The Future of Chinese Buddhist Thought -- From Mind to Metaphor
University of California, Davis
International Review of Chinese Religion & Philosophy
Volume 5, March 2000
Summary: Because modern Chinese Buddhist thinkers chose to revive the Wei-shih (Consciousness Only) Philosophy, they have wagered on a contrast between Western "outer learning" and Eastern "inner learning," each being equally "scientific." It proves less engaging than the strategy of the Kyoto School which pitted Oriental Nothingness against European Ontotheology, Zen intuition vs. scientific analysis. But recently the exchange between Kyoto philosophers and American Process theologians has turned more to finding a common ground in a Hua-yen-esque interpretation of pratitya-samutpada (interdependent origination). That makes for greater Chinese Buddhist input. But there is a promising new departure from a Hong Kong Buddhist scholar and an interesting Post-Structuralist and Deconstructionist reading of Zen/Ch'an in the United States.
The meeting of East and West in the last two centuries has been a meeting of matter and of mind, of material as well as of mental culture. That has resulted recently in a curious revival of Hua-yen Rhetoric within the Buddhist dialogue with Process Theologians. I have called attention to this with Michael von Bruk in Buddhismus und Christentum:
Geschichte, Konfrontation, Dialog. In this essay I will go beyond that to registering still other recent and current developments.
1. Back to the future: Rediscovering Summa Buddhologica
The future of Chinese Buddhist thought-the future of anything-lies ultimately in the resources of the past being renewed in the present. Because of the peculiar nature of the East/West dialogue in America-unlike other areas of the world, the public exchange in the USA since the 1960's is fairly "academic." being conducted by American theologians talking with convert American Buddhologists-Hua-yen Buddhism is receiving a hearing at the moment. We will see why later. Now Hua-yen thought reached its apogee in China with its third patriarch Fa-tsang (643-712) under the patronage of Chou Empress Wu around 700 CE. Historically speaking, it qualifies as the summa buddhologica of China. And it is usually so judged and praised. Doctrinally speaking, that resulted from its soundly defeating the Wei-shih or Vijnaptimatratra or Consciousness Only philosophy (better known as Yogacara or simply as Mahayana Idealism) that Hsuan-tsang (ca. 596-664) brought back from his stay at Nalanda in northwest India. The latter had threatened the accepted norm of the Sinitic reading of the "essence" of Mahayana as detailed in the text. the Awakening of Faith in Mahayana attributed to Asvaghosa. What Fa-tsang did was to fight off that Wei-shih challenge by going back to the Idealist theory of a pure Suchness Mind in this text. Claiming
to speak up for "mind Only''-the world is pure as the mind that creates it is pure-Fa-tsang considered "consciousness Only" to be a poor second cousin. Consciousness being a function of this pure essence of mind, it only knews how the world is deluded as itself as consciousness is deluded. Fa-tsang could then claim to speak up for the Suchness in the Mind, i.e. the Fa-hsing (Dharma-essence), with which he could then pigeon-hole and penalize Wei-shih for knowing only Fa-hsiang (Dharma- characteristics). As phenomena, fa-hsiang is a poor copy and a deluded derivative of the essence that is fa-hsing. The whole custom of referring to the Wei-shih school in that pejorative thetoric as the Fa-hsiang school started there and then. That hsing/hsiang or essence/phenomena and hsin/shih or mind/ consciousness distinction, a Chinese innovation not found in Tibet, became standard and it struck.
phenomena hsiang consciousness shih alayavijnana function
essence hsing mind hsin citta tathata substance
Defeated, the Wei-shih tradition was cut off and virtually lost. Few Chinese Buddhist thinkers bothered with that Fa-hsiang tradition since. For showing some interest in it, Late Ming monk Chih-hsu (1599-1655), one of the our grand masters" of the time, is credited with seeking to harmonize hsing and hsiang--a mote point of some interest with little or no consequence, since the Fa-hsiang system was in disarray and not in use. For whatever its worth. Master Tai-hsu (1889-1947), the architect supposedly of modem
Chinese Buddhism in the Republican era has been given the same credit for doing the same. Neither went beyond Fa-tsang; both only gave a more positive nod to the Wei-shih system. Which only goes to show that after Fa-tsang there was little or no new scholastic horizon for Sinitic Mahayana to conquer. Later we will have to ask: Why, of all things Sinitic and Buddhist, should any contemporary Christian-Buddhist dialogers even be interested in this most arcane of scholastic systems? What if anything can this "high medieval" summa buddhologica possibly have to offer to our "post-modem" reflection? Before coming to that, we have to pick up the story of a Late Ch'ing revival of interest in Buddhist thought.
The Buddhist revival of Late Ming was headed by the "four grand masters" who were monks. By early Ch'ing, that revival which targeted support from the gentry Buddhists saw the lay gentry Buddhists assuming the leadership within the lay circles themselves. Intelligence-wise, Ch'ing Buddhism was at a low ebb. Another revival rose in late Ch'ing, and this time it is led by one layman. Almost single-handedly Yang Jen-hui (1837-1911), an official of some standing, devoted more and more time to simply just re-issuing Buddhist texts and making them available free of charge to anyone for the asking. From his small publishing venture at Nanking (still there today) came all the major texts of the tradition. Well traveled, he had a key contact in Japan, Nanjo Bun'yu (1866-1945), and a fortuitous outcome of that is that it allowed him to re-import the Wei-shih tradition that had been lost to
China but kept intact all these centuries at the headquarters I temple of the Hosso (Fa-hsiang in Japanese) sect, one of the Six schools imported directly from China, at Nara. The three leaders of the 1898 (constitutional monarchy) Reform movement, K'ang Yu-wei (1858-1927), Liang Ch'i-ch'ao (1873-1929), and Tan Ssu-t'ung (1854-1898) were beneficiaries of Yang Jen-hui's publication and distribution effort. All had their share of influence by Buddhist philosophy. Ming Neo-Confucianism had somehow endorsed the "close country" policy of the state and lived in a kind of economic and intellectual self-sufficiency since, such that in looking for a pretext for "open borders," K'ang's call for breaking through the various boundaries (dividing mankind) was phrased in teams of a call to realizing Hua-yen's cosmic holism of "One is All, All is One." K'ang fused that mystical vision to his Utopia of international brotherhood and free-trade co-operation. Though the reformers had wind of the Wei-shih system, none of them highlighted it so exclusively. The first existential appropriation of it came after the Reform failed. Ch'ang Tai-yen (1868-1936), an erudite, was a supporter of the monarchist experiment before he was converted to the Republican cause. Thrown into jail for his political activity, Chang, thanks again to Yang Jen-hui, discovered Buddhism. He later wrote a commentary on the "equalization of things" thesis in Chuang-tzu. It includes a personal reading of and interpretation based on the Wei-shih depth psychology. Though little studied for its Buddhist elements, this remains a
minor classic. Most people would credit Ou-yang Ching-wu with the spread of Wei-shih philosophy instead. He worked through the Ch'eng Wei-shih-lun Shu-chi (Notes on the Vijnaptimatrarsa Siddhi) and retrieved the detailed argument through this work by K'uei-chi (632-682). He then labeled Consciousness Only philosophy the "inner learning" and made it the core curriculum at his Inner Learning Academy in 1922. A whole generation of Chinese enthusiasts for that psychology flowed out of that. The best of the lot however was Hsiung Shih-li (1883-1968) who later fashioned his self-styled "New Consciousness Only" philosophy. Hsiung has been regarded by many observers as the most original of modem Chinese philosophers. But if we view it from the panorama of Sinitic Mahayana systems, he basically injected back into this "consciousness Only" analysis of consciousness the premise of a "Mind Only" harmony (i.e. a substance-function unity) which came directly from Hua-yen. The difference is that Fa-tsang used that premise way back to "put down" Wei-shih and that Chih-hsu used it to "reconcile" the two approaches; but that Hsiung used it to "elevate" Wei-shih while keeping that system intact. The problem is that Hsiung has no living intellectual heir. And that absence of a vital succession today should make us ponder if this Wei-shih revival has a future or not.
For the Wei-shih system has been basically taken out of frozen storage. It is a museum piece from some cloister in Nara. It is not the most "Chinese" of the Chinese schools. If
anything, it is the most "Indian" of all the schools. Brought back to life in an academic setting, it is pure theory with no living practice to go with it as it once had even at Nalanda. It is:Yogacara without the yoga or the acarya. Not that it could not be refurbished with a yogic half, but for centuries, Chinese Buddhist meditation has not relied on its psychological vocabulary. What Wei-shih says might very well be true, namely, that everything known to the mind is known through a mental representation only (vijnapti-matra-ta). Its logical analysis of the workings of the senses all the mind, all the way down to the eighth alayavijnana or store-house consciousness, is all keen and good. External forms of reality (phenomena or fa-hsiang) may indeed be a function of or a correlate to, this clouded or subject-object (deluded) consciousness within. On paper it looks very good. And that was how it was being billed in China, i.e. as a self-sufficient system. But to offer it in this century as the most scientific study of mind possible and then to expect this Eastern "inner learning" to be an answer to the Western "outer learning"--that is problematical. In terms of its own trisvabhava scheme, that stand might qualify more as a "biased distortion of the real," which is short of a truly "interdependent perception" (of the relativity of East and West) and far short of the "ful1 and comprehensive insight" into the state of things.'The reason? At a time when China was being intimidated by the power of that "outer" science of the West, it might be self-deluding to think that there is something equally "scientific".in China that
China could offer the West-something "inner" but adhering as strictly to the laws of logic, inference, deduction, i.e. all the rational proof the "outer" West wants.
It is an understandable stand. Pall Buddhists like Jayatilleke in this same period made the same claim about its own rational, abhidharmic psychology. But it is problematical because firstly, it compartmentalizes two sciences, one "inner" for the East and one "outer" for the West. The hope that the West would be convinced and converted is naive. This paradigm is taken from the old Han strategy of seeking an "inner Taoist; outer Confucian" compromise recently updated by Chang Chih-tung's (1886-1962) call for an "(inner) eastern essence; (outer) western function." Which seldom works out as the advocates hoped because the Han paradigm is based on a common cosmology; not so the present East/West combine. And the West was never so "inwardly improvised" as the East would like to think. Also the West has its own "inner science" called psychology which so far as a whole, is quite contented with staying within its own scientific premise and operational procedure as not to need this Buddhist anatman input, this addendum of the seventh adana (ego) and the eighth alaya (substratum) consciousness. Secondly, even if the Wei-shih psychology were all logical like the natural sciences, at least in the German Idealist tradition, the last thing you want to say is that the Mind (Geist) works like Matter. Ceisteswissenshaft is not and it is distinct from Naturwissenshaft. Thirdly, even if the Wei-shih system may be universally valid, as a cultural
system, it carries more Indian than Chinese baggage. This is not my judgment alone. It is the reason behind why Hsiung Shih-li brought it back in line with Hua-yen "Mind Only. That is also why Liang Sou-ming(1893-1962) while doing his comparison of the culture of East and West and their philosophies would conclude that India masters the inner self as the West masters the outer world--but it is Confucian China that treads the Middle Path and has the best of the two worlds of Idealism and Materialism. Furthermore, the problem with presenting Yogacara as a totally self-contained system is that it leaves little or no room for maneuver. Either you have to take it or you have to leave it. People who take it as is are seldom able to connect it up with the larger contexts of living in this rather ambiguous but real world.
In this regard, the Kyoto School in Japan pursued a different path which so far seem to have excited wider interest and engendered more fruitful exchange. I am not saying that it does not have its share of problems, but since it appears that the revival of Hua-yen in the East/West dialogue came out of that Japanese conversation, we should see why and how that came about, all value judgment aside. In a nutshell, Nishida Kitaro (1870-1945)who headed the Kyoto School did not dig up some museum piece and did not rehash the Buddhist formulas verbatim. He consciously adopted the language of German Idealism, especially Hegel's; and he then turned its Rhetoric of Being on its head, and use it to explicate an antithesis, some Absolute Emptiness. This use of a common
language (German) in a university system modeled after the German system of education in more ways than one has one benefit: it made this Buddhist criticism of God as Being accessible to the West. So presented, it also demanded a response. Nishida's strategy worked. He forced a East/West confrontation over a fundamental divide in their metaphysics (in the Heideggerian sense). The contrast was conducted not on the premise of an "inner and an "outer" science but rather as a rift in the same sphere, in the life of the Spirit. That contrast was deepened by subsequent spokesmen of the Kyoto School as other Buddhist trains of thought were brought in. Tanabe Hajime (1885-1962) drew on Pure Land (Jodo) faith and T'ien-t'ai (Tendai) dialectics; Nishitani Keiji (1900-1975) added more Hua-yen (Kegon) touches; and Takeuchi Yoshinori went back to even early Buddhist thought. The Japanese could draw on their own scholarship in Pali, Sanskrit, and Tibetan Buddhism. That did not just enrich the dialogue. It also crossed path with the Western advance in Buddhist studies. The Japanese worked backward from Japan to India; the Westerners worked forward from India to Japan; and they often met up with one another in the Middle (path) that just happens to be Nagarjuna. (Only one scholar in the US is actively using Yogacara as the stepping stone of a Trinitarian dialogue.) Even now, much of that Japan-inspired Buddho-Christian exchange is built around that mix of Nagarjuna's sunyata (Emptiness) and Nishida's zettai mu (Absolute Nothingness). With Wittgenstein's "language game" in the air
(now somewhat passe) and Derrida's "deconstruction" currently in vogue) thrown in for good measure, we have a (overshadows any "Chinese" contribution to the debate-that is, until a happy set of recent coincidences brought in a Chinese Hua-yen voiced. And this is where one future to Chinese Buddhist thought might be located. To this possibility we turn.
2. Process and Pratitya-samutpada: The American Conversation
Chinese Hua-yen philosophy enjoyed a revival of sorts the last thirty years or so, all thanks to one man, Kamata Shigeo at Tokyo University who so researched its history. A whole generation of American Buddhist scholars have followed his lead and when some of them involved themselves into the Buddhist-Christian dialogue, they helped to redirect somewhat the contrast between God and Absolute Nothingness. Being and Nothingness may intrigue Sartre but does not most Anglo-American philosophers. It is generally the Christian theologians influenced by Existentialism and/or seeking to remake Onto-Theology that are drawn to the challenge of the Kyoto Philosophy. And foremost among them are the Process Theologians best exemplified by the decades-long Masao Abe and John Cobb exchange. I will not go again into an analysis of the history of that exchange here. Suffice it is to register that I see the Process Theologians
ingeniously deflecting Nishida's critique of God as Being. As Whiteheadians, they have never invested so much in Aristotle's Being anyway. The canonical kenoesis or a self-emptying God provides a bridge, but the further proposal to absolving God into Nothingness itself is always accepted, if it is accepted at all, with qualification. As Process Thinkers, the theologians take more to the alternative concept of pratitya-samutpada. A synonym of Emptiness, it better describes the interdependent causation or the interrelatedness of all things in a manner more akin to Whiteheadian Process. Of the synonyms of Emptiness stated in the Chung-lun (Madhyamika-karika)-causality, provisional reality, and the middle-the first as pratitya-samutpada appeals more to Whiteheadians as the second to Wittgensteinians. The Kyoto School has always made more of Emptiness than the other three icons. I call them "icons" because semantically speaking, they have an aura of meaning beyond their literal meaning or their being synonyms. That is because no word is ever linguistically neutral. Even as Nishida transcribed Mahayana Emptiness into Absolute Nothingness, Nishida had already infused into it a German favor not in the original. The hybrid word zettai for "absolute" is not in the Sanskrit. That term in zettai mu means a Nothingness that "puts an end to all oppositions." The Sanskrit root is possibly atyanta sunyata which is just one out of eighteen Emptinesses. The Chinese, for their own reasons, took to the Chinese rendition and isolated it out for frequent usage. In Chi-tsang, the Chinese
authority on the Emptiness philosophy, it is read as chueh-tai kung, viz. an Emptiness that "ends all dependencies." The expression for "having no dependencies" is indebted to Neo-Taoist usage in Kuo Hsiang. True Taoist freedom is-with apologies to Schleiermacher-a felling of absolute independence. The expression is close enough to the Sanskrit, viz. Middle that avoids (leaning on) either extreme. It is not exactly Absolute Nothingness; it does not absolves the relative and then absorbs all the contradictions into itself absolutely. That Hegelian touch is from Nishida. But Nishida had cause to do so because there was an absolutization of Wu as an icon in a late Zen usage. Especially in Japan, this is the all-shattering "no" in the Zen training using the Mu koan as collected in the Mumonkan. But that is another story.
The point of the above detour into words as icons is to show that philosophy as a discourse between man and man is always more than a rational dissertation written on paper. On paper, synonyms describe the same thing. In speech, synonyms may evoke different associations, imply different projects and conjure up different images. Philosophy being as much "the art of speech," it is, says Ricoeur, Rhetoric in its originary sense: an art at maximizing the power of different "parts of speech." A major role is played there by Metaphor, which is one such "part of speech." In it is packed an "excess of meaning," a loaded vision, an emotional punch, all of which are critical for making a persuasive case. So when Cobb takes to pratitya-samutpada instead of to the sunyata that Abe
tirelessly harps on, it is because the two synonyms do not mean the same thing to the two speakers in the larger context of their Japanese/American exchange. By turning away from Absolute Nothingness to this "interdependence of all upon all" and making it into a description of a dynamic Process, Cobb opens the door for a greater interest in the Totalistic philosophy of Hua-yen-and closes, ever so gently, the door, the Dharma-gate so very obsessed with Nothingness. And Hua-yen, as we noted earlier, just happened to be coming into the dialogue via the new generation of American Buddhist scholars. As synonyms, we are dealing with what is the same. As icons, we are not. This shift in the use of ideational icons is no mere cosmetic change, for history has shown that it had been done more with epochal results. Back in Tang China, the shift from the Empty ("Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form") to the Totalistic of "All is One; One is All" (which could all well be synonyms) was how Hua-yen absorbed and transcended the claim of the Emptiness school of San-lun. Hua-yen also overcame the Ekayana of T'ien-t'ai in a mappable series of the succession of the Many, the Zero, the One, and the Infinite:
Abhidharma pluralism of dharmas the Many
Madhyamika universal emptiness the Zero
Tien-t'ai Ekayana One Vehicle the One
Hua-yen Boundless Dharmadhatu the Infinite.
To the extent that this revival of Hua-yen in the current
Cobb/Abe dialogue promises Hua-yen a more active role in the future, Chinese Buddhist thought may well be piggybacking on the theologian's engagement in Kyoto Philosophy.
Of course, on the other side to that hitchhiking lies the question: how well that theological dialogue would fare in the future. With Heidegger once serving as a bridge between the Kyoto School and German philosophy and with Heidegger now being out of favor (in part because of his Nazi associations) or just declining in vogue, the Kyoto School is losing its vital link to German thought. At any rate, the dominance Germany once enjoyed in the European theater of philosophy is now gone. And the Nishida's chair in the philosophy department at Kyoto University itself has gone the way of current fashions; to someone in French studies. Meanwhile Kamata Shigeo has left no direct heir either and the Hua-yen studies in the United Studies has probably passed its prime. The Cobb/Abe legacy is very likely however to continue, even if it involves, in one sense, a curious politics of strange bedfellows. It will continue because as a conversation, it is conducted now largely in America where Whitehead is a major inspiration and Zen has found a permanent home. That does not mean there are no other entries into Hua-yen thought other than Whitehead; there is. However, it does raise the question whether the future of Chinese Buddhist thought can piggyback on that dialogue alone. We have more cause to look elsewhere for other new beginnings.
3. A New Set of Perfect Harmonies from Chinese Thought
What is leading the field of Chinese thought at the moment is not anything Buddhist but rather things Confucian. And it is from the leads of two major figures on the Confucian side that a Buddhist beginning may be found. In Hong Kong, Tang Chun-i and Mou Tsung-san were the twin stars in Confucian philosophy. Tang once contemplated becoming a Buddhist but was called away from Wei-shih Idealism and back to Chinese thought proper by Chuang-tzu. Tang made Chuang-tzu's idea of a mind that is "vacuous and luminous, spirited and all-knowing" a key gift of this thinker to Chinese thought. Of late, Mou also delved into the teaching of Wisdom and Buddha-Nature and came to a revisionist conclusion that Tien-t'ai and not Hua-yen perfected the truly "round" (a symbol of perfection) teaching. The former based on Nagarjuna balanced evenly the Real, the Empty, and the Middle, giving even "evil" a place in the holistic scheme of the Round. The latter reliant on Yogacara had the tendency of reducing the "false" to the True, thus liable to being guilty of some kind of Monistic reduction. At any rate, tutored by Mou and Tang, Fok Tou-hui who went on to Japan and worked on the Wei-shih tradition there became the leading Chinese Buddhologist in Hong Kong. He wrote a long article titled "Chueh-tui yu Yuan-yung [The Absolute and the Perfect Harmony]" that he regards to be his crowning philosophical piece. This essay which isolates out the distinctive telos of Chinese thought may be counted as one way how Chinese
Buddhist thought might evolve. It is a telos in favor of the advent of a creative subjectivity all over in world history.
The quest for an Absolute, argues Fok, is world-wide. It appears as Being in Greece, as Brahman in the early Upanisads, and as the Tao in China. But such an objective Absolute appearing as the ontological Other tends to rob man of his self or subjectivity. Beings bow out before Being. The "lesser self or atman is absorbed into the Greater Self that is the Brahman or the Tao. Even Buddhist nirvana initially has the same effect: a person passes naturally into his own extinction therein. But Confucianism affirms the creative subject before and better than Taoism; the later Upanisads delves more into the mind; and in Mahayana Idealism as in later Hindu Vedanta as well as among modern European Idealists such as Berkeley, subjectivity came into its own and creativity forged ahead. This is one trend. Meanwhile, in classical China, it is Chuang-tzu who proposed an alternative to this quest for the Absolute as the Other. He looked to an affirmation of the here and now within the Round Perfection that embraces all. The whole universe is intuited directly as one totalistic entity; it is not to be grasped in any piecemeal fashion. Yet this Whole is not something "other than" what is before us. This whole is in all the items we encounter in our everyday life such that in the end, the height of that insight into the Round only brings us squarely back down to seeing how the high and the low are also providentially one whole. For Fok, in the history of Buddhism, it is Yogacara or Wei-shih
Idealism that restored that creative subjectivity (mapped above) back into the passive universal Emptiness of Madhyamika. And only in Hua-yen in China is that creative subjectivity then further wedded to a Perfection in the Round.
With that, Fok then traces that development through the Chinese Buddhist schools, in effect finding a historical telos in the evolution therein. To do that, he has first to revoke the standard reading of Chinese Madhyamika as representing the prasanghika position. He sees (1) San-lun as realizing instead the "Roundness of Function." By that he means that in San-lun, all verbal teachings or mundane truths may now equally be pointing to the highest truth. In so doing, he changed the canonical argument that the Buddha taught with recourse to the Two Truths; wherein the discursive mundane truth is such that it can never get at the non-discursive Highest Truth. Fok says it can by reducing the San-lun dialectics to being "pure procedure." That is not new; Chi-tsang said that himself when he noted how the Two Truths pertain to two modes of teaching, not to two aspects of reality. What is new in Fok is that Fok makes that into being, to wit, a "teaching about reality." That is because at any one of the three levels (in the theory of the threefold Two Truths) in Chi-tsang, the same procedure is used. If so, then the same wordings at all three levels are pointing to the same highest truth. And if so, then all mundane truths may serve equally well as a finger pointing to the moon. In short, Chi-tsang did not destroy language; paradoxically, he only reaffirmed it. Fok then goes
on to (2) characterizing T'ien-t'ai, the next in line and better still, as realizing the "Roundness of Essence." By that he I means it collapses even the divide between the finger and the moon. Now it seems that the founding T'ien-t'ai figure. Master Chih-i (538-597) had taken up residence at Mount T'ien-t'ai could have known of Chi-tsang's teaching which was being delivered in public at the Sui capital nearby. To better Chi-tsang who chose to use Madhyamika to negate or empty, Chih-i used the same dialectics to now affirm or equate, i.e. chi instead of fei. Everything is as such Real, Empty, and Middle (chi-chia, chi-k'ung, chi-chung), viz. immediately real, immediately empty, and in the same breath, neither and both. When tied to the formula of Ekayana, the One Vehicle in the Lotus Sutra, this means that the three items above are also in essence One. Fok takes that as the basis for a "roundness of essence." Not only did T'ien-t'ai, as it were, "silence silence" by speaking out loud. It also ensured that the "Verbal (what is spoken) is the Truth." Translated, it means that the finger is effectly the moon. The means is the end. Fok justified that new twist by looking beyond the Upaya chapter two of the Lotus Sutra to arguing that in the final revelation, the Buddha has empowered the trace (i.e. manifestation) so that the origin (i.e. essence) is made fully transparent therein. As trace incarnates origin, so the Verbal can take upon itself the Truth. After that, Fok moves on to (3) Yogacara. After crediting Wei-shih with having an insight into the activity of the subjective mind, Fok faults Wei-shih for failing to ground the
deluded, subject-object consciousness in the creativity of the pure mind. That ontological grounding is (4) left for Hua-yen to complete. For grounding the one in the all and the all in the one, Hua-yen came up with a cosmo-buddhism (the whole universe as being of Buddhas). This is to Fok the "roundness of one and all." Capping the series is (5) Ch'an (Zen) which is the tradition that brings that cosmological roundness down once more to the arena of the everyday. In the immediacy of actions in the here and now, Ch'an realizes the final praxis of the "roundness of activity."
In reviewing Chinese Buddhist philosophy from the perspective of a perfect round borrowed from Chuang-tzu and in tracking down this historical progression towards greater creative subjectivity (already in nuce in Confucius), Fok ties his reading of Buddhist philosophy to the current reading of Confucian philosophy. In effect, Fok gives us a new, unified :tenet classification" system covering all the major Chinese Buddhist schools' innovations. The future of Chinese Buddhist thought may lie in such a bold reinscription.
But at this point one must pause and ponder a curious fact. Hsiung Shih-li locates said future in Wei-shih Idealism, Mou Tsung-san found it in T'ien-t'ai Harmony, the Cobb/Abe group sees it in Absolute Nothingness and Process, and Fok in a progression of "perfect roundness" ending in Hua-yen. All these thinkers look to some grand synthesis; all tapped into high medieval Buddhist scholastics. Although one tends to "talk big" and "think big" in any colloquium on East/West
encounters, yet is it not curious that somehow we are lured back to some high medieval summa buddhologica? But had not Chinese Buddhism left that behind after the lesson of the great anti-Buddhist persecution of 845? Perhaps there are those who think the post-modem can do precisely with such a retrospective on and a revival of the high medieval. But there are also those who think otherwise.
4. Derrida and Zen, Myth and Metaphor, and the Science of Fiction
The most critical review of the Buddhist past at the moment came not from China or from Japan but from the United States. Bernard Faure at Stanford spearheaded that with a dismantling of the modem myth of Zen "sudden enlightenment." He deconstructed D. T. Suzuki upon whom much of the East/West dialogue, nay, even the inspiration behind the academic study of Buddhism depended. In the process, he also showed how the Kyoto School is Orientalism turned on its head, a reverse of European projection, a case of "look and you will find." But beware about getting what you wished for. It may turn out to be a Dis/Illusionment. Now Faure did all that disillusioning with a Zen flare. He deconstructs Zen iconoclasm in a Zen iconoclastic style. The overall richness of his archaeology ensures both substance and style. More recently, Steven Heine from Pennsylvania State University (now at Florida International University) followed with a similarly styled look at Dogen. Heine explodes the aporetics of Zen discourse and by documenting its
intertextuality, recalls all the twists and turns in the Koan exegesis. The maze of internal reference is such that there is no sure guarantee that any signifier ever points us to one signified as promised. But it is not so much due to the lack of reference as it is to an "excess of meaning"; not so much because of the ineffable nature of the ultimate reality as of the overdetermination of expression. It is not universal emptiness but a pleroma of possibilities that confronts us. Heine then did an expose on the politics behind the new "critical Buddhist" scholarship. Details aside, the way Faure and Heine go about their enterprise makes it very hard now to perpetuate the old myth of some inherent "whole" in the Oriental tradition. The idea of Wei-shih being a self-contained system; or of the Absolute that is Nothingness; or of Hua-yen as constituting seamless Perfection-all that now looks rather suspect. The future of that presumption is an illusion. That sounds terrible but that awakening might just be what the Buddha taught since day one.
Now what does that translates into in the present review of the past? Of one future possibility, I will speak and I will stay more conservatively with Ricoeur than Derrida. Building on Heine's piece on the koan of "Pai-chang and the Wild Fox," I will show what a Post-Structuralist reading can do with this material. Here is the tale:
"Pai-Chang and the Wild Fox"
Whenever Hung-chou Zen master Pai-chang Huai-hai
(749-814) expounded the Dharma, an old man always came to listen along with the regular disciples. When the latter left the hall, the old man would also go on his way. But one day he stayed behind and when Pai-chang inquired of him, he said: "I am not really a man. I was the head monk [leading master] at this mountain long ago during the time of the Buddha Kasyapa. One day a monk in training [under me] asked me: Does a man of great [yogic or spiritual] cultivation comes under karmic causation or not? I said not. For so saying I have been incarcerated in a wild fox body for five hundred lifetimes. I beg you, sir, now for a 'turning phrase' [a critical short remark] that would release me from his body." The old man then asked Pai-chang the same question he was asked aeons before and Pao-chang answered: Such a person does not obscure [obstruct the working of] karmic causality. Upon that the old man was enlightened. I am finally released from this fox body. You will find my corpse on the other side of the mountain. Please grant me a burial fitting for a deceased monk.'
Pai-chang asked the rector [head administrative monk] to strike the clapper ["wooden fish"; small gong] and announce a burial rite for a monk after the midday meal. The monks were surprised. Everyone here is healthy and no one is sick in the infirmary (the nirvana hall). Who could the burial be for? But after the meal, Pai-chang led his disciples to the foot of a large rock on the far side of
the mountain, uncovered the carcass (of a fox) with his staff and granted it a proper burial. That evening Pai-chang revealed the whole affair during his sermon at the lecture hall.
Thereupon Huang-po (d. 850) asked: The old man was incarcerated in a wild fox body for five hundred rebirths for giving the wrong turning phrase. What would have happened if he had given the right answer? Pai-chang answered: Come up here and I will give you the answer. After hesitating, Huang-po approached Pai-chang and [suddenly] slapped the master. Pai-chang clapped and laughed, exclaiming: I thought the barbarian (Bodhidharma from India) had a red beard. But here is another red-bearded barbarian!
What Heine has done is to trace the history of this koan, showing its borrowings from pre-Zen folklore and tracing the creative Zen exegesis. The latter is what kept it going as a never ending story, basically by reading as much into it as out from it. It is that rich texture that makes up the living tradition. But what attracts me most is the ambivalence of the Fox metaphor. A loner and a predator living on the fringe of human habitat, the Fox stands for a lot of things. It is an outsider, a heretic, one who masquerades as true (these lie behind the expression of "Wild Fox Zen" as fake Zen). But the Fox can also symbolize the loner on the margin that the Zen tradition has both marginalized and valorized. And in
Buddhism that often goes with the self-enlightened one, the forest-dwelling pratyekabuddha that we all tend to forget because we are lured into a contrast between only the Hinayana arhat and the Mahayana bodhisattva. With that reminder, the above tale takes on a "new" meaning that is as "old" as time itself. And indeed, the tale ingeniously merges different time horizons, beings, species, and karmic fates; it topples rank and file, reverses master and disciple relationships; and, in an endless give-and-take, encloses a story within a story, until it feeds upon itself like a snake that bites its own tail.
It seems that at some foundational level long lost to recall, the story tells of the fate of the Three Vehicles or Triyana: the arhat who by ending all karma can and would leave samsara behind, burdened by it no more; the bodhisattva who being free and untouched by karma somehow deciding to return to active duty in samsara and take on the karmic load for others; and this fox, this symbol of a pratyekabuddha who is literally lost, adrift, somewhere in the sea in between the two shores. In a self-made purgatory of neither samsara nor nirvana, the fox-man is not sure where he went wrong or where he should go. Pai-chang did deliver him but it is not that the fox's final demise is therefore any clearer. Yet it is precisely that lack of clarity and that lack of closure that makes it so haunting a tale. And Huang-po by raising the question later indirectly resurrects for us that uncertainty. And what follows--the slapstick humor of a Zen ending--is another "double take" that
leaves us pondering anew the anti-structure to that whole ritualized exchange. I will leave it at that; a fuller exegesis awaits another occasion; but the reader can write his or her own ending to that koan as he or she feels like it. And even then, he or she and I are dwelling on just of this story, the one I--for my own peculiar reasons I like the Fox--take to. Just as surely, there are many other takes and levels to the story. Almost anyone can come up with his or her own choice of a focus, with its share of non/problems and non/solutions.
Our simple exercise here serves to answer the question about the future of Chinese Buddhist thought. It serves up also the challenge of the Zen hermeneutics. The simple fact is that a charming story like the one above has the power of seducing us. It forces us to take it forward into the future by going back to its past right here in the present. The resouces of a tradition lie always therein. And we can do a lot of that because, if one is to follow the procedure of Claude Levi-Strauss in this case and index all the relationships and sets of polarities in this one short story on index cards, what we find as Post-Structuralists have found is that there is no one simple story, no neat binary structure, and no easy closure. There are all too many missing pieces, lacunae, wide margins, and suspected erasures or just plain forgetfulness of Being, be it intentional or unintentional or both. (After all, we all forget in order to remember.) Suddenly there seems to be so many ways to shuffling and reshuffling those index cards as to yield an overabundance of outcomes. Like life as a narrative, the narrative as life is an
open book, that is to say, a public case, a koan.
And now, if we look over the terrain we have covered in this essay so far, we might entertain the idea that perhaps it is not an accident that the koan system or most specifically the capping phrase is what marked the last creative development in Chinese Buddhist. Maybe the future of Chinese Buddhist thought should evolve out of the lesson that development closest in time to us seeks to teach us. And if so, then the future might lie not so much in (to wit) the Emptiness of Reality as it does in the Richness of Semantics. After all, philosophical Buddhism-San-lun Emptiness, T'ien-t'ai Harmony, and Hua-yen Totalism-bowed out to Zen (and Pure Land) not without a reason. Those grand systems of thought for a few have long been eclipsed by the simple narratives for the many. The latter, the metaphors of poetry outlasts the former, the prosaic language of signs. And the history of Buddhist philosophy itself attests to that all too well. Buddhism falled into being a philosophical system when the Abhidharmists were certain-they were overly confident-that the signs of their discourse refer to real things. That was before Nagarjuna came along and emptied them of any real reference. Now those who still honor Nagarjuna still thinks that was the end of the conversation; and that Emptiness is the philosophy to end all philosophies. But standing back and looking at it today, we might realize that language has to do with more than the semiotics of signs and their references. We might see that the difference of opinion between the Abhidh-
armist and Nagarjuna over whether signs are real or empty is ultimately a matter not of reference; but rather, of semantics, of meaning and of sense. The two contending philosophies are two different ways of structuring meaning for promoting two different ways of being in the world. That difference cannot be resolved by talking heads. And if during that conversation, words happen to fail, that is not necessarily because, as mystics and perennial philosophers then and now would say, Truth is ultimately Ineffable. That is an oxymoron. Saying so is a trope. The truth is that there is simply a richness of meaning signaling, somewhere down the road, a pleroma of reality. And that is a sign to us that we need to shift to a language of metaphors because metaphors can pack that "excess of meaning" that signs cannot. And to the extent that myths as extended metaphors, myths-stories like Pai-chang and the Wild Fox-can evoke that pleroma of reality by that craft of and that craftiness with plain, simple words. Now both myth and metaphor are not to be taken literally for any time they are taken thus, metaphors and myths would appear to be untrue to fact or demonstrate a poverty in reference. And we begin asking irrelevant questions of fact like: Did Pai-chang really talk with a Fox masquerading as a man?-when we have much better questions of meaning to ask of this Wolf in a sheep's clothing. For myths and metaphors, narrative and life, are at heart koans, they provide the means to jarring loose our minds, opening doors, expanding horizons. And after considering the grand architecture of Chinese Buddhist
philosophy, we come full circle to that same truth, namely, that it is in the living narrative-not in the dry systems of thought-that Chinese Buddhist insights would most likely survive, grow, and inspire in the future. That is the side of Mahayana, the avadana tradition, that few have investigated. I turned to it myself only after having my fill of Buddhist scholastics. Yet the avadana in the Mahayana sutras is the side that inspired Tien-t'ai and Hua-yen. These two did not exist as philosophical schools in India. It is Chih-i and Fa-tsang who created those philosophies our of their reading of the hidden meanings in those mythic drama in the scriptures. If it was so then, it should be so now and in times to come. The future of Chinese philosophy rests no less on that renewed appreciation of those narratives. The future rests, not in the Emptiness of Reality but to wit, in a Science of Fiction.
1. Published from Munich: V. H. Beck: 1997.
2. See Chang, Sheng-yen, Minmatsu Chugoku Bukkyo no kenkyu (Tokyo: Sangibo, 1975).
3. Fa-tsang's reading of the Awakening of Faith was later largely read through the simplified version of it as redacted by Tsung-mi (780-841); see Peter N. Gregory, Tsung-mi and the Sinicization of Buddhism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).
4. This aspect is covered by Chan Sin-wei in Hong Kong in Buddhism in Late Ch'ing Political Thought (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1985); see also his T'an Ssu-fang: An Annotated Bibliography (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1980); and by Chang Hao in the United States in Chinese Intellectuals in Crisis: Search for Order and Meaning 1890-1911 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987); see also his earlier Liang Ch'i-ch'ao and Intellectual Transition in China 1890-1907 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971).
5. See Laurence G Thompon trans. The One-World Philosophy of K'ang Yu-wei (London: Alien & Unwin, 1958).
6. With no aid of or dependence on Sanskrit scholarship (as yet not available).
7. It also has more success because of the activities of the British Pali Text Society; the Chinese Wei-shih revival has no support from any Western compatriot.
8. It is not that Western psychotherapy cannot or should not
take in Eastern insights, but the latter has to be operationalized first as has Morita therapy based on Zen principle and practice. There is an absence of that practice dimension in the Chinese Wei-shih revival.
9. This goes back to the body/soul distinction in the West and the no-soul psychology in Buddhism.
10. See Guy Alitto, The Last Confucian: Liang Sou-ming and the Chinese Dilemma of Modernity (second edition; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).
11. It is Chinese in the sense that currently the Hua-yen voice is derivative largely of Chinese Hua-yen.
12. Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-Disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977).
13. Abe's insistence of a thorough-going self-negating Nothingness notwithstanding, that Zen talk could devolve into just a language game. Masao Abe has become the Kyoto Philosophy's spokesman in the States. See one exchange in Divine Emptiness and Historical Fullness: A Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation with Masao Abe (Walley Forge, Perm.: Trinity Press International, 1995).
14. Such as Francis Cook who wrote one of the first books on this Chinese Buddhist school, Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jeweled Net of Indra (University Parrk: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977).
15. It is curious because Process Theology came out of a liberal
tradition at Chicago and Whitehead built a philosophy that looks very positively at the findings of the natural sciences. Kyoto Philosophy was tied to conservative politics and followed the German practice of keeping Geisteswissenshaft distinct and separate from Naturwissenschaft. The active wedding of oriental mysticism and western science is however taking place elsewhere; for the New Age movement, Fritj of Capra's The Tao of Physics (New York: Bantam, 1975) has been a major inspiration. Current perennial philosophers such as Houston Smith also welcome that vision of a unified field theory as applied to all human knowledge.
16. Joseph A. Bracken's The Divine Matrix: Creativity as Link between East and West (New York: Orbis, 1995) has shown how Aristotle could also join in that conversation.
17. Now included as the first chapter in a book of collected essays of his Chueh-tui yu Yuan-yung (Hong Kong: Tung-t'ai Tu-shu, 1986).
18. At first, this is hard to take since it goes beyond even Hirai Shun'ei's thesis in Chugoku Hanya Shisoshi kenkyu (Tokyo: Shunjusha, 1976) that Chinese gave more credence to the mundane truth than India would.
19. In this, Fok reverses Mou's preference of T'ien-t'ai over Hua-yen. Mou finds the Hua-yen theory of hsing-ch'i (essence-arousal) to be less round or perfect because it presumes a dualism of the changeless essence and the
changeable phenomena. But since hsing-ch'i is aiso pu-ch'i (non-arousal), there is, no time lapse between the changeless One and the changing Many. Ultimately hsing-ch'i in Hua-yen involves a dynamic Yogacara subjectivity, and should not be compared with hsing-chu in T'ien-t'ai which is based on more static Madhyamika.
20. At the moment I cannot include here a review of the monk Yin-shun's contribution to a revival of Chinese Buddhist thought. That belongs to a separate project being pursued within the Yin-shun Foundation.
21. See his The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Ch'an/Zen Buddhism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991) followed by Ch'an Insights and Oversights: An Epistemological Critique of the Ch'an Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).
22. Heine, Dogen and the Koan Tradition: A Tale of Two Shobogenzo Texts (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994). Proponents of "Critical Buddhism" within the Soto ranks found textual basis for demanding better treatment of the buraku "outcast" group within Soto itself.
23. Initially presented at an AAR (American Academy of Religion) conference but since published in the Harvard Journal of Asian Studies.
24. If Truth is a common Truth, it should be shared and communicable in some way.
25. Behind Metaphors lies a Metaphysic, so says Heidegger.
26. We just happened to end our discussion with the Zen Koan
and with Deconstructionism. But I trust the stories will outlast the fashions of philosophy and that Narrative Analysis will provide the science for unlocking the Future of Illusions (fiction).