Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood

Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood: The Rise and Fall of a Chinese Heresy

Jamie Hubbard
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  • Book Info
    Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood
    Book Description:

    In spite of the common view of Buddhism as nondogmatic and tolerant, the historical record preserves many examples of Buddhist thinkers and movements that were banned as heretical or subversive. The San-chieh (Three Levels) was a popular and influential Chinese Buddhist movement during the Sui and T’ang periods, counting powerful statesmen, imperial princes, and even an empress, Empress Wu, among its patrons. In spite, or perhaps precisely because, of its proximity to power, the San-chieh movement ran afoul of the authorities and its teachings and texts were officially proscribed numerous times over a several-hundred-year history. Because of these suppressions San-chieh texts were lost and little information about its teachings or history is available. The present work, the first English study of the San-chieh movement, uses manuscripts discovered at Tun-huang to examine the doctrine and institutional practices of this movement in the larger context of Mahayana doctrine and practice. By viewing San-chieh in the context of Mahayana Buddhism, Hubbard reveals it to be far from heretical and thereby raises important questions about orthodoxy and canon in Buddhism. He shows that many of the hallmark ideas and practices of Chinese Buddhism find an early and unique expression in the San-chieh texts.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6134-6
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xviii)

    The symbiotic relationships between charismatic religious individuals, the communities and institutions that grow around them, the society in which they live, and the state that seeks to control them have always been among the more revealing in Chinese history. Buddhism, with an arguably transcendent doctrine of individual perfection (the awakening of the individual in Buddhahood) as well as an emphasis on altruistic practice within the world (the practice of the bodhisattva) presents a particularly rich field for the investigation of these relationships. This book is concerned with the teachings of one such charismatic religious leader, Hsin-hsing 信行 (540–594), the...

  4. PART ONE The Origins of a Buddhist Heresy
    • 1. Hsin-hsing — A Buddhist Heretic?
      (pp. 3-30)

      There is no question that the official hostility towards Hsin-hsing’s teachings and institutions is the most conspicuous aspect of their history. Although Hsin-hsing advocated no revolution, led no peasant mobs in uprising, and left behind no track record of immoral behavior by his community, within six years of his death in 594 the propagation of his texts was prohibited, and over the next 125 years four more edicts were issued banning various aspects of his followers’ practice and organization. Part and parcel of the same program, his writings were declared heretical and banished from the canon as spurious—among the...

  5. PART TWO The Rhetoric of Decline
    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 33-35)

      There is little question but that the Buddhist tradition of its own decline was at the core of Hsin-hsing’s teaching. He argued that all living beings faced a very practical crisis in such a situation, each and every one beset by attachments to false or perverted views and incapable of accurately distinguishing true from false. Yet his teachings also embraced the nonduality of the Hua-yen, the Ekayana, and tathagatagarbha traditions that proclaimed the Buddhahood of those same living beings. Based on these two seemingly contradictory ideas, Hsin-hsing taught the “universal doctrine” (p’u fa普法), an all-encompassing vision that looked to...

    • 2. The Beginning: Decline as Polemic
      (pp. 36-54)

      The buddhist tradition of its own decline is a vision of a world in which chaos and strife would reign where the Buddha-dharma had once flourished. This vision is well represented in theNikāya, Āgama, Vinaya, commentaries, Mahayana, and tantras, and it later helped to fuel both the doctrine of the Pure Land schools and the millenarian hopes of Buddhists throughout Asia. One of the most fascinating aspects of this strain of Buddhist thought is the view it affords of the interplay between religious doctrine and historical environment, for in the situations that gave rise to these ideas we can...

    • 3. The Chinese Systematization: Decline as Doctrine
      (pp. 55-75)

      How did the argument for orthodoxy described in chapter 2 play in China, where neither the process nor the specifics of the Indian doctrinal and institutional developments were well understood? Among the striking features of the Chinese evolution of the Buddhist tradition of decline are, on the one hand, the development of the ahistorical cosmological and Buddhological traditions into the messianic and apocalyptic Maitreya-based movements so often accused of fomenting revolt and, on the other hand, the development of the rhetoric of orthodoxy/decline into the belief that the time of decline had actually arrived. The latter is a particularly important...

    • 4. Hsin-hsing: Decline as Human Nature
      (pp. 76-94)

      Without question the corrupted capacity of sentient beings for religious practice and realization is the single most important theme in Hsin-hsing’s doctrine and practice. Hsin-hsing was born in 540 and began his spiritual quest at a young age, about the same time as Emperor Wu began his wholesale persecution of Buddhism and Hui-ssu composed theNan yüeh ssu ta ch’an shih li shih yüan wenstating his strong belief that the age of decline had arrived. No doubt the same conditions that motivated Hui-ssu, in combination with scriptural predictions and warnings, prompted Hsin-hsing to formulate his division of sentient beings...

  6. PART THREE Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood
    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 97-98)

      I have argued that viewing the decline tradition as a rhetoric of orthodoxy opens up hitherto unexplored aspects of the San-chieh teachings. That is, I believe that we should understand this tradition not in terms of its putative claims about history or morality but rather as an argument about the need to adhere to an orthodoxy or perhaps even an argument for the validity of such a notion in the face of an equally persuasive argument for a complete deconstruction of all doctrinal authorities in favor of individual experience. This is nowhere more obvious than in the sort of response...

    • 5. The Refuge of the Universal Buddha
      (pp. 99-122)

      Hsin-hsing’s teaching of the essential equality of all things is based on the universal non-duality of thebuddha-dhātu(realm of the Buddhas) and thesattva-dhātu(realm of sentient beings) found in such texts as theHua-yen Sutraand the promise of universal realization of theLotus Sutra; it is presented as the refuge of the Universal Buddha, dharma, and sangha, which is to say the triple refuge uniquely appropriate for the third level. Among these three, the refuge of the Universal Buddha is essentially Hsin-hsing’s synthesis of the teachings of universal Buddha-nature and tathagatagarbha, teachings that had gained widespread popularity...

    • 6. The Refuge of the Universal Dharma and Universal Sangha
      (pp. 123-148)

      Just as the refuge of the Universal Buddha emphasizes the need to look to the essential truth that suffuses all phenomena, the Sanchieh doctrine of the refuge of the teachings and community appropriate for sentient beings of the third level emphasizes the universality of the essential truth underlying or permeating all specific instances of the teachings or individual members of the community. Why? Because the blinders of our prejudices render a narrow, specific view or practice a source of harm rather than merit. Thus again it was the point of view of the sentient beings who would study and cultivate...

  7. PART FOUR The Economy of Salvation
    • [PART FOUR Introduction]
      (pp. 151-152)

      Parts one, two, and three of this study have considered Hsin-hsing’s teachings in terms of the eschatological mood so dominant in Northern Chinese Buddhism and the universalism that became a prominent feature of Sui-T’ang Buddhism. Although both of these aspects firmly root his teachings in the concerns of the times, nothing more clearly indicates how representative they are than the doctrinal and institutional history of the Inexhaustible Storehouse and the chronicle of its home, the Hua-tu Temple in the capital city of Ch’ang-an. The Inexhaustible Storehouse, founded during the short-lived Sui dynasty, functioned as a charitible lending institution for people...

    • 7. Practice for the Degenerate: The Inexhaustible Storehouse
      (pp. 153-188)

      As with the apocalyptic strain already described, the pious gift that supports religious institutions and guarantees their expansion has been a feature of virtually all societies throughout history. Indian religions in general and Buddhism in particular have been no exception to this rule. The Buddhist scriptures abound with stories of such charity and the rewards it brought, and history has left us ample evidence of the munificence with which the Buddhist faithful supported the sangha. The well-known grove of Jetavana, the magnificent temple-complex of Borobudur, the lavish temples of Pulguk-sa near Kyongju, and the modernistic headquarters of the Reiyūkai in...

    • 8. The Suppressions of the Three Levels Movement
      (pp. 189-222)

      The bulk of this work has been concerned with describing Sanchieh doctrines and attempting to place them within the broader context of Indian and Chinese Buddhist thought and practice. From this it should be clear that, whatever else may be said about their religious ethos, their doctrine and its institutionalization was far from unusual and can be described as well within the norms of Chinese and even Indian Buddhist doctrine. Given that new religious movements typically expend a great deal of energy explaining their relationship to the norm, this is not surprising. Nonetheless, the San-chieh drew imperial ire and sanctions...

    • 9. Time, Transcendence, and Heresy
      (pp. 223-244)

      What, then, do we make of Hsin-hsing’s teachings, his community, and the institution of the Inexhaustible Storehouse? Are they heretical? Are they as unique and different as usually thought? The first thing that occurs to me is precisely how well they fit the general tenor of the times: the belief in the lowered capacity of sentient beings, the need for new doctrines and practices appropriate to those sentient beings, the doctrine of universal Buddha-nature, and the holistic vision of theHua-yen Sutraall were widely shared among his contemporaries. So, too, the scriptures on which Hsin-hsing relied: theLotus Sutra,...

  8. PART FIVE Texts
    • A. P’u fa ssu fo: The Refuge of the Four Buddhas of the Universal Dharma
      (pp. 247-256)

      As noted in the Introduction, the study of the texts of the San-chieh movement form one of the most exciting yet exacerbating tasks that any researcher faces. Exciting, because the story of their disappearance over one millennium ago and their rediscovery in the early twentieth century presents opportunities for the sorts of textual detective work that traditionally has been at the heart of the discipline of Buddhist studies; exacerbating, though, for the sheer scope of the opportunities so provided. The goodly number of extant manuscripts combined with the dearth of scholarship since Yabuki’s pioneering work in the twenties and thirties...

    • B. Wu chin tsang fa lüeh shuo: Abridged Explanation of the Dharma of the Inexhaustible Storehouse
      (pp. 257-263)

      TheWu chin tsang fa lüeh shuo無盡藏法略說 is in the Stein collection (Stein No. 190, Giles No. 6617), and a fragment of the last part of this text is also found on the same scroll as theHsin-hsing i wen, another important San-chieh text. Similarly titled texts found in the sutra catalogues include theTa sheng wu chin tsang fa大乘無盡藏法 in onechüanlisted among Hsin-hsing’s works in theTa chou k’an ting chung ching mu lu,¹ and aMing ta sheng wu chin tsang明大乘無盡藏 recorded in theK’ai yüan lu,² theChen yüan hsin ting shih...

    • C. Ta sheng fa chieh wu chin tsang fa shih: Commentary on the Dharma of the Inexhaustible Storehouse of the Mahayana Universe
      (pp. 264-288)

      The final translation is from another manuscript in the Stein collection of Tun-huang texts (Stein No. 721, Giles No. 5563), theTa sheng fa chieh wu chin tsang fa shih大乘法界無盡藏法釋, a commentary on theWu chin tsang fa lüeh shuo(Abridged Explanation of the Inexhaustible Storehouse) translated above. The text is divided into four sections, the first of which is largely lost, as is a good portion of the end, which promises to interpret the “meaning of the text” of theWu chin tsang fa lüeh shuoin eleven sections. Although only the 3rst eight of the eleven sections...

      (pp. 289-312)
  9. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 313-324)
  10. Index
    (pp. 325-333)