific" are two ways of looking at the relationship between Buddha-nature and
the phenomenal world, the former emphasizing their oneness and the latter stressing their
90. Ibid., p. 40c, 11.23-28.