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Chinese Buddhism, by Joseph Edkins, [1893], at

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The "Ekashloka Shastra," translated from the Chinese, with an analysis and notes. 1

THE author of the original work, of which a translation is here given from the Chinese version, was the patriarch "Nagarjuna" (or Lung-shu), of whom much has been said in the preceding part of this book. Beside being the writer of many of the more important Shastras, he also composed several of the Sutras, though these works are generally attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha. A keen reasoner, acute thinker, and voluminous author, such as Nagarjuna, deserves to be better known, and it is hoped that the following translation of one of his lesser works will prove not altogether useless in the elucidation of Buddhism.

It is called Yih-shu-lu-kia-lun, the "Shastra of One shloka." The three characters shu-lu-kia are in old Chinese pronunciation sho-lo-ka. When a double consonant begins a syllable, it is usual to employ the same vowel after each consonant in transcribing them in Chinese characters.

Shloka is a Sanscrit term for "verse," and particularly for a couplet of a certain kind. I take the following account of it from Williams’ Sanscrit Grammar:—"The Institutes of Manu are written in the Sloka, or Anushtubh 

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metre. This is the commonest of all the infinite variety of Sanscrit metres, and is that which chiefly prevails in the great epic poems of the East. It consists of two lines of sixteen syllables each, but the rules which regulate one line apply equally to the other." "The 1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th syllables may be either long or short. The 16th, as ending the line, is also common; so too the 8th." "The 5th syllable ought always to be short. The 6th may be either long or short; but if long, then the 7th ought to be long also; and if short, then the 7th ought to be short also." "The last four syllables form two iambics."

The Hindoo author has in the present instance taken a single couplet as his theme, and hence the name of his short treatise. This couplet, consisting in its Chinese form of four short sentences, appears at the commencement.

We are also informed by an introductory note that the treatise was translated into Chinese, from the original of Lung-shu p‘u-sa, by the Brahman Gaudama Prajnaluti, at the city of Lo-yang, in the reign of the Yuen-Wei dynasty. This city is that now called Ho-nan fu, on the south bank of the Yellow River, in Ho-nan province. The time of the translation is the fourth century of our era.



"My body (or substance) in its nature is not permanent;
 Thus, then, my body is not a body.
 My body in its nature not being a body,
 I therefore say that it is empty and not permanent."

“It is asked, Why write this “stanza” (Gâtha)? What is its meaning? What man's opinions is it intended to overthrow? I reply, It is written on account of those, who in reading Shastras of great length grow weary; and also for those intelligent persons, who have studied many Shastras, and exercised their thoughts (deeply) in the sea of Buddha's law, but growing fatigued have begun to doubt

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about the doctrine, not by any means to be questioned or suspected, of the non-permanence of things and the nothingness of my own body. To destroy such doubts I have composed this Shastra.

“What says my doctrine? That all kinds of “acting” (fa) are non-permanent, and my own body is nothing. The non-reality of my body is not separate from the non-permanence of all action, my nature and my body being nothing. Therefore there is no such thing as permanence.

“All the Buddhas, and their disciples of the two classes Yuen-kioh and Sheng-wen (“Listeners,” Shrâvaka), have obtained their liberation from ignorance by means of this principle of nothingness; not by the opposite principle, which maintains the existence of breaking off, and of permanence in actions. The Gâtha says:—

"Lose sight of this principle of nothingness, and prefer to reside in body;
 You then obtain a view of things as permanent.
 If you say that afterwards they are to be destroyed,
 You thus come to see things as having cessation."

“With this meaning I speak of all actions as being in themselves without real embodiment. The Buddhas, the 'Enlightened' (Yuen-kioh), the Listeners, and the Arhans have gained their benefits and successes by believing in this principle.

“I will now speak of what men are to be opposed. If a man who has gained some knowledge says that, without reference to 'action' (hing), there is non-permanence, his view is not the correct one. If the so-called non-permanence is separated from 'existence,' yeu-wei, or (actuality), in order to be called non-permanent, then permanence becomes nothing. Thus, then, actuality and non-reality are not essentially different. If actuality and non-reality combine, the actual being joined to the unreal, a bottle cannot be broken (which is absurd, a bottle being an actual thing). If the unreal and the actual combine, the unreal

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being joined to the actual, the Nirvâna is destructible (which is absurd, the Nirvâna being not an actual thing). If the actual and the unreal are, as thus argued, identical, all kinds of 'teaching' (or 'action,' fa) are indestructible, like the Nirvâna, which is permanent, and is, therefore, not produced from any cause. If 'actions' (hing) are not produced from causes, they do not differ from the empty Nirvâna. In this case, the method or state of 'actuality' (yeu-wei) need not be called constant. But if the things done, being not produced from causes, are still non-permanent, then the empty Nirvâna is not called permanent, If this be true, the methods of actuality and of non-reality are neither of them good. If the non-permanent is parted from actuality and is still called non-permanent, then actuality apart from constancy ought to be called constant. But this is not correct reasoning. In which of the Sutras are there such words as these?

“What ideas are to be discoursed upon? What meaning is there in that which you now say? There is much in it that is unreasonable, such as your crooked mind cannot fathom. Therefore what you say, is not correct doctrine. If men, who have gained some knowledge, maintain that the (action or) 'law' of the past, present, and future is in each case completed from and in itself, this is to be regarded as a false view. Why so? Because it is a view which omits the notion of cause. If we speak of the future as not being produced from causes, but as formed from and in itself, then the present is also not produced from causes, but is formed from its own nature. For the future and the present are, in their own nature, even and equal, without any difference. If so, and the law of the present comes from causes, why, in this case, should not the law of the future come from causes also? You ground this view either on the Sutras, or upon your own judgment. But the statement is incorrect and unreasonable. Being unreasonable, it is not to be believed. If the law that regards the future is not produced from causes, but

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comes from its own nature, it must be an empty thing. Being cut off from any connection with causes, it cannot be produced from any cause. It is, therefore, not truly future in itself. But if the future is non-existent, then the present and past are also non-existent. The present and the past being non-existent, then time in its threefold aspect is really nothing in itself. If it be said that it has a real existence, this is to say that it is permanent, and is produced without a cause.

“If the disciple of Buddha thinks so, who has reached some depth in perception, he does not differ from the heretical teachers, Kapila and others. This Shastra, however, is not made for such as Kapila and Uluka, but for you who hold the same views with me. What I have thus far said, in opposition to the opinions of certain persons, is for the sake of you who have made some advancement, that you may reject incorrect views.

“It is on this account that I have compiled this Shastra and the 'Gâtha of one shloka' (Yi-sho-lo-ka-lun), which commences my book. I shall now explain the meaning of this Gâtha.

“When it is said, 'My body, in its nature, is not permanent,' 'my body' refers to that which is born and acts, and which is, therefore, called 'my body.' He who has made advancement in right perception, being in the midst of this acting, thinks out for himself that this is the body (or takes it to be the body). This acting commences in the region of the physical and mental operations. 1 In it are involved also the Sheng-wen and Yuen-kioh, who wander circuitously (in this lower region). Thus, when we speak of bodies, as one, two, or several; or of men, as one, two, or several; each is considered as having a body independent of the rest, and they are commonly spoken of as such. As earth, water, fire, and wind are respectively hard, moist, hot, and movable, each according to its nature; so every

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man (and thing) has his own form and substance. Hence the expression, 'my body.'

“If he who has made some advancement in knowledge says that man in his birth, in his continued life, and in his death, is the same in form, he speaks erroneously. The body of man is, in its nature, not permanent, and, therefore, its being called body has arisen from the circumstance that men who have advanced somewhat in true knowledge have made this distinction. Therefore apart from the various modes of action, there is no non-permanent body; because man is, in his form, not permanent.

“Therefore Buddha, in instructing the Bikshus respecting various acts, represents them all as not constant. This is on account of what has been already said.

“If it be maintained that, apart from acting, men and things are non-permanent, retaining their own form, such an opinion is wrong. Should you not understand why the phrase non-permanent is used, I will now explain it. It is because of what is said in the opening stanza, 'Body is not body.' The notions of body and not body you easily distinguish. The non-permanent, what is it? It is without body. Therefore it is, that body is not body. In its own nature it is not body, and therefore it is formally stated to be without body.

“When it is said, 'My substance, in its nature, is not substance,' it is asserted that there is no substance but that which is 'not substance' (wu-t‘i). For this reason it is said that substance in itself is not such. If you hold that there is some substance existing beside wu-t‘i, you are wrong; this mode of arguing is not that of the Sutras. If you assert that the 'absence of body' (wu-t‘i) is what constitutes substance, this also is incorrect; because the Sutras do not say so. In what Sutra has Buddha, the World's Honoured one, taught such a doctrine? It is not to be found in any Sutra, for it is not 'correct teaching' (king-shwo, the 'teaching of the classics'); such arguments cannot succeed, because they are not the doctrine of the great

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holy Sutras; they ought not, therefore, to be believed. It is, then, not only my own words that I bring as evidence.

“The last sentence says, 'Therefore it is stated to be empty and not permanent.' Refer, for example, to the Sutra, Tiau-fuh-san-mih-t‘i-king, 'Narrative of Buddha pacifying and subduing Samidhi,' which says, that Buddha addressed Samidhi with the words, 'The eye of man is empty and not permanent. There is no eye that does not move, that does not perish, that does not change. And why? It is its nature so to do. The ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind have all the same changeable and destructible nature.'

“Buddha, the World's Honoured one, speaking in this Sutra of emptiness and of non-permanence, on this account expressed the opinion here stated. Thus we know that all acts are empty and non-permanent. Being not permanent, they are without 'body' (t‘i). Consequently all acts are, in their nature and of themselves, without bodily form. It is in this way that the meaning of the words wu-t‘i, 'without body,' is established.

“If, in this manner, an opinion be tested by the Sutras, it will be well established. If it will not bear this test, it must fall to the ground. In my view, what is in the Sutras must be completely satisfactory. Therefore it is that the opinion, that '(my) nature (sing) is in itself without body,' has been now employed to bring to its completion the Shastra of one Shloka.'

“All kinds of action (or existence), such as body, nature, 'act' (doctrine), thing, matter, existence' (yeu), are different in name, but the same in meaning. Whichever of these we speak of, the only difference between them is in the word yeu, 'to be.'

"This word yeu is, in the original language, subhava1 It

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is translated in several ways, as 'the substance which gives substance to itself' (tsï-t‘i-t‘i), or as 'without action and with action' (wu-fa-yeu-fa), or as 'the nature which has no nature of its own' (wu-tsï-sing-sing)."


Analysis and Remarks.—The author begins with stating, in a rhythmical form, the principles he is about to establish. My substance or body, i.e., my whole nature, material and intellectual, is a passing, changing thing, and is, consequently, not a real substance at all. It is, therefore, only right to say of it that it is empty and not permanent.

This principle agrees with the description given of the Buddhists by Colebrooke, who observes that they are called by their adversaries the orthodox Hindoos, Sarvavainásicas, or "Those who argue total perishableness." They deny the permanent existence of atoms, and only allow that images of things are formed which immediately pass away.

The author then gives his reasons for composing the treatise, and the Gâtha or rhythmical statement with which it commences. He wrote it for the sake of such persons as cannot read through the very long and tedious works found in the Buddhist library. He also wished to place in a short compass the argument for the transitory, unreal nature of all existing things, for the use of advanced students; lest they should be influenced by those arguments, self-suggested or presented by others, which go to prove that the world is real and that the information given by the senses is trustworthy.

The composition of Buddhist works is varied by the frequent introduction of passages in a rhythmical form, not indeed with rhymes or any fixed succession of long and short syllables, but with lines constantly of the same length. In the Nepaul originals, there is also a difference in dialect between the prosaic and rhythmical parts, the Sanscrit and Pracrit being interchanged. There is no such transition of dialects in the Chinese translations.

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[paragraph continues] The rhythmical parts are called "Gâtha," Kiè; in the old Chinese pronunciation, Gat.

The author lays down as his order of procedure, that he will first unfold his meaning, then attack the upholders of opposite views, and afterwards support his own opinions.

He holds that all kinds of action are transitory and not lasting, that the actor or observer is himself nothing real, and that these two things are connected. Hence the doctrine of non-permanence.

The Buddhas and their disciples, he says, had in the belief of the principle of nothingness obtained "liberation" (móksha) from the bonds which restrain the soul. The opposite doctrine, which holds that things are permanent, or break off, has never had such an exemplification of its truth.

Colebrooke says that the followers of Kanáde maintained that things are partly perishable and transitory, but in part also unchangeable. His followers are called Vaiséshikas.

The disciples of Buddha here alluded to, Yuen-kioh and Sheng-wen, occupy the third and fourth rank in the Buddhist scale of being. Their position will be understood by the following scheme copied from a Buddhist work:—

Four degrees
in "holiness"


Knowledge and mercy.
Perception gained by the study of causes.
"Listeners," Shravakas.

Six states


"Gods," T‘ien.
Monsters, demons.

Hungry ghosts.


Four lines in the form of Gâtha are here introduced, representing the doctrines of opponents. Two views are given—that which regards the universe as permanent, and

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that which describes it as liable to cessation. Both are considered as erroneous by the champion of Buddhism. Safety is only to be found in the doctrine of nihility.

In again appealing to the testimony of the Buddhas and their disciples, he mentions the Arhans. These form the last in a series of four grades of discipleship. The attainment of a certain amount of enlightenment in the Buddhist doctrine is represented as "fruit." These four grades of discipleship, or "fruits," are called, Su-da-wan, Si-da-gam, A-na-gam, and A-la-han. In Sanscrit these names are read "Srôtâpanna," "Sagardagam," "Anagamin," and "Arhan." They are also called the four paths to the Nirvâna.

Lung-shu proceeds to controvert by argument, the opinions of two classes of reasoners, and first of those who hold the doctrine of non-permanence in an incorrect manner. It ought not to be held so as to deny the reality of action, or so as to confound action and inaction. These terms in Chinese, yeu-wei, wu-wei, may perhaps be translated "actuality" and "non-reality." Their meaning will be seen by the illustrations used. An earthenware bottle is adduced as an example of an "actual thing" (yeu-wei), while the Nirvâna belongs to the "non-actual" or wu-wei class. These instances are brought forward to show that things of the two classes of objects must not be confounded. For if actuality be identified with non-reality, a bottle, it is said, would become a non-actual thing, and it would be wrong to say that it was destructible. So if non-actual things were identified with what is actual, the Nirvâna would cease to be indestructible. The distinction, then, between the actual and the non-actual must be preserved.

The Sutras are again appealed to in proof of this doctrine. These works are thus seen to be, in the view of the Buddhist, the standard of truth. They contain the very words of Buddha, which are held to be necessarily true. Several hundreds of these books, thus shown to constitute the scriptures of this religion, have been translated

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into the language of China, and of the other countries where Buddhism prevails. These treatises are not said to be divine, or to be inspired, for the Buddhist has neither God nor inspiration in his creed. He only knows Buddha, the self-elevated human intellect, as the most exalted being; and he looks on his teaching to be the purest truth and the highest wisdom. Throughout the Shastra, which is now presented to the reader, Lung-shu supports his opinions by the authority of the Sutras which Buddha has left for the use of his disciples as the repository of his doctrine.

He goes on to overthrow the notion that the past, the present, and the future are self-produced, and do not come from the action of causes. He observes that the present and the future are as to their nature similar, and controlled by the same laws; but the present results from causes, and therefore the future must also originate in the same manner. If the past, present, and future do not come from causes, he argues that they can be nothing real. at all. The holder of such views would thus fall into the error of Kapila and other heretical teachers.

Kapila, here referred to, was a remarkable personage, perhaps the most noted of the Indian philosophers. He founded the Sankhya school. "This system," says Cousin, in his History of Modern Philosophy1 "is at once a system of physics, psychology, dialectics, and metaphysics. It is a universal system, a complete philosophy." Cousin says of Kapila that he advocated sensualism, and that "one of the ideas which are most opposed to sensualism being that of cause, Kapila made an effort to destroy it. The argumentation of Kapila is, in the history of philosophy, the antecedent of that of Ænesidemus and that of Hume. According to Kapila, there is no proper notion of cause, and that which we call a cause is only an effect in its relation to the cause which precedes it, which is also an effect for the same reason, and continually thus, so

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that the whole is a necessary concatenation of effects, without veritable and independent cause."

Professor Wilson, in his learned comment on the Sankhya Karika, criticises this statement of the French philosopher, and denies that Kapila asserts the non-existence of cause. He admits, however, that "he may so far agree with the philosophers referred to, in recognising no difference between material cause and material effects;" and adds that "his doctrine is that of Brown in his lectures on power, cause, and effect."

There being such a difference of opinion on the views of this Hindoo philosopher, it is interesting to notice in the treatise of Lung-shu, that Kapila is incidentally condemned for denying the existence of cause. Our Chinese evidence goes to uphold the statement of the French philosopher, where he is called in question by his English critic.

Colebrooke questions whether Kapila be not altogether a mythological personage. With this distinct allusion to him in our little work, dating indubitably from near the beginning of the Christian era, we may perhaps infer his historical reality, and we also obtain an approximation to the period in which he lived.

Lung-shu proceeds to say that he did not write for the purpose of confuting such philosophers as Kapila and Uluka, 1 but for the sake of correcting and confirming the views of the disciples of Buddhism.

The philosopher, Uluka, I have not found mentioned by Colebrooke or other writers on the metaphysical systems of India.

It appears to me that Lung-shu is not explicit enough in his argument for the production of events from causes, where he asserts that the present proceeds from causes, and therefore the future does also, being in all respects similar to the present in its nature. He does not first make plain that the present proceeds from cause. 2

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As already remarked, Lung-shu appeals repeatedly to the authority of the Sutras. So the advocates of the Sankhya philosophy appeal to the Sutras of Kapila, which are, however, brief aphorisms, and not, like those of Buddha, long treatises. Yet Lung-shu has besides this another test of the validity of doctrines, namely, their reasonableness or unreasonableness. To this second test he here brings the doctrines he opposes and condemns them.

In explaining the introductory stanza, Lung-shu first discusses the origin of the phrase "my body." He observes that it consists of the body and its actions; i.e., it means myself. In the region of mental and physical actions, we come to the consciousness of myself. In this region the inferior classes of Buddha's disciples continue to wander partially enlightened.

Advancing from this incomplete view, we speak ordinarily of men and things, in the singular, dual, and plural numbers, as separate beings existing independently of each other, thus increasing the first error. The four elements, earth, water, fire, and wind, differ in their nature, as being hard, moist, hot, and moving, and so each man and thing is looked at as having its characteristic differences from others. Hence the common but erroneous expression my body, my self.

Lung-shu complains that some persons maintain birth, duration, and destruction to be the same thing. He then proceeds to state that the body in its nature is not permanent, that its being called body has arisen from the distinctions which men in their ignorance have made, and that the correct doctrine of the body being non-permanent is inseparably connected with the various physical and mental operations which spring from the body; because, he adds, man is in his entire form non-permanent.

Buddha, in the instructions he gave to the Bikshus his disciples, always held the doctrine that actions are nonpermanent. This must ever be kept in mind in making the statement that the body is non-permanent.

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Bikshu is one of the names given to the followers of Buddha generally. They are also called Shamen and Ho-shang.

The author then undertakes to prove the second sentence of his theme, namely, "Thus, then, my body is not a body." The doctrine of non-permanence has been introduced to aid in proving this. The non-permanent is necessarily unsubstantial. The things we see are liable to perish. Therefore they are not real things. We must speak of things as they really are. Hence the words "my body is not body," are correct and appropriate.

The third sentence, when it says, "My body in its nature is not body," asserts that, apart from the unsubstantial and the vanishing, no body exists; and that therefore it is right to say of my own body, that it does not exist.

Cousin, in his lectures already referred to, speaks of the psychology of Buddhism as being contained in two propositions, extracted by Burnouf from Buddhist books.

1st, Thought or spirit—for the faculty is not distinguished from the subject—appears only with sensation, and does not survive it.

2d, The spirit cannot itself lay hold of itself; and in directing its attention to itself, it draws from it only the conviction of its powerlessness to see itself otherwise than as successive and transitory.

Burnouf adds, these theses are radically opposed to Brahmanism, whose first article of faith is the perpetuity of the thinking subject.

We see that the non-permanence of things, which is so important a principle with our author, also pervades the books of Nepaul which Burnouf studied, and constitutes a watchword of Buddhism.

Lung-shu proceeds to observe that some persons hold false views on this subject. One opinion is that independently of the unsubstantial there is substance, but this is contrary to the Sutras. Others say the unsubstantial is my body, but this is wrong (although it is correct to

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say that my body is unsubstantial), because it is not found in the Sutras. Such are not the words of Buddha, nor are they met with in the great holy Sutras, and they must not be believed.

The last sentence, "I therefore say that it is empty and not permanent," is illustrated by appealing to the teaching of Buddha in one of the Sutras. He takes the eye as an example. There is no eye that does not move, that is not destroyed, that does not change. It is therefore empty and non-permanent. So it is with the other sensorial organs. The nature of them all is to change and decay.

The Buddhists in enumerating the organs of sense, after mentioning the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body, add the mind. Lung-shu does so in this passage. The mind, as the organ of consciousness, is viewed as a sense. We limit the term sensorial organs to those which are material, but the Buddhist, not believing in the reality of material things, calls every organ by which impressions are communicated a sense.

Buddha having thus expressed his opinion in the Sutras, it is added, we know that all acts are empty, non-permanent, and therefore without body. Thus we arrive at the doctrine that body does not exist.

It should be remembered that the Buddhists regard the acts of the thinking being as one with his substance. They do not distinguish between the agent and the act, but deny the reality and permanence of both in their unity. Thus they will say, as in this case, "all acts" (yih-ts‘iè-fa) are without body, instead of predicating this of the actor.

Hence also he proceeds to say, that human nature is without body, resting his doctrine on the authority of the Sutras, and adding that it is the object of this entire treatise, "The Shastra of one Shloka," to illustrate it.

The same confusion of the agent with his acts presents itself in the closing sentences of the treatise, where it is

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asserted that all kinds of action, including body, nature, acts, thing, being, are but different names for the same thing.

All these varieties in phraseology, he adds, are but differences in the term yeu, "being." The original word, adds the translator into Chinese, is subhava, which is variously explained "the substance which gives substance to itself," "without action and with action," and "the nature which has no nature of its own."

Bhawo, says Gogerly in his Essay on Buddhism1 is twofold, consisting of moral causative acts and the state of being. Of these, he adds, kamma-bhawo, or "moral causative acts," are merit, demerit, and all those actions which lead to existence. The various worlds of the Buddhist universe are designated by the term bhawo. "Worlds of sensual pleasure and pain" are kama-bhawo. The "Brahma worlds" are rúpa-bhawo. The "incorporeal worlds" are arúpa-bhawo, and so on. Here the term bhava means "states of being."

The numerous modifications of meaning belonging to this word help to account for the three translations of the related word subhava, which close the treatise.

I may observe here, that it is common with the modern Chinese Buddhists, to defend the doctrine of the non-reality of material things, by appealing to their liability to destruction. A priest will contend that a wooden table, on the application of fire, passing into smoke and ashes, there is necessarily nothing real in it.

The truth is, that reality and changeableness are both rightly affirmed of a table, or any other material thing. The Buddhist asserts with perfect correctness, that the objects of sense are non-permanent, but he is wrong when he argues that therefore they are unreal. Christianity, modern science, and all sound philosophy agree in ascribing reality and changeableness to the objects of sense. Lung-shu erred in not seeing that these two things can be reconciled.


302:1 Read before the Shanghai Literary and Scientific Society, 17th November 1857.

306:1 The "human operations are five," wu-yin—namely, shè, "vision;" sheu, "reception;" siang, "thinking;" hing, "doing;" shï, “perception.

308:1 This word is a compound of su, "good," and bháva, one of the twelve causes "being." By Colebrooke and Professor Wilson it is variously translated, "dispositions," "sentiments," "conditions of being." Abháva is "privation" or "negation." Prágabháva is "present negation of what will be." Anubháva is "notion."

312:1 Translated by O. W. Wight, vol. 1.

313:1 Kiai-pi-lo; in the old pronunciation, Ka-pi-la. Yeu-leu-kia (U-lu-ka).

313:2 A friend has, however, suggested to me, that he may regard this as obvious, being what consciousness is ever teaching us.

317:1 Quoted in Hardy's Eastern Monachism.

Next: Chapter XX. Effect of Buddhism on the Philosophy of the Sung Dynasty