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.