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Emptiness and Omnipresence

Emptiness and Omnipresence: An Essential Introduction to Tiantai Buddhism

Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: Indiana University Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Emptiness and Omnipresence
    Book Description:

    Tiantai Buddhism emerged from an idiosyncratic and innovative interpretation of the Lotus Sutra to become one of the most complete, systematic, and influential schools of philosophical thought developed in East Asia. Brook A. Ziporyn puts Tiantai into dialogue with modern philosophical concerns to draw out its implications for ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics. Ziporyn explains Tiantai's unlikely roots, its positions of extreme affirmation and rejection, its religious skepticism and embrace of religious myth, and its view of human consciousness. Ziporyn reveals the profound insights of Tiantai Buddhism while stimulating philosophical reflection on its unexpected effects.

    eISBN: 978-0-253-02120-5
    Subjects: Philosophy
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION (pp. 1-2)

    THIS BOOK PRESENTS CERTAIN IDEAS ABOUT SUFFERING AND liberation from suffering—about human well-being—developed in a distinctive tradition of Chinese Buddhism known as the Tiantai school. In particular, I draw from the philosophical ideas developed from the sixth to eleventh centuries by this school as expounded in the writings of its three most representative figures: Tiantai Zhiyi (538–597), Jingxi Zhanran (711–782), and Siming Zhili (960–1028). It should be noted at the outset that many people, even those who are used to the complexities of Buddhist thinking and its sometimes surprising paradoxes, tend to find Tiantai claims...

  6. ONE JUST HERE IS THE END OF SUFFERING: Letting Suffering Be in Early Buddhism (pp. 3-22)

    Buddhism begins and ends with the problem of suffering. More specifically, Buddhism begins with the Four Noble Truths. At first glance, the treatment of suffering in this teaching seems disappointingly simple, almost simplistic. The First Noble Truth tells us that all experiences necessarily involve suffering. The Second tells us why this is: suffering is caused by desire, or craving, and attachment to desire. The Third asserts that the end of this cause (desire), and hence of this effect (suffering), is attainable. The Fourth tells us how to go about attaining this end of desire and suffering.

    Often this formula is...

  7. TWO RAFTS AND ARROWS: The Two Truths in Pre-Tiantai Buddhism (pp. 23-36)

    In basic Buddhism, as recorded in the earliest texts, the practice of awareness of desire as desire leads to the “cessation” of desire. This is meant, it seems, quite literally. Letting go of the sense of self, you also let go of your desire, cease to “invest” in it. This is a way of letting the desire be more fully what it is, an impermanent factor in a multi-conditional process. The result is like unplugging an electric fan: the source of power that was perpetuating its activity has been removed. The fan does not stop immediately; it continues to spin...

  8. THREE NEITHER THUS NOR OTHERWISE: Mahāyāna Approaches to Emptiness (pp. 37-53)

    SO IT LOOKS LIKE MAHĀYĀNA BUDDHISM, IN THE TWO TRUTHS model we were just talking about, makes no claim to offer any statements containing literal information about the ultimate makeup of this world, why it exists, or how it came to be. At the same time, nothing at all is said to describe the state of liberation from this world of suffering, the “other shore,” except perhaps thatit is absolutely unlike this world of suffering. These are two sides of the same coin. Neither the world of suffering nor its cessation is what we think it is. In fact,...


    SO! THERE ARE NO THINGS! THERE ARE NO DEFINITIVE, either/or “states”! There is no such thing as a “state” of suffering! Madness, eh? Even if this madness is what is really taught in something called Mahayana Buddhism, does such madness really do us any good? Doesn’t it rather threaten to undermine any notion of what “doing us any good” could possibly mean? Where is it all leading? We may have to wait until we get to the unexpected applications of these ideas in Tiantai thought to a get stronger sense of how all these strange moves lead us somewhere quite...

  10. FIVE HOW TO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING: Introduction to the Lotus Sūtra (pp. 68-85)

    LET’S SUPPOSE, FOR THE MOMENT, THAT YOU HAVE ACCEPTED what we’ve been suggesting in the previous few chapters: it’s impossible to really say anything meaningful about what anything “is” in the ultimate sense. Would you, then, also be willing to say that it is equally impossible to know what’shappeningto you right now? A bit harder to swallow, perhaps. But how about this: would you be willing to say that it is equally impossible to know what you are yourself reallydoingright now?

    Common sense, morality, human dignity—all of these instinctively have a strong need to say...

  11. SIX THE NEW MIDDLE WAY: Highlights of the Lotus Sūtra in Tiantai Context (pp. 86-116)

    TheLotus Sūtrais a complex and controversial text, and it can be approached and understood in a lot of different ways. Our purpose here is not to try to find out what it “really” means, or what its authors meant; rather, our goal is to try to get a grasp on how it might have been read by Tiantai Buddhist thinkers and how it helped inspire the unique forms of Buddhist thought and practice derived from that school. The previous chapter included a story to help illustrate the importance theLotus Sūtrahas in the context of Tiantai Buddhism...

  12. SEVEN THE INTERPERVASION OF ALL POINTS OF VIEW: From the Lotus Sūtra to Tiantai (pp. 117-142)

    WHAT ARE WE TO MAKE OF OUR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS AND the bewildering variety of alien worldviews and strange modes of behavior that seem to bedevil them? How shall we account for, and exist comfortably and responsibly in the midst of, these people who believe and behave in a way that is so uncongenial to our own, so contrary to our deepest intuitions and commitments, perhaps even in ways that appear to us ridiculous, stupid, or evil? How should people who are deeply committed to certain beliefs about the world and the purpose of human life, about what is good...

  13. EIGHT TIANTAI: The Multiverse as You (pp. 143-177)

    Question: If you add the idea of Emptiness and the Two Truths theory (chapters 2 and 3 of this book) to the Buddha-nature and Original Enlightenment (chapter 4) and run that through the notion of the interfusion of different points of views in the “new Middle Ways” presenting the non-duality of desire and desirelessness, time and timelessness, good and evil, enlightenment and delusion suggested by theLotus Sūtra(chapters 5, 6, and 7), what do you get?

    Answer: Tiantai Buddhism.

    A very greatly oversimplified restatement of the Tiantai view of the relation of conscious beings to the world they live...

  14. NINE EXPERIENCING T IANTAI: Experiments with Tiantai Practice (pp. 178-234)

    TIANTAI BUDDHIST PRACTICE IS AN IMMENSE ARSENAL OF techniques and practices, a pharmacy in which every imaginable medication is made available. After all, following theLotus Sūtra, Tiantai regards all Buddhist practices (and even non-Buddhist practices) as part of a single vehicle: none are to be excluded, all are to be “opened up” and shown to lead to Buddhahood. This is just what Zhiyi, the founder of Tiantai Buddhism, tries to do in his works on meditation. He gives a practical description of all the traditional meditations of Buddhism known to him, both Hinayana and Mahayana, and then “opens them...


    WE HAVE NOW SEEN IN WHAT WAYS TIANTAI BUDDHISM FULFILLS the promise of the new Middle Way suggested in theLotus Sūtra, incorporating and reconfiguring classical Mahāyāna ideas about Emptiness, Two Truths, and Original Enlightenment, and how radically it pursues the ideas of the non-dualism of time and timelessness, of desire and desirelessness, of self and other, of mind and matter, of cause and effect, of delusion and enlightenment, and even of good and evil. The implied principles of Tiantai ethics should be obvious. Do you want to change the world, or something in the world, or something in yourself,...

  16. EPILOGUE: So Far and Yet So Close (pp. 273-286)

    HOW DOES THE WORLD LOOK, THEN, TO A TIANTAI BUDDHIST? Here is Zhiyi’s own description in a passage from his magnum opus, theMohezhiguan, presenting in capsule form the totality of his vision as achieved by a particular meditation exercise, the most direct and straightforward one among many presented there, called “The One-Practice Samadhi.” It may serve as a fitting final summary of the main ideas discussed in this book:

    This is the Stillness-Awareness [zhiguan 直觀, the standard Chinese translation of the Buddhist meditation termsamatha-vipassanā] of the mind for this practice: sit upright and mindful, eliminating any disturbing...

  17. NOTES (pp. 287-302)
  19. INDEX (pp. 309-318)
  20. Back Matter (pp. 319-319)