Tendai and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra

Tendai and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra

Postby PorkChop » Wed May 14, 2014 3:33 am

From what I've read, the Mahaparinirvana Sutra falls under the same period as the Lotus Sutra in Zhiyi's grouping of the 5 periods of sutras. Sorry if this is a misinterpretation on my part.

In a nutshell, my question is this:
"Is the Mahaparinirvana sutra a sutra that all monks of the Tendai tradition study?"

Tendai is one of the most comprehensive schools of East Asian Mahayana Buddhism; covering topics from exoteric and esoteric Buddhism. The body of knowledge studied is vast; however, it's a pretty common perception that there are at least 2 major houses of study on Mt Hiei: those who study mainly the Lotus Sutra and those who study mainly the Pure Land sutras. As far as I know, the standard Gongyo, or daily service for Tendai typically involves Lotus Sutra in the morning and Pure Land in the evenings (yes, I know this is a gross generalization) - both of those areas seem to be given significant coverage. I'm curious to what extent the Mahaparinirvana Sutra is/was studied by the average monk on Mt Hiei. For that matter, I'm also curious as to what extent the Avatamsaka Sutra is/was studied by the average monk on Mt Hiei as well.

Yes, I know this seems like a pretty random question. I was going to keep it to private message; but I figured it couldn't hurt to get more input. Thanks in advance.
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Re: Tendai and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra

Postby plwk » Wed May 14, 2014 7:24 am

In a nutshell, my question is this:
"Is the Mahaparinirvana sutra a sutra that all monks of the Tendai tradition study?"
Since Tendai retains much of what its Chinese ancestor has, see below...

The Tiantai school takes the Lotus Sūtra (Saddharmapuṇḍarīka Sūtra) as the main basis, the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Śāstra of Nāgārjuna as the guide, the Nirvāṇa Sūtra as the support, and the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra for methods of contemplation
Nan, Huai-Chin. Basic Buddhism: Exploring Buddhism and Zen. 1997. p. 91

The Lotus Sutra is the principal text of Tien-tai sect.
The Sutra is called 'exposing the Expedient and revealing the 'Real', 'setting aside the Expedient and setting up the 'Real', and 'encompassing the Three and returning to the One [Vehicle]'. The word 'Expedient' refers to all the teachings before the Lotus Sutra, which include Hinayana and Mahayana. These teachings seem to be separate from each other, and sometimes even contradictory to each other. During the assembly where the Buddha taught the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha perfected the Wonderful Dharma of the One Vehicle, which encompassed all previous teachings.
The doctrine in the Lotus Sutra is always described as 'Wonderful', because it is complete and perfect in itself, and is pure and untainted.
It is the foremost, rare and inconceivable Dharma accomplished by the Buddha.
The Lotus Sutra was translated by Kumarajiva. However, the chapter on Devadatta was translated and added by Fa-hsien in 475 AD. There are 28 chapters altogether. Another major sutra in Tien-tai sect is the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Mahaprajna Sutra and Shastra on the Great Wisdom.[Nagarjuna's Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra]

Buddhism in a Nutshell: Tiān Tái Sect (1): 69.4 Principal Text
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Re: Tendai and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra

Postby dude » Wed May 14, 2014 7:39 am

Thank you, plwk. That accords with what little I know.
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Re: Tendai and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra

Postby Seishin » Wed May 14, 2014 9:31 am

There is a small verse from the Nirvana Sutra in the Evening Liturgy. There may be more (Tendai Liturgy is vast).
And it is indeed studied. :smile:

Gassho,
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Re: Tendai and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra

Postby PorkChop » Wed May 14, 2014 11:49 am

Thanks for the responses.

So I guess one wouldn't need to be part of a specialized group to study the Mahaparinirvana sutra in depth then?

Probably should've been more clear in expressing my understanding about the central role of the Lotus Sutra in Tendai/TianTai thought; my question however revolves around a sutra grouped in the same period and whether or not it was studied at the same level of depth.

Kind of crazy that chapters were being added to the Chinese translation of the Lotus Sutra less than 60 years before Zhiyi was born. Wonder how aware he was of that fact.
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Re: Tendai and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra

Postby Qianxi » Wed May 14, 2014 12:07 pm

I don't know anything about modern liturgy, but it's interesting to read about the Tiantai classification system in Charles Muller's translation of Chegwan's Outline of the Tiantai Fourfold Teachings http://www.acmuller.net/kor-bud/sagyoui.html (text search 2.3.1.5.2. Nirvāṇa Sūtra )

It seems the Nirvana sutra, as the last sutra spoken by the Buddha, is seen as a final attempt to communicate all the four kinds of content (Tripiṭaka, Shared, Distinct, and Perfect) to disciples who did not understand the Lotus Sutra (which contained only the Perfect teaching).

The Vimalakirti sutra of the third period is also said to contain all four kinds of content, but apparently it did not communicate them in a way that they could all be understood through that sutra alone. The Nirvana sutra is said to communicate the four kinds of teaching in a way that they can be understood through that sutra alone. The Nirvana sutra seems to offer a more gradual path for those who do not understand the Lotus Sutra.

Interestingly the metaphor of the teachings of the Buddha as various dairy products comes from the Nirvana Sutra. There I think it refers to the twelve fold division of scripture, whereas in the Tiantai system the five periods are described as like five dairy products of increasing richness (milk, cream, buttermilk, butter, and ghee).
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Re: Tendai and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra

Postby Qianxi » Wed May 14, 2014 2:08 pm

PorkChop wrote:Kind of crazy that chapters were being added to the Chinese translation of the Lotus Sutra less than 60 years before Zhiyi was born. Wonder how aware he was of that fact.


Actually, in the 'Commentary of the Text of the Lotus Sutra' 法華文句 (written down by Guanding several decades after taking notes from Zhiyi's lecture) Zhiyi/Guanding addresses the status of the Devadatta chapter at the start of his commentary on it. Both Zhiyi and modern scholars recognise that the Devadatta chapter is included in the earlier extant translation of the Lotus Sutra, Dharmaraksa's 286 translation.

Modern scholars believe that the chapter was not part of Kumarajiva's original 406 translation, but was translated separately by Faxian (not the famous traveller) in 490.

Zhiyi however believed that the Devadatta chapter was part of Kumarajiva's original translation, and that for some reason this chapter had been kept hidden in the palace in Chang'an, meaning that the version of Kumarajiva's Lotus Sutra circulating in the south of China (where Zhiyi lived) was missing the Devadatta chapter. Zhiyi then describes how a couple of his predecessors placed the Devadatta chapter in the position we now have it (chapter 12). Zhiyi says that when he had the chance to compare his predecessors' positioning of the Devadatta chapter with Dharmaraksa's 286 translation and with an old manuscript from Chang'an, he realised that they had placed it in exactly the right position.

This is just a rough paraphrase, here's the Chinese if anyone is interested:
寶唱經目云。法華凡四譯兩存兩沒。曇摩羅剎。此言法護。西晉長安譯名正法華。法護仍敷演。安汰所承者是也。鳩摩羅什。此翻童壽。是龜茲國人。以偽秦弘始五年四月二十三日。於長安逍遙園譯大品竟。至八年夏。於草堂寺譯此妙法蓮華。命僧叡講之。叡開為九轍。當時二十八品。長安宮人請此品淹留在內。江東所傳止得二十七品。梁有滿法師。講經一百遍。於長沙郡燒身。仍以此品安持品之前。彼自私安未聞天下。陳有南嶽禪師。次此品在寶塔之後。晚以正法華。勘之甚相應。今四瀆混和。見長安舊本。故知二師深得經意。
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Re: Tendai and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra

Postby PorkChop » Wed May 14, 2014 3:24 pm

Qianxi

Lots of good info there, thanks! Going to be chewing on that for a while, especially the breakdown of the various periods & categories (Outline of the Tientai Fourfold Teachings) - it's a lot deeper than I thought. Imagine I'll be revisiting it quite frequently too.

I usually recite a little of the Lotus Sutra every day. Think I am definitely going to have to get my hands on a good translation of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra.
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Re: Tendai and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra

Postby Qianxi » Wed May 14, 2014 4:12 pm

PorkChop wrote:Going to be chewing on that for a while, especially the breakdown of the various periods & categories (Outline of the Tientai Fourfold Teachings) - it's a lot deeper than I thought.

Yes, the Tiantai books I have all have lots of charts so you can visualise the relationship between the elements. It's a shame there's not a clickable contents page there so you can see the overall structure.

2. Outline of the Tiantai Fourfold Teachings
2.1. Original Preface
2.2. Prologue
2.3. The Four Modes of Teaching, Five Time Periods, and Five Flavors
2.4. Four Kinds of Content
2.5. Practice

Anyway, Chegwan's Outline of the Tiantai Fourfold Teachings presents things quite clearly (well, clearly for a 1000 year old encyclopedia). I'd like to read it through systematically one day.
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Re: Tendai and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra

Postby PorkChop » Wed May 14, 2014 4:27 pm

Qianxi wrote:It's a shame there's not a clickable contents page there so you can see the overall structure.


Think that might be a fun programming project... may look into doing that with a slick web app.


This Overview's still pretty difficult. I still have Swanson's book ("T'ien-T'ai Philosophy") and Ng's book ("T'ien-T'ai Buddhism and Early Madhyamika"); I may have to break them out here shortly.

Going back to MPNS, I really wish the BDK version was the whole thing for $80, and not just vol 1 of 4(?).
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