It is generally held that the major differences between Tiantai and Huayan Buddhism were those between their respective arguments for “realism” (實相論) and “idealism” (唯心論) and between their empirical arguments for the delusory mind (妄心) and pure mind (真心) regarding the contemplative method. This article argues that such view oversimplifies both Tiantai and Huayan’s teachings. It further shows that this view was proposed by the Tiantai patriarch Jingxi Zhanran (711-782), and then amplified by the “mountain” (山家) branch of the Tiantai school in the Song dynasty. This view, in favor of the Tiantai school, is a misrepresentation of the relationship between the two schools of thought.
In my view, both Tiantai and Huayan emphasize the importance of mind: in Tiantai doctrine, one instance of mind embraces three thousands worlds (一念三千), and in Huayan, the entire dharma-realm is embedded in one mind (一心法界). These doctrines are similar in format and were originated from Huayan’s idealism. During the Tang dynasty, mutual doctrinal influences between the two schools increased in the process of interpreting the Dasheng qixinlun.
Zhanran agrees with the oneness of the dharma realm and mind, but rejects Xianshou Fazang’s (643-712) interpretation of the “one mind” in the Dasheng qixin lun as transcendent true mind in ontological sense. Zhanran agrees that a general theory of true mind is necessary for the establishment of the practice of mind contemplation, but he disapproves an ontologically true mind as a universal theoretical basis. In replacement of Fazang’s understanding of the Qixin lun that “the unconditioned suchness-mind conditions all phenomena,” Zhanran teaches a theory that “all phenomena are conditioned by Buddha-nature” based on the Nirvana Sutra. For Zhanran, the Buddha-nature means the potentiality of attaining Buddhahood endowed by all sentient beings of good and evil. Unlike the “suchness-mind,” Buddha-nature is not merely a transcendent ideal. Therefore, Zhanran claims that only this theory of Buddha-nature can actually realize perfection of both practice and ontology. In my view, however, Zhanran’s interpretation is an incomplete understanding of Hyayan Buddhism, because he seems to overlook the other possible interpretation of Huayan’s “true suchness-mind.”
This paper does not intend to understanding with Tiantai and Huayan Buddhism, rather, it intends a non-sectarian understanding of the debates between the two schools about the nature of the mind. It tries to show that the debates were the result of differences in the interpretation by the two schools of several key concepts found in the Dasheng qixin lun and Huayan jing.
Contemplating mind; mind only; true suchness mind; Dasheng qixin lun; Huayan jing