The Mādhyamika School is known in China as the “Three Çāstra Sect” which was first introduced by Kumāra-jīva in A.D. 401. With many other Çāstras and Sūtras, he translated into Chinese Nagārjuna’s “Dvādaçanikāya-Çāstra,” “Mādhyamika Çāstra,” and Kaṇa-deva’s (the most eminent disciple of Nāgarjuna) “Çata-Çāstra.” These three works constitute the canonical books of the Three Çāstra sect. Though the sect flourished only about three hundred years after the first introduction into Chinese soil, the three Çāstras are still studied by Buddhists in Japan and probably in China where Buddhism is at present in a comatose state. The best commentary on the Mādhyamika Çāstra is that of Ka-jo Vaishi (A D. 538-623) one of the most influential and able leaders of the sect.
Kumāra-jīva’s Chinese translation of the Mādhyamika Çāstra with the commentary of Piṇgala-netra who was otherwise call d. Kaṇadeva or Candra Kīrtti (though Chinese and Japanese authorities do not confirm it) appeared in 409 A.D. The further commentaries or rather the expositions of the Mādhyamika philosophy by Asaṇga and Sthitamati still exist in Chinese translation.
As to the literature of the Sarvāsti-Vāda School which was also called the Vaibhāṣīka or Vibhajavādin, there are a great number of materials still preserved in China and Japan. The first of all we have the collection of Abhidharmas which are supposed to have been compiled by 500 Arhats in the third convocation in Kashmtira. We are also in possession of the seven Abhidharmas whose authorship is ascribed to some of Buddha’s immediate disciples (see Tāranātha, of Wassiljew, Kern, etc.). The works by Dharmatrāta, Ghoṣaka, Vasumitra, Saṇghabhadra, Dharmaçrī, Vasubandhu also found their Chinese translators and are all studied by Japanese Buddhist scholars. Rockhill in his “Life of Buddha” makes a very insufficient reference taken from Tibetan sources to different views held by the four most noted Vaibhāṣika teachers as regards the reality of existence.
The Mādhyamika School is spoken to be a Nāstivāda in contradistinction to Sarvāstivādas and some times to Yogācāra’s realistic views. I do not think there was any Chinese Buddhist sect particularly called Nāstivāda.
In China and Japan many Buddhist sects are comprised under the general name Mahayana. The Mādhyamika is by no means identical with it. Most important Mahāyāna sects in Japan and China are:—
(a). The Avataṁsaka sect, which is established according to the doctrine expounded in the Avataṁsaka sūttra which is supposed by Chinese Mahāyānists to have been delivered by Buddha while deeply absorbed in Sāgara-mudrā-samādhi after the attaintment of perfect knowledge. Its philosophy is characterised by its peculiar way of treating the relation of One and Many. substance and phenomena. Buddhist scholars unanimously declare it to be the most profound of all doctrines which were preached by Buddha, so that none but a gifted genius will be able to fathom its bottomless depth. As far as I am informed, the Western scholars of Chinese Buddhism invariably fail to understand it. Though the sūttra is thickly covered with mysterious veils, it is not after all very difficult to penetrate into its case, only if one had a keen insight and were thoroughly versed in Chinese language. I wish I had time enough to analyze and explain the Avataṁsaka philosophy and to draw a parallelism between it and various systems of German philosophy.
(b). The Dharma-lakṣaṇa sect, or Vidyāmātra sect, or Yogācāra sect, or Vijnānavādin according to Kern (B. Vol. II, p. 498). The philosophy of this sect is somehow known among European scholars, but om account of their not being able to go over all available Chinese materials which are so ample, it is but meagrely elucidated by them. The most important works of this sect are those by Asaṇga and his brother Vasubandhu. Hieun Tsang who introduced it into China translated all of them and his disciples finished the compilation of important commentaries on them. Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakoça is much known by name though its fragmentary original is said to have been recovered while his principal work Vidyāmātrasiddhiçastrakārikā is almost entirely ignored even by those who are considered to be the best authority of Chinese Buddhism.
(c). The Mantra sect. It is the esoteric system of the Mahāyāna introduced into China by Vajrabodhi in 720 A.D. Though we, by careful study can find in it those characteristic points of the Mahāyāna School, it is full of tāntric terminology which will at first entirely puzzle us.
(d). The Dhyāna sect, first introduced by Bodhidharma in 520 A.D. This sect may be called a mysticism in some sense, which however I have no sufficient space here to elucidate.
There are some other important Mahāyāna schools, such as the Sukhāvatī sect, the Vinaya sect, the Nirvāṇa sect, which grew out in Chinese land and made their full development in Japan. I am sorry I cannot give any account of them in a limited space.
5. In China or in Japan there is no Hīnayāna sect, though its texts such as Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakoçaçāstra, Harīvarman’s Satyasiddhiçāstra, or Vaibhāṣika’s canonical books have been constantly studied.
6. No Buddhist sect named Çrāvakayāna, or Pratyekayāna existed in China. According to Mahāyānists there are three classes of people, religiously and intellectually considered. Çrāvaka, Pratyekabuddha (otherwise Nidānabuddha) and Bodhisattva. If a man is endowed with deep religious instinct and keen mental calibre so that he can aspire to universal salvation and to Anuttarasamyaksambodhi, he is said to be a Bodhisattva. But if he either desires his own emancipation without caring for others, or endeavours to attain to Nirvāṇa by leading a retired life which he devotes to contemplation on the truth, is said to belong either to Çrāvakayāna or to Pratyekabuddhayāna. This distinction is clearly defined in the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra (Kern’s English translation, p. 80).
8. Among Japanese and Chinese collections of Tripiṭaka, there is “Life of Nāgārjuna,” translated from Sanskrit by Kumāra-jiva. But it is very short and does not furnish us any important informations about the great Indian philosopher. Wassiljew’s translation of it appears in his German “Buddhismus,” p. 232 sq.
As for the date, no records which we can gather from various Chinese sources ever agree and there are about eight or so different opinions varying from two hundred to nine hundred years after the Parinirvāṇa.
9. Little is known about the life of Candrakīrti. But some identify him who is otherwise called Nīlanetra or Piṇgalanetra, with the author of the Çataçāstra, viz. Āryadeva or.. Kaṇadeva. If so, we have a short biography of Devā in the Chinese Tripiṭaka. See Wassiljew’s German translation, p. 234 et sq.
10. According to Chinese Buddhist tradition, the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra is supposed to have been taught by Buddha himself after about 20 or 30 years after the enlightenment, and Nāgārjuna’s çāstra of the same name which was translated into Chinese by Kumāra-jiva in one hundred volumes A.D. 405, is the explanatory treatise of the same doctrine. A sūtra belonging to Prajñāpāramitā class (747 volumes) was rendered into Chinese so early as A.D. 173 by an Indian Missionary.
In short Chinese Buddhism must if possible be studied in original, not merely through translation works, many of which are very misleading. As the oriental mode of thinking and expression is so different from that of European people, it seems to be very difficult for the latter to understand and appreciate it as it should be. For example, note Wassiljew’s conception of the Avataṁsakasūtra, Eitel’s or Beal’s knowledge of Ālayavijñāna.