Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Postby Sonrisa » Thu Sep 23, 2010 3:07 pm

I have always been curious about the esoteric aspects of Buddhism. I like to focus on the internal a lot. I practice Mahayana but I wanted to know if there were esoteric schools in the Chinese traditions.

I dont feel affinites toward Vajrayana (it's too strong for me :cry: )

I mean, Japanese have Shingon so that is why Im wondering.
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Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Postby Astus » Fri Sep 24, 2010 11:36 am

"I like to focus on the internal a lot."

I don't see exactly how Buddhist tantra is related to that, as it has a lot of rituals and visual practices, not that it doesn't have its depths. In China certain tantric elements have remained, like dharanis and ceremonies, but it is not a separate school. In fact, it's hard to talk about separate schools in Chinese Buddhism, unlike in Japan. Currently there are some tantric groups, of which there are three versions: 1, imported from Shingon 2, imported from Tibet/Mongolia 3, Chinese concoction, mainly from the other two. If you're looking for magic in China you better look around Taoist traditions, actually they've incorporated a lot from Buddhist tantra.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Sep 24, 2010 12:15 pm

Sonrisa wrote:I have always been curious about the esoteric aspects of Buddhism. I like to focus on the internal a lot. I practice Mahayana but I wanted to know if there were esoteric schools in the Chinese traditions.


The formal Vajrayana tradition died out in China around the 9th century due to the great Buddhist oppression in 845 CE. However, it carried on in Japan in the form of Shingon, but then what Kukai initiated and what developed since then would be different from what was practised in Tang China, though Japanese Shingon priests insist rituals have remain unchanged.

Probably since the Yuan Dynasty in China (13th century), Tibetan Buddhist traditions were a part of Buddhism in China, though this often is ignored because it is politically inconvenient for some individuals. Particularly in the Qing Dynasty you see Tibetan Buddhist favoured by the court. The following photo is proof as it was, among other items, part of the Chinese imperial collection. We also know for certain that certain members of the imperial family were fond of Tibetan Buddhism. There were also projects undertaken to catalogue and study the Tibetan canon.

Image
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

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Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Postby plwk » Fri Sep 24, 2010 2:00 pm

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Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Postby Astus » Fri Sep 24, 2010 3:13 pm

plwk wrote:TangMi


That is a good example of Shingon imported back to China.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Postby Huifeng » Sat Sep 25, 2010 3:34 am

Astus wrote:... If you're looking for magic in China you better look around Taoist traditions, actually they've incorporated a lot from Buddhist tantra.


A much overlooked point.
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Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Postby tktru » Tue Sep 28, 2010 5:45 am

Sonrisa wrote:I have always been curious about the esoteric aspects of Buddhism. I like to focus on the internal a lot. I practice Mahayana but I wanted to know if there were esoteric schools in the Chinese traditions.

I dont feel affinites toward Vajrayana (it's too strong for me :cry: )

I mean, Japanese have Shingon so that is why Im wondering.


In terms of developing the goal of reaching the summit of enlightenment, what do you hope to accomplish with the Esoteric? For example in Shingon Buddhism, it has the extra wrinkle of not teaching true esoteric Buddhism unless one really taps into one's bodhicitta.
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Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Postby Astus » Tue Sep 28, 2010 11:10 pm

Robert Sharf, summing up his ideas outlined in "Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism" (p. 263-278), says in his essay "On Pure Land Buddhism and Ch'an/Pure Land Syncretism in Medieval China":

"The historiography of Chinese Pure Land turns out to run parallel in many respects to the historiography of Chinese Tantra or Esoterism (mi-chiao 密教). As I have argued elsewhere, there is little evidence that the Chinese conceived of an independent Tantric “school” during the T’ang when Esoterism was supposedly at its height. Moreover, there is simply no evidence that the so-called patriarchs of Chinese Tantric Buddhism—Subhakarasimha (Shan-wu-wei 善無畏, 637- 735), Vajrabodhi (Chin-kang-chih 金剛智, 671-741), Amoghavajra (Pu-k’ung 不空, 705-774), and so on—conceived of themselves as such. The category “Esoteric Buddhism” arose in the tenth and eleventh centuries, long after these masters had passed from the scene, and even then the Sung understanding of the term bears little resemblance to how the term is used by religious historians today. As in the case of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism, our contemporary understanding of Chinese Tantric Buddhism is inordinately influenced by developments in Japan. In both instances, scholars have come to view the Chinese materials through the long lens of Japanese Buddhist sectarian history."
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Postby eijo » Sun Oct 24, 2010 7:21 am

Astus wrote:Robert Sharf, summing up his ideas outlined in "Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism" (p. 263-278), says in his essay "On Pure Land Buddhism and Ch'an/Pure Land Syncretism in Medieval China":

"The historiography of Chinese Pure Land turns out to run parallel in many respects to the historiography of Chinese Tantra or Esoterism (mi-chiao 密教). As I have argued elsewhere, there is little evidence that the Chinese conceived of an independent Tantric “school” during the T’ang when Esoterism was supposedly at its height. Moreover, there is simply no evidence that the so-called patriarchs of Chinese Tantric Buddhism—Subhakarasimha (Shan-wu-wei 善無畏, 637- 735), Vajrabodhi (Chin-kang-chih 金剛智, 671-741), Amoghavajra (Pu-k’ung 不空, 705-774), and so on—conceived of themselves as such. The category “Esoteric Buddhism” arose in the tenth and eleventh centuries, long after these masters had passed from the scene, and even then the Sung understanding of the term bears little resemblance to how the term is used by religious historians today. As in the case of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism, our contemporary understanding of Chinese Tantric Buddhism is inordinately influenced by developments in Japan. In both instances, scholars have come to view the Chinese materials through the long lens of Japanese Buddhist sectarian history."


Sharf's comments notwithstanding, in traditional Shingon studies there has never been the assumption that there was an "esoteric school" in Tang. It has always been clear that it was a strand of practice in Tang not on the level of Tiantai or Huayan, and only became a school (meaning granted that status by the court) in Japan. I can't think of a single classical or reliable modern work that assumes there was such a school in Tang, and this point has also been internally emphasized as part of the uniqueness of Shingon.

However, Huiguo did consider himself the seventh patriarch of the esoteric Dharma transmission lineage (相承, different from a school), and conveyed that information to Kukai. Huiguo seems also to have told Kukai that he would be the eighth patriarch of the transmission lineage, and gave Kukai his robe, bowl, and so on as proof. Yiming's position in this is unclear, perhaps Huiguo intended to have two full successors, one in Japan and one in Tang. At any rate, the transmission lineage did continue briefly in Tang beyond Huiguo until the mid-9th century, and was reported on and studied by later student-monks from Japan. The lineage was lost in Tang afterwards.

The Tang transmission lineage can be seen in X59n1073 and X59n1074 on the CBETA DVD.
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