[Buddha-l] Question about tientai

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Sat Aug 28 19:36:45 MDT 2010


> I just don't understand the classification of the two truths by Chih-I. 
> E.g. How is the separate conventional emptiness, what does that mean?
> I remember an article that said that a lot of his work is quite 
> arbitrary - I forget the exact word. Could that be fair?

There is nothing arbitrary about Chih-I (these days transcribed using pinyin 
transcription as Zhiyi -- it is pronounced something like Jrr yee) and his 
development of two-truth theory. Since it evolved from a very complex, 
evolving series of developments in the Chinese appropriation of Buddhism, 
unraveling it all in an email message is impossible. The three books that 
can shed much light on this are:

(1) Paul Swanson's _Foundations of T'ien-T'ai Philosophy: The Flowering of 
the Two Truths Theory in Chinese Buddhism_ (Nanzan Studies in Religion and 
Culture), 1995.

(2) Leon Hurvitz, _Chih-I (538-597). An Introduction to the Life and Ideas 
of a Chinese Buddhist Monk_, Institut Belge Des Hautes Etudes Chinoises 

(3) _The Great Calming and Contemplation: A Study and Annotated Translation 
of the First Chapter of Chih-I's Mo-Ho Chih-Kuan_, tr. by Neal Donner and 
Daniel Stevenson, University of Hawaii Press (1993)

Happy reading!

Zhiyi expands the two truths into three truths (actually four, but one is 
only transitional so left out of the standardized models). 1. The 
conventional (prajnapti), treated as equivalent to pratitya-samutpada; 2. 
Emptiness, treated as equivalent to the madhyamakan negation, 3. 
half-conventional and half-empty (the transitional truth dropped from later 
versions of the model), and 4. the Middle Way, which both is and isn't the 
fusion and rejection of the first two truths. Zhiyi's model was structurally 
based on a karika from Nagarjuna's Mula-Madhyamaka-karika, chap. 24, v.18, 
which roughly reads:

Whatever is dependently arising (pratitya-samutpada), that is emptiness 
that, based on conventional expressions (prajnaptir-upadaya), precisely is 
the middle way (madhyama pratipad).

For Zhiyi, this becomes four truths:
1. Pratitya-samutpada
2. sunyata
(those are flip sides of each other. Sythesis begins with)
3. prajnapti-upadaya
(and is fully subsumed in)
4. Madhyama-pratipad.

But none of the truths eliminates the others. Each remains a viable 
perspective, a part of the whole. There the complexities begin (or 
continue). Swanson's book and his partial translation of the Zhiyi's 
commentary on the Lotus Sutra illustrates that more fully.

Study hard.


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