The Tiantai Trilogy, Part 2 – Global Buddhist

A waterfall on Tiantai Mountain, China. From gochengdu.cn

In the first installment of this trilogy, I introduced the Tiantai School of Chinese Buddhism (天台 å®— 佛教) and explained why and how I personally find it more compelling than the more “devotional” Pure Land Buddhism (淨土 å®— 佛教) and “cerebral” Chan (Zen) Buddhism (禪宗 佛教). The reason for my preference lies in the school’s emphasis on Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapuṇḍarika Sutra 妙法 蓮花 經), which have influenced their meditation practices and their philosophy. This philosophy, which explains Shakyamuni Buddha’s statement that only bodhisattvas are students of the Buddha, that everyone has the potential to be a Buddha in its present form, that Buddhas are eternal entities, and that there is, in fact, only one vehicle – emphasizes skillful means (方便, उपायकौशल्य). In this article, I will explain what it means to focus on skillful means in a Chinese Buddhist tradition.

The people who have contributed the most to Tiantai Buddhist thought and practice are the founder of the school, Zhiyi (智 顗, 538-597), the sixth patriarch of the school, Jingxi Zhanran (荊溪 湛然, 711 -782), and the great renovator of Tiantai Buddhism in the Song dynasty, Siming Zhili (四 明知 禮, 960-1028). This article will focus on their philosophical ideas.

Philosophically, the biggest idea of ​​the Tiantai Buddhist school is the concept of radical and transformative self-recontextualization, which uses the theory of the “three truths”. The three truths being: the void, the conventional designation and the middle (空 假 中). These three truths are based on chapter 24, verses eight, nine and 18 of Nāgārjuna MÅ«lamadhyamakakārikā, which formed the basis of his Madhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Verses eight and nine State:

8. All Buddhas depend on two truths
In order to preach Dharma to sentient beings.
The first is worldly worldly truth,
The second is the truth of the supreme sense.

9. If we are not able to know
The distinction between the two truths,
We can’t know the real meaning
From the deep Buddha Dharma.

(Swanson 1989, 1)

This means that there are two ways or levels of seeing “truth” or “reality”: worldly mundane truth (Sanskrit: saṃvá¹›tisatya) and the truth of the supreme sense, or ultimate truth (Sanskrit: paramārthasatya).

In order to unpack these two verses, the great Zhiyi relied on the Chinese translation of Kumārajīva of chapter 24, verse 18 of the work of Nāgārjuna. Mūlamadhyamakakārikā:

?? ?? ?? ?? ??
सा प्रज्ञप्तिरुपादाय प्रतिपत् स्ऐव मध्यमा

yaḥ pratītyasamutpādaḥ śūnyatāṃ tāṃ pracakṣmahe
sā prajñaptirupādāya pratipat saiva madhyamā.

?? ?? [空]

[T. 30, 33b11]
(ibid, 3)

In this verse, KumārajÄ«va writes that anything that occurs due to conditioned co-appearance can be explained as “emptiness”. Again, this “void” is a “conventional designation”, which is the meaning of the Middle Way.

Zhiyi interpreted this verse to mean that reality is a single whole with three integrated aspects: that of “void” (空), “conventional designation” (假名) and “middle” (中). Everything that arises in a dependent manner is void of a permanent and unchanging essence, which is often identified with the truth of supreme meaning. Designation or conventional existence is the name given to the temporary and transitory existence of this phenomenal world as it appeared or dependently created. This is also identified with the ultimate truth. The middle is a simultaneous affirmation of emptiness and conventional existence as aspects of one integrated reality.

This threefold truth forms the structure of much of Zhiyi’s philosophy, including the four ways of interpreting the Four Noble Truths (四種 四諦), the Four Teachings (å›› æ•™ å„€), the Ten Realms (or destinies ) of existence (十 ç•Œ), the Two Truths, and the final reduction of everything into the concept of a single integrated reality that is beyond conceptual understanding. This final reduction is the meditative practice which applies Zhiyi’s theory of the triple truth.

How could we use Zhiyi’s triple truth theory to arrive at a radical and transformative self-recontextualization theory? As I briefly explained in my previous article, the Tiantai Theory of Radical and Transformative Self-Recontextualization states that any object, person, or event is understood from the holistic perspective of an ever-changing space and time. evolution. This means that nothing can ever be seen as it is, because our perspective is constantly changing and an object, person, or event can always be recontextualized and given a new meaning.

Brook Ziporyn, a Tiantai scholar who wrote an article on Tiantai Buddhism for the line Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which I cited in my previous article, likes to use the example of a joke to illustrate this point, but I’d like to use a different example. My example is that of pain: Tiantai’s appreciation of pain will be the subject of my doctoral thesis. Pain is controversial and can mean different things depending on the context. On the surface, pain is suffering and therefore something to be avoided at all costs. But, when used deliberately, pain can be an effective deterrent and a tool for both discipline and pleasure. It is the ultimate instrument in a lifestyle where partners explore power dynamics. So, from a certain point of view, pain is bad and should be avoided. Yet, when used in the right hands, it can lead to the rectification of inappropriate behavior or the enhancement of sexual pleasure, similar to adding spice to food.

The point of Tiantai Buddhism here — as with their theory of a threefold truth — is that we shouldn’t never to be attached to the way something appears, because there is always more information that recontextualizes the object, person or event. The only thing that matters is the alleviation of suffering, both for the agent and for others.

Another contribution to Tiantai Buddhism by the great Zhiyi is his work on meditation, the Mo-he Zhiguan (摩訶 止觀), in which he presents a meditative practice that allows one to grasp all of reality in a single thought: yi nian san qian (一念三千). The “three thousand” (三千, san qian) is derived from the ten realms of: buddhism, bodhisattva, pratyekabuddha, sravakas, gods, humans, asuras, animals, hungry ghosts and purgatories multiplied by themselves then multiplied by the Ten Such (appearance, nature, components, capacity, action, causes, conditions, effects, consequences and ultimate equality and equal ultimate) – 10x10x10 = 1 000. We then multiply that by the three worlds of aggregates, sentient beings, and environment to get 3,000. All existence is therefore contained in the “three thousand”.

As we meditate, we are expected to apply the three truths, neither the same nor the different relationship, to this thought itself. The online article by Ziporyn (2017) explains this exercise.

It is therefore clear that by breaking away from dogmatic views on this is, the Tiantai practitioner can best use expedient or skillful means in order to alleviate the suffering of himself and others. Like chapter 24, verses eight, nine and 18 of Nāgārjuna Mūlamadhyamakakārikā state, everything is empty. The only thing that matters is the relief of your own suffering and that of others. It can be done best by focusing on and emphasizing skillful means.

The references

Swanson, Paul. 1989. Foundations of the T’ien-T’ai philosophy: the flowering of the theory of the two truths in Chinese Buddhism. Berkeley, Calif .: Asian Humanities Press.

Ziporyn, Brook. “Tiantai Buddhism” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Spring 2017 edition. Edited by Edward N. Zalta.

See more

Donner, Neal and Daniel B. Stevenson. 1995. The Great Appeasement and Contemplation: A Study and Annotated Translation of the First Chapter of Chih-I’s Mo-Ho Chih-Kuan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Korean Buddhist monk, Chegwan. 1983. T’ien-T’ai Buddhism: An Overview of the Four Teachings. Translated by the Hawaii Buddhist Translation Seminar. Edited by David W. Chappell, compiled by Masao Ichishima. Tokyo: Daiichi-Shobō.

Ng, Yu-Kwan. 1993. T’ien-T’ai Buddhism and the first Mādhyamika. Honolulu: The Tendai Institute of Hawaii Buddhist Studies Program.

Ziporyn, Brook Anthony. 2004. Being and Ambiguity: Philosophical Experiences with Tiantai Buddhism. Chicago: Open Court publication.

Ziporyn, Brook Anthony. 2016. Emptiness and Omnipresence: An Essential Introduction to Tiantai Buddhism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Ziporyn, Brook Anthony. 2001. Evil and / or / as good: omnicentrism, intersubjectivity and the paradox of values ​​in Tiantai Buddhist thought. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Related features of Buddhadoor Global

A Meditation on the Sinitic Lotus School: The Tiantai Trilogy, Part 1
Heirs to the Tiantai Tradition: The Tiantai Trilogy, Part 3