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Humanistic Buddhism: Plurality and Humanistic Buddhism in the Context of a Buddho-Christian Comparison


Academic year: 2022

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1. Introduction

On the morning of July 27, 2015, Venerable Master Hsing Yun met scholars and other devotees attending the Third Symposium on Humanistic Buddhism on the third floor of the Dharma Transmission Center, during which he gave a speech “How I Realized Humanistic Buddhism,” (originally titled

“The Causes and Conditions that Guided Me to Humanistic Buddhism”).1 I had the great fortune of personally listening to this speech, during which Venerable Master responded to doubts (eight of them) on Humanistic Buddhism raised by those who do not quite understand it, covering topics such as tradition and modernization, laity and monastic, transcendence and engagement, origins and contemporary, spiritual cultivation and activities, etc. In all, Venerable Master Hsing Yun proposed twenty approaches, of which the third was:

Faith is complex and plural, but the Humanistic Buddhism we propose can unite this complexity. It is because of the energy from our Buddha-nature that all can be accomplished. Even though faith is of varying depth and plural types, there are different depths of faith 1. 〈我對人間佛教的體認〉,(原來題目叫〈我對人間佛教的因緣〉)-Ed.

Humanistic Buddhism: Plurality and Humanistic Buddhism in the Context of a Buddho-Christian


Chen Jian

Director, Center for Buddhist Studies, Shandong University


of various types, Humanistic Buddhism will complete the varying approaches of all religions. This is the tolerant nature of Humanistic Buddhism, which can serve as a faith for all humankind.2

In this quote, Venerable Master Hsing Yun clearly mentions Humanistic Buddhism’s plurality, which is the same as that of Buddhism as a whole, and should not be seen as a school or modality of Buddhism. Plural Buddhism and monistic Christianity have very different religious characters. This paper studies and clarifies the plurality of Buddhism from the lens of Buddho-Christian comparison, which can be considered as a short footnote to the above twenty approaches.

2. Buddhism’s Plurality From the Perspective of Buddho-Christian Comparison

The term “Buddho-Christian Comparison” refers to the comparative study of Buddhism and Christianity. From this perspective, Christianity is monistic while Buddhism is plural, but what it refers to is not religious sectarianism, since both are split into many schools and sects, but should instead be understood from the three aspects outlined below.

2.1 Monism and Pluralism in Terms of a Religion’s Founder or Objects of Faith

Christianity believes that there is only one God, while there are many buddhas in Buddhism. In Buddhism, although the Hīnayāna School only recognizes Sakyamuni Buddha as its sole founder, Mahāyāna Buddhism which has become mainstream in the development of Buddhism (which Chinese Buddhism is a part of) has “countless buddhas.”3 For example, seven buddhas 2. 「信仰是複雜性的、多元的,但是我們人間佛教在意義上,能統一這許多複雜

性,因為我們的佛性能源,一切都可以成 就;儘管信仰的層次不同、種類多元,

但人間佛教會圓滿一切宗教的說法。這是我們人間佛教的包容,也是可以做全 人類的信仰。」-Ed.

3. Weiqun Yao, Introduction to Buddhist Studies (Beijing: Religious Culture Publishing House, 2003), 39.


are mentioned in The Platform Sūtra4 which are: “In the past vyūha kalpa there were Vipasyin, Śikhin, and Vishvabhu buddhas; in the present bhadrakalpa there are Krakucchanda, Kanakamuni, Kāśyapa, and Śākyamuni buddhas.”5 Furthermore, other buddhas are often mentioned in Mahāyāna Buddhism, such as the past Dipankara Buddha, the future Maitreya Buddha, Amitabha Buddha of the Western Pure Land, Medicine Buddha in the Eastern Realm of Pure Lapis Lazuli, and the ruler of Esoteric Buddhism Vairocana Buddha, etc. The Lotus Sūtra6 further mentions the “immeasurable hundred trillion Buddhas”7 in the worlds in all the ten directions, such as Candrasuryapradipa, Mahâbhijñā-jñānâbhibhū, Maharatnaketu, and Akṣobhya buddhas. In summary,

4. 《壇經》-Ed.

5. 「過去莊嚴劫毗婆尸佛、尸棄佛、毗舍浮佛,今賢劫拘留孫佛、拘那含牟尼佛、


6. 《法華經》-Ed.

7. 「無量百千萬億諸佛」-Ed.

The Seven Buddhas of the past.


Mahāyāna and Theravāda Buddhism, taken together does not recognize a sole or single buddha, as reflected in the quote: “[in every] world in all ten directions, there are buddha-tathāgatas.”8,9

There are not only numerous buddhas in Buddhism, but also numerous bodhisattvas and arhats. In Chinese Buddhism, Avalokiteśvara has thirty-three emanation bodies, and the number of arhats have grown from the eighteen in India to five hundred. Although neither bodhisattas nor arhats are founders of Buddhism, they are undoubtedly saints and objects of faith. Some may opine that besides God there is also Jesus Christ in Christianity, and therefore Christianity is not monotheistic. However, as the Apostles’ Creed states, which has been in existence since the time of the early church:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.10

On the surface it may appear that Christianity is polytheistic, but the Christian theory of trinitarianism makes clear that God is singular, yet it simultaneously composed of three parts: the Holy Father (God), Holy Son (Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit (love from God). It is clear that in the theory 8. 「十方世界,諸佛如來」-Ed.

9. The “Buddha” as used here refers to the person(s) in the sense of the founder of Buddhism, and thus does not, and should not, include the connotations of Buddha- nature referred to in “Buddha of the Mind,” “Mind Is The Buddha” or “Everyone is originally the Buddha.”

10. The Apostles’ Creed, from the Catholic booklet Prayers and Practice.


of trinitarianism, Jesus Christ, as the Holy Son, does not exist independently as an object of faith, but is contained within God. However, in comparison, though in terms of function we can—only very roughly—compare Buddha to God the Holy Father, a bodhisattva to Jesus the Holy Son, and an arhat (the state of liberation) to the Holy Spirit, this Buddhist triplicate does not share a relationship like the Christian Trinity. They exist independently of one another.

That is to say, a bodhisattva and an arhat exist as independent objects of faith just as the Buddha is, and is not part of the Buddha, though the Buddha exists in a more advanced state according to Buddhist doctrine.

For example, Chinese Buddhism’s popular belief in Avalokiteśvara does not require faith in the Buddha. Other than being independent of the Buddha, in some sense, the belief in Avalokiteśvara is even more influential and the belief is independent rather than defined in relation to the Buddha. In Christianity, however, faith in Jesus Christ is based on the foundation of faith in God—the former cannot exist independent of the latter, because its significance is defined in relation to the other. Without God, Jesus Christ is nullified. Therefore, the Holy Father, Holy Son, and Holy Spirit in Christianity are monistic in structure, whereas the Buddha, a bodhisattva, and an arhat are plural.

2.2 Classic Monism and Pluralism in Religions

Strictly speaking, Christian scriptures are contained in one Bible (including the Old Testament and New Testament),11 and all denominations use it as its primary scripture. Of course, besides the Bible, Christian denominations also accept supplementary scriptures which derive from the spirit of the Bible, and hold less importance. On this point, Professor Duan Dezhi of Wuhan University stated:

Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism all regard the Bible as the foundation of their faith, but they simultaneously recognize theauthority of some other texts. For example, Catholicism recognizes some treatises on patristic philosophy and scholasticism, 11. 《聖經》(包括「舊約」和「新約」)-Ed.


and the Pope’s teachings, and the Vatican’s catechism; Eastern Orthodoxy bases the standards for its faith on the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, Chalcedon Creed,12 and the resolutions of the first seven bishop conferences13 that took place between the 4th and 8th centuries; the various denominations of Protestantism recognize the Articles of Faith14 and also the writings of people such as Luther and Calvin.15,16

12. 《尼西亞―君士坦丁堡信經》、《迦西敦信經》-Ed.

13. 「普世主教會議」-Ed.

14. 《普世信經》-Ed.

15. 天主教、東正教、新教雖然都以《聖經》作為信仰的依據,但同時還分別承認 其他一些文獻的權威性。例如,天主教就認為教父哲學和經院哲學的一些著

述、教皇的教喻、教廷的信條具有重要的意義;東正教則為《尼西亞─ ―君

士坦丁堡信經》、《迦西敦信經》,以及西元四至八世紀之間召開的前七次「普 世主教會議」的決定,可以作為信仰的標準;新教各宗除了肯定《普世信經》


16. Dezhi Duan, Introduction to Religion (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2005), 98.

Buddhist scriptures are diverse, and pictured is the Fo Guang Buddhist Canons: Agama Canon.


Nevertheless, the Bible is the most fundamental, and the other Christian scriptures derive from it. However, in Buddhism there are numerous scriptural texts of equal importance (including the Buddhist Canon’s three collections of Sūtra, Vinaya, and Abhidharma). Moreover, each school has a different primary scripture. Taking the case of Chinese Buddhism, the Huayan School takes the Avataṃsaka Sūtra17 as its primary scripture and the Tiantai School the Lotus Sūtra.18 There are even cases where the primary scripture is not a single document, such as the Pure Land School’s “three scriptures and one treatise,” which includes The Infinite Life Sūtra, the Contemplation Sūtra, The Amitabha Sūtra, and the Treatise on the Rebirth in the Pure Land;19 the Chan School’s “Three Chan Sūtras”20—the Diamond Sūtra, Vimalakīrti Sūtra, and Platform Sūtra;21 the Three Treatise School’s “Three Treatises”—

the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, Twelve Gate Treatise, and Śataśāstra;22 the Vinaya School’s “four vinayas and five treatises”—the Sarvāstivādavinaya, Dharmaguputakavinaya, Mahāsaṅghikavinaya, Mahīśāsakavinaya, Vinaya- mātṛkā, Sarvāstivādanikāya-vinaya-mātṛkā, Samantapāsādikā, Sarvāstivāda- vinaya-vibhāṣā, and Lu Ershi Er Mingliao Lun.23 There are even some schools that regard all related scriptures as their primary scripture, which amounts to an impressive collection. For example the Faxiang School regards all Chinese translations of the school’s scriptures (e.g. the Sandhīnirmocanasūtra and Yogācārabhūmiśāstra)24 as primary, while the Esoteric School regards their own scriptures (e.g. the Vairocana Sūtra and Vajraśekharasūtra)25 in the same manner.

17. 《華嚴經》-Ed.

18. 《法華經》-Ed.

19. 「三經一論」, 即《無量壽經》、《觀無量壽經》、《阿彌陀佛經》和《往 生論》-Ed.

20. Or “Three Zen Sutras”.-Ed.

21. 「禪宗三經」,即《金剛經》、《維摩詰經》和《壇經》-Ed.

22. 「三論」,即《中論》、《十二門論》和《百論》-Ed.

23. 「四律五論」,即《十誦律》、《四分律》、《摩訶僧祇律》、《五分律》、

《毗尼母論》、《摩得勒伽論》、《善 見論》、《薩婆多論》和《明了論》-Ed.

24. 《解深密經》、《瑜伽師地論》-Ed.

25. 《大日經》、《金剛頂經》-Ed.


Not only can we tell the difference between monism and pluralism in the number of primary scriptures that Christianity and Buddhism have, but we also see this in the way the scriptures are regarded. Christian denominations have traditionally adhered to the Bible and rejected others, while Buddhist schools, although each have their own primary scriptures, does not reject others, and will often utilize other resources available in various sūtras to construct their own school’s philosophy—a process called “interpenetration.”26 An example would be the Tiantai School drawing from the Avataṃsaka Sūtra.27,28 In more extreme cases, Buddhism often draws upon non- Buddhist classics29 from traditions such as Confucianism, Taoism, and even Christianity to explain Buddhist doctrine. For example, in Chinese Buddhism, from the time it was

26. 「圓融」-Ed.

27. 《華嚴經》-Ed.

28. Zhiyi, founder of the Tiantai school, in formulating the philosophy of “The Three Thousand Realms are within One Moment of Thought” drew upon the discourse of

“one moment/one thought” in the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. See Chen Jian, “A Discussion of Zhiyi’s “Mind of One Moment,” Chung-Hwa Buddhist Studies 9 (March 2005):


29. Buddhism regards Buddhist Studies as “inner studies” and term Buddhist scriptures as “canonical.” With regard to other philosophical and religious systems, the term is

“non-Buddhist studies” and their scriptures as “non-Buddhist texts.” For example, to Buddhism, Confucianism is a non-Buddhist study and the Analects a non- Buddhist text. Further, the scriptural catalogue Tang Catalog of the Canon compiled by Daoxuan (Tang dynasty) is that of Buddhist scriptures, and the “Chinese Inner Studies Institute” founded by Ouyang Jingwu in Nanjing is a Buddhist college.

The one and only scripture in Christianity is the Bible.


introduced to China as Geyi Buddhism until its mature state of “integration of the three teachings,”30 Buddhist philosophers have always had a passion for explaining Buddhist doctrine through concepts from the Confucian and Taoist classics.31 In a contemporary Buddhist booklet which promotes a vegetarian diet and refraining from killing animals, I even found that the author quoted from the Bible and the Analects of Confucius to rationalize vegetarianism:

The Bible states: “Every moving thing that liveth shall be food for you; as the green herb have I given you all. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.” Stop and think for a moment, where can we find meat that is without blood? God’s words here are truly contradictory. Why then did he speak this way?

This is akin to persuading a habitual smoker to quit, saying: “You can smoke any cigarette you want except one that contains nicotine and will emit smoke.” Everyone knows that the meaning of such an utterance is to emphasize: “Do not smoke.” In the Analects, Confucius said: “If meat does not meet the following conditions, do not eat it: fresh, beautiful hue, without odor, appropriately cooked, appropriately seasoned, properly presented after cooking, and palatable with the use of condiments. Anyone who has cooked will know that this dish is impossible to create, and even if it is somehow possible, Confucius would still refuse to eat it given any excuse. How can this statement be interpreted in any other way than as a hint directing people to become vegetarian? In order to educate people who have too many desires, these great sages can only [guide people 30. 「三教圓融」-Ed.

31. In Geyi Buddhism, we find that only small fragments of concepts and philosophy from Confucian and Taoist classics being employed to explain Buddhist doctrine.

However, by the time of the “integration of the three teachings,” Buddhists often do so through commenting on entire Confucian and Taoist texts. Examples include Ouyi Zhixu’s An interpretation of Zhouyi by Buddhism and Commentary on the Analects in the Ming dynasty, and, Hanshan Deqing’s Explanations of Laozi’s Daode Jing ( 老子道德經解 ) and A Straightforward Explanation of the Doctrine of the Mean.


gently] as if they were holding a bird in their hands, neither grasp too tightly lest it is strangled, nor grasp too lightly lest it fly away. As a result, these sages can only adopt this lesser strategy of speaking ambiguously; can we not understand their painstaking efforts?32,33

In this quote, we find that both the Christian Bible and Confucian Analects share the same status as Buddhist scripture, and they are all supporting the Buddhist viewpoint. Only Buddhism has such great inclusiveness and openness to quote from these two sources in explaining the Dharma, and address God and Confucius as “great sages.” Consider this: does Christianity dare to quote from Buddhist scriptures to explain its own philosophy or address the Buddha as a “great sage”? I am certain it does not.34 The Diamond Sūtra35

32. 《聖經》上說:「凡活著的動物都可以作為你們的食物,這一切我都賜給你 們如同蔬菜一樣。」「唯獨肉帶著血,那是牠們的生命!你們不可以吃。」


他為什 麼要這樣說呢?這就好像說我們勸一個老菸槍戒菸,對他說:「您什

麼菸都可以抽,但是有尼古丁和會冒煙的菸不能抽。」大家都知道,這句話 的意思就是要突顯出「不要抽菸」的用意。在《論語》中孔子曾說:「若沒 有符合以下條件的肉不吃:新鮮、色澤好看、聞起來沒有腥味、有適合的烹 煮方法、符合時節、煮完之後的肉要方方正正、沾了佐料要符合胃口。」煮 過菜的人都知道,這盤菜根本做不出來,即使您做的出來,孔子只要找個藉

口就可以不吃了, 這不是暗示我們要吃素,那是什麼呢?這些偉大的聖人為

了要教導我們這些欲望太深的人,就好像是手上抓著一隻小鳥一樣,抓得太 緊怕把牠給掐死了,抓得太鬆又怕不小心使牠飛了。所以聖人們講話才不得 不出此下策,講得模稜兩可,難道我們不能夠體會一下聖人的苦心嗎?-Ed.

33. Diet and Health (Jinan: Qianfo Mountain Xingguo Temple, 2005), 36-7. The citation from the Analects is originally “魚餒而肉敗,不食;色惡,不食;臭惡,不食;


34. Mr Huang Xianian, chief editor of the The Religions Cultures in the World once discussed this with me. He said he once edited an article introducing the life of a Muslim in China in which it is mentioned that this Muslim very much likes the Analects and Confucianism. After the magazine was published, it attracted much criticism from many Muslims who opined that a Muslim can only adhere to the Quran and should not take a liking to the Analects. From this we can tell that Islam is like Christianity in maintaining its monism.

35. 《金剛經》-Ed.


states that, “all dharmas are the buddhadharma”36,37—not only is the Dharma contained in the Buddhist scriptures but also in the Christian, Confucian, and Taoist texts. The Chan school even has a theory of “even the inanimate teaches the Dharma,”38 which proposes that the insentient natural world is also speaking the Dharma.39 In summary, the teachings of the Buddha are boundless; throughout space and the dharma realms, “all dharmas are the buddhadharma,”40,41 is also expressed as “true Dharma is unconditioned. For example, if one cannot do this or that, that is conditionality and not the Dharma; if one clings onto any single teaching as the Dharma, 36. 「一切法皆是佛法」-Ed.

37. Translation of Charles Muller. See http://www.acmuller.net/bud-canon/diamond_

sutra.html, retrieved 21 June 2019.

38. 「無情說法」-Ed.

39. Benjamin Bagley, “Loving Someone in Particular,” Ethics 125, no. 2 (January 2015): 484–85. “Even the inanimate teaches the Dharma” was first proposed by Nanyang Huizhong. See Chen Jian, “On the “Even the inanimate teaches the Dharma” of National Master Huizhong,” Minnan Foxue 1 (December 2002): 345- 52. The scriptural source for the term can be found in the Vol. 2 of the Compendium of the Five Lamps (Zhonghua Book Co., 1992), 777-8.

40. 「一切法皆是佛法」-Ed.

41. Translation of Charles Muller. See http://www.acmuller.net/bud-canon/diamond_

sutra.html, retrieved 21 June 2019.

The teachings of the Buddha are boundless.


he or she must be mistaken.”42,43 Take the example of regarding to refrain from killing as the Dharma, but “if one truly understands good ecological conservation and sincerely acts in accordance with what brings the most ecological benefit, then I deem even the necessary capturing and killing of pests such as rats as good (Buddhist) spiritual practice.”44,45

2.3 Monism and Pluralism in Religious Method

Religious method here refers to what these religions offer in terms of helping people realize spiritual advancement. Different religions naturally have different methods. What Christianity offers is “grace” and “redemption,”46 and this is further explained here:

According to Christian doctrine, the ancestors of humankind, Adam and Eve, went against God’s will and ate the forbidden fruit. This caused all of humankind to be born with original sin and fall under the devil’s reign of sin without the possibility of redemption. God therefore sent Jesus Christ into the world to die so that humankind’s sins may be redeemed in order to attain salvation. Therefore, humankind has only to believe in Jesus Christ as savior to have eternal life.47,48

42. 「真正的佛法沒有定法,非要這樣不可、非要那樣不可,這都是定法,不是 佛法。如果執著一法為佛法,那就搞錯 了。」-Ed.

43. Xiao Yao, “If there is a rat infestation, can we kill them?,” Bimonthly journal of Hanshan Temple 4 (2005): 48.

44. 「你能真正懂得保護好生態環境的道理,並認真按照有利於生態環境的要求 去做,包括必須時捕殺老鼠等害蟲,我認為也是很好的(佛教)修行。」-Ed.

45. Xiao Yao, “If there is a rat infestation, can we kill them?,” Bimonthly journal of Hanshan Temple 4 (2005): 48.

46. 「恩寵/救贖」-Ed.

47. 「按照基督宗教的教義,人類的始祖亞當和夏娃由於違背了上帝的命令,偷 吃禁果,而使全人類都具有了與生俱來的原罪,陷於魔鬼的罪惡統治之下,

以致無法自救;所以,上帝派遣基督下世受死,為世人贖罪,拯救他們,而 人類 也 只有信賴基督才能蒙救稱義、獲得永生。」-Ed.

48. Dezhi Duan, Introduction to Religion (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2005), 101.


Or it can alternatively be said that humankind, through faith and prayer, express gratitude to God in order to obtain his grace and redemption, to actualize spiritual advancement.

Although different Christian denominations interpret grace and redemption49 differently,50 there is only one established method, and all the different schools practice it. However, a single method with various interpretations will result in multiple methods being employed, just as Christian theology has many interpretations concerning the bread and wine in the Holy

49. 「恩寵/救贖」-Ed.

50. For example, in regard to “grace,” Catholicism “often emphasizes that it is because of Jesus Christ’s act of redemption that God gifts believers with a supernatural grace. People need to obtain this grace through prayer and the holy sacraments.

Catholics further divide grace into two types: actual and habitual (or sanctifying).

Protestants commonly oppose Catholicism’s concept of linking grace with works, instead proposing that people can only obtain salvation through faith. They also emphasize that salvation comes by God’s grace alone and not through one’s works.”

With regards to “redemption,” in Christian theology, “objective atonement” proposes that Jesus Christ’s death changed God’s attitude towards man while “subjective atonement” proposes that his life and death became an example that moved people to change their attitudes towards God, resulting in redemption. Concretely speaking, it can be split into the following: 1. Ransom to Satan: believes that the death of Jesus Christ constituted the ransom that is paid to Satan to save people from the latter’s dominion; 2. Victory over Satan: believes that Jesus Christ defeated Satan by his Resurrection, causing Satan to lose his dominion over people, but yet not obtain a ransom; 3. Atonement: believes that people’s sin has offended God’s dignity, and God has to uphold the “justice” of punishing all offences. As Jesus Christ the Holy Son is innocent yet is put to death, this fulfills God’s requirement of justice, and thus people obtain redemption. After elaboration and supplementation, this theory became the principal theory maintained by Catholicism; 4. Moral Influence: believes that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of himself evidences God’s holy love and is an exemplar for people, moving the people to repent and turn to God, emphasizing that it is not God but people who changed in attitude. Generally speaking, the former three belong to “objective atonement” while the last belong to “subjective atonement.”

See Dezhi Duan, Introduction to Religion (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2005), 101-2.


Communion,51 the ritual, the bread, and the wine itself does not alter and is still singular.

Another analogy is that of people having different interpretations of the War in Iraq that was initiated by US President George W. Bush, but the President initiating this war is singular. In comparison, the Buddhist religious method, i.e.,

“the Dharma gate to liberation”52 is plural.

It is said that there are eighty-four thousand methods of practice or methods of practice [that number] the sand of the Ganges53,54 in Buddhism.

Although this is not exactly true, it refers to an immense amount. Specific to Chinese Buddhism, Dharma gates to liberation55 can be broadly divided into five categories: Chan, Teachings, Pure Land, Esoteric, and Vinaya, which are then split into many finer subcategories. For example, within the Chan school there are Hīnayāna Chan and Mahāyāna Chan. Mahāyāna Chan is further split into 51. With regard to this, there are three different approaches Christian theology takes: the first being “transubstantiation,” believing that after consecration it has materially and symbolically transformed into Jesus Christ’s body and blood; the second is

“homoousion,” believing that after the consecration there is no material change, but Jesus Christ’s body and blood in actual form must necessarily coexist in the Holy Communion; the third is “symbolic presence,” believing that after consecration it is merely symbolic, and serves to commemorate Jesus Christ’s last supper and his sacrificing his blood for people’s redemption, stressing that there is no secret significance. Some Protestants approve of the last theory. See Dezhi Duan, Introduction to Religion (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2005), 104.

52. 「解脫法門」-Ed.

53. 「八萬四千法門」或「恆沙法門」-Ed.

54. 「八萬四千」是印度佛教中的一個常用術語,係指數量之多,並非實指八萬 四千。佛教認為,不但佛教的法門有八萬四千,眾生的煩惱也有八萬四千。

「恆沙」是「恆河沙數」之略,佛經中也常用它來表示數量之多,因為恆河(印 度的一條大河)中的沙,其數量當然是很多的。比如在《金剛經》的〈一體 同觀分〉中,佛問:「須菩提,於意云何? 如一恆河中所有沙,有如是等恆河,


55. 「解脫法門」-Ed.

Bread and wine in Christian Holy Communion have unique symbolism and significance.


Shenxiu’s Northern School of Chan and Huineng’s Southern School of Chan, of which the latter is again divided into the Chan of investigating the topic of inquiry, silent illumination meditation etc. In this manner, Chan methods are innumerable.56 Within the Teachings school, there is the Tiantai school’s Cessation and Contemplation, Huayan school’s Contemplation on the Realm of Reality, of which the former is split into Gradual, Indeterminate, and Complete Stopping and Seeing.57 In Pure Land, there is the goal of mindfulness of the buddhas to attain rebirth [in the Pure Land], but the recitation can be divided into four types: mindfulness of the buddhas through upholding the Buddha’s name, contemplation, contemplation of the image, and his actual form (i.e.the Dharmakāya). Rebirth in the Pure Land can also be divided into four types:

rebirth through right mindfulness, amidst hysteria, with indeterminate karma, and silent mindfulness.58

Among the esoteric practices, the Tibetan and Tang traditions differ.

Tibetan Buddhism is made up of different esoteric techniques such as tantra, 56. 比如智者大師的《釋禪波羅蜜次第法門》就收集了禪宗成立之前,在中國流行

的各種各樣的大小乘禪法,如世間禪、出世間禪;八背捨、十六特勝,琳琅 滿目,數不勝數。而宗密的《禪源諸詮集》(已佚,僅留其序即〈禪源諸詮 集都序〉)在談到禪的種類時亦說:「禪則有淺有深,階級殊等。謂帶異計 欣上厭下而修者,是外道禪;正信因果,亦以欣厭而修者,是凡夫禪;悟我 空偏真之理而修者,是小乘禪;悟我法二空所顯真理而修者,是大乘禪。若 頓悟自心,本來清淨,元無煩惱,無漏智性,本自具足,此心即佛,畢竟無異,


此是一切三昧根本。若能念念修習,自然漸得百千三昧。達摩門下,輾轉相 傳者,是此禪也。達摩未到,古來諸家所解,皆是前四禪八定。諸高僧修之,

皆得功用。」參見石峻等編:《中國佛教思想資料選編》第 2 卷第 3 冊,北京:

中華書局,1983 年 1 月,頁 423。《釋禪波羅蜜次第法門》和《禪源諸詮集》


57. 關於天台宗的「止觀」修習法門,不妨參見拙作:《無明即法性―天台宗 止觀思想研究》,北京:宗教文化出版社,2004 年 7 月,頁 83。天台宗祖庭 浙江天台山國清寺的現任方丈允觀法師曾對我說,天台宗的止觀有四種,除 了「漸次止觀」、「不定止觀」和「圓頓止觀」,還有「童蒙止觀」,這其

實是一種誤解, 因為「童蒙止觀」是智者大師所撰的介紹止觀修習方法的一


58. Fubao Ding, The Dictionary of Buddhist Terms (Vol. 1)(Shanghai: Shanghai Bookstore Publishing House, 1995), 798.


vajrayana sahajiyāna kalachakrayana. In the Vinaya, the precepts and rules are numerous, and practiced according to different sets that constitute different Dharma gates to liberation. The most commonly mentioned precepts and rules are the Five Precepts, the Eight Precepts, the Ten Precepts, and the precepts of full ordination, which number 250 for bhikṣus and 348 for bhikṣuṇīs—as many Buddhists are aware.

Not only are there different practices under the banners of the Chan, Teachings, Pure Land, Esoteric, and Vinaya schools, they can also merge into peripheral practices which are combinations of Chan-Teachings, Chan-Pureland, and Chan-Esoteric. For Example, the heart-of-mind method developed by the late (lay teacher) Yuanyin Laoren is a Chan-Esoteric Dharma gate to liberation.59

In the above explanation, I have made a simple comparison between Buddhism and Christianity through the three dimensions of religious founders, scriptures, and methods, and demonstrated Christianity’s monism and Buddhism’s pluralism.60 What then are the factors that led to Buddhism’s pluralistic approach?

I am of the personal opinion that it is Buddhism’s values of humanism.

3. Buddhism’s Humanism in the Context of Pluralism

What is humanism? The Foreign Philosophy Dictionary explains humanism as:

A term widely used by Chinese academia since the 1980s. It is generally used in contrast with “scientism,” and refers to certain 59. Yuanyin Laoren, Ganges Mahamudra ( 恆河大手印 ) (Sichuan: Religious Cultural

and Economic Exchange and Service Center( 宗 教 文 化 經 濟 交 流 服 務 中 心 ), 1999).

60. 我想,綜合地來看,佛教的多元性在中國文化的語境中得到了最淋漓盡致的 發揮,比如「賈島的詩作與他的苦吟精神,在唐末五代很有影響。如晚唐的 李洞『常持數珠念賈島佛,一日千遍。』有喜歡賈島詩的人,李洞抄錄了送 給他,『叮嚀再四曰:此無異佛經,歸焚香拜之。』又如南唐孫晟,也畫了

賈島的像掛在壁上,朝夕禮拜。⋯⋯ 賈島被有些人稱為『佛』,是符合人人



《寒山寺》佛教雙月刊第4 期,蘇州:寒山寺,2005 年,頁 46。


Western philosophical theories, doctrines or schools. Sometimes it is used to refer to philosophies which are human- based, targeted at humans, or hold humans as the core for its values. Chinese academic interpretation of renben zhuyi (lit. human-based-ism is varied, with attributions to humanism (rendao zhuyi or renwen zhuyi), anthropology (renlei xue), or homonology (renxue).61,62

Humanism as a term is used by Chinese scholars to translate and introduce Western academic thought to refer to a Western philosophical theory, a doctrine, or a school. Its use is quite broad, as long as philosophies are human-based, targeted at humans, or hold humans as its core value, it can be said to be humanistic. For example, a consensus in Chinese academia is that Ludwig Feuerbach’s philosophy is humanistic philosophy, Abraham Maslow’s psychology is humanistic psychology, Erich Fromm’s ethics is humanistic ethics, Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s materialism is humanistic materialism (his work was translated as Humanism in Philosophy63), F.C.S. Schiller’s pragmatism is humanistic pragmatism (his work was translated as Research in Humanism64) and many more, which I cannot mention in full here. More recently, there are 61. 二十世紀八 ○ 年代以來中國學術廣泛使用的術語。一般在與「科學主義」

相對的意義上使用。指某些西方哲學理論、 學說或流派。有時亦泛指一種

以人為本、以人為目的和以人為尺度的思潮。中國學術界對漢語「人本主 義」一詞的英文註釋不盡一致,有的註humanism(一般譯「人道主義」)或 Humanism(一般譯「人文主義」),有的註 anthropology(一般譯「人類學」、


62. Feng Qi and Xu Xiaotong, ed., Foreign Philosophy Dictionary (Shanghai: Shanghai Cishu Publishing House, 2000), 10.

63. 《哲學中的人本主義》-Ed.

64. 《人本主義研究》-Ed.

A philosophical stance that emphasizes

“human beings as its core value, focus, and purpose,” is termed “humanism.”


even scholars who have linked Confucian philosophy with humanism in order to compare Confucianism and Christianity. For example, Sun Jiabao wrote:

In the Confucian system, humans are the focus and measure for thought, philosophy is humanistic, and the “discourse on humans”

that is built upon such a foundation must necessarily be strongly flavored with the character of humanism; Christian thinking focuses and measures God instead of humans. Christianity takes the lead from God, viewing problems through revelations from God, and therefore unavoidably branding everything with his mark.65,66

As we see, humanism does not refer to any particular theory or school of thought, but is a broad category that encompasses all these factors. Many of these ideas are located within this spectrum—including Buddhism, which also has its own humanismistic principles,67 that are found in the Buddha’s teaching of different dharmas to different people. This can be said to be truly based on the

65. 在儒學系統中,人是思考的中心和尺度,哲學是人本主義哲學, 在此基礎上

發展出來的「人論」,必然要呈現出強烈 的人本主義特徵;基督教思考的中

心和尺度不是人而是神,人站在神的角度,透過上帝的啟示看問題,難免要 打上神的烙印。-Ed.

66. Sun Jiabao, “Comparative Research between the Discourse on Humans in the Si- Meng School of Confucianism and Christianity ( 思孟儒學與基督宗教「人論」的 比較研究),” in Shandong University Master’s Dissertations ( 山東大學碩士論文 ) (Jinan, Shandong University Press, 2005), 2.

67. 將佛教與「人本主義」連繫起來,當然不是我的首創,比如有人認為「佛學 是人學,是心學,是關於人生智慧的哲學。人生在世,有許多疑問和困惑,

會給人帶來許多痛苦和煩惱,如何活得更快樂、更充實、更安心,在人自身 能力感到無所企及的時候,往往會想要借助於神的啟迪和保佑。但是佛教說 人人心中都有一個佛,不需要求神拜佛,要求就求你自己―就是通過參悟,

啟發智慧,感悟生命,不斷尋找更高層次的生存智慧和力量,開發、實現自 己心中的潛能。這其實和心理學中的第三勢力―人本主義的主張是不謀而

合的。」(參見天心月圓:〈《金剛經》中的人生智 慧〉,《寒山寺》佛教


並不是從同一個角度來立論的,其中的區別只要閱讀下文便知,無須在此多 加解釋。


human individual, and is in accordance with “teachings are given in response to the individual’s capacity and medicine prescribed according to the specific ailment.”68,69 Here, “capacity” refers to the fundamental ability of sentient beings and “ailment” to defilements, both of which vary between individuals.

“Teachings” refers to Buddhist philosophy and “medicine” to the practice which can eliminate defilements. The Buddha gave different teachings and medicine according to the corresponding capacities and illnesses of individual people.

As such, the very large collection of Buddhist philosophy and the multitude of practices all meet the humanistic conditions of being “human-based, targeted at humans, and holding humans as its core value.” Therefore, Buddhism is also humanistic. Mr. Zhang Taiyan once said: “The theory of Buddhism compels the wise to believe in it, and its precepts and rules compels the foolish likewise.

Being suited for both the wise and foolish, it is the most useful.”70,71 This quote figuratively and appropriately expresses the humanistic character of Buddhism, i.e. Buddhism encompasses many facets of the Dharma suited to people of varying capacities.

Buddhism’s humanism is developed in the context of pluralism.

Alternatively, it can be said that Buddhism’s pluralism is entirely built upon an emphasis on humanism. We are all aware that humans are pluralistic, people differ in their capacities, wisdom, character, erudition, and daily habits.

They also differ in their defilements, levels of delusion, and awareness, and furthermore, differ in the temporal and cultural environment they are in;

even age and gender are areas that constitute differences. At the same time, Buddhists differ in their identity—having a unique position within the sevenfold assembly—such as being a member of the laity (upāsaka and upāsikā), or the

68. 「觀機設教,對症發藥」-Ed.

69. Shandong Buddhist Online Scriptural Press, Essential Compilation of Venerable Yinguang’s Works ( 印光法師文鈔精編 ) (Shan- dong Buddhist Online Scriptural Press, 2005), 20.

70. 「佛教的理論,使上智人不能不信;佛教的戒律,使下愚者不能不信。通徹 上下,這是最可用的。」-Ed.

71. Famous Personalities in China and Abroad Speaks on Buddhism” ( 中外名人談佛教) in Chan (Issue 1) (Henan: Bailin Temple, 2005), 48.


monastics (bhikṣu, bhikṣuṇī, śrāmaṇera, śrāmaṇeri, and śikṣamāṇā). Because Buddhism is capable of providing different paths to liberation for different people, the teaching of the Dharma must necessarily have a pluralistic structure.

Speaking plainly, considering the Buddhist practices of precepts and rules, each member of the sevenfold assembly is required to adopt different practices within this structure. The laity are required to observe the five precepts, the śrāmaṇeras and śrāmaṇeris the ten precepts, the śikṣamāṇās observe the six precepts in addition to the ten precepts, while bhikṣus observe 250 precepts and bhikṣuṇīs 348 precepts.72 Buddhist precepts and rules are most obviously evident in the humanistic plural structure of the Dharma. However, the most systematic expression of this structure is Chinese Buddhism’s theory of the classification of teachings.73

In Chinese Buddhism, there are many ways of classifying the teachings, with different schools having their own individual methods. According to Zhiyi in the tenth fascicle of the Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sūtra,74 in the Northern and Southern dynasties before the formation of Chinese Buddhist schools, there already existed “three [systems] in the south, seven in the north”

in terms of the classification of teachings.75 They all differ in content, but their 72. With regards to the details of the sevenfold assembly and the precepts and rules they observe, please see Weiqun Yao, Introduction to Buddhist Studies (Beijing:

Religious Culture Publishing House, 2002), 219-23.

73. 印度佛教中並沒有判教理論,藏傳佛教中的寧瑪派雖然有「九乘判法」的判 教理論,但這種判教理論是模仿漢地佛教(亦即中國佛教)的結果。唐代的 摩訶衍禪師將漢地禪宗南宗的禪法傳入西藏,其中也包括判教的思想。寧瑪 派吸收了摩訶衍禪師所傳的禪法,並將佛之教法判為「九乘」,其中最高的 一乘是所謂「大圓滿法」,這「大圓滿法」實際上就是禪宗南宗禪法的一個 翻版。中央民族大學宗教系的班班多杰教授,2005 年 11 月 17 日在山東大學 作了一場題為「西藏文化與西藏佛教」的演講,其中就談到了上述觀點。筆 者親聆聽講。

74. 《法華玄義》-Ed.

75. 所謂「南三」,是指出現於南方的三種判教方式,即虎丘山岌師之「五教」判、

宗愛師之「四時教」判、定林柔次道 場惠觀之「五時教」判;所謂「北七」,

是指出現於北方的七種判教方式,即北地師之「五時教」判、菩提流支三藏 之「二教」判、佛馱光統之「四宗」判、有師之「五宗」判、老闍凜師之「六 宗」判、北地禪師之「二大乘教」判、北地禪師的「一音教」判。


approach and position are surprisingly similar—they all rank and group the innumerable and varied mass of teachings in the Buddhist scriptures into an ordered list. They further point out that these Buddhist teachings (though of differing ranks and categories) and perhaps even quite contradictory on the surface, are spoken by the Buddha for different sentient beings facing varying circumstances. Therefore, all of these teachings are humanistic teachings directed towards the human individual. Because there are many differences between people, and sometimes even contradictions are apparent, the Buddha’s teachings are accordingly different and at times seem contradictory—this is a very natural outcome. In summary, the theory of the classification of teachings in Chinese Buddhism is an indication that humans are plural, and the Buddhist teachings should also be plural. Below I discuss the Tiantai classification of teachings to better illustrate this point.

Humans are pluralistic, so are the teachings of the Buddha.


Tiantai classifies teachings as the “five periods and eight teachings,”76 of which the five periods refer to the Avataṃsaka teaching, the Deer Park teaching, extended teachings, Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra period, and Lotus Sūtra and Nirvāṇa Sūtra periods, while the eight teachings are split into the four modes of exposition: sudden, gradual, secret, and indefinite teachings, and the four types of transformative teachings: Tripiṭaka, common, separate, and perfect teachings.

As for their exact details, many scholars who study and write on Tiantai and even general works concerning Chinese Buddhist history discuss these teachings, readers are therefore advised to consult these materials.77 Internally within the Tiantai school, there is the practice of aligning the five periods and the eight teachings to the four types of transformative teaching—Tripiṭaka, common, separate, and perfect teachings. Master Jingquan, a 44th generation Dharma descendent of the Tiantai school, spoke on this in An Outline of the Essentials of the Tiantai School78 accordingly:

The five periods is a vertical categorization of separating teachings of a whole lifetime into five periods. The eight teachings is a horizontal categorization of separating the teachings of a whole lifetime into eight types of doctrines, and within them...although the four modes of exposition are known as teachings, they are contained within the Tripiṭaka, common, separate and perfect teachings. The four modes of exposition are akin to prescriptions while the four types of transformative teaching are like medical herbs. The prescription is but a piece of paper. The reason it can cure ailments is because of the

76. 「五時八教」-Ed.

77. Here are a few related works for reference. 1. Pan Guiming, A Critical Biography of Zhiyi (Nanjing: Nanjing University Press, 1996); 2. Pan Guiming and Wu Zhongwei, A General History of the Chinese Tiantai School (Nanjing: Phoenix Publishing House, 2001); 3. Venerable Huiyu’s Tiantai Jiao Xue Shi ( 天台教學史 )(this work circulates among Buddhists but have yet to be properly published).

78. 《天台宗綱要》-Ed.


various medical herbs prescribed.79,80

Precisely because of this, in An Outline of the Essentials of the Tiantai School81 Venerable Master Jingquan states, “Therefore [I] lucidly discuss the four types of transformative teaching while I skip over the four modes of exposition.”82 In reality, in the history of Tiantai school, there are two other publications which specifically discuss the classification of teachings in the four types of transformative teaching, one is Zhiyi’s Outline of the Tiantai Fourfold Teachings,83 and the other is Master Zhi Xu’s The Essence of Teaching and Meditation.84,85 Through the exposition on the four types of transformative teachings, these three titles clearly elucidate Buddhism’s humanistic plural teachings. As Master Jingquan states, the central ideology:

The four types of transformative teachings are the Tripiṭaka, common, separate, and perfect teachings. As sentient beings have both sharp or blunt intellects, and both heavy or light defilements, the Tathāgata with his altruistic wonderful Buddha-wisdom, skillful and expedient means separated the single Buddha vehicle into four

79. 五時是從豎的方面說,把一代時教,分為五個時期;八教是從橫的方面說,

把一代時教,分成八種教義,而八教中,……化儀四教,雖稱為教,其實它 內中所含有的義理,還是藏、通、別、圓四教。化儀四教,譬如藥方;而化 法四教,譬如藥味。藥方僅僅是一張紙,它之所以能有醫療疾病的作用,還 是在於種種藥味。-Ed.

80. Jingquan, An Outline of the Essentials of the Tiantai School (Shandong: Qingdao Zhanshan Temple, 1994), 11.

81. 《天台宗綱要》-Ed.

82. 「但明化法四教,化儀四教便略而不談」-Ed.

83. 《四教儀》-Ed.

84. 《教觀綱宗》-Ed.

85. There are also some commentaries on these two titles, such as Mengrun’s (Yuan dynasty) Anthology of Commentaries on the Outline of the Four Teachings, Venerable Jingxiu’s (early Republican era) Jiaoguan Gangzong Keshi ( 教觀綱宗科 釋).



As Master Zhi Xu puts it: “The Tathāgata with his altruistic wonderful Buddha- wisdom prescribes medicine for sentient beings’ ailments. If one’s views are mistaken views and thinking seriously deluded, he prescribes the Tripiṭaka teachings; if light in condition, he prescribes the common teachings;

if one’s ignorance is severe, then the separate teachings; if light then the perfect teachings.”88,89

The target audience for each of the four types of transformative teaching differs. The Tripiṭaka teachings are for those with low capabilities and common teachings for high capabilities within the three realms. The separate teachings are for those with low capabilities and the perfect teachings for high capabilities outside the three realms. Accordingly, there are differing jiaoguan90 for each of these, with jiao meaning Buddhist theory and guan meaning spiritual practice.91 The theoretical and practical foundations for each of the teachings are:

1. For the Tripiṭaka teachings, emptiness of non-existence or annihilation, and the meditative practice of analyzing objects to be empty of self- nature.

2. For the common teachings, emptiness of existence, and apprehension of the essential emptiness of existence.

3. For the separate teachings, emptiness of neither existence nor non- existence, and the graduated threefold insights.

86. 「化法四教,是藏、通、別、圓。因為眾生的智慧有利鈍,煩惱有厚薄,所 以如來以利他妙智,善巧方便,於一佛 乘,開為四教。」-Ed.

87. Jingquan, An Outline of the Essentials of the Tiantai School (Shandong: Qingdao Zhanshan Temple, 1994), 11.

88. 「如來利他妙智,因眾生病而設藥也。見思病重,為說三藏教(亦即藏教);


89. Jingxiu, Jiaoguan Gangzong Keshi ( 教 觀 綱 宗 科 釋 )(Fujian: Putian Guanghua Temple, 2005), 37.

90. 「教觀」-Ed.

91. The Tiantai school’s method of practice is termed zhiguan (cessation and contemplation) or guanxin (mind contemplation), which is also abbreviated to guan (contemplation).


4. For the perfect teachings, emptiness of simultaneous existence and non- existence, and the three insights in one thought.

Furthermore, according to the above theories and practices, the four types of transformative teachings often explain a single Buddhist concept differently.

Taking the Four Noble Truths as an example, the teachings respectively speak of the Four Noble Truths as arising-and-perishing, non-arising, immeasurable, and unconstructed.

Another example:

The term nirvāṇa can be explained as the extinguishing of birth, aging, illness, and death (Tripiṭaka teachings). The term saṃsāra is essentially empty in nature and that there is no suffering (common teachings). The term transcending the two sides of saṃsāra and the end of saṃsāra (separate teachings). The term saṃsāra is nirvāṇa, and vice versa, are both inconceivable in nature (perfect teachings).

Another example concerns the Buddha’s body, that it is of a height measuring one zhang and six chi (Tripiṭaka teachings). The Buddha’s body is like Mount Sumeru (common teachings). The Buddha’s body has immeasurable positive marks (separate teachings). The Buddha’s body is equal to the true dharma realm (perfect teachings).92,93

Other concepts such as the six perfections, two truths, and the twelve causes and conditions are also differently explained by each of the four types of transformative teachings. I will not go into further detail of these ideas here.

In conclusion, the different Buddhist theories and spiritual practices, with

92. 「如說『涅槃』二字,便可作幾種解釋。可以說,滅除生、老、病、死,一 切都盡,名為涅槃(藏教);也可以說, 生死本空,本來無苦,名為涅槃(通 教);也可以說:生死是一邊,生死滅盡是一邊,超出二邊,名為涅槃(別教);

也可以說:生死就是涅槃,涅槃就是生死,生死不可思議,涅槃也不可思議(圓 教)。又如說:佛身長丈六(藏教);也有說,佛身如須彌山(通教);也有說:


93. Jingquan, An Outline of the Essentials of the Tiantai School (Shandong: Qingdao Zhanshan Temple, 1994), 11.


their different explanations of similar concepts constitute the different teaching systems for sentient beings, i.e. the four types of transformative teachings.

Readers may not fully comprehend the four types of transformative teachings, but this is not an obstacle to understanding the pluralism of the Dharma. As for the exact significance of this understanding, I regret that I am unable to touch on it here as it is unrelated to the central discussion of this paper.

For those interested in this information, please refer to the three documents mentioned above.

When examining the pluralistic structure of Buddhist humanism through the four types of transformative teachings, parallels are evident. For example, the Buddha gave different teachings to different people, and they are all equal and parallel to one another, and no disparities are apparent where one can be said to be better than the other. However, the Chinese Buddhist perspective is that such parallel relationships are only one of the modes evident in Buddhism’s humanistic plural structure, and another mode is one that disparities are also evident.

4. Disparities in Buddhism’s Humanistic Plural Structure These disparities come in the following three forms.

4.1 The “Good and Best” Disparity The Pure Land school in Chinese Buddhism believes the all Buddhist practices can aid one’s liberation; they are all good, but the best and most effective is considered to be Pure Land. Master Yinguang, the school’s 13th Patriarch expressed this here:

Sentient beings have both strong and weak capabilities, and both strong and weak ignorance. They should [all be taught] according to their capabilities

and circumstances, so that they may Master Yinguang, 13th Patriarch of the Pure Land school in China.


benefit. The practices which can be taught are vast like sand grains in the Ganges.94 Among these, Pure Land practice is the most perfect, sudden, wonderful, profound, and easiest to practice. This practice achieves the most results and requires the least exertion, yet brings the quickest results, can be applied to the three grades of wholesome roots, encompasses all dharmas, can be simultaneously practiced by both the saintly and the mortal, and can benefit those with strong or weak capabilities. All this can only be achieved through the excellent Pure Land practice.95

At the same time, Master Yinguang believes that of all the practices, Pure Land can encompass all practices:

Pure Land practice is great and no one is excluded from it. It can be applied to the three grades of wholesome roots, and for those people with both strong and weak capacities…all practices have its source in this dharma realm; all practices eventually return to this dharma realm…The enlightened Buddha took pity on all sentient beings…spoke the Dharma in accordance with capabilities and circumstances. In summary, there are five schools. Which five? The Vinaya, Teachings, Chan, Esoteric, and Pure Land schools. The Pure Land school is the final destination for the Vinaya, Teachings, Chan, and Esoteric, just as all the rivers and waterways return to the sea. Pure Land practice is the alpha and omega for all buddhas in the ten directions past, present, and future in their accomplishing of

94. 眾生根有大小,迷有淺深。各隨機宜,令彼得益。所說法門,浩若恆沙。就 中求其至圓至頓,最妙最玄,下手易而成就高,用力少而得效速,普被三根,

統攝諸法,上聖與下凡共修,大機與小根同受者,無如淨土法門之殊勝超絕 也。-Ed.

95. Shandong Buddhist Online Scriptural Press, Essential Compilation of Venerable Yinguang’s Works ( 印光法師文鈔精編 ) (Shan- dong Buddhist Online Scriptural Press, 2005), 1.


enlightenment and teaching of sentient beings.96,97

Master Yinguang does not deny that practices other than that of the Pure Land school are also paths to liberation, as taught by the Buddha for sentient beings in accordance with their capabilities and the circumstances. However, he thought most highly of Pure Land practice and felt that it was superior to or better than the other practices.

In short, whether we take the view of Master Yinguang on the Pure Land school that the excellence of Pure Land practice surpasses other schools without excluding them, among the Pure Land practitioners, there is this widely circulated metaphor that explains the great excellence of this practice: Sentient beings are like a small insects trapped in the bottom of a bamboo tube, their liberation is like coming out of it. There are two methods available to escape the bamboo tube. One is the horizontal method, to break out by boring through its stem wall. The other method is the vertical method by boring through the bamboo joints upwards and finally exiting through the top of the plant. We may ask: Which way is less strenuous and better? Obviously going horizontally is the easier way. Pure Land practitioners would then say, pleased with themselves, that Pure Land practice is the horizontal way out, while the other methods are the vertical one.

4.2 The “Expedient and Ultimate” Disparity

The Lotus Sūtra teaches a path to liberation which is “expedient and ultimate.” “Ultimate” here refers to enlightenment, while “expedient” to enlightenment’s many supporting conditions. Expedient means themselves cannot lead to enlightenment, but neither can ultimate practices. Only by

96. 淨土法門,其大無外。三根普被,利鈍全收。…… 一切法門,無不從此法界 流。一切行門,無不還歸此法界。……大覺世尊,湣諸眾生,……隨順機宜,

廣說諸法。括舉大綱,凡有五宗。五宗為何?曰律,曰教,曰禪,曰密,曰 淨。……淨為律、教、禪、密之歸宿,如百川萬流,悉歸大海,以淨土法門,


97. Jingquan, An Outline of the Essentials of the Tiantai School (Shandong: Qingdao Zhanshan Temple, 1994), 2-5.


practicing the expedient means to open the door to ultimate practices can enlightenment eventually be achieved, which is what the Lotus Sūtra calls “to unite three into one,”98 as mentioned in the following scriptural quotation:

The Buddha addressed Śāriputra, saying: “The Buddha Tathāgatas lead and inspire only bodhisattvas. All the acts of a buddha are always for one purpose. The buddhas manifest their wisdom and insight solely to inspire sentient beings to enlightenment. “O Śāriputra! A Tathāgata teaches sentient beings the Dharma only through the single buddha vehicle. There is no other, neither a second nor a third. “O Śāriputra! The true nature of all the buddhas of the ten directions is exactly like this…Having understood the various desires and deep-rooted inclinations of sentient beings, I teach the Dharma according to their capacities through the power of skillful means, using various explanations and illustrations. “O Śāriputra! I do this in order to cause them to attain the omniscience of the single buddha vehicle. “O Śāriputra! Since there is no second vehicle in the worlds of the ten directions, how could there be a third!…all the buddhas illuminate the three [vehicles] with the power of skillful means in order to teach the single buddha vehicle…The words of the Buddha Tathāgatas are never false. There are no other vehicles, only the single buddha vehicle.”99,100,101

98. 「會三歸一」-Ed.

99. 佛告舍利弗,諸佛如來,但教化菩薩,諸有所作,常為一事,唯以佛之知見

示悟眾生。舍利弗,如來但以一佛乘故, 為眾生說法,無有餘乘,若二若


隨其本性,以種種因緣、譬喻、言辭方便力而為說法。舍利弗,如此皆為得 一佛乘一切種智故。舍利弗,十方世界中尚無二乘,何況有三。……諸佛以 方便力,於一佛乘分別說三。……諸佛如來,言無虛妄,無有餘乘,唯一佛 乘。-Ed.

100. T. 262, 9: 7a29-7c09.

101. The Lotus Sūtra, trans. Tsugunari Kubo and Akira Yuyama (California: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2007), 31-2.


This quote is rather long, so we will summarize its main points. “To unite three into one”102 can also be said to be “to unite two into one,”103 of which the three refers to the three vehicles of the Śrāvakas, Pratyekabuddhas, and Bodhisattvas, the two refer to the Hīnayāna (which includes the Śrāvakas and Pratyekabuddhas vehicles) and Mahāyāna (i.e., the Bodhisattva vehicle) and one refers to the single Buddha vehicle.

As such, we can tell that “to unite two into one”104 is a generalization of “to unite three into one,”105 but these are in reality one and the same. We shall only discuss the latter one here.

The philosophy of “to unite three into one”106 holds that all buddhas liberate sentient beings through the single Buddha vehicle: “The buddhas 102. 「會三歸一」-Ed.

103. 「會二歸一」-Ed.

104. 「會二歸一」-Ed.

105. 「會三歸一」-Ed.

106. 「會三歸一」-Ed.

In the Lotus Sutra, Buddha uses three kinds of vehicles as metaphors for Śrāvakas, Pratyekabuddhas, and Bodhisattvas. Pictured are the south wall murals of Mogao Caves 98 and 61, depicting the “Parable of the Three Vehicles and the Burning House.”


manifest their wisdom and insight solely to inspire sentient beings towards enlightenment.”107,108 This single Buddha vehicle is the ultimate practice available to sentient beings so that they can become enlightened. As for the three vehicles that the buddhas teach at other times to other beings, this is an expedient means taught according to the varying capabilities of the sentient beings. Therefore, the buddhas need to teach the three vehicles “according to [sentient beings’] capacities.”109,110 If the buddhas were to insist on teaching the single Buddha vehicle only, then some sentient beings will not be able to be taught, thus “illuminat[ing] the three [vehicles]…in order to teach the single Buddha vehicle.”111,112 These three, or three vehicles, are the expedient means towards the ultimate practice.

In short, the Lotus Sūtra’s philosophy “to unite three into one”113 tells us that the practices related to one Buddha vehicle and the three vehicles may respectively manifest into many concrete practices, they are simultaneously hierarchical but are also (must be) mutually encompassing.

The practice of the one Buddha vehicle is both primary and ultimate, but does not reject the three vehicles, which are secondary and expedient. At the same time, the former is not said to be superior to the latter. Instead, the two complement each other to form a complete practice leading to liberation, and neither can function without the other.

Clearly, the practices of the one Buddha vehicle and three vehicles are not a parallel relationship, but neither is it a hierarchical one where one surpasses the other. It is a relationship where both are inclusive and encompassing.

107. 「唯以佛之知見,示悟眾生」 from the Lotus Sūtra.-Ed.

108. The Lotus Sūtra, trans. Tsugunari Kubo and Akira Yuyama (California: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2007), 31.

109. 「隨其本性」from the Lotus Sūtra.-Ed.

110. The Lotus Sūtra, trans. Tsugunari Kubo and Akira Yuyama (California: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2007), 31.

111. 「於一佛乘,分別說三」from the Lotus Sutra.-Ed.

112. The Lotus Sūtra, trans. Tsugunari Kubo and Akira Yuyama (California: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2007), 31.

113. 「會三歸一」-Ed.


With the Lotus Sūtra as its primary scripture, the Tiantai school’s practice of cessation and contemplation exemplifies the hierarchical expedient and ultimate relationship. For example, the school’s founder Zhiyi splits the practice of cessation and contemplation into ten stages in the introductory book to the practice, Shamatha- Vipashyana for Beginners:114 “Now I will briefly elucidate the ten stages to illustrate to the practitioner the vow and the steps required in the grades towards nirvāṇa in order to achieve supreme enlightenment.”115,116 This is known as the “ten steps of cessation and contemplation.” The ten steps of cessation and contemplation can be divided into the first five preliminaries and the latter five aspects of practice.117

The five preliminaries are:

1. Be provided with external conditions.

2. Renounce worldly desires.

3. Drive away obscuration that delude the mind.

4. Adjust the five duties.

5. Utilize expedient means.118 The five aspects of practice are:

1. Observe correct concentration.

2. Practice the roots of ethical behavior.

3. Be aware of [the different types of] māras (afflictions).

4. Heal illness.

114. 《童蒙止觀》-Ed.

115. 「今略明十意,以示初心行人登正道之階梯,入泥洹之等級」-Ed.

116. Li An, Editing and Explanations on the Treatise of Lesser Calming and Discernment (Beijing: Chung Hwa Book Co., 1997), 2.

117. 前五科和後『五門』-Ed.

118. Zhiyi, The Basic Principles of Calming (śamatha) and Insight (vipaśyanā) Meditation, trans.Venerable Zhenguan.

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