The Lotus Wisdom of Chih-I
Buddhistdoor Wong Weng Hon
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The scriptural commentaries are necessary to comprehend the abstruse teaching of Sakyamuni Buddha. When Sakyamuni Buddha preached the Dharma in India about 2,600 years ago, he always espoused the profound Dharma in brief. Some of his fully ordained disciples, the monks and nuns, could not grasp the waking Essence of the Dharma. The reason is that it was too brief and too abstruse. Therefore, the disciples sought the exegetical explanations from the immediate, foremost Buddha’s eminent disciples to elucidate in detail what had been preached in brief by the Exalted Master. The eminent Buddha’s disciples who acted as the early Dharma commentators were Kaccayana, Sariputta, Purna, Subhuti and Aniruddha. Kaccayana was foremost in his eloquent commentarial talent to interpret what the Blessed One preached. This represented the early Buddhist culture of oral scriptural commentaries that commenced during the time of Dharma ministry of Sakyamuni Buddha.
The modern day Asian Chinese Buddhists rely heavily on the treatises (sastras) of Indian Buddhist philosophers, such as Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Asanga and other Chinese Dharma or Chan Masters to comprehend quintessence of the Mahayana Buddhism. The Asian Chinese Buddhists are able to read the works of the spiritually insightful works of these great Indian Mahayana Buddhist philosophers because many of the Indian Buddhist treatises, which are useful commentaries to Mahayana Buddhism, had been translated into Chinese by the Indian, Central Asian and Chinese Buddhist savants. In addition, the Chinese also produced equally brilliant Buddhist savants or scholars of their own from the Tentai School, Pure Land School and the Chan Schools. They were equally adept at commenting in details what have been preached in brief by Sakyamuni Buddha. The Asian Mahayana Chinese read the Chinese versions of Mahayana scriptures and their commentarial literature translated from Indian Sanskrit sources. These Chinese versions of Mahayana scriptures and treatises contribute to what is called the Asian Chinese Buddhism. It is designated as Chinese Buddhism because its medium of preaching is Chinese language and its praxis of rituals, doctrines and practices conform to local Chinese culture of tradition, customs and norms of pagan Chinese values. Nevertheless whether it is Chinese, Indian or Japanese Buddhism, Buddhism in any Buddhist country in the East or in the West never drifts away from the authentic Essence of Dharma. Hence, Chinese Buddhism is Indian Buddhism. Indian Buddhism is either Pali or Sanskrit Buddhism. Pali or Sanskrit Buddhism is the authentic Word of Sakyamuni Buddha. Chinese Buddhism like Japanese Buddhism is universal Buddhism.
One the best and brightest Buddhist scholars ever produced in mainland China is Chi-I (538-597C.E). Chi-I was the founder of Chinese Tian Tai School of Buddhism in Mount Tian Tai. Today, Tian Thai School is not confined only in mainland China. It has been propagated and established to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and South-East Asian Mahayana Buddhist communities. The Tian Tai School of Buddhist Thought is pivoted upon the One-vehicle (Ekayana) thought of Lotus Sutra of discovering, experiencing and cherishing Buddha-Nature (Tathatagagarbha). Chih-I was a brilliant commentator on the Lotus Sutra of One-Vehicle thought. The One vehicle thought is the perennial wisdom of perfect enlightenment to attain Buddhahood. Buddhahood is none other than the self-realization of Non-dual infinite unitive consciousness of Oneness of Being. Oneness of Being is the perennial wisdom underlying all world’s major religions.
I exuberantly discover that Lotus Sutra’s revelation of One Vehicle is One Truth of non-dual Reality of Buddha vehicle. The Lotus Sutra unifies all the various schools of Buddhist Thought. Most significantly, it indirectly unifies all the world’s major religions in terms of the one and only non-dual Reality of Oneness of Being. In Buddhism, the Oneness of Being is the Unity of life of Non-duality. This Unity of life is the Monotheistic concept of one God only (Monotheism). It is the nexus of necessary interconnectedness of all things (Avatmasaka Sutra: Dharmadhatu-pratityasamutpada). From the perspective of perennial wisdom of process Reality, Buddhism can be reconciled with Monotheism. The Monotheism that can be reconciled with Buddhism is not Pantheism nor Classical Theism. Buddhism can be reconciled with only Parenthesim in which the main connecting thread is Non-dualism. Parentheism is more generally acceptable God concept today. Parentheism is perennial wisdom of Process Reality. Parentheism bridges all world’s major religions.
In Non-dualism, the Nagarjuna’s Madhaymika Thought of the Buddhist Theory of Double Truth (Satyadvayavada) is consistent with Sufi Theory of Shahadah. Chih-I was a grand commentator of the Lotus Sutra. Chih-I’s commentarial literature includes Fa Hua Xuan Yi ( Mystical Interpretations of Lotus Sutra), Miao Fa Lian Hua Jing Xuan Yi (Mystical Exposition of the Lotus Sutra) and Miao Fa Lian Hua Jing Wen Zhu (Commentary on The Lotus Sutra). The Lotus Sutra reveals that all the Buddha Discourses before the discourse of the Lotus Sutra are not the true Teaching of the Absolute Truth of Oneness. The true teaching is the One Buddha Vehicle of Non-duality. Non-duality is beyond senses and mind. It is intuitive beyond space and time. All the three vehicles of Sravakayana , Paccekabuddhayana and Bodhisattvayana are merely the relative truths of expedient means or provisions. They are the makeshifts leading to the One Buddha Vehicle promulgated in the Lotus Sutra. It is believed that concept of Buddha-Nature commenced with the espousal of Lotus Sutra. Buddha-nature is the enlightened consciousness of the cosmic Self of Non-dual Reality of Oneness. It paved the subsequent development of Chan School of Buddhism in China. It is being diffusely globally as Zen Buddhism today.
Chan or Zen Buddhism is equivalent to the religion of God that declares that only Monothesim is the one vehicle of Truth called God. Monotheism states that only God is Real and anything worldly is not real. This is compatible to the Chan or Zen teaching that only Non-duality is Real and duality is unreal. Parallelly, all other vehicles collectively called polytheism or belief in gods are unreal and illusive. This is the most significant common ground of interfaith dialogue and understanding. The Religion of the Buddha (Buddhism) and the religion of God (Monotheism) corroborate each other through the ultimate Reality of Non-duality. Non-duality is the perennial wisdom of Process Reality. The Buddha concept and God concept can be reconciled through the Process Theism of Parentheism. As Taoism is originally perennial wisdom, the Buddha or God is Tao concept of the life unity of yin and yang. This is mirrored from the deep enthusiasm of the Western scholars in their fervent research and espousal of Lotus Sutra and Tao Te Ching for a few decades hitherto.
Illuminated by Tian Tai School founded by Chih-I, the Chinese Tian Tai Buddhists are blessed by the insightful exposition of Chih-I on the Nagarjuna’s Madhyamika dialectic of three-fold Truth. The three-fold truth of the empirical world is rooted in the Theory of Two Truths (Satyadvayavada). In other words, the Tian Tai’s praxis of doctrine and practice help the Tian Tai Buddhist mystics reach the highest state of complete enlightenment. Tian Tai Buddhists reach complete Gnosis through the intuitive insight of the one-mind-in-three-fold- contemplation of the three-fold Truth. Chih-I’s commentary on the one-mind-in-three-fold- contemplation aids the understanding of the three-fold nature of the empirical world. The three-fold nature of the world is false-imagination world (parikalpita), the Emptiness-nature world (paratantra) and the Perfect-nature world (parinispanna). Significantly, a fully enlightened Buddhist will finally discover the Perfect-Nature world. Parallelly, a God knower will also discover the same Perfect-Nature world. The Perfect Nature is God. The Perfect-Nature World is the Unity of the many and the One. The unification of the many and the One is the unity of the paradoxes. The unity of paradoxes or unity of affirmation and negation is the prefect knowledge of Non-duality. Non-dual knowledge is designated by the Yogacara Philosopher, Vasubandhu as Parinispanna-svabhava (Perfect Nature of the world) .
I have discovered from Sufi philosophy of Iban Arabi and Rumi that the Sufi noble quest is Shahadah. Shahadah is Parinispanna-svabhava actually. Therefore, I perceive that Chih-I’s perennial wisdom of Satyadvayavada or Shahadah is equal to that of Mystics, such as Nagarjuna, Vasibandhu, Ibn Arabi, Rumi and Whitehead. It is the concrescence of Chinese Buddhism that the Indian Mahayana Buddhism has continued to be extant hitherto. The Chih-I’s perennial wisdom of Dharma should be credited for his rosy gift to the Chinese Mahayana movement throughout the world today. No modern day Chinese Mahayana Buddhists do not knowthe name of Saddharma-pundarika Sutra (Lotus Sutra). Chih-I expounded through his highly celebrated work of Mo He Zhi Guan (Great Concentration and Insight) to help us intuitively discern the three-fold nature of the world through tranquility-insight meditation thus :
Firstly all things are empty of inherent existence. Hence, they are illusive and unreal. Secondly, all things have a provisional reality (relative truth). They are all dependently co-arisen from contigent causes and conditions. Thirdly, all things are both absolutely unreal and provisionally real. The multiplicity is unreal and the Unity is Real. The world exists because of the Unity of the many and the One.
I have exuberanbtly discovered that this three-fold-Truth knowledge helps Buddhists transform their self to Non-self and gain complete enlightenment. Buddhist Gnosis is entrance into the door of Non-duality. The entrance into the house of Non-duality is dwelling in the Nirvana of Pure Land within. Parallelly, it helps the early Christians , the Sufis/Muslims and the Vedantin Hindus to gain communion with the God. The God is none other than the Kingdom of Heaven of Non-duality within and not without. Whether it is designated as Pure Land or Heaven, all liberated Buddhists and saved God believers dwell in the same non-dual Reality of Oneness of Being!
Unfortunately, modern Buddhists have marginized the central theme of One-Vehicle of Buddhahood to liberate themselves through the insightful discernment of the three-fold nature of the empirical world. Liberation is not just worldly renunciation through the escape from the cycle of transmigration. The real Buddhist liberation is not renunciation of the material world. Paradoxically, it is the positive affirmation of the mundane and an active ethical participation in the mundane world with altruism and compassion to help the society or the world to construct accomplishment, satisfaction and concrescence of the eternal now to get rid suffering in the very earthly life of here and now.
The learning of the Lotus Sutra is not to pray for the saving power of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva to liberate us from earthly stresses in adversity. The real saving power of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva is the perfection of wisdom of the ultimate Reality of Non-duality self-realized or self-discovered and cherished moment to moment by a sentient being. Non-duality is the full non-dual awareness that we are necessarily always interconnected as brothers and sisters in Oneness of harmony and wholeness. The Heart Sutra unveils to us that the greatest mantra is the perfection of wisdom (prajnaparamita) of Non-duality or Great Emptiness (Maha-sunyata). Non-dual awareness of great Emptiness produces a Great Being (Mahasattva) from the transmutation of self or ego into Non-self . The Non-self is the Essence of Buddha-Nature. The current world is direly and epicly troubled with turmoils because most of us have not returned to the authentic teaching of all Tathagatas and Prophets. All Tathagatas and Prophets teach Self and not self. Self is the Oneness of Non–dual Reality that all human beings are brothers and sisters in a single global village. The self is separation. We see so much separations among human beings because the illusive selves or egoes are released and the Self is imprisoned by duality. Every world’s religion trains us to redeem the Self – the Buddha-Nature or God in us. By getting rid of self-identity (svabhava) or other identity (parabhava). The knowledge of Monotheistic God also requires the vaporization of self-identity and other identity. To me, every Mahayana Sutra is commentary on the Bible, Quran, Tao Te Ching, the Great Learning and Upanisads or Bhagavad Gita. In fact, Mahayana scriptures are the complete exegesis of the Theravada Pali Nikayas. Lotus Sutra and Chi-I’s wisdom indirectly contribute to the esoteric unity of world’s major religions. Many Sages and Saints have similarly asserted since time immemorial hitherto.