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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The "Illumination of Buddha" in the context of the social/philosophical milieu of the Chin-Liu Sung period Frisch, Matthew Ezra


The thesis searches for the roots of the Chinese appreciation for the concepts contained in the early Mādhyamika texts in the currents in Chinese philosophy and the political climate in China during the Eastern Chin and Liu Sung periods. We also seek to account for the characteristic emphasis in hsüan-hsüeh thought on descriptions of a hypothetical sage-ruler and of "Non-being" (and in Buddhist thought on the divine saviour and the eternal life of the "spirit") in the social/political situation in China during this period. We examine the many points of correspondence and similarities between Taoist philosophy and concepts originating in the Prajnāpāramitā texts. Selected translations from the Ming-fo-lun (Treatise Illuminating the Buddha) by Tsung Ping (375-443) are used as examples of a Chinese layman's appraisal of the Buddhist "Path" vis-a-vis those of the philosophical Taoists and Confucianists and to give an overall picture of the philosophical climate of the period. The thesis concludes that there is a wealth of similarity between the Buddhist ideas being introduced to Chinese in the Post-Han period, and China's own philosophical output before and during this period. A continuity is identified between the tenets of hsüan-hsüeh and these Buddhist ideas. We further conclude that the Chinese interest in the limitless powers of the Buddha--like the emphasis in hsüan-hsüeh thought on the qualities of the sage-ruler--can be attributed to the social strife in the period and the erosion of faith in mundane political philosophies. The life of the "spirit" and the countenance of the Buddha offered truly lasting stability and reassurance which the more worldly doctrines had been unable to provide. As a final note, the thesis considers the common appreciation for Buddhism among Indians and Chinese as indicative of universal features of religious systems. We conclude that as common components of the Mādhyamika system practiced in India and China, the recognition of an all powerful deity and transcendent realm coupled with the idea of men's potential to interact and identify with these may be acknowledged as two of the fundamental features of a particular religious doctrine shared for a time by these two ancient civilizations.

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