This paper attempts to explore Master Zhiyi (538–597) of Chinese Tiantai Buddhism’s theory of the Subtlety of the three categories of Dharma. By means of interpreting the title “the Subtle Dharma of the Lotus Sutra,” he is able to adhere to the One Buddha-vehicle as the unifying force to incorporate different viewpoints and to classify the teaching of the Buddha. Zhiyi’s interpretation of the title of the Lotus Sutra begins with the word “Dharma.” This indicates that the Buddha teaches dharma, for dharma is the doctrine of truth or reality. He divides dharma into three categories: (1) Dharma of Sentient Beings, (2) Dharma of Buddha, and (3) Dharma of Mind. These three categories of dharma are regarded as constituting the doctrines in the teaching of the Buddha. Through this interpretation, the dharma the Buddha expounds in his teaching is confirmed to be subtle and inconceivable. The meaning of the subtlety is defined by Zhiyi as being vast in substance, superior in placeness, and eternal in function. These three aspects of the subtlety are spoken of in terms of the Ten Dharma-realms being the representation of the Ultimate Truth. As this Ultimate Truth is constituted by the Relativity of the nine realms and the Ultimate of the Buddha-realm, the Buddha’s teaching that functions to lead beings to enter the realm of Buddha is made evident. Owing to the fact that both of the nine realms and the Buddha-realm belong to the Dharma-realm, and the dharmadhātu is the Ultimate Truth, Zhiyi maintains that the nine realms as the Relative contains the Ultimate, and the Buddha-realm as the Ultimate contains the Relative. The integrated reality of the Relative and the Ultimate of the Ten Dharma-realms renders the dharma of the Ultimate Truth inconceivable and subtle. Coinciding with the subtlety that is defined by these three aspects in terms of vast substance, superior placeness, and eternal function, these three categories of dharma are linked with those three aspects of the subtlety. The Dharma of Sentient Beings that concerns the Ten Dharma-realms (that are characterized by the Ten Suchnesses) indicates the vastness of substance the Buddha’s teaching is based upon, in terms of the Ultimate Truth. The Dharma of Buddha that concerns the Buddha’s knowledge of the Relative and the Ultimate indicates the superiority of placeness the Buddha’s teaching can lead to in terms of attainment of Buddhahood. The Dharma of Mind that concerns the way of realizing the Ultimate Truth indicates the length of function the Buddha’s teaching can benefit, in terms of the three periods of time. Hence, by Zhiyi’s definition, the subtlety refers to the dharma, and the dharma is subtle, whereby the Ultimate Truth is presented as an integrated reality of Oneness.
Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 17, 2017
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