Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism

Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism: A Reading of the Treasure Store Treatise

Robert H. Sharf
Copyright Date: 2002
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  • Book Info
    Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism
    Book Description:

    The issue of sinification—the manner and extent to which Buddhism and Chinese culture were transformed through their mutual encounter and dialogue—has dominated the study of Chinese Buddhism for much of the past century. Robert Sharf opens this important and far-reaching book by raising a host of historical and hermeneutical problems with the encounter paradigm and the master narrative on which it is based. Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism is, among other things, an extended reflection on the theoretical foundations and conceptual categories that undergird the study of medieval Chinese Buddhism. Sharf draws his argument in part from a meticulous historical, philological, and philosophical analysis of the Treasure Store Treatise (Pao-tsang lun), an eighth-century Buddho-Taoist work apocryphally attributed to the fifth-century master Seng-chao (374–414). In the process of coming to terms with this recondite text, Sharf ventures into all manner of subjects bearing on our understanding of medieval Chinese Buddhism, from the evolution of T’ang "gentry Taoism" to the pivotal role of image veneration and the problematic status of Chinese Tantra. The volume includes a complete annotated translation of the Treasure Store Treatise, accompanied by the detailed exegesis of dozens of key terms and concepts.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6194-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xi)
  5. Conventions of Usage
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  6. Introduction: Prolegomenon to the Study of Medieval Chinese Buddhist Literature
    (pp. 1-28)

    The modern study of medieval Chinese religion has been divided broadly between two camps: the sinologists and the buddhologists. While the former often ignored Buddhism, the latter tended to ignore everything but. Such proclivities are not difficult to fathom. Sinologists were predisposed, by virtue of their historical and philological training, to identify with the literati culture of the “Confucian” elite, a culture that held Buddhism to be a morally corrupting foreign intrusion. Sinologists thus felt little compunction to venture into the arcane labyrinth of Buddhist scholasticism. (This is ironic: in many respects, the Chinese pedigree of late imperial Buddhism was...

  7. Part 1: The Historical and Cosmological Background
    • 1 The Date and Provenance of the Treasure Store Treatise
      (pp. 31-76)

      TheTreasure Store Treatise(Pao-tsang lun) is a short work, comprising a little less than seven pages in the Taishō edition of the Buddhist canon.¹ The treatise is attributed to the early-fifth-century Mādhyamika exegete and disciple of Kumārajīva, Seng-chao (374–414), and the attribution appears to have gone unquestioned until the first half of the twentieth century.²

      As there are a number of studies of Seng-chao now available, a brief sketch of his life will suffice here.³ According to theKao-seng chuan高僧傳 (Biographies of Eminent Monks), Seng-chao was born to a poor family in Ching-chao 京兆 (near Ch’ang-an) in 374,...

    • 2 Chinese Buddhism and the Cosmology of Sympathetic Resonance
      (pp. 77-134)

      In my introduction I argued that the master narrative on which the study of Chinese Buddhism is based and the ubiquitous notion of “syncretism” often mask an essentialist conception of religious history—a reduction of complex social and ideological networks to interactions among discrete teachings, lineages, and schools. Categories such as Indian Buddhism, T’ang Ch’an, Chinese Pure Land, Chinese Tantra, and Twofold Mystery Taoism do not denote historical entities, much less institutions, in any simple sense. Each of these labels came into use long after the historical phenomenon to which it purportedly refers, and each term served (and sometimes continues...

  8. Part 2: Annotated Translation of the Treasure Store Treatise Introduction to the Translation
    • Introduction to the Translation
      (pp. 137-142)

      TheTreasure Store Treatisebelongs to a loosely defined genre of Chinese literature known aslun論 (essay, disquisition), a genre that affords the author considerable latitude in matters of compositional structure and style. Early Chinese literary critics agree that alunshould be “refined” or “subtle” (ching-wei精微) , and “logical” or “reasonable” (li理) but offer little more.¹ As I suggested in Chapter 1, theTreasure Store Treatiseappears to have been composed self-consciously in the style of Buddhist treatises of the Six Dynasties period, evoking the “mystical” tone of dark-learning authors like Wang Pi (226–249) as...

    • 3 The Treasure Store Treatise Chapter One: The Broad Illumination of Emptiness and Being
      (pp. 143-192)

      The “treasure store” (pao-tsang) of the title exemplifies the hyperglossia—the complex interplay of often countervailing voices—that dominate theTreasure Store Treatise. The term “pao” (treasure) was used in antiquity to denote treasure objects held in the possession of a clan or royal household, particularly the royal house of Chou. The earliest such treasures were thought to have been bestowed by mythical animals and consisted of markings on stones, dragon scales, tortoise shells, and pieces of jade.¹ These treasures, which included bronze tripods, a wide miscellany of heavenly talismans, tablets with sacred ciphers, mysterious diagrams (t’u圖), and other...

    • 4 The Treasure Store Treatise Chapter Two: The Essential Purity of Transcendence and Subtlety
      (pp. 193-227)

      The first chapter of theTreasure Store Treatiseends with a quotation from theVimalakīrti-sūtra, proclaiming the purity of a buddha-land to be a function of the purity of one’s own mind. Coming as it does after the literary excursions into the arcane cosmological labyrinth of the first chapter, this short quotation acts as an effective transition to the more classically Mahāyānist concerns of chapter 2. It also introduces one of the major themes of this chapter: that the Way lies not in any particular practice but rather in purity of mind and that this purity of mind is no...

    • 5 The Treasure Store Treatise Chapter Three: The Empty Mystery of the Point of Genesis
      (pp. 228-262)

      The third and concluding chapter of theTreasure Store Treatise, titled “The Empty Mystery of the Point of Genesis” 本際虚玄, continues to develop the “Ch’annish” concerns of the previous chapter while punctuating the discourse with copious quotes from a variety of scriptures. However, insofar as extensive use is made of images and terminology culled from nominally Taoist sources, this chapter is closer in style to the first. It concludes with a summation of the entire treatise that is reminiscent of the “mystical” tone with which the treatise opened:

      The previous three chapters collectively encompass a single meaning, yet the functions...

  9. Appendix 1: On Esoteric Buddhism in China
    (pp. 263-278)
  10. Appendix 2: Scriptural Quotations in the Treasure Store Treatise
    (pp. 279-286)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 287-344)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 345-378)
  13. Index
    (pp. 379-400)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 401-402)