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...... ... .  . .  .  .

by Whalen W. Lai


The Maadhyamika philosophy of Naagaarjuna has been appropriately called the "central philosophy" of Mahaayaana.(1) This "Middle Path" philosophy (namely, `suunyavaada, or Emptiness school) was the means by which Mahaayaana criticized and undermined the "atomist pluralism" of the "realist" thinkers in northern Indian,especially the Sarvaastivaadins within the general `Hinayanist' Abhidharmic circles. The Emptiness philosophy was based on the Praj~naapaaramitaa corpus and its basic insight into the emptiness of all forms. Names and forms (naamaruupa) are empty (`suunya); emptiness is itself the raison d'etre of all phenomenal names and forms. The articulated philosophy of Emptiness produced by Naagaarjuna became the cornerstone of subsequent Buddhist scriptures and commentaries in the Indian Mahaayaana tradition. It is indeed the central or the pivotal philosophy of Mahaayaana. The impact of Maadhyamika in China was equally significant. Despite the earlier familiarity with the Praj~naapaaramitaa (Emptiness) Suutra, Chinese Buddhist truly embarked on a "Mahaayaanist" phase after the introduction of key Mahaayaana suutras and key treatises of Naagaarjuna by Kumaarajiiva, the central Asian translator in the Chinese court during the early years of the fifth century A.D. Seng Chao(c), an aide in the translation project, is regarded as the first Chinese to master the Maadhyamika's method of dialectical negation. With him, however, also began the subtle transformation of sinification of Maadhyamika. Taking an overview of the Chinese Maadhyamika tradition, I would say tentatively that the Chinese had faithfully preserved the spirit, if not always the letter, of the Maadhyamika critique. A full study of the unfolding of the sinitic Maadhyamika tradition still awaits diligent research and analysis of the nuances involved in the transmission of this philosophy into Chinese. The following essay will look into one development in the Liang dynasty, through two essays by the Buddhist devotee and prince, Chao-ming.

A word on the "fate" of the Maadhyamika transmission is necessary to put the present study into the proper historical context and to correct some commonly held misconceptions about the Maadhyamika lineage in China. Soon after the introduction of the writings of Naagaarjuna by Kumaarajiiva, the Chinese San-lun(d) (Three Treatise, namely, Maadhyamika) tradition was vershadowed by a treatise by Harivarman, the Ch'eng-shih-lun(e) (Treatise to establish the real). The value of this work and the actual role it played in the history of Chinese Buddhist thought has been overlooked by scholars, primarily because of a crucial "hindsight condemnation" of it by the San-run muster Chi-tsang(f) (549-623). The Ch'eng-shih-lun dominated southern Buddhist speculation during the fifth and the first half of the sixth century. When it was used as the philosophical companion text to the highly valued Mahaaparinirvaa.na Suutra. Harivarman was regarded at that time to he the authoritative interpreter of the Emptiness philosophy, and the Maadhyamika philosophy was interpreted through the "exegesis" of his text. By the middle of the sixth century, however, there was a revival of the "purer" Maadhyamika tradition by the San-lun masters stationed in She-shan(g), a mountain outside the southern capital. Conflict then grew out between these new defenders of Naagaarjuna's supremacy and the old Ch'eng-shih masters who held that they, in their fashion, were "faithful" to the Emptiness insight. In the end, Chi-tsang, acknowledged master of the San-lun tradition, triumphed and his polemical and critical condemnation of the Ch'eng-shih tradition became dogma for all subsequent times. It can be shown that Chi-tsang intentionally misrepresented the intention of the Ch'eng-shih school, and I believe that Kumaarjiiva was even instrumental in actually popularizing Ch'eng-shih's "numeral Realism" (the term "ch'eng-shih" was probably created by Kumaarajiiva to designate the treatise's attempt to establish the Real, shih-hsiang(h), as a necessary corrective to the potential "nihilism" in the Chinese appropriation of `suunyataa as k'ung(l), voidness).(2) Current scholarship on the Chinese San-lun tradition focuses attention primarily on Seng Chao and on Chi-tsang.(3) What is over-looked often is the fact that Chi-tsang did not count Seng Chao as a member in the San-lun lineage that Chi-tsang retrojected into the Six Dynasties. To understand the philosophical roots of Chi-tsang, an appreciation of his opponents is imperative.

However, the study of Harivarman and his followers in China has hardly begun, and this article can only claim to look rather obliquely into one aspect of the missing link between Seng Chao and Chi-tsang. Prince Chao-ming of the Liang dynasty (502-557) was by no means the leading authority on Buddhist philosophy at the time, but he was one of those gentry aristocrats famous for his layman's devotion to the Dharma. He was well informed of the basic issues in Buddhist thought. His essay "On the Two Truth(j) " has been collected in the Kuang-hung-ming-chi(k) (Taisho Tripitaka(l), vol. 52.) This essay, though brief, represents one Chinese attempt to come to terms with Naagaarjuna's wo-truths theory.(4) The questions and answers following this essay further provide an insight into the frame of mind of the court Buddhist thinkers at the time.(5)

The doctrine of the two truths can be found in the early canonical writings and is by no means the invention of Naagaarjuna, but Naagaarjuna surely gave it articulated expression by his writings. It was inherited by `Sa^nkara in the later Hindu Advaita Vedaanta tradition.(6) The two truths refers to the higher truth, paramaartha-satya, and the mundane or lower truth, sa^mv.rti-satya. The former is nondiscursive and defies all conceptual comprehension while the latter, the mundane "everyday" truth, belongs to the realm of logical discourse. By this distinetion, Naagaarjuna points out the erucial characteristic of dharmataa. Reality-as-it-is cannot be grasped by the egoistic framework of human concepts. All discursive thought and expression, including even the four noble truths that Gautama taught, belong to the lower level of truth. Naagaarjuna, however, did not simply assign the higher truth to the AAryan (noble) silence. He believed that the higher truth can he pointed to by recourse to the lower truth. His own dialectical negation of his opponents' obsession with the "necessary" ontological correspondence between words and reality which words refer to is perhaps the classic example of how logic can he used to destroy logic and reveal directly the doctrine of Emptiness (of self-existents) .(7) The Chinese Ch'an (Zen(m))masters might be less patient with all the dialectical proofs Naagaarjuna perfected, but their method of "using words to destroy words" would be another example, mote romantic perhaps, of how to point beyond the very limits of conceptualization.

Says the Ch'an tradition: The finger that points out the moon is, after all, not the moon itself.(8) Naagaarjuna's negative philosophy is like a chameleon. The moment one thinks one has a grasp of it, it not only slips away but it also makes one feel uneasy about the "grasping-of-it" itself. I would, therefore, not go into what Maadhyamika means, for it seems that consensus was lacking in Naagaarjuna's followings as it is lacking among modern scholars.(9) The fact that Naagaarjuna is hard to grasp should alert us to the fact that it was no easy task for the Chinese in the fifth and sixth centuries to come up with the "definitive" understanding of his philosophy. The Chinese language then was even more neffective than our present-day English as a tool to convey all the nuances of the Sanskrit original, and it is not surprising that some of the intricate Indian logic was lost to the Chinese.(10) Nevertheless, if the Chinese learned anything, it was the technique of prasa^nga, the art of exposing the antinomies involved in any philosophical position. In their way, the Chinese adopted the technique to their own milieu or problems. The Chinese were interested more in the totalistic issues of being (yu) and nonbeing (wu(n)), activity and inactivity, the one and the many, the concrete (shih) and the vacuous (hsu(o)). These issues are more Taoist than Indian. If we stand back and look at the general Chinese results after they have exercised their dialectical reasonings, we would find that, for certain strange reasons, the Chinese would allocate being, inactivity, concreteness and the one to the so-called higher truth, assigning their opposites, the "unreal" nonbeing, the actively "responding," the vacuously delusive and the Many to the Lower Truth. This Chinese conclusion is somewhat ironic, considering the fact that Indian Buddhism as a whole and Maadhyamika especially would hardly associate itself with such ontological absolutes like being, reality, and the one changeless essence. The whole intention in Maadhyamika was to affirm emptiness, impermanence, selflessness, and nonsubstantiality.(11) This is not to say that there were no Indian traditions leaning toward the Chinese view; scholars now recognize the role played by the Tathaagatagarbha tradition, in both Indian and hinese Buddhist history. Nevertheless, keeping a purist stand, one can still legitimately wonder how the Chinese often came up with such numenal realism as the "higher truth"!

This is where a basic Chinese misappropriation of the two truths theory occurred, and this is where the significance lies of the Ch'eng-shih school in the historical development of Chinese Maadhyamika sophistication. Although Seng Chao might be an ardent interpreter of Naagaarjuna and has received supposedly the seal of approval from Kumaarajiiva himself, it should be noted that Seng Chao barely just touched on the two truths. The "attractiveness" of the Ch'eng-shih-lun for the Chinese, I think, was due to its exploration of this theory. These Ch'eng-shih masters mediating Seng Chao and Chi-tsang developed various theories of the two truths. Without these speculations, the mature San-lun tradition in Sui would not be possible. (In fact, Chi-tsang himself built his unique "Fourfold Two Truths" upon the shoulders of the Cheng-shih master he vehemently and justly attacked.) The basic mistake among the masters in the Six Dynasties who interpreted the Two Truths theory is confusing what originally was an epistemic issue with the native Chinese concern for ontological matters. The Two Truths (that is, two ways of discourse) became in China two realities, that is, a higher reality and a lower reality. With the hangovers of a "Hinayana" utlook, the Chinese Buddhist in the Six Dynasties then aligned the higher reality with nirvaa.na and the unborn, and the lower reality with life and eath or sa.msaara. This basic misunderstanding was well noted by Chi-tsang. Chi-tsang is right in insisting that the "Two Truths" pertains to chiao(p) (teaching, discourse) and not mphatically not to li(q) (principle, reality).(12) However, Chi-tsang was virtually the only Chinese master who harped on this issue and his warning, for all practical purposes went, unheeded in his time and beyond.

The Chinese mistake was natural, and they were hardly the last Maadhyamika scholars (in the world) to follow that misguided interpretation. When a person hears that Naagaarjuna had discovered that words do not describe reality, the person can easily draw the conclusion that the words do not describe an Ultimate Reality beyond phenomenal realities. The Chinese having learned from the I Ching(r) (Book of hanges) and Wang Pi(s) (who commented on it) that "Language cannot exhaust the (ultimate) Meanings...and one can forget the Forms (hsiang(t)) when the meaning is attained." would naturally assume that there is an ultimate reality the Tao(u), the One, Real behind the phenomenal realities of the many and the illusory. By so "assuming" the existence of an ultimate reality behind phenomena, the Chinese disrupted the original Maadhyamika intent to show that all is phenomenal, all is empty, all is insubstantial.(13) `Suunyavaada does not subscribe to any subsisting ultimate reality beyond the phenomena. Name-and-form (naamaruupa) is emptiness itself. Tathataa or the "real nature of Reality" (Chinese; chu-fa shih-shiang(v)) is none other than Emptiness.

It is necessary to add that Chinese were not always ignorant of the fact that "Emptiness itself is name-and-form." Prince Chao-ming and his con-temporaries all knew this basic dictum from the Praj~naapaaramitaa corpus. However, their inability to be consistent and their repeated relapse into the ontological framework is responsible for the tangles in their thoughts. Chi-tsang and, to a certain extent, the T'ang masters were more sophisticated in this regard. The following analysis of an essay of the prince will show both his venture beyond Seng Chao and his shortcomings.

The term paramaartha-satya is given by the Chinese then as ch'en-ti(w) or real truth or as ti-i-i-ti(x) or highest truth (literally, truth of the number one/highest significance) . The term sa.mv.rti-satya rendered as su-ti(y) or common truth or as shih-ti(z) or worldly truth. The prince regards the first of these two set to pertain to the "substantive realm" (that is, as the two realities) and the second of the two pairs to pertain to "evaluative judgment" (that is, two forms of knowledge that correlate with the status of the sage wisdom(aa) and the common man without wisdom). These distinctions by the prince are based on the Chinese words used in the two alternative translations of the one term in Sanskrit. In that sense, he

exercised poetic license not possible in the original Sanskrit. Furthermore, by splitting up the words, the prince speculated on the word "i"(ab) (meaning, significance) in the Chinese compound, ti-i-i-ti, for paramaarthasatya.


Translation of ON THE TWO TRUTHS (ERH-TI)

The principle of the two truths is indeed profound and mysterious. Unless one has reflected upon it deeply and with reverence, one cannot comprehend its breadth. There is, indeed, not one single way to appreciate the Tao. Essentially (there are two ways): one can approach it either by way of the (objective) ream (ching(ac) ) or by way of (subjective) wisdom (chih(ad)). At times, one can understand the meaning by way of the realm (aspect).

At times, one lets the actions manifest by way of the wisdom (aspect).

Concerning the theory of the Two Truths, it is the tool to understand the meaning by way of the realm (aspect). If this point is missed (by the reader), then the person would be lost forever in (wrongly) thinking that there are Three Truths. However, if he sees the point, the myriad problems will disappear.

The two truths refer to the real truth (chen-ti) and the common truth (su-ti). The real truth is called also the truth of the highest meaning (ti-i-i-ti). The common truth is also known as the worldly truth (shih-ti-). The (terms) "real)" and "common" are established to refer to substance (that is, reality). The (terms) "highest meaning" and "worldly" are chosen to refer to attributes of praise and depreciation.

Firstly, we should say that the one corresponds to the real truth and the two (dualities) to the common truth. When the one and the two are added together, there will be three. However, there are really only two truths [not three truths]. In nominal designations the terms "higher" and "lower" are used, but they often create confusion concerning the meanings intended. [Therefore they are explained later.]

The real exists (as the real) not because of the common. The common is born (as common) not because of the real. Precisely so can one be designated as the real and the other as the common. By the real is meant the concrete (shih), where all things attain the same-ness and where differentiations dividing them would not be.

By the common is meant the compounded (realities of the world) that gives rise to fleeting illusions and activities.

The (term) "highest meaning" is additional appreciation heaped onto the reality of the unborn. (The term) "worldly" describes that which has differentiations, life and death (samsaric characteristics), flow and movements, where nothing is ever permanent. The Mahaaparinirvaa.na suutra says: "The knowledge of those people who have transcended the world is known as the truth of the highest meaning; the opinion of those men who are still in the mundane realm is known as the worldly truth." This is the scriptural basis for regarding "highest meaning'' and "worldly'' to be terms of appraisal.

These terms used to render the two truths are chosen for specific reasons. "real," "common," "worldly" share one intention, but the term "truth of the highest meaning" has another meaning. The principle is this: Insofar that the te(af) (virtue, power, [pertaining to the higher truth]) is the highest, its "meaning" is also the highest. The (mundane) world is but a fleeting illusion it cannot claim to have any "meaning." Therefore we only say "truth of the world" [never "truth of the world's meaning."]

Truth is that which comprehends the concrete (shih). The real truth examines the concrete and finds it to be real. The common truth examines the same and finds only the common. The real truth is beyond being and nonbeing. The common truth sees (that there are) being and nonbeing. (The distinctions between) Being and nonbeing constitute false names (subjective ideas). Neither being nor nonbeing reveals the middle path. The real is the middle path and has the unborn as its substance. The common is false names and has the born realities as its substance.(14)

In the preceding essay, the prince explicitly defined the two truths to be pertaining to the objective realm, that is, as two realities. However, the two realities are, in one sense, epistemic realities since they are correlated with the subjective wisdom and opinions of the sage and the commoner. In this way, the Prince did solve the paradox of the two truth-realities by suggesting that there is ultimately one reality with two perspectives. However, his solution was not always perfect and in the questions and answers collected after the essay (the prince solicited these responses), the problem emerged of how the two "substances" of the two "realms" can be related to one another. It is a problem that plagued the Ch'eng-shih masters who tried to use the (Taoist) paradigm of "substance" and "function" to analyze the relationships between the two realities (sic).

The following exchange shows the awareness of this thorny issue.

Q: The rising (of the fleeting no reality is the common while that which is beyond being and nonbeing is the Real. Now, are the fleeting no reality and the Real one in substance or are they two (in substance)?

A: The people of the world regard the horn realities to be the substance. The people who have transcended the world regard the unborn as

substance. These opinions are due to their different perceptions. Knowledge of the real is the insight into Emptiness-in-Being itself.

The common people mistake the [same] emptiness to be being. So considered, no reality and reality are not different in substance.

Q: If the two truths are one in substance, would not the real truth go through life and death (sa.msaara)...?

A: The real principle is quietistic and is never aroused. It is only the confused consciousness of the common men that arbitrarily sees movements (where there is none).

Q: But is there movement that the common men arbitrarily see? Or there being no movement and the common people arbitrarily "see" it?

A: If there is movement as such, then we would not have called the common people's seeing "arbitrary"....

Q: Is "arbitrary seeing" itself a thing (a reality) or not?

A: The misconception is on the side of the perceiver.... The (real) dharma is passive and therefore it cannot prevent such human faults from arising.(15) If the exchange is not as keen as that between Indian logicians, it still reflects a sophistication that goes beyond the native tradition of logical debates. The clever distinction made between subject and object, realm and wisdom, the perceiver and the perceived is due clearly to Indian influence. The naive assumption that words necessarily describe realities (as per the ontological theory of language) is refuted by the prince. The one weak point in the prince's perception of the real dharma is that it is passive and not empowered to help misguided men toward a truer vision. In mature sinitic Mahaayaana thought, a more active absolute the omnipresent and omnipotent tathaagatagarbha is admitted as the agent of enlightenment itself.(16)

The passive/active distinction is a traditional Taoist distinction. It has been used by Seng Chao in his thesis. The sage view is that which "seeks the non-moving in the midst of movement" while the common view is that which "seeks activity in the realm of the inactive."(17) So too, the Prince said: "The wise sees Emptiness in Being while the foolish sees Being in Emptiness." The exchange recalled Seng Chao's thesis again when the following question arose:

Q: What the Sage sees (according to Seng Chao) is that things actually do not move. What the Common People see is that they apparently do. Movement and non-movement are different. How can they be one [that is, occupying the same space]?

A: It is not said that movement and non-movement each has one substance. It is only that the common people see movement when there is none....

Q: ... If there is only One Reality, there cannot be Two Truths.

A: ... According to Sagehood and Commonness, there are the two.(18)

The prince acknowledged, correctly, that there is only one reality but two perceptions of it. He recognized that the label "truth" is given to the common men's knowledge because for those people, it is "true." Truth becomes relative to the person. This theme runs through the discussion. The emphasis put on the subjectivity of truth and the importance placed on the personality of the attainer himself has been regarded by one Japanese scholar to be a Chinese "humanistic" trait.(19) Naagaarjuna was less interested in the personalism of truth and more intrigued by the impersonal structure of language and conception. But if truth is a function of personality and not a function of different ways of knowing, then a predictable (and amusing) question emerged.

Q: Does the Sage (then) see the Mundane Truth or not?

A: The Sage knows of the Common People and therefore he knows (vicariously) the existence of the Common Truth. (Alone) by himself, he does not see the Common Truth.... (The Sage) speaks of the Two Truths (only) in accordance with the feeling of (common) men.(20)

According to this Chinese formula, the sage would not really be functioning in the everyday world, a world in which discursive logic and discriminated realities are apparently "real." The sage only lowers himself to participate in the mundane world of affairs. The questioner pursued another avenue.

Q: The (objective) realm known to the Sage is the Real Truth. Now is the wisdom that knows it part of the Real or the Common Truth?

The question is whether subjective wisdom (chih) belongs to any objective realm (ching). The prince's answer is faithful to Maadhyamika:

A: What knows is called wisdom. What is known is called realm. When wisdom appears, the (normal subject-object) realm disappears. In that sense, the wisdom can be said to be with the Real.

Praj~naa, the nondiscursive wisdom, is strictly speaking not a "thing" in a "realm," but insofar as the real (`suunyataa) is known nonobjectively

through praj~naa, praj~naa and `suunyataa belong to the same company. The questioner persisted:

Q: What about the person with the wisdom. Is the person with the wisdom in with the Real Truth or the Common Truth.

A: As long as you say it is the "person" of wisdom, then the "person" belongs to the common realm.(21)

What about the mind that is beginning to comprehend the real? Is this mind resident of some intermediate area that can be designated the third truth (realm)? To these questions, the prince answered with a realistic "no."(22) The mind is on the way toward enlightenment. On the basis of this, the prince rejected the idea of sudden enlightenment.(23) In this, he was only sharing the dominant view of his time.

The prince had demonstrated, up to this point, a high degree of clarity even if he was limited by his vocabulary and understanding. At times, he seems to share the misguided notion of two realities with his questioners. However, his answers were less than satisfactory on two other issues. It is not accidental that mature Chinese San-lun philosophizing was yet to come. The first issue involves the issue of the origin of realities.

Q: The common Truth sees Being and Nonbeing, therefore it has born realities as its substance. Now I can see that Being-dharmas can give birth

to realities, but Nonbeing-dharmas implies an absence of dharmas (realities). How can the latter give birth to realities?

A: In the realm of Common Truth, Being and Nonbeing are relative (interdependent). Becuase they are interdependent, they both can give birth to realities(24).

One suspects the prince was equating being and nonbeing with yin-yang(ag). The Buddhist notion of relativity is turned into the Chinese yin-yang complementation. From the "interdependence" of yin-nonbeing and yang-being, things are born.(25)

In another similarly unconscious adoption of Chinese cosmological outlook, the prince permitted a strange notion of a "dependent absolute" to be. This is in sharp contrast with Chi-tsang's idea of an absolute Void as the "nondependent Void."(26) The Prince was very probably misled into his strange theory by the I Ching's distinction between "above form" (hsing-erh-shang) and "below form" (hsing-erh-hsia(ah)). For him, the higher truth as hsing-erh-shang is relative to and dependent upon the lower truth of physical forms, hsing-erh-hsia.

Q: Is the term i (Meaning) in the term ti-i-i-ti (Truth of the Highest Meaning) dependent on form (hsing(ai)) or not?

A: It is dependent on form.

Q: It is without hsiang(aj) (phenomenal characteristic). How can it be dependent on any form?

A: Since it is called the Highest (literally, Number One), how can it not be dependent on (relative to) other (lower) things?(27)

Apparently for the prince, the higher truth was defined in part by its cosmogonic sequence. It is prior to hsing (form). Although it is above hsiang (lak.sa.na in Sanskrit, it can also refer to the "emblems" in the I Ching which are "below form"), it is not truly free from being related to hsing as such.

The prince's philosophy represents the view of a well-informed gentry Buddhist of sixth-century A.D. China. The prince had digested an admirable mount of the Maadhyamika logic. He was not totally free from an ontological understanding of the two truths, but he had recognized the perspectival nature of the two realities. Like most gentry Buddhists in the southern courts, there was a "gnostic" bias in his thinking, a trust in wisdom of a quietistic type, a lack of sensitivity to the more dynamic aspect of compassion (karu.naa) and an infatuation with the "formless". Anything less than this abstract absolute would be a betrayal of the vision of Mahaayaana. This "ontological gnosticism" prevented the southerners, their piety and Buddha-worship notwithstanding, to develop the faith side of Mahaayaana. I will support this observation with a translation of another even shorter essay by the prince on the dharmakaaya. In this essay we can see a "colorless" absolute, a god of the philosophers, giving little comfort except to the cerebral pietists or philosophers.


Translation of ON DHARMAKAAYA(ak)

The dharmakaaya is empty and quiet, far away from the world of being and nonbeing, being alone liberated from the forces of karman. It cannot be known by wisdom or cognized by consciousness, being beyond all discourses. However, I cannot remain silent in showing its principle. Because we have to use words, therefore it is called the law-body, dharmasariira in Sanskrit and fa-hsin in Chinese. In substance, it is its own self-nature. It only becomes relative in verbal discourse. The word fa (dharma) has as its Principle the conformity to the rule. The word hsin (body) means that it has a physical body. The body that adheres to the rule or norm is the fa-hsin. Briefly to explain its substance: It is called the eternal body, the diamond body, but upon scrutiny, it is shown to be invariable. To call it "diamond is to give it name and form; to label it "eternal" is to assign to it a space. Invariability or permanence is only a description; diamond is only a metaphor. Its real substance is union with the unborn. Thus it is said that the body of the Buddha is wu-wei(al) and that it never (truly) falls into the worldly realm. The Nirvaa.na suutra says: "The Body of the tathaagata is a Non-body, without limits, quantity, trace, knowledge or form, being totally pure and unknowing." Since it has the positive attribute of purity, it cannot be said to be (simply) nonbeing. It is said to be subtly existent and yet not existent. Beyond being and nonbeing, that is the Dharmakaaya.(28)

The prince's description of the Dharmakaaya is not incorrect by Mahaayaana standard. The Dharmakaaya is indeed formless and eternal, pure and cannot be catalogued as being or nonbeing. However, in the following exchange we can see the danger of such abstractions.

Q: ... I do not know if the Dharmakaaya responds (to mankind) or not.

A: The Dharmakaaya does not respond.

Q: I thought that the Dharmakaaya is Dharmakaaya by virtue of its ability to respond to changes.

A: The nature of the Dharmakaaya is to follow the dharma's substance. (The dharma being changeless,) any talk about it responding or changing would not be following the proper "tracks."(29)

Doctrinally correct, the prince allows little leeway for the active role of the saving Buddha. In this regard, one should be grateful for the later articulation of the trikaaya (three bodies) theory by Asa^nga, for the second body (sambhogakaaya) can fill this conceptual vacumn.

Q: If there is no response and no change, how can the Dharmalaaya follow the "tracks"? By "tracks" we must mean the tracks of the world. If so, how can it not respond to things in the world?

A: Sentient beings hope and look for blessings, therefore the Dharmakaaya can go along with things and transform the karman of man. Thy is not (really) response and change.

Q: But if it can bless sentient beings, it must be responding and changing.

A: (No,) if the hopes and expectations are born, then the track (rhythm) of things will take care of these hopes and expectations.

In this last line, we see surfacing the Confucian "agnosticism" why drag the spirits into the ethical affairs of men? Why bother the Dharmakaaya, the impersonal absolute, with matters for which we are ultimately responsible ourselves? Like heaven, the Dharmakaaya will "respond" but only through the ethical symbiosis of what the Han Confucians called kan-yin(am), "stimulus and response." The hopes and the expectations initiated on the person's part will effortless of the Dharmakaaya qua Heaven. This is the minimal intervention the prince would allow for the Dharmakaaya-Buddha. It would appear would appear that the sentiment here is similar to the Neo-Taoist fascination with the Tao.

Q: If the Dharmakaaya gives hope and expectation, how can it not be responding and changing? If there is no response and change from the Dharmakaaya, then all hopes will be in vain.

A: (No.) The World Honoured One (the Buddha) is extremely numinous, such that he can evoke the hopes which will then self-fulfil. If there can only be a result after he (actively) reacts (to man) then why would (the Classics) say: "The Ultimate Gods never respond and yet the greatest

beauty is accomplished." If you still insist that the Buddha (i.e. Dharmakaaya) must respond, then the Dharmakaaya would hardly be any different from the bodhisattva (as ruupakaaya).

Thus the prince's "two-bodies" theory (basic to Naagaarjuna too) awaits the trikaaya theory to come for a more faithful articulation of the fuller Mahaayaana ideal.(30)


  1. T. R. V. Murti, The Central Philosophy of Buddhism (London: Allen and Unwin, 1955).

(2) On the fate of the Ch'eng-shih school, see Takakusu Junjiro, Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy (Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1947), pp. 74-75

and my manuscript, "The intended Meaning of the Term `Ch'eng-shih,' A Hypothesis."

(3) See Takakusu, Essentials, pp. 99-110 and translations from Chi-tsang in W. T. de Bary, et al., ed. The Buddhist Tradition (New York: Random

House, 1972), pp. 143-150. On Seng Chao, see Waiter Libenthal, The Book of Chao (Peking: Catholic University, 1948) , and Richard Robinson, Early Madhyamika in India and China (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1961).

(4) Chi-tsang reviewed and criticized those theories concerning two truths proposed by thinkers that came before him in his work San-lun hsuan-i(an) (Taisho Tripitaka, 45, pp. 1-11, 19); see also his Ta-ch'eng hsuan-lun(ao) (T. 45, p. 25).

(5) Taisho, 52, pp, 247c-250b.

(6) `Sankara is known to have adopted the "four-cornered dialectics" of the Madhyaamika philosophy as well as the distinction between the discursive and the nondiscursive (two) truths.

(7) Dharmataa, "reality as it is, " or dharma-ness, implying a "common" characteristic of all phenomena, the "whole" as over against the parts, figured often as the absolute in Naagaarjuna's philosophy; see Murti, The Central Philosophy.

(8) The moon is the Zen symbol of enlightenment. Another analogy used is the act of shouting "Silence!" to secure silence the word "Silence" is then the instrument effecting the wordless quiet.

(9) Among Western scholars, three studies on Madhyamika are available, each giving a slightly different slant to the phenomenon studied. Beside Murti's work, there are Stcherbatsky's The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana (Leningrad: The Academy of Science of the USSR, 1927) and Frederick Streng's Emptiness (Nashville: Abington, 1967).

(10) See my analysis of the Chinese understanding of the Buddhist theory of pratitya-samutpaada in "Chinese Buddhist Causation Theories" Philosophy East and West 27, no.3 (1977).

(11) The development in China of a counter-emptiness philosophy, underlining the positive doctrine of A`suunya (not-empty) as developed by the `Srimaalaa suutra and the Ratnagotravibhaaga, is touched upon in my thesis "The Awakening of Faith in Mahayana: A Study of the Unfolding of Sinitic Motifs," (Harvard University, Ph. D. dissertation, 1975).

(12) Among Chinese Buddhist schools, only San-lun so regarded the two truths; see Bukkyo gakkai(ap), ed., Hasshuu Kovo koi(aq) (Kyoto: Bukkyo gakkai, 1927), p. 300.

(13) It should be added that the Buddhists do recognize something (nirvaa.na) which is "unborn," "uncreated," and so on.

(14) Taisho, 52, p.247c.

(15) Taisho, 52, pp. 247c-248a.

(16) In the thoughts of Fa-tsang, the Hua-yen(ar) patriarch, the Absolute (Suchness, chen-ju) is both unchanging (pu-pien) and changing (sui-yuan(as), following the conditioning factors that create the phenomenal world, that is, participating in the world of change); see Whalen Lai, "The Awakening of Faith." Fa-tsang actually incorporated the Taoist concept of wu-wei, active-inactivity, into his interpretation of the nature of chen-ju.

(17) The categories of the sage and the commoner, strictly speaking a pair of Chinese concepts, can be found in all the Chinese Buddhist schools and are especially crucial to the Pure Land tradition. Seng Chao utilized this distinction in his writings, The Immutability of Things (Taisho, 45, p. 151).

(18) Taisho, 52, p. 248ab.

(19) See essay on Hui-yuan and Lao-Chuang philosophy in Kimura E'ichi(at), ed., Eon kenkyuu (Kyoto: Kyoto University, 1962) , II, Kenkyuu hen(au) . According to this interpretation, the Chinese Buddhists placed more emphasis on the role of the person, the bodhisattva in the form of the Chinese notion of the sage. The shen-jen(av), man of spirit, can abide with the eternal Tao and yet be a citizen of the world.

(20) Taisho, 52, p. 248b. The next two quotations are continuations of this.

(21) Taisho, p. 249c.

(22) Taisho, 52, p. 250a.

(23) The "suddenism versus gradualism" debate, which began among the southerners with Tao-sheng and Hui-kuan in the fifth century, had ended with the victory going to the latter. The prince followed in this realist tradition. However, in the Ch'en dynasty (557-589) the suddenists made a "comeback" and eventually dominated the scene in the T'ang period, especially among the Zen circles.

(24) Taisho, 52, p. 249bc.

(25) This yin-yang logic recurred later in Hui-yuan (523-592) and found its way into Fa-tsang's philosophy.

(26) The Chinese term used then was chueh-shih(aw) and not the present Chinese term of chueh-tui(ax) (without opposition). The concept of the nondependent void was apparently drawn from the notion of atyanta-`suunyataa, pu-ching kung(ay), "utter void." Of the so-called twenty Emptinesses, the Chinese seemed to have selectively underlined

atyanta-`suunyataa and `suunyataa-`suunyataa for their apparent absolute and positive (sic) values. For a listing of the twenty Emptinesses, see Garma Chang, The Buddhist Teaching of Totality (University Park: Pennsylvania State University, 1971), note 119. Sec note 27 herein.

(27) Taisho, 52, p. 249c. I must admit that the passage here is difficult and confusing. The passage can be read in another way, namely, whether things are dependent on the "Highest." However, considering the fact that the prince admitted that the Highest is "dependent" later, I would adhere to my translation instead. The whole use of the word "shih" (dependent) in this discussion is drawn more from a usage in Chuang-tzu than from an Indian usage. Chuang-tzu, in his discussion on the Tao and freedom, used the term "wu-shih" (independent, nondependent) to describe the absolute freedom of the Great Man who roves with the Tao. Everything else is "yu-shih(az)," that is, dependent on the Tao. Kuo Hsiang, in his commentary on the Chuang-tzu, was most alert to this distinction. The Chinese Buddhists, including Chi-tsang, then inherited this style of discourse. See Chuang-tzu, chaps. 1 and 2.

(28) Taisho, 52, p. 250bc.

(29) Taisho, 52, p. 251b. The next two quotations continue from this.

(30) Indeed, in more mature Chinese thought, the relationship between the three bodies(trikaaya) is better understood and the role of the sambhogakaaya (in which many bodhisattvas manifest themselves) is intrinsiely tied up with the dharmakaaya; see, for example. Awakening of Faith in Mahaayaana attributed to A`svaghosa, trans, by Yoshito Hakeda (New York: Columbia University, 1967) . In so fat that Naagaarjuna himself also worked with a two-bodies theory, perhaps the gnostic limitations of the prince should not be judged to harshly.

Transcribed for Buddhism Today by Bhikkhuni Lien Hoa


Updated: 1-2-2001

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