Foundations of T’ien – T’ai Philosophy by Paul L. Swanson

T'ien - T'ai Philosophy

The full title of this book is Foundations of T’ien – T’ai Philosophy – The Flowering of the Two Truths Thoery in Chinese Buddhism.

It has chapters on 1: Truth in T’ien – Tiai Philosophy, 2: Early Mãdhyamika in China, 3: Early Chinese Aprocryphal Sūtras, 4: The Liang Period (502-557), 5: Hui-Yüan’s Encylopedia of Mahãyãna Buddhism, 6: The Ch’eng Shih Lun Scholars, 7:The Sanlun Critiques, 8: Chih-i’s Threefold Truth and a Translation of Chih-i’s Fa hua hsüan i.

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(From The Introduction): “This volume represents the first comprehensive study in English of the teaching of the Threefold Truth, pehaps the single most important doctrine in T’ien – t’ai Buddhism. Its author, Paul Swanson, stands as the first of a new generation of Buddhist scholars attempting to provide a comprehensive analysis of T’ien – t’ai for the West and thus top open new vistas for understanding East Asian Buddhism as a whole.

(From The Preface): “T’ien – t’ai Buddhism is usually introduced by way of the convenient but misleading framework of its doctrinal classification system , known as the “Five Teachings and Eight Periods.” Both in Japan and in the West, this system is used to classify the entire corpus of the Buddhist teachings into the various types of teachings which were supposedly  revealed by the Buddha at various stages of his career. Certainly this latter idea is an important part of the T’ien – t’ai tradition, but it leaves the impression that T’ien -t’ ai tradition, but it leaves the impression that T’ien – t’ai Buddhism is a rather rigid and outdated relic of the past whose meticulous scholastic analyses are of no more than academic interest.

A shift of perspective on T’ien – t’ai Buddhism, I wish to argue here opens up an intricate and all-encompassing synthesis of Buddhist teachings and practice based on a consistent principle that brings T’ien – t’ai Buddhism to life and makes it more accessible to men and women in our day. This principle, the key to T’ien – t’ai Buddhism, is Chih-i’s concept of the “Threefold Truth”: Emptiness, Conventional Existence, and the Middle.

Chih-i (538-597), one of the greatest of the Chinese Buddhist philosophers, combined an uncommon scholarly insight into the Buddhaharma with the virtuosity of a dedicated follower of the Buddhist path”.


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