The religio-philosophical system presented by the Hua-yen Buddhist school of China was characteristically “Chinese” in the sense that it was not merely extensions of Indian Buddhist ideas but the reinterpretations and restatements of Buddhist thought within distinctively Chinese modes of thought and expression. Hua-yen, in this sense, was a “sinicized” Buddhism.
This paper examines the philosophical background of this “sinicization process.” The paper argues that the Taoist philosophy was one, possibly the most important, influence on this process. The paper tries to prove this by exploring specifically four major Hua-yen concepts derived from the Taoist tradition: hsuan (mystery), “returning to the source,” t’i-yung (essence and function), and li-shih (noumenon and phenomenon).
Key words: 1. Hua-yen Buddhism 2. Taoist Philosophy 3. Dharmadhaatu 4. Sinicization
Buddhism, which was first introduced into China around the first century C.E., developed through various stages of interaction with traditional Chinese culture before it finally emerged as an integral part of the Chinese religious tradition. After the periods of preparation (ca. 65~317 C.E.) and of domestication (ca. 317~589), Buddhism came to the stage of “independent growth” in the Sui-T’ang period (589~900). In this period there flourished such schools as the T’ien-t’ai (Lotus or Saddharmapu.n.darika), the Hua-yen (Flower Garland or Avata^msaka), the Fa-hsiang (Dharma-Character or Dharmalak.sana), the Ching-t’u (Pure Land or Sukhavatii), and the Ch’an (Meditation or Dhyaana). The systems of thought of most of these schools were characteristically “Chinese” in the sense that they were not mere extensions of Indian ideas but the reinterpretations and restatements of Buddhist doctrines within distinctively Chinese modes of thought and expression to meet the intellectual and spiritual needs of the particular times and space. Among these schools, however, the Hua-yen is generally considered not only as the apex of Buddhism, but also as “the greatest
adaptation of Mahaayaana Buddhism among the various philosophical systems organized by the Chinese.”
The purpose of this paper is, therefore, to examine some of the salient features of Hua-yen Buddhism as an example of the Sinicization of Buddhism in sixth and seventh century China. Needless to say, there must have been various religious, intellectual, and socio-political elements which conduced to the Sinicization process of Hua-yen Buddhist philosophy. In this paper, however, attention will be focused exclusively on Taoist philosophy as a possible indigenous spiritual influence on the formation of Hua-yen thought.
II. The Basic Doctrine of Hua-yen
To have a general background for the discussion of the Taoist influence on Hua-yen, it would seem appropriate to give a brief sketch of Hua-yen philosophy. The central teaching of the Hua-yen school is the dharmadhaatu (fa-chieh) doctrine, or more specifically, the dharmadhaatu-pratiityasamutpaada (fa-chieh yuan-ch’i). The Sanskrit term dharmadhaatu, which is a compound consisting of dharma and dhaatu, has been variously translated as “the Element of the Elements,” “The Realm of All Elements,” “the Dharma-Element,” the “Reality or Essence of Dharmas,” “the Noumenal Ground of Phenomena,” “the Essence of Reality,” “the Ultimate Reality,” “Supreme Reality,” “Totality,” and so on. It is, in short, a designation of the “Ground of all Being.” The term pratiityasamutpaada means “dependent co-origination.”
This idea of dharmadhaatu-pratiityasamutpaada which was
originally found in the Avata^msaka-suutra or Hua-yen ching, was fully developed by the Hua-yen school into a systematic doctrine palatable to the Chinese intellectual taste. The dharmadhaatu doctrine can be said to have been, by and large, set forth by Tu-shun (557~640 C.E.), formulated by Chih-yen (602~668), systematized by Fa-tsang (643~712), and elucidated by Ch’eng-kuan (ca. 737~838) and Tsung-mi (780~841).
The foundation of the dharmadhaatu doctrine was definitely laid in a short treatise, Fa-chieh-kuan-men (The Gate of Insight into the Dharmadhaatu), which has been ascribed to Tu-shun, the first patriarch of the school. In this “fundamental text” it is recommended to have “threefold insight” into the dharmadhaatu, i.e.,
the insight into 1) the “true Emptiness,” 2) the “non-obstruction of li and shih” or noumenon and phenomena, and 3) “all-pervading and all-embracing [nature of phenomena]. This means that in our meditative insight we have to intuit not only the two aspects of dharmadhaatu, form (ruupa) and emptiness (`suunyataa), in their non-obstructive interrelationship but we have also to see the dharmadhaatu in terms of li and shih or the noumenal and the phenomenal in their “interfusion and dissolution, coexistence and annihilation, adversity and harmony” and their mutual identification. Even further, we are advised to realize ultimately that “shih, being identified with li, are interfusing, interpervading, mutually including, and interpermeating without obstruction.” It is said here that all the phenomenal things, having been endowed with the quality of the noumenal, are now complete in themselves, and thus they are now interrelating with each other. In this relationship, it is further said, the universal and the particular, the broad and the narrow, and the like, have no impeding boundaries but are freely interpenetrating each other without obstruction or hindrance whatsoever.
This last insight into the universal and inexhaustible interrelatedness of all the dharmas in the dharmadhaatu was formulated as the “ten mysteries” by the second patriarch Chih-yen in his Hua-yen I-ch’eng shih-hsuan-men (The Ten Mysteries of the One Vehicle of the Hua-yen). These ten mysteries or principles, according to Chih-yen, point to the Hua-yen truth that the myriad things in the universe freely interrelate with each other without losing their own identities. Each and every manifested object of the dharmadhaatu includes simultaneously all the qualities of the other objects within itself. Consequently all the qualities
such as hidden and manifest, pure and mixed, one and many, subtle and minute, cause and effect, big and small, time and eternity, and the rest are all simultaneously and completely compatible in any given dharma.
Fa-tsang, the third patriarch and greatest systematizer of the school, having inherited this basic teaching of Chih-yen, organized it within his finely refined theoretical system. Whereas Chih-yen’s “ten mysteries” had been simply set forth without elaboration, Fa-tsang incorporated the truth of the ten mysteries in the web of his grand system. It is now no longer an isolated set of meditational items, but becomes part of an organic structure substantiated in terms of “emptiness and existence,” “having power and lacking power,” and so on. It is also by him that the cardinal twin principle of Hua-yen philosophy “mutual identification” and “interpenetration” is first clearly systematized in connection with ideas of “essence and function” (t’i-yung).
It was the fourth patriarch of the school, Ch’eng-kuan, who built up the so-called theory of “four-fold dharmadhaatu” upon the basis of the teachings handed down by his predecessors, which subsequently became known as the standard formula of the Hua-yen dharmadhaatu doctrine. In his Fa-chieh-hsuan-ching (The Mirror of the Mystery of Dharmadhaatu), the commentary on Tu-shun’s Fa-chieh-kuan-men, Ch’eng-kuan suggests that the dharmadhaatu can be seen either as 1) shih dharmadhaatu, 2) li dharmadhaatu, 3)
dharmadhaatu of non-obstruction of li and shih, or 4) dharmadhaatu of non-obstruction of shih and shih. According to his explanation, the first one is the dharmadhaatu particularized or phenomenalized into innumerable concrete things. The second one, li dharmadhaatu, is the “essential” aspect of the dharmadhaatu which is the foundation of all the manifested phenomena. The third one is the aspect of the dharmadhaatu in which phenomena and noumenon interfuse each other. The fourth dimension of the dharmadhaatu, according to Ch’eng-kuan, points to the truth of the “ten mysteries,” which teaches basically the twin principle of interrelationship of all phenomena: mutual identification and interpenetration. The dharmadhaatu doctrine of Tsung-mi is more or less similar to that of Ch’eng-kuan.
These patriarchs have emphasized throughout their writings that everything in the universe is related to each other. Apart from this relatedness, or what is technically called pratiityasamutpaada, nothing has an existence of its own. Everything should be viewed with regard to all possible relationships with all possible things. Every possible level and every available dimension should be applied to a certain thing. In other words, any given object in the world is subject to infinitely numerous and different frames of reference. Nothing can have a fixed, intrinsic, or static value nor be judged by a determined standard. Everything in the phenomenal order is fluid, flexible, and relative.
The same step is too high for a child and at the same time too low for an adult. The same step is also too wide for a child and too narrow for an adult. The same step has, therefore, according to Hua-yen, the qualities of being high and low, wide and narrow, and so on, all simultaneously. The truth of the “ten mysteries” lies in its pointing out these relativistic or relationalistic qualities of all dharmas. All dharmas are free from being either narrow or broad;
they are both narrow and broad, and many more without obstruction. This is the so-called mystery of “the sovereignty and non-obstruction of the broad and the narrow.” The truth of “the perfect and brilliant compatibility of the qualities of being both the primary and the secondary” conclusively affirms this relativistic outlook of Hua-yen philosophy.
In such a transcendental insight, there can be no room for dogmatic assertions concerning any particular thing. A theoretical polarity of good and bad, right and wrong, happy and unhappy, profane and sacred, and the like is completely removed. Static views (d.r.s.ti) or dogmas have no place in such a flexible and comprehensive attitude toward dharmas.
Those things which have been seen by common-sense knowledge as essentially distinctive, categorically different, and spatiotemporally separate from each other are, here in this Hua-yen meditative intuition of a higher level, completely dissolved into the totalistic harmony of the dharmadhaatu of non-obstruction and non-hindrance. There is only “the one unique reality” in which every fixed distinction, discrimination or particularization has no room.
Hua-yen philosophy is in this sense a philosophy of liberation which sets a person free from all rigid and stubborn dogmatism, prejudice, and preconception. The restraint and bondage of localization, categorization, artificial restriction, conceptual construction, sentimental bias, provincialism, intolerant self-centeredness, and worldly attachment, are all broken down and there remains only absolute spiritual freedom which keeps one from partial judgement but leads to a perfect and round perspective of things.
III. Some of the Taoist Influence on Hua-yen
It is a well-known fact that since its introduction into China, Buddhism has had a close relationship with Taoism, more specifically with Neo-Taoism. As a result of this there developed the method of “matching the concepts” of Buddhism and Taoism, which was known as ko-i. By this method of analogy Buddhists adopted many Taoist terms and ideas to explain their concepts. Although this somewhat superficial and arbitrary method of matching was discarded as useless and misleading after the great translator and scholar Kumaarajiiva arrived in 401 C.E., Taoist influence on Buddhism in general was not, and could not be, totally eliminated.
As a good example of the influence of Taoism on Buddhism during its early stage in China, one may take the development of the so-called “Six Houses and Seven Schools.” Even though they were dealing with the Buddhist concept of Emptiness (`suunyataa), most of their vocabularies were based on Neo-Taoist terms. Just as the fundamental problem of the Neo-Taoists was the question of being and non-being, these schools, attuned to this line of thought, called themselves “School of Original Non-being,” “Variant School of Original Non-being,” “School of Non-being of Mind,” and so on. Consequently they were aptly known as the “Buddho-Taoists.”
However, this is not the place to trace such examples of Taoist influence throughout Buddhist history. For, although the close
contact between the Taoist and Buddhist, which had an important impact on the development of Chinese Buddhist thought in general, can be an interesting topic to investigate, our task here is only to see the concrete and most discernible Taoist influence specifically on the Hua-yen thought in order to clarify a particular case of Sinicization of Buddhism.
A) The Idea of Hsuan
The first Taoist element that can easily be pointed to in the Hua-yen system is the idea of hsuan. For Hua-yen the hsuan or mystery, profundity, deep truth, darkness, subtleness and the like, is the key word used to represent the whole truth of the dharmadhaatu. Chih-yen uses the word hsuan in the title of his magnum opus, Hua-yen ching Sou-hsuan-chi (The Record of Probing the Hsuan of the Avata^msaka-suutra). This implies that the aim of his probing into the Avata^msaka-suutra was to get into the hsuan mystery. Fa-tsang’s monumental commentary on the Avata^msaka also has the title T’an-hsuan-chi. And Ch’eng-kuan also calls his commentary on the Fa-chieh-kuan-men “Fa-chieh-hsuan-ching.” Above all, the cardinal doctrine in connection with the dharmadhaatu has been throughout these patriarchs of the Hua-yen school, the “ten mysteries” or ten hsuans.
As is well-known, the idea of hsuan is found in the first chapter of Lao Tzu’s Tao-te-ching in connection with Tao and its two aspects of being and non-being. At the end of the chapter it is said:
They both may be called the mystery [hsüan];
It is the mystery of mysteries,
The door of all the wonderful subtleties.
The phrase “mystery of mysteries,” sometimes rephrased as the “manifold mystery,” was especially cherished as the central term characterizing the inexpressible Tao. This phrase was so important that around the fifth century C.E. there existed a school named “manifold mystery” in the Lao-Chuang branch of Taoism. Moreover, the Neo-Taoist philosophy itself was called the “Learning of Mystery” (hsuan-hsuah) in classical times.
This important idea was adopted to designate the Buddhist truth of the Ultimate by many Buddhists, such as Seng-chao (C.E. 384~414), Chih-tsang (549~623), Yuan-hsiao (617~686) and Li T’ung-hsuan (635~730). In view of these facts, it is unlikely that the Hua-yen philosophers could have escaped such a prevailing influence.
The most illuminating example of the relation of Hua-yen to Lao-Chuang philosophy in this respect can be found in Ch’eng-kuan. At the beginning of his encyclopaedic commentary on the Avata^msaka-suutra, he explains the dharmadhaatu in Taoist terms,
Going and coming have no limit; moving and stillness are from one source. It contains all the wonderful subtleties and still more, and is beyond words and thoughts and transcends them. Such is nothing but the dharmadhaatu!
A few passages later he again adopts the Taoist phrase “manifold mystery” or “mystery of mysteries.” As to the source of these phrases, Ch’eng-kuan admits that they are from Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, and in his own sub-commentary he quotes the whole of the first chapter of the Tao-te-ching to show the original meaning of the phrases.
One very interesting thing to note here is that Ch’eng-kuan, while acknowledging his debt to Taoist philosophy, still argues that it is only in terminology, not in meaning as such. He says, “Although we borrow their terms, we do not accept their meanings.” As an example, he takes the concept of mystery or hsuan-miao. In Taoism, he argues, it refers to “vacuity and naturalness” while in Hua-yen it means “the one true dharmadhaatu.”
B) The Idea of “Returning”
As a second element of Taoist influence on Hua-yen we can consider the idea of “returning to the source.” Throughout the Hua-yen writings it is found that the dharmadhaatu or the Ultimate is designated as the “source,” “origin,” “original source,” “true
source,” “unique source” and the like. As the proper relationship to this source, the Hua-yen thinkers suggest “returning.” Therefore, very frequently we come across terms such as “returning to the dharmadhaatu,” “returning to the one true dharmadhaatu,” “returning to the origin and returning to the source,” “giving up the derivative and returning to the original,” and so on. In the case of Fa-tsang, one of his essays is titled “The Insight into the Returning to the Source by Exhausting the False.” Returning to the source is likewise a spiritual goal and in itself enlightenment for Hua-yen Buddhists.
It is of course true that the idea of “source” is traceable even to Indian Buddhism. The reality expressed in such terms as alaayavij~naana or tathagataagarbha, for example, could be understood as the “source” in the sense that from it all phenomenal things come into existence. But the idea that the myriad things “return” to the source is hardly found in Indian Buddhism, and particularly the fact that the spiritual goal is spoken of in terms of “returning to the source” has no direct counterpart in India. In Indian Buddhism, the way of enlightenment is primarily purifying or getting rid of discriminative mental fabrications superimposed upon Reality, rather than returning to it.
On the other hand, the idea of returning or reversion (fan, huan, kuei, or fu) to the source or root is the most important leitmotiv of Taoist philosophy, especially in Lao Tzu. “All things flourish,” it is said in the Tao-te-ching, “but each one returns to its root. This returning to its root means tranquillity.” It might not be too much, therefore, to say that this line of thinking in Hua-yen is, at least in inspiration, largely Taoist, and further that when Hua-yen was talking about “returning to the source” or to the dharmadhaatu as its spiritual ideal, it was actually speaking of a Buddhist message within an indigenous Taoist pattern of thinking.
C) T’i -yung or Essence and Function
A third, and probably the most fundamental element of Taoist influence on the Hua-yen system can be found in their use of the traditional Taoist dichotomy of t’i (essence) and yung (function). The idea of t’i-yung occurs repeatedly in the writings of the Hua-yen patriarchs, especially those of Fa-tsang and his followers, as one of the basic categories in elaborating their theories. This dichotomy of t’i and yung, according to W. Liebenthal, is the pattern which is “fundamental in all Chinese thinking.” Strictly speaking, however, this t’i-yung is originally derived from Taoist philosophy.
It was the Neo-Taoist Wang Pi (C.E. 226~249) who used the term in the metaphysical sense for the first time in the history of Chinese thought. Ever since he interpreted the thirty-eighth chapter of the Tao-te-ching in terms of t’i-yung, this has become the basic principle for explaining the relation between reality and its manifestations. On this point, Wing-tsit Chan aptly says:
The concept of substance [t’i] and function [yung] first mentioned here, were to play a very great role in Neo-Taoism, Buddhism, and Neo-Confucianism…. In fact, the Chinese have conceived everything to be in the relationship of substance (the nature of a thing), and function (its various applications).
Needless to say, the Hua-yen usage of t’i-yung is not identical with that of Taoists. For examples, whereas for Wang Pi, t’i-yung was used basically to refer to “non-being,” for Fa-tsang t’i-yung was adopted not only to show the dual aspect of essence and its various functions or manifestations, but primarily to explain the cardinal Hua-yen idea of mutual identification and interpenetration.
But regardless of whether the content might be different from the traditional Chinese understanding, the fact is that the “pattern of t’i-yung,” which Liebenthal describes as “dynamic,” became an integral part of the Hua-yen philosophy. This becomes especially evident when it is taken into consideration that the general Buddhist pattern in this respect is the famous triad of t’i-hsiang-
yung or essence-characteristic-function. Although this is mentioned from time to time, the t’i-yung pattern is predominant. It should, however, be remembered that in Hua-yen philosophy the dynamic aspect of t’i-yung was so intensified that not only the relationship between essence and its manifestations but also those between one manifestation and the other manifestation were equally, if not more, emphasized.
D) Li-shih or Noumenon and Phenomenon
In addition to the idea of t’i-yung, the question of li-shih should be mentioned in this connection. As was stated previously, li-shih was one of the key terms in the Hua-yen system. The interrelationship of the li and shih aspects of the dharmadhaatu was the whole point of Hua-yen philosophy from the beginning to the end. Even with a first glance, it is easily discernible that the attempt to grasp the dharmadhaatu in terms of li and shih is an unmistakable reminder of the thought pattern of the Tao-te-ching which tries to see the Tao in terms of the two aspects of non-being (wu) and being (yu). And if one traces this concept in the history of Chinese thought, one can see even more clearly that it is essentially Taoist in origin and inspiration.
As a matter of fact, the concept of li-shih, especially the concept of li, has been one of the most important ideas in Chinese thought in general. The term li in the sense of principle or noumenon does not occur in the ancient Confucian classics. According to Wing-tsit Chan, li was used in the sense of principle for the first time in the Mo-tzu (c. 4th c. B.C.). But because the Moist
movement soon declined in the fourth century B.C., there was no significant advance in the Moist philosophy. The early development of the concept, therefore, was mostly due to Taoist philosophy.
In the Tao-te-ching, the term li itself does not appear, but in the Chuang-tzu it appears thirty-eight times. Here in the Chuang-tzu, for the first time in Chinese history li was connected with the Tao. Moreover, the Principle of Heaven is contrasted with human affairs which is “anticipating the sharp contrast of principle [li] and facts in Chinese Buddhism.”
Although there were some developments in Hsun-tzu (c. 313~238 B.C.), a Confucian who is said to have lived immediately after Chuang-tzu, and in some others, the idea of li as the universal principle was most fully discussed by the Neo-Taoists Wang Pi and Kuo Hsiang (d. 312). Both of them interpreted the Tao in terms of li, and for them li was “universal principle,” “necessary principle,” “principle by which things are as they are,” “ultimate principle” etc. However, while Kuo Hsiang advocated the immanent and plural li, Wang Pi upheld the transcendental, absolute li, and it was through Wang Pi that the development of the concept of li took place in Buddhism during the next several centuries.
Such a Taoist understanding of li and shih was introduced into Chinese Buddhist philosophy by Chih-tun (314~366) and developed by Hui-yuan (334~416), Seng-chao (384~414) and Tao-sheng (c. 360~434). It is apparent, therefore, that the Hua-yen concept of li and shih stems basically from this line of tradition.
Although we may, of course, continue to enumerate more parallels between Hua-yen and Taoist philosophy, we have discussed only some of the most concrete and discernible Taoist elements which might have been a source from which the Hua-yen school could derive the directions and patterns for its reshaping process of Indian Buddhist ideas in China. In conclusion, it may be appropriate to make some observations.
First, when we say, “A was influenced by B,” this does not necessarily mean that “similarities” between A and B are the only issue. Naturally, such similarities may come about in the process of interaction and influence, but they are not the whole point. The more relevant point here is to see how one stream of thought can serve as a “stimulus” in the development of the other stream of thought. Stimulating is far from imprinting or reproducing the likeness of another thing. Although stimulated or influenced by something or somebody, the development may still be carried out within one’s own intrinsic logic and structure. This seems to be the
case with the interaction of Hua-yen Buddhism and Taoist philosophy. Hua-yen was influenced by Taoist philosophy, but obviously Hua-yen is not identical with Taoism in every respect.
Second, in Ch’eng-kuan’s statement that although he borrowed Taoist terms, he did not accept their meanings, we actually find the basic attitude of the Hua-yen school toward the indigenous Chinese religio-philosophical traditions. We do not know to what extent his statement corresponds to actual fact, but it is clearly seen here how they understood their position in the history of Chinese thought. This is to say that the two-fold effort of preserving the peculiarity of Buddhist Hua-yen thought and yet at the same time adopting a Chinese way of expression was inevitable if they were to gain a footing on Chinese soil.
Finally, when one deals with the history of a certain idea, it is often impossible to know the exact source of it, because an idea enriched by various systems of thought cannot be traced to one single source. One may, therefore, rather ask for one of several possible stimuli which could have given birth to such an idea. With such a qualification, it may be safe to say that the Taoist philosophy was one, and possibly the most significant, stimulus which helped Hua-yen, during the Sui-T’ang period, to develop into a Buddhist school which was characteristically Chinese.