Chinese Buddhism, by Joseph Edkins, , at sacred-texts.com
T‘ien-t‘ai, a place of great note in Chinese Buddhism—Chï-k‘ai resided there in the sixth century—His cloak and rice bowl—Fu-lung-feng—Fang-kwang sï and the rock bridge—Legend of the Lo-hans—Twelve monasteries founded—He taught the Fa-hwa-king—System of threefold contemplation—Six connectives—Eight modes of characterising Buddhism—Ten steps in progress—Derived much from Nagarjuna—T‘ien-t‘ai, a middle system—Regulations.
THERE is no Buddhist establishment better known in China than T‘ien-t‘ai. It has much natural beauty, but its interest, so far as it is historical, centres chiefly round the ancient monk who is the subject of this notice. It had been visited before by Tauist recluses, but it was he that by selecting it for his abode gave it its high reputation as a spot consecrated to the meditative life.
The cluster of hills that compose T‘ien-t‘ai terminate abruptly to the south-west. Ch‘ih-ch‘eng, 1 an imposing hill crowned with a pagoda, is conspicuous from the timeworn walls of the city of T‘ien-t‘ai, 180 miles south-east of Hang-cheu. This is the southern extremity of the hilly region known by the same name. From a valley on its left flows a mountain stream, which, increasing in width as it traverses the plain, is capable of bearing boats of considerable size when it reaches the busy little city just mentioned. Passing on it bends to the south-east, and arriving at T‘ai-chen, an important sea-port, pours its
waters, after a short course of ten or fifteen miles, into the ocean.
It was up one of the feeders of this stream that, near the end of the sixth century, Chï-k‘ai wended his way in search of a lonely mountain residence suited to his meditative cast of mind. Leaving the beautiful site where afterwards stood the Kwo-ts‘ing monastery, just below four hills now covered to their summits with rich foliage, he ascended a long and romantic valley. He was travelling in a region threaded by few paths, and in a direction that seemed to lead nowhere but farther away from the habitations of men. In this wilderness of hills and valleys, occupying many square miles, which he now entered, although unknown to the agriculturist, he yet found some few residing whose views of human life were congenial to his own. Local traditions point out where he lived and reflected. An antique mausoleum, with a long inscription of the Sui dynasty, marks the place where his ashes were deposited. At a little distance from it the Kau-ming monastery comes into view. It is in a deep valley shut all round by wooded heights. The building has an old look, befitting the relics of our hero still preserved there. The visitor will have shown to him a large square silk garment. It is said to have been the cloak worn by Chï-k‘ai. It is handsomely embroidered after a pattern evidently very antique. A metal bowl, worn by long use, and capable of holding several meals of rice for an abstemious monk, is another curiosity. These memorials of this early Buddhist will appear, however, to one who is not a special admirer of the monastic life, secondary in interest to a Sanscrit manuscript which escaped a fire some centuries ago, and is one of the few remains of that literature still existing in China. The history of the manuscript, its name and contents, are unknown to the resident priests.
This monastery is even now difficult of access. But the valley where it stands, in Chï-k‘ai's time had scarcely ever
been visited. 1 It was filled with forest trees and thick brushwood, and formed a favourite cover for deer. The woodcutter and herdsman seldom wandered to this wild spot. An accident led our hero there. On the hill above—Fu-lung-feng—near where the "st‘upa" (t‘ah) that contains his ashes is still standing, he was one day explaining to his disciples the Tsing-ming-king (Sutra of Pure name) when a gust of wind blew away the leaves far into the deep hollow below. With his tin-headed staff in his hand to assist him in the search, he set out to recover the fugitive book. After a pursuit of a mile and a half the wind ceased, and the book fell to the ground. He caused a building to be erected at the spot, in commemoration of the circumstance, which became one of the twelve establishments that owe their origin to him. It was not, however, till many years after that the present monastery was erected and its modern name assigned to it. When the Kwo-ts‘ing monastery was destroyed by fire, the manuscript spoken of above was removed to Kau-ming for greater safety.
After penetrating several miles farther to the northwest in this hilly and desolate region, Chï-k‘ai arrived 2 at the remarkable rock bridge where the Fang-kwang monastery now stands. The loud roar of the waterfall, and the close-set woods on the hills around, the two mountain brooks uniting before they reach the cataract, then passing beneath the natural bridge down the fall, and thence pursuing their way to the north, united to give this spot an air of grandeur in the hermit's mind. It seemed a home for supernatural beings. It is they that cause the unusual appearances of nature. The Lo-hans, those exalted disciples of Buddha whose power and knowledge are so great, might reside here. In fact a legend on the subject soon grew into public belief, and the music of the Lo-hans was said to be heard at times a little before dawn by priests lying awake in their cells. A choir of five hundred
at that silent hour made the woods resound with harmony. Such a colony of Buddha's superhuman disciples served to invest this wild mountainous district with a sacred character. In every monastery of this region a hall devoted to images of the five hundred Lo-hans now exists, and on the side of the natural bridge is a small shrine containing five hundred small stone figures, which are worshipped by those who venture to cross by the narrow and dangerous path that spans the cataract.
Our hero continued his wanderings in this elevated region, where the valleys do not sink farther than 1500 feet above the sea-level, and which is by its loneliness well suited for the ascetic. Solitude reigns here for many miles round, in one of the most densely-populated provinces of China. He did not take up his abode at one place exclusively. No fewer than twelve monasteries mark the spots where he formed a cottage of stones and straw, or caused a modest building to be erected.
As he approached the peak of Hwa-ting, nearly 4000 feet high, and five miles to the east of the natural bridge, he met on the T‘ien-feng ridge an old man who said to him, "Sir, if you seek a residence for contemplation, select the place where you meet a rock." The monk soon after encountered a Buddhist from Corea named Pan-shï (Rock), who encouraged him to stay there, and give himself up to study. He accordingly constructed a hut there, in which he remained sixteen years, and composed a commentary on the "Book of the Nirvâna."
A little farther to the north is Hwa-ting, the highest ground in Che-kiang excepting T‘ien-mu shan. The monastery, bearing the same name as the mountain, had already been erected by Te-shau, a celebrated Buddhist who lived a century anterior to Chï-k‘ai. Several hundred monks now belong to the society, a large part of them residing in hermitages on the hill. The monastery is an extensive thatched range of buildings, more comfortable than the bleak huts where, out of sight of any human
being, the more self-denying spend their days and nights chanting in honour of Buddha. Certainly theirs is a gloomy home. A thick mist usually rests on the summit and spreads down the sides of the mountain, enveloping these rude cottages with their visionary inmates; and snow often remains unmelted for many months. It is hard to explain how a people so social as the Chinese, so fond of cities and crowds, and so averse to mountain travelling, can supply hermits to live in residences like these. That Chï-k‘ai, the founder of a flourishing sect, a man of deep reflection, and in love with solitude, should choose such an abode, is not so surprising as that common Chinese minds, without his profound thinking, or his love of wild nature, should still follow his example.
Another spot where Chï-k‘ai once resided is Si-tso, at some distance to the west of the rock bridge, and near the Wan-nien monastery. Here he composed his system of doctrine called Chï-kwan, "Limited or perfected observation."
Chï-k‘ai had in early life followed the teaching of the school established by Bodhidharma, the Hindoo patriarch who had died in Northern China thirty years before. He afterwards became dissatisfied with the Ch‘an-men (Contemplative school), as that sect is called, not agreeing with its principle that book learning should be discarded, even that which consisted of Buddha's own words, and the heart nurse itself into a state of perfection by rejecting everything external and giving itself up to an unconscious sleep-like existence.
Chï-k‘ai grew tired of this system, and formed the outlines of another, which he taught to multitudes of admiring disciples. He resided at Nanking, the capital of the kingdom (Ch‘en dynasty), and maintained a high reputation. When he determined on removing to T‘ien-t‘ai, the emperor forbade him, but allowed him to leave when he saw that his mind was made up. Three times afterwards an imperial message required his attendance at court, but he
pleaded indisposition and remained at T‘ien-t‘ai. He complied on one occasion only, and explained the sacred books of his religion to the emperor and his court. He also made one visit home to Hu-nan, but returned to die at the mountain residence to which he was so much attached. He expired while sitting cross-legged and giving instruction to his followers.
He wrote commentaries on the Fa-hwa-king, Kin-kang-king, and A-mi-ta-king, with several original works. These books were in the year A.D. 1024, all included in the Buddhist Tripitaka (Collection of sacred writings) of China.
His school continued to flourish for a long period at the Kwo-ts‘ing and Fu-lung monasteries.
The Miau fa-lien-hwa-king (Lotus of the Good Law) was his favourite book. He thus explained its name:—"As the lotus grows out of the mire and yet preserves its freshness and purity, so the doctrines of this book, the good law, assist men to retain their original nature unsullied and undisturbed amidst the misery and corruption around them." In the course of the book, he added: "Truth is sometimes taught in abstract, at other times by illustration, sometimes it is explained and elsewhere defended, just as the lotus flower buds, blossoms, fades, and falls by a succession of changes, and at last produces fruit."
Chï-k‘ai divided the teaching of Shakyamuni into five periods. beginning with the Hwa-yen-king, and ending with the Fa-hwa-king and the Nirvâna. After this classification of the sacred books, he introduced to his followers his own system. To restore man's true moral nature there must be "observation" (kwan, "to see") of human actions. In regard to opinions, there are three kinds—the true, the common, and the mean. The true is "destructive of all methods and doctrines" (idealism), the popular brings them into existence, and the mean places them all together and chooses the middle path. The deceptions that prevent men from perceiving the truth are threefold: ignorance, the dust of the world, and the activity of the
thoughts and senses. These taken in their order hide from view the beauty of the religious life, prevent moral improvement, and operate against pure mental vacancy. The feeling of Buddha, on observing the world in this state, was that men's own notions are false and not to be trusted; that in true knowledge there is no distinction of what is myself and what is not myself, and that the conception of a living personal Buddha should be abandoned. Otherwise men could not return to their true moral nature.
Having proceeded thus far, Chï-k‘ai developed his threefold system of observation, which, as he believes it to be conclusive of controversy and perfectly satisfactory, he called Chï-kwan, "Perfected observation." This observation is "empty" (k‘ung), "hypothetical" (kia), or "medial" (chung). For removing the deceptions that blind men's minds, the most successful method is to view all things in "vacancy" (k‘ung). For constructing doctrines and institutions, the "inventive" (kia) method is the best. For establishing and confirming man's moral nature, the medial method is the most effective. These three modes of viewing the world are complete in each other and inseparable, resembling the three eyes of the god Maha Ishwara. The vacant mode destroys the illusions of the senses, asserting their nothingness, and constructs the virtue of Prajna (Knowledge). The inventive mode destroys the deluding effects of the dust of the world, and constructs the virtue of "rescue (from all errors and evils)," kiai-t‘o. The medial method destroys the delusion that results from ignorance, and constructs the "religious character" (fa-shen).
Still fearing lest his followers should be in error as to the method of self-reformation, and fall into one-sided views, he formed a series of what he called the Six connectives.
1. "Reason" (li). All living beings, down to the smallest insects, have received a moral nature, and have Buddha
within them. Constantly resting in this, they attain their perfection, because the gift of reason is equally bestowed.
2. Names and terms. Although reason is the same in all beings, yet in the course of the world, they will not come to the knowledge and use of it, and therefore instruction is necessary to produce belief and remove what is false.
3. Observation of human action. Instruction having been imparted and belief produced, the threefold mode of viewing the world, as already explained, must then be employed.
4. Likeness. Perfection itself being difficult to gain, the likeness to it may be reached.
5. The true development of human nature.
6. Confirmation. Ignorance is for ever gone. The mind becomes perfectly intelligent.
Each of these six steps being Buddha, the three embodiments of the religious life are thus completed—viz., "embodiment" (shen) of the "law" (fa), of "recompense" (pau), of "renovation" (hwa). 1
Chï-k‘ai divided the Buddhist system according to its characteristics into "Eight parts" (Pa-kiau):—(1.) The compliant; (2.) The gradual; (3.) The secret; (4.) The indeterminate; (5.) Collection; (6.) Progress; (7.) Distinction; (8.) Completion. The last four are called Chï-k‘ai's "Four modes of contemplation" (Sï-kwan).
With regard to Collection, the sacred books were embraced in three divisions, king, lü, lun, or sutra, vinaya, and abidharma. These include, under the head of suffering, the twenty-five classes of beings that inhabit heaven, earth, and hell; also the eighty-eight causes of human delusion; and further, thirty-seven steps in self-knowledge and improvement. They also embrace the five classes of instructed and enlightened beings:—(1.) The disciple, in several subdivisions; (2.) The wise, in four grades—Sudawan, Sidagam, Anagam, Arhan; (3.) The perfectly intelligent; (4.) The Bodhisattwa; (5.) The Buddha.
With regard to Progress, there are ten steps—viz., unproductive knowledge, moral nature awaking, the eight convictions of the true sage, perception, first advances, conquest of the passions, the wrong set right, the Pratyeka Buddha, the Bodhisattwa, and the Buddha.
In these successive steps of moral improvement there is some resemblance to the common Buddhist view of the material universe. They regard it as divided according to a moral scale into stages accurately definable. The metempsychosis, by a rigid law of moral retribution, assigns at death the position of every soul in the fifty or sixty grades of being belonging to heaven, earth, and hell. Above these are found the states of Buddha's disciples and that which is itself called Buddha.
With regard to the excellence termed Distinction, which is reached by the Bodhisattwa only, there are embraced in it Ten modes of faith, Ten modes of firm adherence, Ten modes of action, Ten inclinations, Ten mental states, together with the highest knowledge in two separate forms.
In reference to the last class, that of Completion, everything is viewed as perfect. There are five states which the student may occupy—viz., pleasure. recitation, instructing, putting in practice the ten rules, correct practice of the ten rules.
A series of twenty-five auxiliaries to knowledge and virtue, and of ten modes of observing the true nature and end of human actions, follow the preceding. 1
To give these numerous divisions of Buddhist doctrine more minutely is here unnecessary. So much as is here presented will illustrate the manner in which reflecting Buddhists comment on the doctrines of their religion. It contains a sketch of the opinions of one of the oldest and most influential schools in China, and exhibits the same fondness for a numerical arrangement of propositions ramifying endlessly, which also belongs to other Buddhist
schools. This symmetrical classification of doctrines in round numbers pervades the whole Buddhist literature, and suggests a resemblance to the habits of the European schoolmen.
The fundamental subdivision of the T‘ien-t‘ai system into three modes of contemplation, the empty, the inventive, and the medial, originated with "Nagarjuna" (Lung shu), who lived in North-western India about two centuries after Christ. The views which the T‘ien-t‘ai-kiau have borrowed from him are contained in the "Medial Shastra" (Chung-lun), a work in five hundred stanzas based on the principles of the Prajna paramita, and translated into Chinese early in the fifth century. This work gave rise to the Madhyamika school (the Central philosophy) in Thibet. The author says in this work: "The methods and doctrines springing from various causes, I declare to be all 'emptiness' (k‘ung). They may also be called 'invented' (kia) names. Further, they may be said to contain the meaning of the medial (chung) path." Hwei-wen erected a system on this, as the basis, and Chï-k‘ai, following him, moulded it to its present form as the T‘ien-t‘ai-kiau.
The following extract from a commentary on the Fa-hwa-king will illustrate the way in which the principles of this school are applied in interpreting the sacred books:—“All were 'Arhans' (Lo-hans) whose defects were obliterated, for whom there was no more suffering, who had obtained benefits for themselves, who had broken all ties, and in their hearts possessed peace." This is the text. The commentator says: "The word Arhan expresses rank, and what follows, character. Arhan is variously explained as the 'true man,' or the 'extricated man.' Some say it contains three meanings, viz., freedom from birth, killer of robbers in the sense of being delivered from perceptions and sensations, the robbers of the mind, and deserving honour. This is the sense according to the
principles of (1.) Collection, and (2.) Progress. But for the two higher principles, (3.) Distinction, and (4.) Completion, the word implies, not only the killing of robbers, but of non-robbers, i.e., the Nirvâna, which in the higher region of these two principles is also deserving of extinction. Freedom from birth expresses their complete rescue from life and death, and that is the meaning of their defects having been obliterated. Because they can give happiness to all the nine classes of beings, therefore they are said to deserve honour. By their embodiment of the religious life, they benefit themselves. By their wisdom, they obtain deliverance from life and death. By expelling ignorance and evil, they kill robbers.
“Interpreting according to the Threefold contemplation, empty, inventive, and medial, the first is exemplified in their wisdom, the second in their expulsion of evil, and the third in their embodiment of the religious life. In the transition from the inventive to the empty, there are also three modifications of the sense, viz., arrival at the central point of contemplation, killing the thieves of ignorance, and keeping the heart from a one-sided position.
"Interpreting according to the contemplation of the heart, following the middle path, and taking the correct view, they do not err on the side of the empty or inventive mode of observation. The sorrow of the heart is gone. When a man sees the true moral nature of his mind, that is called the higher state of confirmation. Like a hidden treasure, reserved for myself, is the benefit which the Arhans have obtained."
When Brahma appears before Buddha as a disciple, the commentary says: "The word Brahma means 'leaving the desires, abandoning earthly ties, and ascending to the coloured heavens.' It is also said to mean 'high' and pure.' This Brahma is one of the wheel kings of a single generation, who asks instruction of Buddha, which he receives according to his wish and capacity. Interpreting the idea of Brahma, according to that method which observes
the heart, it means 'contemplating the removal of all pollutions.'" 1
These extracts exemplify how the mythological apparatus of the Buddhist Sutras, or "Sacred books of the first class," is explained away. The whole machinery of Buddhas and Bodhisattwas, kings and divinities, disappears under this process. Eastern and Western pantheism are alike in this, that they will not be content with an independent self-evolved structure of metaphysical thought, but assuming the critical office, aim at the overthrow of all the objects of popular belief. Knowledge, self, the absolute—these are the only existences allowed by this arrogant philosophy to remain in the universe. Even these are made identical, and finally explained into nothing.
While the reflecting Buddhists hold these views, they encourage the faith of the vulgar in the Hindoo mythology and the more recent inventions of their own system. Their denial of the reality of worldly phenomena, and of the validity of the information afforded by our senses, has not been a check to popular image worship, but rather promoted it, from the license that it gave them to countenance lying legends and invent new additions ad libitum to the Hindoo pantheon.
The special object of the T‘ien-t‘ai school has been to strike a middle path between the credulous acceptance of the sacred books as literally true, and their entire rejection by extreme idealism. It was thought best to recognise both these modifications of Buddhism as genuine developments of the system, and to add a third reconciling principle which distinguishes the others, compares and combines them, and then chooses the path between them.
In conformity with this view, regulations for the practice of his followers were instituted by Chï-k‘ai:—(1.) Constant sitting, to attain the state of samadhi or reverie taught to Manjusiri; (2.) Constant moving, to attain another state of samadhi taught by Buddha; (3.) Partly
sitting and partly moving, to attain the state of samadhi taught by him to P‘u-hien; (4.) Neither sitting nor moving, to attain still another form of religious reverie.
The regulations for chanting as followed by this school were elaborated by a priest named Fa-chï who lived some centuries after Chï-k‘ai. They are very minute, and are intended to produce more reverential feelings in the minds of those engaging in the ceremonial than is common in Buddhist worship. 1
175:1 The "Red wall," so called from its colour and precipitous appearance.
177:2 A.D. 575, Biography in T‘ien-t‘ai-han-chï.
187:1 Regulations of the T‘ien-t‘ai-kiau, in the liturgical work called Ta-pei-ts‘an.