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A Comparative Approach to Śubhakarasiṃha’s (637–735) “Essentials of Meditation” : Meditation and Precepts in Eighth-Century China
Author Lin, Pei-ying
Source Chinese and Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism
Pages121 - 146
Publisher Url
LocationAmsterdam, the Netherlands [阿姆斯特丹, 荷蘭]
SeriesStudies on East Asian Religions
Content type論文集=Collected Papers
NoteAuthor Affiliations: Department of Religious Studies, Fu Jen Catholic University, New Taipei City 24205, Taiwan
KeywordTang Dynasty; Esoteric Buddhism; Chan/Zen Buddhism
AbstractThis chapter examines the procedure of precept conferral in Śubhakarasiṃha’s (637–735) Essentials of Meditation (Ch. Wuwei sanzang chanyao 無畏三藏禪要, T 917, 18: 942b–46a): repentance, proclamation of vows, dhāraṇī recitation, and meditation. An Esoteric practitioner must achieve and practice all these steps to receive bodhisattva precepts. I will also present, as the title of Śubhakarasiṃha’s manual suggests, an alternative analysis of this text that argues that its purpose was rather an initiation into this type of meditation.
To gain a better understanding of Śubhakarasiṃha’s perceptions in relation to contemporaneous Chinese Buddhism, I investigate other eighth-century texts with similar contents, including (a) Five Skillful Means of Mahāyāna; (b) Amoghavajra’s Manual of Receiving Bodhicitta Precepts; and (c) Zhanran’s 湛然 Manual of Bodhisattva Precepts Conferral. In comparing Śubhakarasiṃha’s text with the others, similarities emerge among Tiantai, early Chan, and Esoteric Buddhism. The notions of “pure precepts” and “purified meditation” played essential roles in the precept-conferral ceremony across these texts. Moreover, the comparison yields the sense of a rather fluid religious environment in eighth-century China, in which different branches of Buddhist communities shared many doctrines.
First, I will examine the precept-conferral procedure itself. As Śubhakarasiṃha specified in his manual, an esoteric practitioner must complete each of the requisite steps in order to attain bodhisattva precepts. The whole procedure runs in chronological order: repentance, proclamation of vows, dhāraṇī recitation, and meditation. The combination of dhāraṇī and meditation features Esoteric and (Northern) Chan characteristics and deserves further investigation. However, systematic analysis of the texts makes it clear that each step of the procedure has an important function for practice, just as Śubhakarasiṃha explained in his text. These steps constitute crucial components of his esoteric praxis, which focuses on the theme of “purification of the mind.”
This set of procedures, however, was not necessarily exclusive to esoteric teachings in this place and at this time, and repentance and proclamation of vows have been widely practiced in all Chinese Buddhist traditions. This leads to further questions, particularly regarding how the precept-conferral ritual procedures produced the purity of the practitioners. What functions did repentance play in the procedure? How was the idea of purity of mind manifested in early Chan, Tiantai, and Esoteric traditions? Daniel Stevenson, in his extensive research on the Tiantai Four Forms of Samādhi, argued that devotional practices in sixth- to eighth-century China were not as diverse as we may have imagined (1987, 249). He also insightfully noted that the shared patterns of devotional practice reflect the belief systems of a common soteriological vision (256). But there is still a need to reassess the implications of the commonly practiced devotional meditations and to determine the precise nature of the shared soteriological theory. Of particular interest are the doctrinal underpinnings of the connection between meditation and precepts in Śubhakarasiṃha’s manual, and how they compare to parallel doctrinal foundations in other texts.
Table of contentsPrecept-Conferral Manuals 123
The Three Clusters of Pure Precepts 124
Precept-Conferral Procedure 125
A Śubhakarasiṃha’s Essentials of Meditation. 125
B Amoghavajra’s Shou putixin jieyi 受菩提心戒儀 130
C The Gateway 131
D Zhanran’s Manual of Bodhisattva Precepts Conferral 133
Meditation in the Procedure 136
Repentance and Purity 137
Mind and Precepts in the Chan Tradition 140
Conclusion 143
Created date2020.08.27
Modified date2020.08.27

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