The introduction of the Mādhyamika philosophy into China, according to an opinion prevalent among Japanese and Chinese Buddhists, was effected by Kumārajiva (A.D. 339-382-413) and Divākara who came to China A.D. 676. The so called “second introduction” by Divākara however is no introduction at all in the proper sense of the word. He neither translated nor wrote any work on the Mādhyamika. What he did was simply the impartation to Fa-tsang, a famous leader of the Avatamsaka sect, of some informations about the school, while he himself was most probably an advocate of the Vijñānavāda. The so-called “second introduction” therefore need not be considered.
Kumārajiva had four most eminent Chinese disciples who all helped him in his translation work as well as in the elucidation of the Mādhyamika philosophy. From Tao-shêng (died A.D. 434), one of the four, issues out the line of succeeding leaders of the Three Çāstra sect, which is the name given to the Chinese Mādhyamika school. In China, unlike in Tibet, the school suffered no doctrinal dissension whatever. But geographically one branch of the school was propagated in the South of the Yang-tzū-kiang and the other in the North. It is the southern school which is the true representative of Nāgarjunean philosophy and which attained to its full development in the works of Chi-tsang, generally known as Chia-hsiang Tai-shih; that is properly called the Three Çāstra sect, for the northern school which scarcely made any growth, added the Prajñāparamitāçāstra to the three canonical books.
One hundred and thirty-six years after Kumārajiva or one hundred and fifteen years after Tao-shêng, Chia-hsiang Tai-shih was born in Chin Ling, and his active life continued up to the sixth year before Hsüan-tsang made his pilgrimage to India. Besides his excellent commentaries on the three çāstras well as some sūtras, he wrote the Tai chang hsüan lun (Treatise on the Deepness of the Mahāyāna), the San lun hsüan i (Deep Significance of the Three Çāstras), and some other treatises, elucidating the principal doctrines of the Mādhyamika system, with occasional interpolations of his own original views. I have chiefly followed him in the succeeding brief exposition of the Chinese Çānyatā philosophy.
The Three Çāstra sect did not flourish very long in China. Gradually declining after the death of Chia-hsiang, it was completely excluded from the religious arena towards the end of the T’ang dynasty (A.D. 618-907). The reason why it could not enjoy a further prosperity in China is due mainly to the peculiarity of the Chinese mind which refuses to dwell on anything abstruse, and partly to the sweeping influence of the rival school, Dharmahtkṣa. sect (Yogācāra or Vijñānavāda philosophy established by Asanga), introduced and promulgated by Hsüan-tsan. We cannot indeed expect such an abstract and highly-speculative philosophy as propounded by Nāgārjnna to find any lasting support among the people who are the avowed advocate of Confucianism, a crystallization of practicality and conservatism. The work of Chia-hsiang Tai-shih may be said accordingly to be the practical start as well as the terminus of the Mādhyamika movement in China.
Outlines of the Doctrine.
The Mādhyamika philosophy has always emphasized its negative side both in India and China, and this has called forth the prejudiced and unfavorable comments of the critics of the West. But its position could be held only through the clear understanding of the negativistic view m question. One of the propositions stated by the Chinese Mādhyamika followers as the very kernel of the philosophy is the “Middle Path in the Eight negations or No’s” (Pa pu chung tao), that constitutes the first aphorism of the Mādhyamika-çāstra. In the following pages I will try to explain the statement in connection with other essential theses according to the view held by Chia-hsiang Tai-shih.
(1) Two Forms of Truth.
The discrimination of two forms of truth Paramārtha and Samvrtisatya, has been prevalent among all Mahāyāna schools. Even the Yogācāra, the rival of the Mādhyamika, adopted the conception to some extent, but treating it in its own fashion. It seems that the antagonism between the two systems just mentioned reached its climax in India some three hundred years after Nāgārjuna. Bhāvavivveka, a powerful adherent of the Cūnyatā-philosophy, wrote the Mahāyānatālaratnaçāstra against the Yogacārin Dharmapāla’s commentary on the Vijñānamātraçāstra; the former insisting on the çūnya-ness of existence, while the latter, the validness of the Parinispanna-lakṣaṇa which corresponds to the Paraamārtha of Nāgārjuna.
Accordmg to the Erh ti i chang (Views on the Two Satyas) compiled by a royal prince of the Liang dynasty (A.D. 502-555), there were already twenty-three different views in China concerning the two forms of truth. It will be noticed that the problem how to deal with the Paramārtha and Samvṛti, absolute and conditional, one and many, noumena and phenomena, universal and particular, was of a vital importance to all sects of the Mahāyāna, as was to the philosophers of the West. How did then the Three Çāstra sect solve the problem?
The advocate of the sect declares that the discrimination between the Paramārtha and Samvṛti, or in other words, between what appears to us, and what is in itself, is not absolute; that they have only relative Value because it is the condition by which our imperfect understanding conceives existence. Noumena and phenomena have no objective reality as some suppose; for if they have, the truth becomes dualistic and therefore conditional, and that which is conditional cannot be the truth. Nor are they subjective forms inherent in our mind as others affirm; for if so, our reason becomes incapable of grasping the truth which must be absolute, transcending all modes of relativity.
The Paramārtha and Samvṛti are no more than the tools or passages which are necessary for us to reach the truth. Buddha distinguished them simply to dispel our intellectual prejudices which oscillate from one extreme to another, never keeping its equilibrium or Middle Path. When it is said that things are what they appear, that they are real as characterized with individuality, ignorant minds cling to the view and entirely forget the other side of the shield, namely that they are not what they appear to us, that they are çūnya, conditional, relative, phenomenal. But when the çūnya-ness of existence is thus emphasized, they again cling to this view, utterly ignoring the truth contained in the naive realism. Clinging or one-sidedness is therefore the prejudice of our intellect, preventing us from obtaining an insight into the truth.
The truth transcends every form of separation and individuation, and therefore the attainment of the truth consists in shaking off all conceptions smutted with dualism. The distinction of the Paramārtha and Samvṛti holds good as long as they serve us as instruments for removing our mental biases; but as soon as we cling to either of them as the ultimate truth, we are doomed. “They are like the finger pointing out the moon, they are like the basket carrying the fish.” As soon as the fish is caught in the hand and the moon is noticed, there is no need of bothering ourselves with the basket and the finger. Those who cling to the absolute validity of the two truths, forgetting what purpose they serve, are like an idiot who takes the basket for the fish and the finger for the moon.
Chia-hsiang Tai-shih in this way refutes the views held by Indian as well as Chinese heretics (Taoists and Confucianists), by Hīnayānists, by the followers of the Satyasiddhiçāstra and of the Vaipulya-Mahāyānism.
From the religions point of view the Paramārtha corresponds to Prajñā, and the Samvṛti to Upāya. When Buddha proclaims that all beings in the universe have been saved by him, that they are eternally abiding in Nirvāṇa, that no one needs emancipation, he takes his standpoint on Prajñā, viewing things by the light of their Paramārtha-ness. But this being only one side of the truth, Buddha does not cling to it. He comes down from the eminence and mingles himself among the masses in order to lead them through every possible means to the final mokṣa. This is his Upāya, or to put it philosophically, the Saṁvṛti-side of things. Thus Buddha never deviates from the Middle Path.
(2) Middle Path.
Chia-hsiang Tai-shih distinguishes in the San lun hsüan i (Deep Significance of the Three Çāstras) four aspects of Middle Path, which clearly show on what basis the Chinese Mādhyamika schoul stands.
They are: (l) Middle Path in contradistinction to one-sidedness; (2) Middle Path as the abnegation of one-sidedness ; (3) Middle Path in the sense of absolute Truth; (4) Middle Path as unity in plurality.
The philosophy of Being held by Hīnayānists and the philosophy of Non-bemg held by some Mahāyānists, both are one-sided and there-fore imperfect, because the one cannot exist independently of the other. The philosophy which repudiates and avoids both extremes is to be called the doctrine of Middle Path.
A Middle Path therefore reveals itself when the two extremes are completely out of sight; in other words, the harmonization or unification of them leads to the perfect solution of existence. Neither the Āstika nor the Nāstika should be adhered to. They condition each other, and anything conditional means imperfection. So the transcending of one-sidedness constitutes the second aspect of the Middle Path.
But when we forget that the doctrine of Middle Path is intended for the removal of the intellectual prejudices and cling to or assert the view that there is something called Middle Path beyond or between the two extremes of Bemg and Non-being, we commit the fault of One-sidedness over again, by creating a third statement in opposition to the two. As long as the truth is absolute and discards all limitation clinging even to the Middle Path is against it. Thus we must avoid not only the two extremes but also the middle and it should not be forgotten that the phrase “Middle path” has from the deficiency of our language been provisionally adopted to express the human conception of the highest truth.
The final aspect of the Middle Path is that it does not lie beyond the plurality of existence, but that it is in it underlying all. The antithesis of the Āstika and the Nāstika is made possible only through the conception of the Middle Path which is the unifying principle of the universe. Remove this principle; the universe will fall into pieces and particulars Will cease to be as such. The Chinese Mādhyamika school does not deny the existence of the universe as it appears to us; it condemns on the contrary the doctrine which unconditionally clings to the conception of çūnyatā. What the school most emphatically maintains is that the universe must be conceived in its totality in its oneness, that is, from the standpoint of Middle Path.
(3) The Eight No’s.
The Eight Nos refers to the first aphorism of the Mādhyamika-çāstra which according to the Three Çāstra sect sums up the essentials of Buddhism. The aphorism is:
“I bow before the Bhagavat whose teaching crushes all sophism and stands foremost among all doctrines, declaring that there is neither creation nor destruction, neither persistence nor discontinuance, neither unity nor plurality, neither appearance, (lit. coming) nor disappearance (lit. going), that all things are conditional.”
Creation and destruction, persistence and discontinuance, unity and plurality, appearance and disappearance—these eight conceptions are the fundamental faults of ignorant minds; from which all possible prejudices and wrong judgments do emanate. People think that the law of causation (coming and going) actually operates in the objective, as well as the subjective world, that there is such a thing in reality as the persistence or discontinuance of existence, that things are in a state of transformation (creation and destruction), that substances are really capable of being counted as one or many; while they are wholly unconscious of the fact that all those ideas are limited, relative, conditional, and therefore not the truth but merely the production of our imperfect subjective state. There nestles in those ideas the principle of misery, and as the people cling to them, their life is the everlasting prey for the pendulous feeling of exultation and mortification.
Where conditionality is, there is no truth; truth and conditionality are incompatible. Therefore to attain to the truth, conditionality must be completely cast aside. The eight mistaken notions must be annulled and we must come to the conclusion that there is no real transformation, no real causation, no real persistence or discontinuance, no unity nor plurality. When our subjective mind is thus purified from the smirch of ignorance the serene moonlight of Suchness or transcendental reality (Bhūtatathatā) will illuminate our whole life.
As ignorant minds are full of limited and illusive ideas, Chia-hsiang says, we have to emphasize the negative side of the doctrine by thus refuting every misconception they would cherish; but in the face of all this, we must not forget that the clinging of some Mahāyānists to the idea of absolute nothingness (çūnyatā) which is the other extreme, is equally wrong. It is like the case of a patient who having taken a medicine for the remedy, has thereby acquired a new disease. If every medicine produces a fresh suffering, what is the use of medicine at all? The philosophy of Non-being is therefore no better than the philosophy of Being, unless they are harmonized or unified through the truth of Middle Path.
(4) How the Chinese Mādhyamika School Interpreted the Teachings of Buddha.
When various schools of Buddhism arose, each claiming to be the genuine and orthodox teaching of Buddha it was more advisable for them to try some means of reconciliation, than to denounce each other downright as false and heretical; so they tried to explain, each from its own dogmatical standpoint, why Buddha taught so many different doctrines, some of which standing in a direct antagonism to others. This tendency was conspicuous especially among the Mahāyāna Buddhists.
The first attempt known to us for a chronological explanation of the teachings of Buddha was made by Çilabhadra and Jñānaprabha in India towards the end of the sixth century of the Christian era. Jñānaprabha was an adherert of the Mādhyamika school, while Çilabhadra defended the philosophy of the Yogācāra. Both of them distinguished three stages of development in the teaching of Buddha, but each insisted that the doctrine he advocated was consummate and breathed the true spirit of Buddhism.
Since the transplantation of Buddhism into the Chinese soil, every Mahāyāna school attempted a chronological explanation concordant with its own doctrinal standpoint for the many-sided religious system of Çākyamuni. Chia-hsiang Tai-shih representing the Chinese Mādhyamika philosophy had of course had his own explanation.
The object of this kind of interpretation given by the various Mahāyāna schools excluding the Three Çāstra sect was the exaltation of their own doctrines at the expense of those of others. Each therefore endeavoured to degrade the other as “imperfect,” “provisional” or “deficient.” But the Three Çāstra sect viewed the matter in quite a different light. It acknowledged that the teachings of Buddha were many-sided and broad enough to permit diverse explanations; but it did not make any further assertion; and it did not proclaim like others that one explanation was superior to or more perfect than the other. Chia-hsiang says, Buddha knew that there was a variety of intellectual calibres, and that particular doctrines of his would more properly suit to certain classes of people than to the rest. For instance, the Hīnayānist teaching perfectly met the needs of the Çrāvaka, but the spiritual thirst of the Bodhisattva could not be appeased by it, and he aspired to a different system of doctrine. On that account we must not however consider the latter as being superior to the former, because the Mahāyāna was as unsatisfactory and imperfect to tile Çrāvaka as the Hīnayāna was to the Bodhisattva.
Chia-h iang Tai-shi.h was not disposed to make any judgment of preference in the teachings of Buddha. Nevertheless he could not help noticing a logical development in them. He classified the Dharma into three Dharmacakras, (1) Fundamental; (2) Peripheral; (3) Reductive.
The Fundamental Dharmacakra is the Avataṁsakasūtra which was delivered by Buddha soon after his attainment of the Bodhi and in which his fundamental thought was most elaborately and to the full extent disclosed. But the audience to whom this most important sūtra was first revealed were not as strong in their mental capacity as Buddha himself and therefore were in a complete bewilderment to find out the real import of Buddha’s preaching. When he realized the fact, he thought he should have first prepared their minds to be in such a condition as would be capable to comprehend the highest truth. The Āgama, Viçeṣacintā, Çrīmālā, Vimalakīrttinirdeça, and many other sūtras all deal with this preparation stage. They are not fundamental; they do not represent the kernel of Buddhism; they belong to the periphery as it were. We must not linger long about the superficiality, if we wish to dive deeply into the bottom of truth. Thereupon Buddha preached the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka as the teaching reductive leading to the Fundamental Dharmacakra. By this sūtra the Çrāvakayāna, Pratyekabuddhayāna and Bodhisattvayāna are all reduced or led to be one Yāna of Middle Path.
The Three Çāstras.
Commentaries On The Chung Lung (Mādhyamikaçāstra).
There are four commentaries on the Mādhyamikaçāstra by Indian authors still existent in Chinese translations. They are:—
(1) The Mādhyamikaçāstra, by Piṇgala. Tr. by Kumārajiva, A.D. 409. Four fasciculi. Twenty-seven chapters.
(2) The Mādhyāntānugamaçāstra by Asanga. Tr. by Prajñāruci, A.D. 543. Two fasciculi. 13,727 Chinese characters.
(3) The Prajñādīpaçāstravyākhyā, by Fēn pieh ming (distinction-brightness or , Tr. by Prabhāmitra, A.D. 630. Fifteen fasciculi. Twenty-seven chapters.
(4) The Mahāyānamadhyamakaçāstravyākhya, by Sthitamati. Tr. by Weitsang, circa A.D. 980. Eight fasciculi. Seventeen chapters.
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The book is ascribed to Nāgārjuna, and translated into Chinese by Kumārajiva, A.D. 408. It consists of twelve nikāyas, each one of which proving the çānyatā or conditionality of existence from several points of view. Its principal statements are:—
All things are conditional. They have no noumena. or “things in themselves.”
There is no such thing as creation.
All thingS exist through the interrelation of the four conditions (as enumerated in the first chapter of the Mādhyamikaçāstra), but when they are taken by themselves have nothing to do with the existence.
We think things appear, persist, and disappear, but these conceptions are illusive.
Things are known by their attributes, but attributes themselves are çūnya.
Being is made possible by Non-bemg, and vice versa, but we cannot think of the co-existence of the two.
We observe transformation everywhere, since things are not self-existing.
The conception of causation has no absolute value.
There is no doer, no doing, no deed.
Anteriority, posteriority, simultaneity are unthinkable.
By Deva commented by Vasubandhu, the Chinese translation is by Kumārajiva A.D. 404. A disciple of the translator states in his preface to the book that the original text consisted of one hundred gāthās, the latter of which however not being considered to be useful to the Chinese reader, was left untranslated. The present work consists of two fasciculi and ten chapters. It is chiefly a refutation of Indian philosophical systems outside of Buddhism. The main points are:—
Merit and demerit are relative. We have to transcend all modes of limitation. There is no creator. The law of identity as well as the law of non-identity are untenable. The existence of the subject and of the object is not thinkable. To affirm that a combination of conditions produces a new substance is illogical. It is also not logical to affirm the contrary. It is wrong to assert the permanence or fixity of things, while the unconditional maintenance of the çūnyatā doctrine is equally faulty.
(Sd.) D. T. Suzuki.
La Salle, Ill, U.S.A.