History of Buddhist Thought in the Twentieth Century:
Yinshun (1906-2005) in the Context of Chinese Buddhist Historiography
Dharma Drum College
Jinshan 20842, Taiwan
Yinshun 印順 (1906–2005) was the eminent scholar-monk
in twentieth-century Chinese Buddhism. This paper is about his
historiographical practice and tries to outline his position in Chinese
Buddhist historiography especially in reference to the Song dynasty
historian Zhipan 志磐 (thirteenth century). It tries to answer the
question in what ways Yinshun can be said to have modernized Buddhist
historiography for Chinese Buddhism.
of the sources of Buddhist activism is the ongoing collision of the
Buddhist tradition with so-called modernity. But exactly what
constitutes modernity is notoriously difficult to define. A large
number of ideas and phenomena have been identified as modern: science,
individualism, progress, rationalization, objectivism and universalism,
secularization and disenchantment of the world. The difficulty in
delineating the gestalt of
modernity is compounded by the fact that every age, indeed every
generation, is faced with its own array of phenomena that can be
described as modernus—present,
contemporary. Moreover, as is obvious to the student of Asian history,
many attempts to define modernity are deeply Eurocentric. Although
Buddhist activism has been linked variously to "Western" ideas like
Democracy, Science, or even Communism (2),
for most of the actors Western modernity was merely an inspiration, and
the problems it posed were almost always answered by taking recourse to
the own tradition. For its theoretical underpinning, Buddhist activism
always first draws on the set of possibilities of its own tradition as
an answer to the challenges posed by modernity. This was often done by
a shift of emphasis from the current mainstream ideology to older,
almost forgotten systems, like in case of the renaissance of
Weishi/Yogacaara thought in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries among Chinese Buddhists and New Confucians. In order to do
so, these actors had to have an idea about what ideas were available in
the histories of their traditions. This is why the writing of
intellectual history, though in itself not obviously a form of social
activism, played an important role in Buddhist activism.
following discussion of the changing practices and perceptions
within Chinese Buddhist historiography is centered on the scholar-monk
Yinshun 印順 (1906–2005), who in the twentieth century has
written more on the history of Buddhist thought than any of his
contemporaries within the Sangha, and who in 1973 was the first Chinese
Buddhist monk to obtain an (honorary) PhD degree (3).
As a student of Taixu 太虛 (1890–1947), a key figure in the
history of modern Chinese Buddhism, Yinshun was part of a larger
reorientation in the self-perception of Chinese Buddhists. This is
especially true for Taiwan, where his presentation of doctrinal
history, in spite of initial resistance, is now widely accepted as
orthodox and his works have been used as textbooks in universities and
Buddhist seminars alike. I have argued elsewhere that
Yinshun’s main contribution should be seen in his
contribution to Chinese Buddhist historiography rather than in his
essays on renjian fojiao人
間佛教 "Buddhism for the Human Realm." (4)
Considering Yinshun’s oeuvre as well as the institutions he
founded, there can be no doubt that his main interest lay with
intellectual and textual history. Regarding renjian
fojiao, Yinshun modifies the
ideas of his teacher Taixu only in very minor ways.
what way then is Yinshun part of twentieth-century modernity? What
are the continuities and differences that characterize
Yinshun’s interest in history? How far is his methodology
indebted to pre-modern Chinese Buddhist historiography, and where and
how does he modernize the practice of writing history? In the following
I contend that in the main his premises and methods are identical to
those of traditional Chinese Buddhist historiography. Nevertheless, for
Chinese Buddhism something new occurred in his writing, and a new way
of presenting the tradition had been found by looking towards the
larger, international context of scholarship. I propose that one
important influence from European scholarship—and this mainly
via Japan—that cannot be understood as a return to previous
modes of historiography is the
use of the academic monograph.
By adopting the genre of the academic monograph in his later writings,
the milieu of his truth-claims changes from that of religious essayism
into academic discourse. With this he has opened up new ground for
Chinese Buddhist historiography as written by Chinese Buddhists
Genres in Buddhist
historiography before Yinshun
order to contextualize the idea that Yinshun’s main
contribution to historiography was that of introducing a new genre into
the emic discourse, here is a short overview of the genres in use
before the twentieth century. Buddhist historiography in China starts
with the collections of hagio-biographies of eminent monks and nuns (5).
These were modeled after the Confucian liezhuan列
傳 (biography), a form first employed in the Shiji史
記 (Records of the Grand
We use the term "hagio-biography" because in contrast to their
relatively sober Confucian pendant, they include numerous legendary
events, though perhaps less so than the vitae
of saints in European Christian literature. The hagio-biographies are
presented in different categories, where next to translators (yijing譯
經) we find exegetes (yijie義
解), specialists in magical powers (shenyi神
異), vinaya specialists (minglü明
律), and others. (7)
the sixth century Confucian historiography was already firmly
established. Sima Qian司馬遷 (145–86 BCE) and Ban Gu班固
(32–92 CE) had started the cycle of imperial historiography,
where each dynasty compiled the official history zhengshi
正史 (official history) of the previous one. The zhengshi
and private historiography already offered a range of possible genres
for writing about the past. It was not accidental that Chinese
Buddhists at that time chose the liezhuan
as the main vehicle for their historiography. The other main
alternative—using annals modeled on the Chunqiu
春秋 (Spring and Autumn Annals),
in which events are arranged chronologically - was impractical for
several reasons. First, the calendric devices at the disposal of sixth
century Buddhists could not cope in practice with Buddhism outside
China proper. The mapping of events in India and Central Asia to the
Chinese calendar would have been too vague to be meaningful. In fact,
even within China, a proper consensus on the series of legitimate
dynasties, especially for the North, had not yet been formed, and there
must have been doubts about the ability to date events there after the
Han with confidence. Certainly for Indian—and in the sixth
century perhaps even for early Chinese—Buddhism there were
too few available records to have allowed Huijiao 慧皎 in the early sixth
century to write an annalistic account of the Buddhist past (8).
to hagio-biography, the history of the Buddhist texts themselves
became an important topic. Canon and canonization were among the most
successful devices of the Buddhist tradition that contributed to its
continuity in very diverse cultural surroundings. To handle the massive
number of Indian texts that were brought to China and translated in
different places, catalogs of Buddhist scriptures (jinglu
經錄) became an important tool. Beyond a list of titles, the catalogs
contained information regarding authorship and content, often referring
back to older catalogs. The oldest surviving catalog, the Chu
sanzang jiji 出三藏記集 by Sengyou
僧祐 (502–557), frequently cites the older catalog of Daoan 道安
(312–385). It still contains a section of biographies and one
section with translation prefaces, mixing bibliographical with
historical information. This mix, however, could not establish itself
as a genre and, after the sixth century, sengzhuan
were usually compiled independently.
the Tang dynasty the formation of schools or sects within
Chinese Buddhism gained momentum. While the writing of
hagio-biographies continued, both the Tiantai and the Chan schools soon
developed forms of historiography that were limited to the history of
their own schools with lineage creation being a central concern. These
genealogies were also inspired by a Confucian model, that is, the
譜牒 or jiapu
家譜) (Schmidt-Glinzer, 1982: 5–6). Other works, like the Baolin
zhuan 寶林傳 (dated 801), order
hagio-biographies chronologically and limit the scope to the patriarchs
of the Chan school.
Song witnessed an unprecedented flowering of Buddhist
A large number of a new type of comprehensive history were produced,
modeled on the official imperial histories (zhengshi
正史) and influenced by the historiography of Sima Guang 司馬光
(1019–1086) and Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 (1007–1072), the
eminent Confucian historians of the early Song—this in spite
of the fact that neither was a friend of Buddhism (10).
During the Southern Song (1127–1278) and the Yuan
(1206–1368), the mixed jizhuan
紀傳 style preferred by the Tiantai school that combines annals and
hagio-biographies was eclipsed by the annalistic biannian
編年 style, preferred by
authors of the Chan school (11).
This was partly because of the influence of Sima Guang’s
monumental Zizhi tongjian 資
治通鑑 (completed in 1084), but was also conditioned by other political
and historiographical developments during the Song and Yuan
(Schmidt-Glinzer, 1982: 134–39). Many of the extensive
Buddhist histories of this time were motivated by the debate between
the Tiantai and the Chan school concerning the "correct" construction
of their respective lineages (12).
Clearly, however, Chinese Buddhist historiography was written in genres
developed by Confucian historiography. It was not an original creation
nor did it have much influence outside the Buddhist scene.
the Yuan the dominant genre for the Chan school was not that of
comprehensive histories, either in the biannian
or the jizhuan
style, but rather the yulu
語錄, "Recorded Sayings," which focused on the "encounter dialogs" of
Chan masters with their students (13).
The term yulu
can be found in the general discourse of Chinese historiography and has
been used in the Buddhist context since the ninth century. As a
distinct genre, however, it is not found before the eleventh century
(See Wittern, 1998: 51–64). The recording of real or imagined
encounter dialogs, though historiographically a regression, suited the
needs of the tradition for legitimization and, it might be assumed, for
of hagio-biographies were still compiled after the Song,
but on a smaller scale and with lower standards. Nevertheless, some
developments within this genre took place, like the appearance of
collections of biographies of laypeople (juren
and virtuous (Buddhist) women (shannüren
zhuan 善女人傳) (X1657), both
compiled by Peng Jiqing 彭際清 (1740–1796).
trying to find a historical self-awareness in Buddhist attempts to
relate the past, the comprehensive histories of the Song are a natural
starting point. The most influential of these monumental works is the Fozu
Records of the Buddha and Patriarchs)
(dated 1269) by Zhipan 志磐, which "in more than one regard is the apex
of the historiographical efforts of [Chinese] Buddhists." (15)
Zhipan, whose dates, ironically, are unknown (16),
was a historian of high standards, conscious of his role and his
position within the larger context of Chinese historiography. In the
preface he writes:
of this work I have cut and pasted from older texts,
summarized and added [new] material, used the arguments of [my]
teachers and friends, and studied transcriptions of stone inscriptions.
I have not simply repeated everything word for word, but have
referenced the origin [of the information], as it should be the method
of those practicing historiography. When things get complex we must
reference all our sources. Because this work makes use of [Buddhist]
canonical and doctrinal scriptures, it is not easy to understand for
Confucians and Daoists. If [however] they read it word for word,
sentence by sentence and ask monks about passages that are difficult
for them, they can enter its essence and spirit, and eventually come to
know the Buddha. If they read it careless and quickly without
researching its basic purpose, how can it be of use to them? Again in
this world, there are Confucians who enjoy and uphold the anti-Buddhist
writings of Han [Yu] and Ou[yang Xiu] but do not know that these two
masters in their final years made their peace with the Buddhist
teachings. If people
today were less puffed-up, and studied this work repeatedly and
thoroughly they could understand that the words of Han and Ou were on
the surface aggressive, but beneath supportive. (17)
fifty four chapters of the Fozu
tongji were not only written
for Buddhists, but aspired to a broader audience familiar with the
official histories of imperial historiography, on which it was
carefully modeled. All parts of the imperial histories were cast in a
Buddhist mold. The basic annals (benji本
紀) were used to record the lives of Shaakyamuni and the Tiantai
patriarchs. The genealogies of noble houses (shijia
世家) of the Confucian model are used by Zhipan to provide information on
groups of Tiantai monks that were ordained under the same master (zhuzu
pangchu shijia 諸祖旁出世家).
傳) became hagio-biographies of eminent Tiantai monks (zhushi
liezhuan 諸師列傳). Tables (biao
表) illustrate the Tiantai lineage (lidai
chuanjiao biao 歷代傳教表).
Monographs and miscellaneous essays (zhi
志) are used to elaborate topics such as Buddhist cosmography (世界名體志) or
rebirth in the Pure Lands (淨土立教志). Especially valuable is a long
annalistic part disguised as monograph: the "Monograph on the
Vicissitudes of the Teaching" (Fayun
tongsai zhi 法運通塞志) in fifteen
Here Zhipan gives a year-by-year account of Buddhist history,
especially in its interaction with Confucianism and Daoism, ranging
from the Zhou dynasty to 1265 CE. Over time the connection to India
became less and less important for the discussions between the Tiantai
and the Chan schools, where the bone of contention was usually which
Chinese lineage should be given preeminence and which doctrines in
Chinese texts were to be taken as orthodox.
have seen that the Buddhist historiographical tradition in China has
consistently adopted Confucian genres and used them with only minor
modifications. With the literary format they also adopted a certain
historiographic attitude. By the time of Zhipan, near the end of the
Song dynasty, a clear concept of a "method of the historians" (shishifa史
氏法) had evolved. Writing at the end of the most prolific period of
Chinese Buddhist historiography, he gives an overview of previous
period Zhenghe (1111–1118) of emperor Huizong
(r. 1101–1126), Master Yuanying [元]頴of Wuxing 吳興 started
writing the Zongyuan lu宗
元錄, describing the events in the transmission of the Tiantai school
from the Northern Qi (479–502) to the Yuanyou reign period
(1086–1094) of our dynasty. By writing the book he summarized
the [history of our] tradition, and from then on the splendor of its
teaching and its patriarchs started to became discernible. In the
Qingyuan period (1195–1201) of emperor Ningzong, Wu Keji吳克己
[who called himself] Kaian鎧菴 wanted to expand it [the Zongyuan
lu] and called it Shimen
zhengtong 釋門正統, but he died
before he could finish it. During the reign period Jiading
(1208–1225) there was Master Jingqian
[景]遷 [called] Jing’an 鏡菴, who took up Yuanying’s
book and Kaian’s new work. He reedited them, added more than
60 new biographies and called it Zongyuan
lu 宗源錄. (19)
During the reign period Jiaxi (1237–1241) of emperor Lizong
(r.1225–1265), Master Zongjian
[宗]鑑 from Liangzhu 良渚in Qiantang 錢唐 (20)
took Wu’s book and treated in the method of the historian[s]
法). He created basic annals, the genealogies of noble houses,
biographies, lists and various monographs, and still called it by its
old name Shimen zhengtong
釋門正統. However Jing’an was not able to fully establish and
structure his text, and Liangzhu often confuses names and titles. When
it comes to abstruse language, bad style, sloppiness and mistakes, they
are found in both, with the Shimen
釋門 being especially coarse. But it is asking too much, that the first
draft, the research, the styling and editing should all be done by one
person alone. [...] Our writing now, draws on both the Zongyuan
lu and the Shimen
zhengtong, it compares the
meaning of these texts and deletes and adds [to their accounts]. It
also makes use of the canonical scriptures, the commentaries and
sub-commentaries, the historical works of the Confucians and the
records of the transmissions of the various [Buddhist] schools. Also
[histories like] the Longxing
of Master [Zu]xiu [祖]琇 or the Shishi
tongji 釋氏通紀 of Master [De]xiu
[德]修 are used and cited. According to the method of the historians (shishi
fa 史氏法), [our work] consists of
four chapters on the Buddha, four on the patriarchs, four on noble
houses, eleven with biographies (liezhuan列
傳) [of the shannei
山內school of the Tiantai sect], one with various biographies (zazhuan
雜傳) [of the shanwai
山外school], one with [biographies of monks] whose position in the
lineage is unclear, two with tables, and thirty chapters with essays.
[Thereby, I have] accomplished a complete documentary record of one
school [the shannei
Tiantai]. After each biography I have added an appraisal to describe
the special virtue (21)
[of its subject]. After an event I explain doubtful points
was, of course, also well versed in secular historiography. He
praises historians who included events concerning Buddhism in their
accounts (CBETA/T.49.2035.356b25). In the same passage he criticizes
Ouyang Xiu: "How much different [from these other works] is
Ouyang’s revised ‘New History of the
Tang’! He extirpated all events where Buddhism had helped in
the administration of the nation and developed the minds of men"
(CBETA/T.49.2035.356c14). Zhipan is deeply dissatisfied with
Ouyang’s treatment of Buddhism and in his writings criticizes
him frequently and with gusto. One more example will suffice: "In his
revised history of the Tang and the Five Dynasties Period, he has
deleted all events concerning Buddhism and Daoism. The
‘History of the Tang’ is the official History of
the Tang dynasty, not Ouyang’s private records. If something
is found lacking, it can be discussed, but how can one extirpate things
one personally does not like? He must be considered as someone not
broadly learned, unfit for the job of revising history"
Zhipan was highly aware of his predecessors and felt competent
to improve on them. For this he had a concept of how—for him
times a number of masters have established a method for
transmitting [tradition/teaching/history]. In this one should make use
of three principles: Firstly, observing actions one should practice
one’s understanding. Secondly, when giving a lecture [on a
text] one should have a [clearly defined] purpose. Thirdly, writing a
book, one is to elucidate the lineage of tradition. Everything beyond
these three is excessive. Next to the doctrines of the scriptures and
the [descriptions of the] rituals one should record appraisals of
members of the faith to give later generations something to admire. If
the worthy and famous Confucian and Daoist gentlemen would get to know
these followers of the [Buddhist] way, the effort would not be in vain (22).
emphasize Zhipan here because his case shows a number of parallels
to Yinshun. Like Yinshun, Zhipan was writing a "modern,"
state-of-the-art history. He aspired to a balanced view in his
treatment of events and, like Yinshun, his account of Buddhist history
was widely accepted as orthodox. Like Zhipan, who was writing against
the historiography of the Chan school, Yinshun struggled against other
The differences between Zhipan and Yinshun, however, are also
significant. While Zhipan was an exponent of the comparatively recent
development of sectarian historiography, for Yinshun the "modern" move
was to abandon the sectarian perspective. They also differ in their
perception of the object of historiography: Yinshun equates Buddhist
history with the history of Buddhist thought, while Zhipan’s
history consists mainly of biography and events.
innovation in Yinshun’s works
aim of this paper is to demarcate in which ways Yinshun should be
seen as continuing traditional modes of historiography and in what
respects he can be shown to "modernize" them. Though his main interest
was the history of Indian Buddhist thought, his understanding of the
past is clearly rooted in both the Chinese and the greater Buddhist
tradition. In his motivation, as well as in his hermeneutics, he is a
successor of Huijiao and Daoshi 道世, Zanning 贊寧 and Zhipan (24).
All these monks have dealt with Buddhist history in a comprehensive
fashion and created large encyclopedic works and collections. Like
Yinshun they spent their lives behind books to gain the erudition that
is necessary for this form of writing. Like Yinshun they tried to show
the "vicissitudes of the teaching," and like him their motivation was
religious, not academic. Generally, Yinshun prefers the hermeneutic
devices found in traditional Buddhist historiography over those of
academic historiography. Only in his later works, starting in 1968 with
de lunshu yu lunshi zhi yanjiu
說一切有部為主的論書與論師之研究 (SWLLY) (Shaastra
literature and Shaastra masters—with particular consideration
of the Sarvaastivaadin School),
he changes style and content to a more academic register, but more on
hermeneutic devices in Yinshun’s work
are certain hermeneutic devices that are characteristic of the
Buddhist tradition. In the absence of textual criticism, most of these
are motivated by the need to resolve contradictions among texts and aim
to explain, and thereby defuse, doctrinal differences. Yinshun uses a
number of them in his works. In the preface to SWLLY, for example, he
"expedient means" (fangbian方
便) as a condition for a balanced understanding of Buddhism. The notion
is well attested in Aagama literature and is one of the few doctrines
that can be found in all Buddhist traditions. The idea of "expedient
means" that the Buddha taught different things to different audiences
according to their capacity for understanding. Upaaya
allows commentators to de-emphasize certain teachings or explain
apparently deviant behavior by labeling it "expedient means" (with an
tool for understanding Buddhist doctrine and its history which
provides a similar function is the abhidharmic notion of a difference
between a "worldly," relative truth (sa.mv.rti-satya)
and a "supra-mundane," absolute truth (paramaartha-satya).
This distinction plays an important role in Yinshun’s
explanation of what he considers to be the central tenets of Buddhism (25).
判教 schemata of later Mahaayaana schools, in which scholastics try to
rank the different schools and doctrines and, by systematizing their
relationship, legitimize and advance their own, also appear in
Yinshun’s earlier works, especially where he discusses his
differences with his teacher Taixu. I have elsewhere discussed his panjiao
in the context of Chinese Buddhism (Bingenheimer, 2004: 83-105). Here
it should be remembered that Yinshun, at least during his earlier
period, does indeed use
does not merely discuss it. However, even during the 1930s and
’40s, in Yinshun’s first attempts to organize the
history of Buddhist thought, one can see how he introduces new modes of
rationality into the tradition. He does, for instance, accept
chronology in the arrangement of his panjiao,
a move that would later lead him to discuss the history of Buddhist
thought in an academic format (26).
Moreover, the progressive simplification of Yinshun’s panjiao
and the shift of their focus from Buddhism in general to developments
in Indian Buddhist thought, bear witness to a gradual farewell from the
The normative impulse, which desires to choose one strand of tradition
as the "truest" truth, does not find any basis in a chronological
arrangement. This is also the reason why Yinshun’s choice of
Nāgārjuna’s "early Mahaayaana" as the most succinct
formulation of Buddhist truth is not based on his panjiao.
other traditional models, which again show the strong influence of
the Dazhidu lun
大智度論 on Yinshun (28),
are those of the four siddhaanta
檀) and the three Dharma Seals (san
fayin 三法印). The four siddhaanta
organize Buddhist teachings according to certain purposes (See, e.g.,
YFSS, 126). Yinshun mentions the siddhaanta
as the way Naagaarjuna "has organized all the Buddhist teachings in his
time." The four siddhaanta
also appear as characterizations of the four large Chinese Aagama
collections, which are said to have been taught for different purposes.
The three Dharma Seals (29)
are used in the influential essay Yi
fofa yanjiu fofa 以佛法研究佛法, (30)
where Yinshun outlines a methodology of Buddhist studies qua
is obvious that Yinshun makes ample use of traditional hermeneutic
devices in his writing. Significantly, most of these are explained
first in the Dazhidu lun,
for Yinshun the key text for a correct understanding of Naagaarjuna. (31)
only in his hermeneutics but on a formal level as well, Yinshun
uses traditional models. In his large œuvre we find a number
of different genres: apologetical works, travel notes, short essays on
questions concerning Buddhist doctrine and history, prefaces, and
obituaries. The first third of the Miaoyun
ji妙雲集 collection consists of sutra-lectures,
which were edited partly by Yinshun, partly by his students, and were
based on lecture notes. This kind of running commentary in which a text
is discussed passage by passage is one of the oldest genres of Buddhist
literature in India and China. I have not found a discussion of
Yinshun’s commentaries, and the relationship of his
commentaries to earlier commentaries on the same sutra,
anywhere. Although the commentaries are appreciated by some scholars (32),
few would have proclaimed Yinshun to be "the leading authority in
Buddhist studies in contemporary Taiwan," purely on the merit of these
commentaries (Qiu, 2000: 1).
Roads not taken
order to understand Yinshun’s position between traditional
and modern modes of writing with greater precision, it is important not
only to see where he followed tradition, but also to notice what is not
there – that is, which traditional genres and hermeneutic
devices he did not take up, although they were ready at hand and indeed
used by his contemporaries.
did not write biographies (33)
or annals, which were for many centuries the dominant genres of Chinese
Buddhist historiography. An important exception are the detailed annals
年譜) of his teacher Taixu (MYJ 13). (34)
In another major departure from past practice, Yinshun never wrote
sectarian history in the traditional sense, where the historian details
the development and/or the doctrines of his own lineage.
prominent way of perceiving Buddhist history not taken up by
Yinshun is the teaching of the three ages (35)
involving the concept of mofa
末法, "the final days of the Dharma." This idea was widely emphasized by
the Pure Land movements in Japan, to justify the "simple" practice of
calling on Amitabha’s name. The argument is that in our
degenerate present, the end-time of the dharma,
liberation by one’s own efforts (zili自
力) is not possible anymore. Only through the help of a Buddha or
Bodhisattva, through another’s power (tali他
力), was it possible to escape the cycle of rebirth.
several reasons, this descendant model of history held little
attraction for Yinshun. Firstly, Yinshun separated his panjiao
from chronology. He describes Buddhist doctrines as they appear at
different stages, but their respective merit is not connected to their
timing. In this system there is no room for ascendant, descendant, or
millenarist conceptions of history. Secondly, Yinshun, influenced by
Taixu, subscribed to the Chinese form of Buddhist modernism—renjian
fojiao 人間佛教, a "Buddhism of the
Human Realm." Renjian fojiao,
as all Buddhist modernisms, is based on the possibility of social
change for the better. The idea of living through the final days of
truth’s decline is at odds with the optimism and reformism of
from an academic perspective, the absence of annalistic or
millenniarist writing certainly strengthens his scholarly practice, but
for a comprehensive picture, other absences should also be mentioned.
seems completely unconcerned with studying Sanskrit, Pali or
The picture he draws of Indian Buddhism is completely derived from
Chinese sources. This lack of philological skill may be one of the
reasons why his influence on non-Chinese Buddhist scholarship was
When asked, admirers of Master Yinshun sometimes say that is was nearly
impossible to study Indian languages in China in the 1930s and
’40s. There are, however, examples of scholars, both secular
(Lü Cheng 呂澂) and monastic (Fazun 法尊), who mastered canonical
languages other than Chinese. Especially considering that Taixu tried
to encourage his students to study other traditions, it cannot be said
that Yinshun lacked opportunities to at least get started on one or
more foreign languages.
factor that separates Yinshun from academic practice is that
Yinshun’s conception of Buddhism itself was exceedingly
narrow. In the study of religion we are by now used to multiple
approaches, conventional or eccentric methodologies, "thick
descriptions," an awareness of the economies of power and repression,
etc. In their competition with the "exact" sciences, the humanities in
the late twentieth century have become self-reflective to an
unprecedented degree. On the other hand, Yinshun’s account of
the Buddhist past knows no politics, no philology, no (comparative)
philosophy, no economy, no archeology, no art. Yinshun’s
Buddhist past is equivalent to its doctrinal history. Social and
cultural contexts play only a marginal role.
is mainly due to the lack of languages and methodology that
Yinshun’s works were, from an international perspective,
already slightly outdated when they appeared. The last twenty years,
have seen a steady growth of Chinese academic publications on Buddhist
Studies both in quality as well as in quantity and Yinshun’s
works have already become much less prominent and less visible than
they were in the seventies and eighties.
The introduction of a
starting point of Yinshun’s intellectual journey was how
to account for the difference between the Buddhism he saw practiced in
China and the Buddhism he found in the canonical texts, especially
those translated from Indian texts. To this end Yinshun had to use
Chinese translations to study Indian Buddhism as a history of ideas.
For this kind of discourse, traditional Buddhist historiography could
not provide him with tools. There was no genre in which to present a
general history of ideas of Indian Buddhism.
were not an option because of the lack of calendric devices and
a general lack of written sources about political and cultural events.
As for biographies, we lack even basic biographical facts on the most
important figures in Indian Buddhism. When writing about Indian monks,
it is impossible to realize even the opening formula that Chinese
Buddhist hagiographies demand.
lack of genres that could cope with these obstacles is partly
responsible for the fact that Chinese traditional historiography did
not attempt to construct "Indian Buddhism" as a significant other. On
the contrary, Chinese Buddhist historians contributed to the
sinicization of Buddhism in a way that de-emphasized the Indian
origins. Just like Tiantai and Huayan philosophy, or the ever-growing
lineages of the Chan school, Buddhist historiography helped to
construct Chinese Buddhism as "Chinese" without referring to India more
than absolutely necessary. As distinct forms of Chinese Buddhism
developed, much of what was transmitted from Indian became less
important for Chinese Buddhists, especially since they needed to appear
as Chinese as possible in their competition with the Confucianists and
Daoists. Both Confucians and Daoists never tired of reminding the
Buddhists that theirs was a foreign, non-Chinese, and therefore
barbarian teaching. Though the connection to India was never lost, not
the least because the lineages of all schools had to be traced back to
the Buddha himself, in the context of the often xenophobic attacks by
Daoists and Confucians, de-emphasizing the Indian origin was a natural
strategy for Buddhists.
strategy, however, was not adopted everywhere, and Yinshun would
have been aware of at least one other solution. Traditional Buddhist
historiography in Japan had a clear notion of a three-tiered
transmission of Buddhism that started in India, passed through China,
and culminated in Japan. For Japanese Buddhists this had great
advantages for the construction of a distinct identity
vis-à-vis China. This particular national mode of Buddhist
historiography is exemplified in the early fourteenth century by
Gyoonen’s 凝然 (1240–1321) Sangoku
buppoo denzuu engi 三國仏法傳通縁起
(Account of the Transmission of Buddhism in Three Countries), dated
1311. The Korean states (38),
from which Buddhism was originally introduced to Japan, were glossed
over and the part relating to Indian Buddhism comprises only one out of
fifteen pages. Fourteenth century Japanese writers were no more
interested in India than their Chinese counterparts, but the memory of
India could be used to relativize the importance of China.
the destruction of the Buddhist institutions of Central Asia and
India by Muslim invaders, the West-East transmission of Buddhism came
to an end. Chinese Buddhism per
se had little to gain by
drawing on its Indian ancestry. Yinshun’s emphasis on Indian
Buddhism, though not remarkable in the context of international
scholarship, was a real breakthrough for the Chinese tradition. His
change of perspective opened up new horizons for Chinese Buddhists.
possible format not used by Yinshun is that of sectarian
history. Yinshun could have followed the well-established narratives of
sectarian historiography á
la Gyoonen’s Hasshuu
kooyoo 八宗綱要 (1268) that were
widely used by Japanese Buddhists well into the modern era (39)
and emulated by Chinese Buddhists (for example, Huang Chanhuaj, 1988).
Here Buddhism was presented tidily separated into different sects,
variously counting eight, twelve, or thirteen of them. The main
historical device was lineage construction, and the presentation of
doctrine was based on representative texts ascribed to each constructed
school. This kind of text was usually intended as introductory reading
and addressed neither the development of the doctrines nor the mutual
influence of the schools beyond a few basic stereotypes. Each school
was presented as a pristine entity, and a discussion of the ambiguity
and vagueness of the vast range of texts was avoided. By the time
Yinshun started writing his later works, this way of organizing the
field was in the process of being discarded. The entities it
proposed—schools or sects—were viewed more and more
as products not of history, but merely of historiography. Moreover,
Yinshun himself had no strong sectarian affiliations, and he realized
that this approach could not have helped him with his starting
question, that is, why in both theory and practice the Buddhism he
encountered in Southern China in the first half of the twentieth
century differed so much from the Buddhism he found in the canon.
many ways Yinshun was a traditionalist—he lived his life
as Buddhist monk according to the rules of Chinese Buddhism, read the
texts of this tradition, and taught fellow monastics and laypeople. His
main success was that as a traditionalist he found a new way to write
about his tradition. Over the course of twenty years, roughly between
the 1940s and 1960s, Yinshun taught himself to use the form of the academic
monograph, an extensive
treatment of one single topic or period, to present his ideas. The
publication of SWLLY in 1968 was a turning point in his work. Zhang
Mantao, in those days the dean of Buddhist Scholarship on Taiwan,
remarked proudly that the book "caught up" with the scholarship of the
Japanese "neighbors." (40)
was the mastery of the academic monograph, the appropriation of a
formal way of "academic writing," that became the central element in
the influence of Yinshun’s later presentation of Buddhist
On more than 700 pages Yinshun treats the abhidharmic traditions of
Nikaaya Buddhism (bupai fojiao
部派佛教), especially that of the Sarvaastivaadins, in a comprehensive and
lucid manner. Yinshun was one of the few scholars, who were able to
read the difficult, extensive Abhidharma
texts preserved in the Chinese canon with ease. This enabled him to
outline the pre-mahaayaana doctrinal developments that occurred in
Northern India as they appear in Chinese sources. Next to material in
the Chinese canon, he, for the first time, used material from the Pali
Canon (in Japanese translation [see Takakusu, 1935-40]), and a Chinese
translation of Taaranaatha’s Rgya-gar
of Indian Buddhism). Although he cites almost no secondary literature,
he starts to escape the narrow confines of Chinese Buddhist
scholasticism and enter into a dialog with other traditions.
Maraldo has remarked how so far it was not possible "to specify a
philosophically Buddhist sense of history, which would challenge modern
historical sensitivity and call for a real ‘fusion of
horizons’" (Maraldo, 1986: 34), the synthetical form of
understanding that the humanities can provide. Maraldo agrees with
Schmidt-Glinzer, who argued that Chinese Buddhist historiography owes
more to China than to Buddhism (Schmidt-Glinzer, 1982: 6). Concerning
this question, I believe it is helpful to look at what genres are
provided for the writing of history in a given context. In China,
Buddhists were never forced to invent new genres, because Confucian
writing provided enough tools to fulfill the dual task of remembering
and legitimizing. The Buddhist chronicles of Sri Lanka and Tibet,
however, show that other Buddhist traditions were perfectly capable of
developing their own historiographic genres in the absence of immediate
secular models. Instead of trying to find a specific Buddhist sense of
history in Buddhist philosophy, we therefore must analyze the various
forms of Buddhist historiography in their respective cultural contexts.
I do not believe that there is a unique "sense of history" in any
tradition that can be shown independent of its textual representation
in form of genres. Every historiographical practice, be it oral,
scriptural, or multi-medial, is bound by its discursive conventions,
which allow it to show some phenomena better than others.
conventions are emphasized by Tzvetan Todorov in his definition
society, the recurrence of certain discursive properties is
institutionalized, and individual texts are produced and perceived in
relation to the norm constituted by this codification. A genre,
literary or otherwise, is nothing but this codification of discursive
properties. [...] It is because genres exist as an institution that
they function as "horizons of expectation" for readers, and as "models
of writing" for authors. [...] On the one hand, authors write as a
function of (which does not mean in accord with) the existing generic
system [...]. On the other hand, readers read as a function of the
generic system, with which they are familiar through criticism, school,
the distribution system of the book, or simple hear-say; it is not
necessary that they be conscious of this system, however. (42)
this, Todorov develops his idea that all genres coincide with or
are derived from speech-acts. It would, of course, exceed the scope of
the present paper to apply Todorov’s thesis to the Western
academic monograph; however, the first place to look for the origins of
the monograph in speech might be the lectures at medieval universities
and the following debates. It seems worth noting that, although Yinshun
had seen plenty of Japanese and Western monographs on which to model
his writing, his first mature academic monographs appear in the late
1960s after teaching Buddhist thought in universities and Buddhist
institutes. His early proto-academic works Yindu
zhi Fojiao (1942) and the
lectures notes on Vijnaanavaada
und Madhyamaka (43)
were still largely edited by his students. They show
Yinshun’s talent and the trajectory of his later work, but
still lack annotation and academic diction. His first works in an
academic mold appear after he had started to teach at Chinese Culture
University (Taipei) in 1965. His use of the academic
monograph—which treats one discrete topic, uses secondary
literature and annotation, and argues independently from religious
truth-claims—had matured as a direct consequence of teaching
in an academic environment. As a natural scholar, Yinshun must have
felt the pull of academic life and wanted to present his ideas in an
acceptable form. The expansion of annotation in his later works
especially points to a growing sensibility and desire to conform to an
academic standard. As he writes in the preface to SWLLY:
amidst the sounds of war, I wrote Yindu
zhi fojiao 印度之佛教. [...] The
book was written in classical Chinese, it asserted much but had little
annotation, for Buddhist history this kind of writing is not
appropriate. Moreover some things in it are superfluous and there are
some mistakes. [Recently] someone offered money for a reprint, but I
thanked him and declined saying: I would like to rewrite the book in a
more vernacular idiom and give references for the quotes (SWLLY, 1).
was clearly aspiring to improve his presentation and follow
academic standards of annotation. These annotations were often added or
edited by assistants, and only one of his works (Chuqi
dasheng fojiao zhi qiyuan yu kaizhan
初期大乘佛教之起源與開展) was indexed. (44)
Annotation might be considered a trivial topic when talking about an
author of such an enormous output, but the fact that Yinshun in his
later years moved towards the academic monograph and offered, however
rudimentary, annotation, seems to me an important aspect of his role as
Buddhist historian between tradition and modernity. To be modern does
not mean to be new: Zhipan had realized that annotation and reference
is more than a formality 700 years earlier. In his study on the history
of annotation in historical works, Anthony Grafton emphasizes how
formal criteria influence the rhetoric and thereby the impact of the
nature of the shift from providing a continuous narrative
to producing a text that one has annotated oneself seems clear. Once
the historian writes with footnotes, historical narrative tells a
distinctively modern, double story. […] In documenting the
thought and research that underpin the narrative above them, footnotes
prove that it is a historically contingent product, dependent on the
forms of research [and] opportunities […] that existed when
the historian went to work (Grafton, 1997: 23).
the use of conventional annotation, Yinshun moves from
religious essayism to academic writing and enters into a dialog with
the larger field of Buddhist, or rather religious, studies. As Grafton
the use of footnotes enables historians to make their texts not
monologues but conversations, in which modern scholars, their
predecessors, and their subjects all take part (Grafton, 1997: 234).
aspect of, or rather a condition for, Yinshun’s
introduction of a new genre is the formation of a new audience. Since
1949 the social dynamics of Taiwanese Buddhism have changed
considerably. Buddhism has managed to attract a more and more educated
clientele. Relative to competing religions, this means that the
educational gap between Buddhists and Christians diminished, both
religions leaving folk-religion and Taoism behind. Although there are
few reliable figures about religion in Taiwan, one easily observable
fact that illustrates this trend is the founding of Buddhist
universities and colleges. While Christian institutions of higher
learning were allowed to operate in Taiwan since the early 1960s (45),
Buddhism has only been able to establish accredited universities since
the 1990s (46).
In 2006 a law was enacted that allowed denominational colleges, where
it is possible to study theory and practice of only one religion. These
accredited colleges bestow bachelor and master degrees in Religion. To
date there are five Buddhist universities (47)
and one accredited Buddhist college (48).
At least one more Buddhist university and a number of colleges are in
to the unprecedented growth of Buddhist educational organizations
in Taiwan during the last twenty years, academic research on Buddhism
in state universities has grown exponentially (49).
These changes produced a new readership of educated Buddhists, who were
interested in more factual narratives. Such narratives could not be
told in the form of the short religious essay, with its generalizations
and exhortations, anymore. For many Taiwanese and Chinese academics,
Yinshun’s works offered a first glimpse of Buddhist studies,
and for many years, roughly the time between 1970 and 1995, his works
represented the best scholarship on Buddhism available in Chinese.
Todorov and Grafton have argued, the formal dimension of discourse
is not a mere formality. Yinshun’s use of a new genre, the
academic monograph, transports Chinese Buddhist historiography into a
new context—that of academic scholarship. A large number of
Taiwanese Buddhist scholars such as Li Zhifu 李志夫, Yang Yuwen 楊郁文, and
Lan Jifu 藍吉富 were directly inspired by his work. Yinshun’s
acceptance of academic conventions such as annotation and indexing was
an integral part of his attempt to resolve the tension between his
desire for religious orthodoxy and the claim to be forwarding
objectively relevant data about Buddhist doctrinal history. He accepted
some formal criteria of academic writing, while managing to avoid
questioning the validity of Buddhist truth claims in an absolute manner
or committing himself to an agnostic perspective as it is often
expected in academia.
Yinshun moved closer and closer to a historiographical
perspective in the academic sense. By doing so he
introduces—or, remembering Zhipan, perhaps re-introduces—a
sense of history that engages prevailing narratives and identities
critically. This sense of history goes beyond the hagiographical and
sectarian images that had determined the self-perception of Chinese
Buddhists for centuries. It results in a presentation of history in
which religious doctrine is conditioned by time and circumstance. Like
in the various panjiao
systems of the past, Yinshun’s discussion of Buddhist
doctrine retains the desire to decide which of the various competing
systems is the best (he awards this honor to Madhyamaka thought).
However, his historical presentation, free from sectarian politics and
based (again) on chronology and textual references, creates a critical
distance that opens new horizons for its readers.
rationality means the ability to see oneself from a distance,
Yinshun can be said to have rationalized the emic discourse on the
history of Buddhist doctrine. At the same time his view of history as
well as of rationality itself stays well within a Buddhist perspective.
For Yinshun, as for his predecessors during the Song, "Buddhist
historiography" is not merely historiography of Buddhism, but part of
his Buddhist practice. Although he agrees with his teacher Taixu on the
importance of a "Buddhism for the Human Realm" (renjian
fojiao 人間佛教), Yinshun was not a
social activist. He was interested in the history of Buddhist thought
because he felt it mattered. Historiography informs our perception of
history and our perception of history is part of our identity. History
matters, and Yinshun’s practice of historiography, imbued
with the authority of "modern" scholarship, has profoundly influenced
the self-perception of Buddhist activists like Shi Zhengyan 釋證嚴 and Shi
Zhaohui (Chao Hwei) 釋昭慧, and provided them with a narrative that in
turn could accommodate their
This paper develops ideas first outlined in Bingenheimer, 2004:
182-195. Many thanks to Simon Wiles for correcting the English.
See the paper by Xue Yu in this special issue.
He received his degree from Taishō University for his only monograph on
Chinese Buddhism, Zhongguo
chanzong shi中國禪宗史 (History of
the Chan School) (1971), which was translated into Japanese for this
purpose. This degree is a "traditional" Japanese degree, which was
generally awarded to a senior scholar for an outstanding work. It is in
many respects comparable to what today would be called "honorary"
degree (honorary degrees are a fairly recent addition to the Japan
system), since Yinshun never studied or took exams at a Japanese
university. In fact he did not even attend the award ceremony.
On the use of the term renjian
fojiaowith Taixu and Yinshun
and why the difference between renjian
fojiao人生佛教is negligible, see
The earliest sengzhuan
僧傳 collections were compiled in the sixth century. After the first sengzhuan
高僧傳 (Biographies of eminent monks) (dated 519)—major
collections were compiled until the Qing dynasty. After the first
collection of hagio-biographies of nuns—the Biqiuni
zhuan比丘尼傳 (Biographies of nuns)
(dated 516)—however, no similar collections were compiled.
This results in an unfortunate lack of knowledge about the development
of the Chinese Bhikuunii
Sangha during the Sui, Tang,
and Song. Only the Chuandeng
lu 傳燈錄 (The record of
transmitting the lamp) literature after the Yuan again includes vitae
of female (Chan-) masters. The history of Chinese Buddhism was (as
history everywhere) written by men, who tended to exclude women from
their narratives. This has been changing only slowly in the late
twentieth century, and in Taiwan these changes are clearly connected to
Yinshun. Two of the most prominent Taiwanese nuns, Ven. Zhengyan 證嚴 and
Ven. Zhaohui (Chao Hwei) 昭慧, are Yinshun’s students, and at
least Zhaohui has in the past justified her activism as a necessary
consequence of his teachings.
Dennis Twitchett remarks that there must have been predecessors of the liezhuan
as employed by Sima
Qian (Beasley and Pulleyblank, 1961: 95–6). In the absence of
earlier sources, however, the Shiji
is the first surviving work that contains the zhuan
as a genre. Biographies (zhuan
ji傳記) are also listed as an
independent category in the fifteen categories of Confucian
historiography according to the Siku
quanshu 四庫全書 (The Imperial
Collection in Four Sections) classification (cf. Gardner, 1938: 101).
Shi Hongyin discusses Yinshun in these traditional categories and
concludes that Yinshun is similar to "eminent monks of the Indian type (yinduxing
de gaoseng印度型的高僧)" (Shi
Hongyin, 1984: 3–4) . Just as these monks, Yinshun, he says,
brings out and discusses differences (bianyi辨
異) and tries to "do away with heresies and expose the orthodox (cuixie
xianzheng 摧邪顯正)." This
evaluation is interesting, because it shows how Hongyin comes to terms
with Yinshun’s new and slightly threatening idea to seriously
consider the differences between Indian and Chinese Buddhist thinking.
By integrating Yinshun in the pattern of the Gaoseng
zhuan categories, Hongyin
softens the challenge and minimizes friction.
The official imperial history of the Jin dynasty—the Jinshu
the time between 265 and 420, was compiled only in the Tang (in 648, by
Fang Xuanling 房玄齡, the famous chancellor). The same is true for most
other dynastic histories between the third and seventh centuries.
Though some official history was written in the sixth century, it would
have been extremely difficult for someone without access to the state
archives to acquire reliably dated sources, especially since China was
still divided into North and South, which both sought to legitimize
their rule with the help of historiography. The first work that tried
to outline the history of Chinese Buddhism – especially
translation history – of North and South was the Lidai
sanbao ji 歷代三寶記 (Record of the
history of the three treasures) (d.597). Basically a sutra
catalog, it contains short annalistic parts, the first of which even
attempts to relate events in India (Buddha biography, Aśoka etc.)
according to Chinese chronology. Its author Fei Changfang 費長房 (fl. late
sixth century), about whom we know little, is notorious for including
all kind of wrong information in his catalog. Already Zanning points
out that in Fei’s work "fact and fiction are hard to
separate" (T50.2060.436b12). Through a series of unfortunate
circumstance the errors or fabrications of the Lidai
sanbao ji entered later
catalogs and became the basis of the authorship attributions found in
the Taishoo edition, most of which should be considered wrong for the
period before the Sui, i.e., Fei Changfang, (Onoo, 1936: 4).
An overview in English is Jan (1964). In Chinese, Chen Yuan offers
in-depth discussions of a few works (Chen, 1962), and Zhao Puchu
contains helpful, extensive summarizes of many historiographical works
(Zhao, 1992). Schmidt-Glinzer (1982) and Cao Ganghua (2006) offer the
Ouyang cleared his revised version of the Tang official history, the Xintangshu
新唐書, of all things that he considered superstitious, including many
references to Buddhism. Davis sums up his stance: "Ouyang Xiu, in his
thoroughgoing hostility to legends that contravene human reason, saw
his mission as one of methodical suppression or thoroughgoing exposure"
(Davis, 2001: 205). Ouyang did, however, include stories on the
self-immolation of "virtuous" women, indulging in a form of moral
extremism that is at odds with the empirical attitude that he strives
for elsewhere in his work.
Cao Ganghua’s work contains useful tables, where he lists the
surviving works of this period. The majority of the works is by Chan
monks or laypeople affiliated with Chan schools (mostly the Yunmen and
Linji schools) (Cao, 2006).
See Schmidt-Glinzer, 1982: 71–83. On the problem of lineage
creation in the Chan school see McRae (2003: 1-21).
Judith Berling mentions in an important article how with the emergence
of the yulu
genre the very idea of Buddha changed in Chinese religious perception.
Berling, too, inspired by Todorov and Ricoeur, believes that a change
of genre heralds religious change: "Major religious changes thus can be
marked by the emergence of a genre that radically stretches or
overturns the norms and expectations embodied in previous genres. A new
genre signals a radical break, a shift in discourse and practice,
[…]" (Berling 1987: 59).
X1646. See Cao, 1999: 377. Many of these biographies are collected from
See Schmidt-Glinzer, 1982: 108. The study of the Fozu
tongji most often cited in
English is still Jan Yün-hua (1963).
Jan Yün-hua gives 1220–1275 as tentative dates (in
Franke, 1976: 227).
CBETA/T.2035.49.131b-c. The claim that Han Yu and Ouyang Xiu made their
peace with Buddhism in old age is a common topos in Buddhist literature
after the eleventh century (see Liu, 2004: 142–155). In the
case of Ouyang, at least the odds are that this was merely wishful
thinking. Ouyang’s essay Benlun
本論 (On Principles), in
its final version, is one of the most famous anti-Buddhist tracts of
A partial translation is Jan (1966).
This work is now lost.
Or 錢塘 the district (xian
縣), which included Hangzhou, the capital of the Southern Song, usually
used as euphemism for Hangzhou itself.
De德 is a dynamic quality which
"virtue" does not render very satisfactorily. The Greek areteandthe
of the Italian Renaissance are closer to the nexus of power and
character. The inclusion of short appendices in which the historian
critically apprises the subject of the biography was an important
characteristic of the liezhuan
since the times of Sima Qian.
CBETA/T.49.2035.131a. The three rules allow for different translations.
Cf. translation of Schmidt-Glinzer (1982: 94).
Throughout his life Yinshun debated, sometimes passionately, with
Christians, Confucians, and fellow Buddhists. These apologetic essays
have not attracted much attention though they are an interesting aspect
of his work. See, e.g., Bingenheimer (2004: esp. 42-66 and 83-105).
Huijiao慧皎 (497?–554?) wrote the first collection of
hagio-biographies of monks; Daoshi 道世 (d. 683) compiled the first
Buddhist encyclopedia, Fayuan
zhulin法苑珠林 (Forest of Gems in
the Garden of the Dharma); and Zanning 賛寧 (919–1001) is the
author of the Song gaoseng
zhuan (Biographies of Eminent
monk written in the Song) and other historical works.
The locus classicus
for the two truths is the Abhidharmakosha
(CBETA/T.29.1558.116b11-12). 諦有二種。一世俗諦。二勝義諦. For Yinshun’s
discussion of the two truths in connection with Naagaarjuna, see MJY 9,
Outside his historical works too, Yinshun made use of traditional
schemata. The most prominent example is the arrangement of Buddhist
doctrine in five "vehicles" for men, gods, arhants,
pratyeka Buddhas, and bodhisattvas
that he employed in Chengfo
zhi dao 成佛之道 (MJY 12), a scheme
already used by Taixu.
For a table, see Bingenheimer, 2004: 96.
Shaastra) (Treatise on the great virtue of wisdom)
(T. 1509) is an encyclopedic exposition of Buddhism with emphasis on
Madhyamaka philosophy. The translator Kumaarajiiva attributes the text
to Naagaarjuna, but this attribution is highly contested.
The three Dharma Seals (dharmamuudra)
are here "all conditioned things are transient," "all phenomena are
without self," and "Nirvana is essentially silent/unmoving." A locus
classicus for the set of three
seals is the Dazhidu lun
大智度論. Cf. Lamotte’s extensive notes and references on the
various sets of two, three, four, five, and ten dharmamūdra.
MYJ 16, 1–14, translated
in Bingenheimer (2004:
Cf. the many Dazhidu lun
citations in YFSS. The importance of the Dazhidu
lun for Yinshun explains why
late in life he still argued strongly, perhaps desperately, in favor of
Naagaarjuna’s authorship. In his last academic work, Dazhidu
lun zhi zuozhe ji qi fanshi大智度論之
作者及其翻譯 (The authorship of Dazhidu
lun and its translation)
(1991), Yinshun insists on Naagaarjuna’s authorship against
the opinions of Lamotte (1970/1990), Katō (1983/1988), and others.
Current mainstream opinion in Buddhist Studies seems to be that the Dazhidu
lun cannot be attributed to
Naagaarjuna alone (for example, the list of Naagaarjuna’s
works in Lindtner (1982)).
Lan Jifu believes Yinshun’s commentary to the Shedasheng
lun 攝大乘論 (Mahayana-samparigraha-shaastra)
6) to be one of his best works (personal communication, 2002).
Not counting the many obituaries Yinshun wrote on friend and foe.
Shi Shengyan, though he felt that Yinshun misrepresented
Taixu’s ideas in some places, praised the scholarly quality
of the annals: "Especially the careful assessment of the dating of
events and the well-considered selection of sources show the marks of a
great historian.[…] Of all the many nianpu
I have read, I admire the writing in this one the most." Fagu
quanji 法鼓全集 (Dharma drum
complete works [of Master Shengyen]), part 3, vol. 6, p. 28 (Taixu
For the theory of the three ages (here: zhengfa正
法, and mofa末
法) cf. Nattier (1992).
In fact, this attitude can be found even today with many of his
students and followers.
Another is that scholars in Buddhist academia in Japan, Europe and
America tend to neglect secondary material written in Chinese.
In Korea, Buddhist historiography started relatively late. The Samguk
Yusa 三國遺事 (Memorabilia of the
three kingdoms), written by the monk Iryeon 一然 (1206–1289),
mentions older works, but none of these have survived. Importantly, the
three kingdoms (samguk
三國) mentioned in the title are Koguryo, Paekche, and
Silla—not India, China, and Korea. The Samguk
Yusa is only concerned with
Buddhism on the Korean peninsula. To a degree this seems to reflect the
fact that compared with the Japanese, the Koreans generally felt more
comfortable with their position towards China, and did not have to
hardcode their considerable sense of national identity into Buddhist
For example, Nanjio (1886) and Takakusu (1949). The Hasshuu
kooyoo (Outline of the eight
schools) is an early work of Gyoonen, in which he outlines the
tradition history and main doctrinal points of texts or groups of text
within a model of eight "schools" (shū
宗). The Hasshuu kooyoo
proved to be a useful introductory reader to different Buddhist
traditions and became quite popular.
Zhang Mantao (1987 : 96). Cf. also the more detailed review by
Huang Junwei (1985).
Yinshun’s works were extremely successful in the Chinese
world. They are extremely well distributed and for many years have been
used as textbooks for entry exams and seminars in universities in
Taiwan, China, and the Chinese overseas community.
Todorov (1976: 162 f). To the last statement one might add that
traditional generic systems do not generally invite scrutiny of the
workings of the system by the readers.
唯識學探源 (On the origin of the Mind-only school) (1944) and Xingkongxue
tanyuan 性空學探源 (On the origin of
the doctrine of empty-nature) (1946) (later revised as Kong
zhi tanjiu 空之探究 ) (On
This was done on the suggestion of Professor Lan Jifu, a prominent
author in Chinese Buddhist Studies (personal information 2003). Though
only a detail, this illustrates the influence of academia in
Yinshun’s later work.
The oldest Christian university in China, Furen University, was
reestablished in Taipei in 1960, eight years after the original Furen
University in Beijing was annexed to Beijing Normal University 1952.
Wenzao University in Gaoxiong was founded in 1966 by the Ursulines.
Though there were private academic institutes before that, e.g., the
Chung-hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies 中華佛學研究所 (founded 1985) and the
Fa-guang Buddhist Culture Institute 法光佛教文化研究所 (founded 1989).
Huafan 華梵大學 (founded 1990, accredited 1997), Nanhua 南華大學 (accredited
1999), Ciji 慈濟大學 (founded 1994, accredited 2000), Foguang 佛光大學
(accredited 2000), Xuanzang 玄奘大學 (founded 1997, accredited 2004).
Another university, Dharma Drum University is scheduled to start
operation in September 2010.
Dharma Drum Buddhist College 法鼓佛教學院 (accredited 2007).
This is also evinced by the growing number of Taiwanese researchers in
the field. Lan Jifu counts only 60 scholars of Buddhism in 1993, of
whom only 12 held a PhD (Lan, 2001). For 2001 he counts about 300
scholars in the field. The exponential growth is connected both to the
founding of Buddhist universities and to the larger number of scholars
returning with PhDs after studying overseas.
Electronic Text Association
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de lunshu yu lunshi zhi yanjiu
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Abhidharmikas – with special consideration of the
W .G.; Pulleyblank, Edwin G. (1961) Historians
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Judith A. (1987) "Bringing the Buddha Down to Earth: Notes on
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『講座・大乗仏教』, vol. 2 Hannya
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lun de shijie大智度論的世界," in Diguan
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順導師八十壽慶論文集 (Thought and scholarship of Master Yinshun ) Taipei:
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research in Taiwan and mainland China) Unpublished conference handout
from Liang’an foxue
jiaoyu yanjiu xiankuang yu fazhan yantaohui兩
岸佛學教育研究現況與發展研討會, 10–11 November 2001, Taipei.
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Tokyo: Bukkyoo-sho-ei-yaku-shuppan-sha. Reprint, Washington, DC: Univ.
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