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Schools of Buddhism => Mahayana => East Asian Traditions => Topic started by: Will on March 15, 2014, 06:21:18 pm

Title: Fa-tsang (643-712) on 'Awakening of Faith'
Post by: Will on March 15, 2014, 06:21:18 pm
This translation by Vorenkamp came out in 2004.  Hakeda did translate the Awakening of Faith back in the 1960s.  He followed Fa-tsang's commentary when he added some notes.  But this is the entire Fa-tsang commentary, over 300 pages, with over 1000 notes, index & bibliography.  It is considered by many the most influential work in East Asian Buddhism.

It is pricey, so look for a used copy or one from a library (probably University one). (
Title: Re: Fa-tsang (643-712) on 'Awakening of Faith'
Post by: Dharmakara on March 17, 2014, 05:24:53 am
Born: 643 A.D., in Central Asia (Samarkand)
Died: 712 A.D.

Major Works:

An incredibly prolific writer, Fa-tsang produced more than sixty original works, commentaries on a wide variety of Buddhist texts, and meditation manuals, and participated in at least some of the Buddhist translation projects of his time. Much of his work centers on the exegesis of the Huayan Jing, which is sometimes referred to in Sanskrit as the Avatamsaka Sutra (also known as the Flower Garland Sutra, Flower Adornment Sutra, or Flower Ornament Sutra).

A complete list of his works would be impractical, but a few of the major works are:

Huayan Wujiao Zhang (Essay on the Five Teachings of the Hua-yen)
Huayan Yihai Baimen (The Hundred Gates to the Unfathomable Meaning of the Hua-yen)
Huayan Fa Putixin Zhang (Essay on the Arousal of the Bodhi Mind in the Hua-yen)
Qixinlun Yiji (Commentary on the Mahayana Awakening of Faith)

Major Ideas:

The world of reality is composed of interpenetrating events linked in causal relations. In this sense, everything is the cause and effect of everything else. This profundity can be described in terms of the "ten mysteries."

For this reason, "things" in the world are empty of self-being or self-definition, being produced out of the very Suchness of reality itself.

This emptiness is not negative, though, since the reality of empty things is, in fact, the only reality of which it is meaningful to speak.

The history and diversity of the Buddhist tradition can be classified according to five different types of teaching, each accommodating a different spiritual aptitude. All of these teachings can in turn be described as one of three "vehicles," which can themselves in some sense be described as aspects of the "one vehicle."


Fa-tsang is often regarded as the grand systematizer of a tradition of Chinese Buddhism known as the Hua-yen school, named after the Huayan Jing or "Flower Garland" Scripture (Skt. Avatamsaka Sutra). This school flourished during the so-called golden age of Chinese Buddhism, which culminated during the Tang Dynasty (617-907 AD). At that time, most of the Buddhist schools in China took as their basis one or another of the Buddhist scriptures, some authentic and some apocryphal. They did not ignore the other scriptures, but each seemed to regard a particular text as the highest expression of the Buddha's teaching. For example, the closest rival of the Hua-yen school, known as Tiantai, regarded the Lotus Scripture (Saddharma Pundarika Sutra) as the epitome of Buddhist teachings.

The message of the Hua-yen Scripture, as it is exposited by the tradition which bears its name, is primarily one of interpenetration and intercausality. The idea of a concrete Hua-yen tradition does not clearly emerge until after Fa-tsang's time, and is somewhat retrospective. However, subsequent commentators and devotees designated Fa-tsang as the Third Patriarch of the Hua-yen tradition, even though his systematization is perhaps the most sophisticated treatment of the Hua-yen view of the universe. He inherited a number of doctrines from his predecessors, most notably the idea of the "four-fold dharmadhatu," which constitutes in some sense the original formulation on which the whole tradition is based.

The term "dharmadhatu" (Skt.) refers to the realm of events which constitutes the omniverse. It extends in many dimensions of time and space, and is produced spontaneously and continuously through the interaction of all elements of existence. To speak of the "four-fold" dharmadhatu is to suggest that this omniverse can be seen from four different perspectives. These are:

1. The perspective of phenomena by themselves. This constitutes in some sense a tacit or naive acceptance of the world as it appears to be, namely, concrete, discrete, and more or less constant.

2. The perspective of the principle underlying those events, namely, the emptiness of self-definition or self-being. The emptiness of an essential nature of things in some sense constitutes their essential nature, paradoxical as this might sound.

3. The perspective of the interpenetration of principle and phenomena. The emptiness of things does not interfere with their reality, and in fact constitutes their reality. To be empty is to be real, since to be real is to be part of the web of causality. That is to say, things can be said to exist if and only if they participate in causal relations with all other things. If there were a thing which did not participate in such causal relations, it would have no effect whatsoever on anything, and thus could never be perceived or known, nor could it bring an end to suffering, which is the only meaningful goal of the Buddhist tradition.

4. The perspective of the interpenetration of phenomena with other phenomena. That is to say, since all things are in causal relations with other things, their being overlaps, so to speak, and it is then wrong to conceive of things as separate or discrete. In this sense reality itself can be described as "suchness" or "truly thus." This perspective is sometimes expressed in terms of the Jewelled Net of Indra. This image is of a gigantic net, stretching across the sky, with a multi-faceted jewel at each junction of the net. Each jewel, then, can be seen reflected in each other jewel. This is a rather holographic image, since each part is seen to contain the whole in some sense.

Fa-tsang was a favorite of the Empress Wu, because of his creativity in finding devices for vividly illustrating for her these abstract ideas, two of the most famous of which will now be described. The first of them is the hall of mirrors. Fa-tsang had constructed a room lined with mirrors on all sides and on the ceiling and floor. In the center of the room he placed a candle. Not only was the candle reflected in each of the mirrors, but also each mirror reflected each other mirror, as well as itself reflected in every other mirror. The effect was as if you stood between two mirrors and saw an infinite regress of images, each contained within the other.

The other of his most famous devices was the Chin shih-tzu chang (Essay on the Gold Lion). The lion seemed to have hair, claws, eyes, etc., but all of this was in fact the same substance, gold. This illustrates how the single unique suchness of reality can seem to be differentiated, even though this differentiation is actually nothing more than an superficial and uncritical distinction.

Fa-tsang characterized the Hua-yen view of the omniverse in terms of a heuristic device which he called the "Ten Mysteries," though some of them overlap. He based his list on previous versions produced by his predecessors, though his is different in various ways.

The Ten Mysteries are:

1. Simultaneous completion and mutual correspondence: that is to say, the general and the specific, or the principle and the event, coexist without obstruction.

2. Unimpeded freedom of all things in spatial inter-relatedness: this refers to large and small, finite and infinite, etc., and implies that any given thing is both large and small (etc.) at the same time, relative to other things.

3. Mutual compatibility and difference between the one and the many: in other words, something is part of a whole while simultaneously being an individual entity.

4. Mutual identification and self-sufficiency of all factors of existence: this refers to the fact that things operate on their own behalf as well as on behalf of the whole, without obstruction.

5. Mutual complementarity of the hidden and the manifest: this refers to an almost gestalt emphasis on the mutual necessity of figure and ground, or event and the background against which it stands out.

6. Mutual compatibility of all things without the slightest loss of individual identity: this refers to the fact that things do not lose their individuality even when considered to be part of a larger whole.

7. Indra's Net: this image has previously been described.

8. One must rely on phenomena to reveal the principle: that is, since the principle of emptiness and the phenomena which express this principle are non-obstructing, one can find the principle in any phenomena. In other words, a single blade of grass can provoke Enlightenment.

9. Distinct existence and mutual inclusion of separate factors of existence in time. That is to say that each and every factor of existence participates in every other one without loss of individuality.

10. Harmonious interchangeability of principle and phenomena: This refers to the fourfold dharmadhatu model discussed earlier.

These ten overlap, but offer various ways of understanding the interpenetration of phenomena with principle and with each other without obstruction. In some sense, this can be understood as the relation between a context and the elements which make up the context-the context depends on its elements just as the elements are meaningless outside of a context.

Fa-tsang's Classification of Doctrines:

When Buddhism entered China, it did so in an unsystematic and piecemeal fashion. As a result, the tradition was diverse to the point of confusion. It wasn't immediately clear why there were such differences between different Buddhist doctrines. The Chinese tradition made sense of this diversity by organizing the different teachings into various kinds of categories, based either on the temporal sequence of the teaching, or the sophistication of the teaching, or the method of the teaching, and so on. Fa-tsang's version of this classification, termed "panjiao" or "classification of doctrines," took the form of five different categories of teaching, based on their sophistication and varying accomodation to the limitations of sentient beings. His premise was that since humans differ in terms of talent for awakening, there must be different teachings to address these individual differences.

The five categories of Fa-tsang's classification are:

1. Hinayana: in the early Buddhist tradition, it was taught that the self did not exist, but that factors of existence were real.

2. Initial Mahayana: this includes the early teachings of emptiness as found in the Prajnaparamita literature and the Madhyamika tradition, as well as the early Yogacara tradition.

3. Final Mahayana: this includes traditions and texts, such as the Tathagatagarbha Sutra, the Lion's Roar of Queen Srimala, and the Mahayana Awakening of Faith, which speak of the "womb" or "embryo" of Buddhahood (tathagatagarbha) as the matrix from which the world arises.

4. Sudden Teaching of the One Vehicle: the term "sudden" here indicates that this teaching makes little or no accomodation for those who lack a special talent for Awakening. Later commentators included in this category the Ch'an tradition, which had not yet really established itself at the time of Fa-tsang and of which in itself eventually developed into Five Varieties of Zen.

5. Comprehensive Teaching of the One Vehicle: this category specifically refers to the Hua-yen tradition. Fa-tsang believes that the Hua-yen tradition is doctrinally superior to the other schools, which are merely provisional, and are incomplete, precisely they make at least some concessions to the limitations of sentient beings.

Fa-tsang's categorization is based on a heuristic though unconvincing historical model, in which the Hua-yen Sutra was the first Sutra preached by the Buddha while still within the throes of his Enlightenment. Thus it most closely represents the Enlightened view of the omniverse, without modification for the sake of clarity. According to this model, nobody understood a word of the sutra, so at that point the Buddha resorted to a series of teachings which took into consideration the limitations of sentient beings, with the intention of gradually leading them to overcome those limitations. Thus each subsequent teaching renders obsolete the previous ones, though they all continue to function so as to accomodate the greatest number of sentient beings.

Here is one important area in which the Hua-yen school differs from the Tiantai School. They both agree that the Huayan Jing was the first sutra preached by the Buddha while still in the glow of the Enlightenment experience, and that the Lotus Sutra was one of the last. But for the Tiantai School, this makes the Lotus the most valuable and important of the Sutras, since it is the most sophisticated and useful teaching in terms of accomplishing the awakening of sentient beings.

Fa-tsang's Lasting Influence:

Fa-tsang's insistence on finding an ontological ground for the operation and generation of the dharmadhatu has had a lasting effect on East Asian Buddhism. The priority he placed on the idea of the tathagatagarbha or "womb of Buddhahood" turned out to set the agenda for the subsequent development of the Mahayana tradition as found in China, Korea, and Japan. Even though the Hua-yen school eventually disappears as a separate tradition, its imprint can be found everywhere, especially in such traditions as Ch'an and eventually Japanese Zen. This search for an underlying ontological ground of the omniverse is, according to some scholars, entirely contrary to the traditional Indian Buddhist insistence that it makes no sense to speak of fundamental reality, and that in fact the search for such a bottom line is itself the disease that the Buddhist tradition is attempting to cure. Recently in Japan, a movement within the Buddhist scholastic communityhas emerged, calling itself "Critical Buddhism," which questions whether East Asian Buddhism can rightfully be called Buddhism at all, because of this apparent discrepancy.

Still, Fa-tsang apparently found it possible to reconcile this apparent discrepancy through appeal to the traditional concept of upaya (Ch. fangbian), or "skillful means," which refers to the diagnostic and pedagogical skill of the Enlightened master, which enables and justifies his use of whatever means are necessary to accomplish the awakening of sentient beings. As long as one does not take the formulation for the fact, one can use whatever teaching devices are at one's disposal to effect the necessary transformation.

With thanks to:

Alan Fox
Department of Philosophy
University of Delaware

Great Thinkers of the Eastern World
ed. by Ian P. McGreal
HarperCollins Publishers
Inc., 1995, pp. 99-103.
Title: Re: Fa-tsang (643-712) on 'Awakening of Faith'
Post by: Will on March 19, 2014, 08:46:52 am
Here is how Fa-tsang begins:

The True Mind that is serene and vast is separate from the words and
forms found in the fish nets and hare snares (of deluded conceptualization).
Abstrusely boundless, invisible and inaudible, it is neither the object of that
which knows nor the subject of that which is known. It is neither produced nor
destroyed and is not something affected by the four momentary states. Neither
coming nor going, none of the three time periods can change it. But, taking nonabiding
as its nature, it flows and branches, rising and falling in accord with (the
arising of) delusion and enlightenment. So, in dependence on causes and
conditions it does arise and is destroyed.

Nevertheless, though multitudes of phenomena repeatedly arise,
rousing and popping about, (such activity) has never yet moved the Mind’s Origin.

Still and quiet, empty yet formed it does not stand in opposition
to karmic results. So, utilizing an unchanging nature it nevertheless
dependently arises so that the pure and the impure are constantly differentiated.
Yet, in not abandoning conditions as Thusness, the sage and the common man
become one.

It is just like waves which because they are not different than the
water’s movement, are just the water differentiated into waves. Furthermore,
because the water itself is not different than the stream of flowing waves, it is just
the waves manifest on the water. Because of this, movement and quiescence
interpenetrate, the ultimate and the conventional interfuse, and samsara and
nirvana uniformly pervade one another.
Title: Re: Fa-tsang (643-712) on 'Awakening of Faith'
Post by: Will on March 24, 2014, 10:38:08 am
Part of what Fa-tsang writes on the profound meaning of Mahayana:

Furthermore, “great” (i.e., “Maha”) is the significance (of this awakening of faith in the Mahayana) . This means nothing more than the three great elements - the essence, characteristics, and function of Thusness.
“Yana” (i.e., “vehicle”, “to transport”) corresponds to the function of Thusness and means (realizing) the three stages of Buddha-nature which completely transport us (to enlightenment.)

(The first of those three,) the Buddha-nature that abides as the nature of all, is that which is transported (“yana”) to enlightenment. (Second,) the Buddha-nature drawn forth through practice is that which can transport us there, and (third), the Buddha-nature acquired as a result is the place to which we are transported.

So, the essence and function of the three meanings (of the term Mahayana as Buddha-nature) are only the turning of the One Mind. For this reason (the term Mahayana) is both a “vehicle” and the “great” essence (of that vehicle).
Title: Re: Fa-tsang (643-712) on 'Awakening of Faith'
Post by: Namaste253 on June 28, 2015, 05:16:57 am
This is the closest I've seen the Buddha in traditional Buddhist literature described as what theists would call God:

I take refuge in the Buddha, the greatly Compassionate One, the Savior of the world, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, of most excellent deeds in all the ten directions; And in the Dharma, the manifestation of his Essence, the Reality, the sea of Suchness, the boundless storehouse of excellencies; And in the Sangha, whose members truly devote themselves to the practice, May all sentient beings be made to discard their doubts, to cast aside their evil attachments, and to give rise to the correct faith in the Mahayana, that the lineage of the Buddhas may not be broken off.

It's interesting to note that this is the Buddha being described as an awakened man, rather than a Creator or judge.
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