Early Chinese Buddhism
The Transmission from India & the Process of Sinicization


On the Four Noble Truths
Chapter 24
8. In teaching the Dharma, Buddhas resort to two truths: worldly conventional truth and ultimate truth.
9. Those who do not know the distinction between these two truths do not understand the deep reality in the Buddha’s Teaching.
10. The ultimate cannot be taught without resorting to conventions; and without recourse to the ultimate, one cannot reach nirvana.

18. Interdependent origination — that is what we call emptiness [sunyata]. That is a conventional designation. It is also the Middle Way.
19. There can be found no element of reality [dharma] that is not interdependently originated; therefore, there can be found no element of reality whatsoever that is not empty. [The Experience of Buddhism, 148]


...who’s the parasite?
On Nirvana
Chapter 25
19. There is no distinction whatsoever between samsara and nirvana; and there is no distinction whatsoever between nirvana and samsara.
20. The limit of nirvana and the limit of samsara: one cannot find even the slightest difference between them. [The Experience of Buddhism, 150]
The Three-Treatise (Sanlun) school is the Chinese representative of the Indian Madhyamika (Middle Doctrine) school of Nagarjuna (ca. 100-200 C.E.). It was introduced into China by a half-Indian missionary named Kumarajiva (344-413), who translated into Chinese three Indian works systematizing the Middle Doctrine. Two of these by the Madhyamika school taught that the phenomenal world has only a qualified reality, as opposed to those who maintained the ultimate reality of the chain of events or elements that make up the phenomenal being or object. According to the Madhyamika view, a monk with defective eyesight may imagine that he sees flies in his begging bowl, and they have full reality for the perceiver. Though the flies are not real, the illusion of flies is. The Madhyamika philosophers tried to prove that all our experience of the phenomenal world is like that of the shortsighted monk, that all beings labor under the constant illusion of perceiving things as real, whereas in fact they are only “empty.” This pervasive Emptiness or Void (Sunyata) is the only true reality; hence the Madhyamikas were sometimes also called Sunyavadins (exponents of the doctrine of Emptiness). Although the phenomenal world is true pragmatically, and therefore has qualified reality for practical purposes, the whole chain of existence is seen as composed only of a series of transitory events, and these, being impermanent, cannot have reality in themselves. Emptiness, on the other hand, never changes. It is absolute truth and absolute being — in fact it is the same as nirvana and the Body of Essence, or Dharma-Body, of the Buddha. [Sources of Chinese Tradition, 436]
The [Zhonglun] says, “things are neither this nor that.” But one man will consider “this” to be “this” and “that” to be “that,” while another man considers “this” to be “that” and “that” to be “this.” Thus “this” and “that” do not definitively refer to a particular name, but deluded people would believe that they necessarily do. This being the case, [the distinction] between “this” and “that” is from the beginning nonexistent, but to the deluded it is from the beginning not nonexistent. If we realize that “this” and “that” do not exist, is there anything that can be regarded as existent? Thus we know that things are not real; they are from the beginning only temporary names. ... 
Compare with Zhuangzi
Everything has its “that,” everything has its “this.” From the point of view of “that” you cannot see it, but through understanding you can know it. So I say, “that” comes out of “this” and “this” depends on “that” — which is to say that “this” and “that” give birth to each other. ... [The sage] recognizes a “this,” but a “this” which is also “that,” a “that” which is also “this.” His “that” has both a right and a wrong in it; his “this” too has both a right and a wrong in it. So, in fact, does he still have a “this” and “that”? Or does he in fact no longer have a “this” and “that”? A state in which “this” and “that” no longer find their opposites is called the hinge of the Way. When the hinge is fitted into the socket, it can respond endlessly. Its right then is a single endlessness and its wrong too is a single endlessness. So, I say, the best thing to use is clarity. [Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, 34-5; cf. Sources of Chinese Tradition, 100-1]
The sage moves within the thousand transformations but does not change, and travels on ten thousand paths of delusion but always goes through. This is so because he leaves the vacuous [i.e. empty] self-nature of things as it is and does not employ the concept of vacuity to make things vacuous. Therefore the scripture says, “Marvelous, the World-Honored One (Buddha). You establish all dharmas in their places without disturbing Reality.” He does not depart from reality in order to establish them in their places; reality is right where they are established. This being so, is the Way far away? Reality is wherever there is contact with things. Is the sage far away? Realize him in one’s life and there will be spiritual intelligence (shenming). [A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, 356; cf. Jizangs discussion of the Twofold Truth” in Sources of Chinese Tradition, 438-440]


The Large Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom says, “Prajna [wisdom] is without any mark; it is without the marks of origination and extinction.” The Small Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom says, “In prajna, there is nothing that is known and nothing that is seen.” These remarks mean to elucidate the [perfect] wisdom’s function of cognition. But then why do they say that [prajna] has no mark and no knowing? Evidently, there exists [a form of] knowing which is markless, and [a kind of] cognition which is non-knowing. For what reason? When there is something that is known, there is something that is not known. Since in the holy mind, there is nothing that is known, there is nothing that is not known. The knowing which is non-knowing is termed “all-knowing.”
Compare with Zhuangzi
... [U]nderstanding [i.e. knowing] that rests in what it does not understand is the finest. Who can understand discriminations that are not spoken, the Way that is not a Way? If he can understand this, he may be called the Reservoir of Heaven. Pour into it and it is never full, dip from it and it never runs dry, and yet it does not know where the supply comes from. [Chuang Tzu, 40]
The perfect man dwells in [the realm of] being without [affirming] being, and resides in [the realm of] non-being without [affirming] non-being. Although he does not grasp at being and non-being, he also does not abandon being and non-being. Therefore, “softening his brilliance and conforming to the wearies of the dust[y world],” (Lao Tzu, Ch. 4) he wanders throughout the five destinies. Tranquilly he goes, calmly he comes. “Being serene, he does nothing;” yet nothing is left undone.
The Consciousness-Only School employs many arguments, paying close attention to the form of logical syllogism, which was seldom the way ancient Chinese philosophers would present their thoughts. It examines many issues, such as the existence of substance and the connection between substance and the phenomenal world, which had not been the primary focus of Chinese philosophy until then. It embraces the belief that the essence of life is suffering, which was an ingrained belief of the Indian culture, but not of the Chinese culture. It is based on the “other-worldly” concern rooted in the Indian traditions, and it teaches annihilation of human emotions, desires, family ties, and human bonds. Its ultimate goal is to reach nirvana, which is understood by this school to denote a realm separated from the human world. Chinese philosophy, on the other hand, is based on humanism — the thesis of the primacy of the human world. The whole spirit of this school was so contrary to the basic “this-worldly” love of the Chinese people that it was not to have a lasting effect in Chinese society. As a result, the Consciousness-Only School declined in China around the eighth century AD. Other teachings that were more compatible with the Chinese way of thinking took its place. [An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 245-6]