Author Response to Jiang Tianren’s Review of Kukyō ichijō hōshōron to higashiajia bukkyō

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Author Response to Jiang Tianren’s Review of Kukyō ichijō hōshōron to higashiajia bukkyō

"This author's response is submitted on the invitation of the editor and posted on behalf of Li Zijie. --ed"



Li Zijie 子捷 (Jp. Ri Shisho)

Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at SOAS University of London

October 17th, 2021


    Professor Matsumoto Shirō 松本史朗, a teacher I studied under in Tokyo, quietly retired from Komazawa University in March 2020, without giving any valedictory lecture or speech (Jp. saishū kōgi 最終講義). He simply vacated his office and left the university, allowing most responses to his work to go without rejoinder, just like Vimalakīrti 維摩詰, who was also one of the main subjects of Professor Matsumoto’s research. It was, incidentally, around this time that my own monograph was published, and it is with my work and that of Professor Matsumoto that this small note is concerned.

    First, I must express my deep appreciation for Jiang Tianren, who reviewed my book, for the energy he has expended on providing a detailed review of a book that was one written in Japanese and on my teacher’s own research in his area. Some of his comments indicate the possible need to reconsider some research directions. The most important issue here relates to Professor Keng Ching 耿晴’s 2013 article, “Lun rulaizang sixiang zai jietuoxue shang de genben kunnan: Yi baoxing lun wei zhongxin de tantao 论如来藏思想在解脱学上的根本困难—以《宝性论》为中心的探讨.”[i] Although my research, including this monograph, benefited from Professor Keng’s dissertation, and I do credit it in my work, I was careless to omit this article. Furthermore, as it seems that my reviewer generally agrees with the arguments in this article, I will make a short, hopefully brief, response here, based upon Keng’s 2013 article and Jiang’s recent review.

    I do not, for various reasons, plan to defend Professor Matsumoto’s arguments here. I would like to make a brief response to Tianren’s disagreements, focusing on three key issues, dividing them into two sections in the following way.


Text of the Ratnagotravibhāga (RGV) from the perspective of Indian Buddhist Studies


1. The types of Gotra

>According to Matsumoto, all beings are said to have buddhadhātu, or synonymously tathāgatagarbha, as the monistic ontological locus. However, only some of them have the gotra required as the cause of/for awakening (bodhihetu), which is based on the locus. Even though they share the monistic locus of buddhadhātu or tathāgatagarbha, those who have no gotra can never achieve awakening, and are pejoratively named icchantika. …Following Matsumoto, Li believes that gotra is a different ontological entity from buddhadhātu or tathatā in Tathāgatagarbha thought. This idea constitutes the premise for a series of arguments in his book. (Jiang, p. 2)

>Therefore, we can ascertain the equality of “gotra = tathāgatagarbha = buddhadhātu” on that basis. In fact, RGV frequently suggests that gotra is identical with tathatā, dharmakāya, tathāgatagarbha, and buddhadhātu, which is demonstratively proved by Ching Keng’s comprehensive research on the pertinent passages in the text. (Jiang, p. 3–4)

>Noticeably, the gotra theory in RGV teaches only buddhagotra, which is very different from the gotra theory of Yogācāra school which teaches several kinds of gotra. Therefore, even if, for the sake of argument, Matsumoto and Li were successful in showing that the gotra theory in the Yogācārabhūmi is dhātuvāda, we should not assume a doctrinal coherence between the Tathāgatagarbha thought of RGV and Yogācāra thought of Yogācārabhūmi. (Jiang, p. 4)

    While I do understand this assertion by Jiang, but I cannot agree entirely with it. First, let us look at the following two passages from Keng:

    如此,则《宝性论》的解脱论必须奠基在其佛身论上,然而成功的佛身论又必须奠基在同一个佛法身在具有不同业力背景的众生中映现出不同的色身的理论。这里我们可以看出为何《宝性论》的架构逼使它必须要与唯识合流。(Keng, p. 163)

    从《宝性论》与瑜伽行派在术语上的重迭,可以推测在现今《宝性论》的成书时候,已经出现了与瑜伽行派分享主要概念的趋势。(Keng, p. 166)

    Here, Keng finds that the construction of the RGV itself enforces mixture and harmonization between the RGV and the Yogācāra school. Even at the moment when the RGV was compiled in India, certain terms and thoughts of the Yogācāra school were absorbed in the RGV. I deeply endorse this assertion by Keng. Similarly, as Keng also notes, according to Takasaki, Tathāgatagarbha thought was absorbed into the Yogācāra doctrinal system due to hermeneutic difficulty.[ii] To clarify the relationship between the RGV and some other significant sutras and treatises in Indian Buddhism, the reader could examine this figure, provided by Takasaki:[iii]


    I strongly believe, therefore, that the author of the RGV was aware of the theories of gotra in the Yogācārabhūmi (Chin. Yuqie shidi lun 瑜伽師地論), the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra (Chin. Da banniepan jing 大般涅槃經), and the Śrīmālādevī-sūtra(Chin. Shengman jing 勝鬘經). Thus, our discussion of gotra is complicated, as it inevitably involves some sorts of gotra, such as icchantika, agotra, buddhadhātu-viśuddhigotra, prakti-viśuddhigotra, and aniyatagotra. In my opinioin, it might be a little dangerous for us to simply conclude that gotra = tathāgatagarbha = buddhadhātu without carefully analysing certain unshowy but important details in the historical background. This issue needs to be probed further. It would be difficult to demonstrate definitively that the author of the RGV knew nothing of the theories of gotra in the Yogācārabhūmi, the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, and the Śrīmālādevī-sūtra.

    Conversely, if someone asserts that buddha-gotra = tathāgatagarbha = buddhadhātu, bodhisattva-gotra = tathāgatagarbha = buddhadhātu, or buddhadhātu-viśuddhigotra = tathāgatagarbha = buddhadhātu, I would support it. In other words, the Buddha gotra (Chin. 佛種姓 Fo zhongxing) and the Tathāgata gotra (Chin. Rulai zhongxing 如來種姓) are, as Jiang notes, identical with dharmakāya, tathāgatagarbha and buddhadhātu, in my view, at least in some cases. However, here again, this does not refer to all sentient beings, as asserted by Matsumoto.[iv]


2. Gotra and conditional dharma/unconditional dharma

> The idea of gotra that, according to Li and Matsumoto, must be distinctly differentiated from buddhadhātu is missing. The author contends that gotra should be a conditioned dharma, whereas buddhadhātu/tathatā is an unconditioned dharma. (Jiang, p. 2)

    This is a complex issue because sometimes we find some ambiguous treatments of the theme. Regarding this, please allow me to quote the following passage from Keng:

    笔者前面的讨论,暂时回避了存在于《宝性论》一个隐含的不一致之处。在《宝性论》I.28论证“一切众生有如来藏”那里,笔者论证在那里提出的三个理由——“法身”、“真如”、“佛种姓”——三者是同义语。然而在接下来的I.149-152的颂文中,《宝性论》却又指出“佛性(种姓)有二种,一者如地藏、二者如树果”以及“依二种佛性,得出三种身。依初譬喻故,知有初法身;依第二譬喻,知有二佛身”的主张。也就是说:在I.149-152那里,已经明确出现了想要将“佛种姓”概念扩充到同时包含无为法(如地下矿藏的种姓)与有为法(如从果生之树的种姓)的两个领域。特别是这里所谓的两种“种姓”的术语,明显与《瑜伽师地论萨地》开头的两种种姓密切相关,也就是后来玄奘翻译为“本性住种姓”与“习所成种姓”。(Keng, p. 166)

    Following Keng [2013], a small but important passage in the RGV itself divides gotra into two types. Furthermore, these two types of gotra(s) can generate (or derive) three types of dharmakāya(s) (Buddha body). This division indicates that the author of the RGV had already intended to enlarge the realm of gotra from unconditional dharma (Chin. Wuwei fa 無為法) to conditional dharma (Chin. Youwei fa 有為法). In addition, the two types of gotra(s) found in the RGV are clearly related to the two types of gotra in the Yogācārabhūmi. I deeply concur with this assertion in Keng [2013]. This amounts to further evidence that the author of the RGV was acquainted with the theories of gotra presented in the Yogācārabhūmi, the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, and the Śrīmālādevī-sūtra, as I argue above, in the first section of this response.

    I presented the following analysis on this topic in my monograph, as follows:[v]

        Gotra は「真如仏性」だけでなく、ただ「仏性」と翻訳されている場合もある。先行研究によれば、梵本とは違い、漢訳『宝性論』では仏性 (buddha-dhātu) と種性 (gotra) とはほとんど区別されていない。これについて、次の二例を見てみよう

gotraṃ tad dvividhaṃ jñeyaṃ nidhānaphalavṛkṣavat / anādiprakṛtisthaṃ ca samudānītam uttaram / buddhakāyatrayāvāptir asmād gotradvayān matā / (RG,71,18-72,6)[vi]

梵文和訳:種姓 (gotra)、それは二種類であり、宝蔵と果樹の如しと知るべきである。即ち、無始なる本性住のもの(種姓)と、優れた、〔修行によって〕開発されたものとである。この二種の種姓から、三種の仏身が得られる、と 知るべきである。


梵本には gotra (種姓) の語が明らかに見られるが、漢訳『宝性論』になると、「仏性」となっている。そのうえ、梵本に説かれる anādiprakṛtisthaṃ (無始なる本性住のもの) samudānītam uttaram (優れた、〔修行によって〕開発されたもの)とい二種の種姓 (gotradvaya) は、漢訳では「二種仏性」となっている

    Therefore, it could be dangerous to immediately conclude that gotra should absolutely be understood as unconditional dharma, even in the RGV itself. Instead, we must humbly confess that the author of the RGV, as Keng [2013] assumes, faced hermeneutic difficulties in his/her mind. These ambiguous elements even in the RGV itself heralded further additional problems in East Asian Buddhism when this treatise was translated into Chinese, and this is precisely the point I discuss in my monograph.


Influence of the RGV from the perspective of East Asian Buddhist Studies


3. East Asian Buddhists’ understanding of the Chinese renderings of Terms and Concepts

> Chapters 4-6 then investigate further how this Sinitic conception of BXL affected the construction of Buddhist metaphysics in East Asia down to the seventh century CE. (Jiang, p. 2)

>In my view, even in RGV itself, before the Chinese translation, the referents of those two terms are ontologically the same thing, even though they are different in a soteriological sense. (Jiang, p. 3)

    Please note the following quotations from respectively Sharf and Keng in particular.

        While probably correct from the perspective of those Indic original texts, I suppose that a crucial point exists. That is, from the perspective of a Chinese reader, in all these cases there is only one single term – the Chinese word.[viii]

    因此,《宝性论》的如来藏思想还是无法成功地联系无为法与有为法之间的鸿沟。后来在中国以《大乘起信论》为代表的思想虽然可以说跨越这个鸿沟,然而却是由于《起信论》放弃了无为法与有为法间绝对差异之前提。由此,我们可以说:站在无为法与有为法绝对差异的前提之下,两者间联系的困难在以《宝性论》为代表的印度如来藏思想的脉络下并没有获得完满的解决。(Keng, p. 167)

    Following these views, I consider that we should not only consider the original terms used by and intentions put forward by authors of surviving Sanskrit texts when studying the understanding and influence of a Buddhist text in East Asia. Instead, we should recall the fact that for the Chinese reader, there was only one single term in play, namely, the Chinese one before them in the text they had. Most East Asian monks and intellectuals in the pre-modern period could only read the classical Chinese renderings.

In this particular case, that is, of the RGV and the Jiujing yisheng baoxing lun 究竟一乘寶性論(BXL), its Chinese translation, most East Asian Buddhists did not recognise the existence of gotra (Chin. zhongxing 種姓), Buddha-gotra (Chin. fo zhongxing 佛種姓), or Tathāgata-gotra (Chin. rulai zhongxing 如來種姓). They merely knew foxing 佛性 (Buddha-nature) and zhenru foxing 真如佛性 (Suchness Buddha-nature), the terms that appear in the BXL.

This is extremely significant for all considerations of the history of Buddhist thought in East Asia. If we look at the discussion of foxing 佛性 during the Sui  and Tang  dynasties in China, such as Fabao’s 法寶 (627–705?) and Zongmi’s 宗密 (780–841) treatises, we find that in East Asia, a great number of monks and intellectuals had spontaneously regarded the foxing 佛性 and zhenru foxing 真如佛性 found in the BXL as the same term as the foxing 佛性 which is used in the Da banniepan jing 大般涅槃經 (Skt. Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra), as their Chinese renderings are the same. This is the most important issue and the main purpose of my study in this monograph, in which I also showed the close relationship between the BXL and the Dasheng qixin lun 大乘起信論 (The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana) to probe their mutual influence.

Exactly because of these complicated translations and interpretations linked to BXL, there is a nonnegligible gap between Indian and East Asian Buddhism here. Over half of the contents of this book focus on these topics in the framework of East Asian Buddhism. In Jiang’s review, however, the only comment on this subject is that “Chapters 4-6 then investigate further how this Sinitic conception of BXL affected the construction of Buddhist metaphysics in East Asia down to the seventh century CE.” (Jiang, p. 2) In fact, to the best of my knowledge, to date, very few scholars admit the importance and evident influence of the BXL in East Asian Buddhism.



    Finally, although the above points are given as a response, my purpose is not to refute Jiang but to take the opportunity to share some my understanding with the scholarly community. Again, I greatly appreciate Jiang’s cautious work, from which an outstanding book review has been provided, and thanks to which I have the opportunity to shed light on several core issues in the study of East Asian Buddhism and to clarify my ideas. Hopefully, my book, Jiang’s review, and my response can act as a valediction to Professor Matsumoto, my respected teacher. Indeed, much further research is needed to clarify the history of the thought of Buddha-nature in East Asian Buddhism. I look forward to more in-depth conversations with more scholars on these rich topics.



[i] Keng Ching耿晴, ‘Lun rulaizang sixiang zai jietuoxue shang de genben kunnan: Yi baoxing lun wei zhongxin de tantao 论如来藏思想在解脱学上的根本困难—以《宝性论》为中心的探讨,’ in Hanyu foxue pinglun 汉语佛学评论, Volume 3, 2013, pp. 139-69.

[ii] Takasaki Jikidō, A Study on the Ratnagotravibhāga (Uttaratantra), Being a Treatise on the Tathāgatagarbha Theory of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Roma: Serie Orientale, 1966, p. 60.

[iii] Takasaki Jikidō 高崎直道, Nyoraizō shisō no keisei 如来蔵思想の形成, Tokyo: Shunjū sha 春秋社, 1975.

[iv] Matsumoto Shirō 松本史朗, Bukkyō shisō ron 仏教思想論, Tokyo: Daizō shuppan 大蔵出版, Chapter 4, 2013.

[v] Li Zijie 子捷, Kukyō ichijō hōshōron to higashiajia bukkyō: Gonana seiki no nyoraizō, shinnyo, shushō no kenkyū 『究竟一乗宝性論』と東アジア仏教 ── 七世紀の如来蔵・真如・種姓説の研究, Tokyo: Kokusho kankōkai国書刊行会, February 2020, p. 266.

[vi] Ratnagotravibhāga, Edward Hamilton Johnston, Patna, The Bihar Research Society, 1950.

[vii] 勒那摩提訳『究竟一乗宝性論』、『大正蔵』31839a.

[viii] Cf. Robert Sharf’s perspective remarks on the role played by translations in Chinese Buddhism in Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism: A Reading of the Treasure Store Treatise, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press 2001, pp. 18-20. [ed. It is possible this quote comes from Stefano Zacchetti, "Mind the Hermeneutical Gap: A Terminological Issue in Kumārajīva’s Version of The Diamond Sutra" (2015).]