Buddhist philosophy, Chinese

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-G002-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 12, 2024, from

8. The Chinese Buddhist Schools: Huayan

Drawing on a panjiao similar to that of Zhiyi, the Huayan school chose the Huayan Sutra (Sanskrit title Avataṃsaka Sutra, Chinese Huayan jing) for its foundational scripture. What immediately differentiates Huayan from typically Indian approaches is that instead of concentrating on a diagnosis of the human problem, and exhorting and prescribing solutions for it, Huayan immediately begins from the point of view of enlightenment. In other words, its discourse represents a nirvanic perspective rather than a samsaric perspective. Instead of detailing the steps that would lead one from ignorance to enlightenment, Huayan immediately endeavours to describe how everything looks through enlightened eyes.

Like Tiantai, Huayan offers a totalistic, encompassing ‘round’ view. A lived world as constituted through a form of life experience is called a dharma-dhātu. Chengguan, the ‘fourth’ Huayan patriarch, described four types of dharma-dhātus, each successively encompassing its predecessors. The first is shi, which means ‘event’, ‘affair’ or ‘thing’. This is the realm where things are experienced as discrete individual items. The second is called li (principle), which in Chinese usage usually implies the principal metaphysical order that subtends events as well as the rational principles that explicate that order. Often li is used by Buddhists as a synonym for emptiness. The first sustained analysis based on the relation of li and shi was undertaken by the Korean monk Wônhyo in his commentary on the Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna, which influenced early Huayan thinkers like Fazang. The lishi model went on to become an important analytic tool for all sorts of East Asian philosophers, not just Buddhists. In the realm of li, one clearly sees the principles that relate shi to each other, but the principles are more important than the individual events. In the third realm, one sees the mutual interpenetration or ‘non-obstruction’ of li and shi (lishi wu’ai). Rather than seeing events while being oblivious to principle, or concentrating on principle while ignoring events, in this realm events are seen as instantiations of principle, and principle is nothing more than the order by which events relate to each other.

In the fourth and culminating dharma-dhātu, one sees the mutual interpenetration and non-obstruction of all events (shishi wu’ai). In this realm, everything is causally related to everything else. Huayan illustrates this with the image of Indra’s net, a vast net that encompasses the universe. A special jewel is found at the intersection of every horizontal and vertical weave in the net, special because each jewel reflects every other jewel in the net, so that looking into any one jewel, one sees them all. Every event or thing can disclose the whole universe because all mutually interpenetrate each other without barriers or obstruction.

This form of nondualism is not monistic because shishi wu’ai does not obliterate the distinctions between things, but rather insists that everything is connected to everything else without losing distinctiveness. Identity and difference, in this view, are merely two sides of the same coin, which, though a single coin, still has two distinct sides that should not be confused for each other. Mutual interpenetration is temporal as well as spatial; past, present and future mutually interpenetrate. Hence according to Huayan, to enter the path towards final enlightenment is, in an important sense, to have already arrived at that destination.

Citing this article:
Lusthaus, Dan. The Chinese Buddhist Schools: Huayan. Buddhist philosophy, Chinese, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G002-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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