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Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Thu Sep 23, 2010 3:07 pm
by Sonrisa
I have always been curious about the esoteric aspects of Buddhism. I like to focus on the internal a lot. I practice Mahayana but I wanted to know if there were esoteric schools in the Chinese traditions.

I dont feel affinites toward Vajrayana (it's too strong for me :cry: )

I mean, Japanese have Shingon so that is why Im wondering.

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Fri Sep 24, 2010 11:36 am
by Astus
"I like to focus on the internal a lot."

I don't see exactly how Buddhist tantra is related to that, as it has a lot of rituals and visual practices, not that it doesn't have its depths. In China certain tantric elements have remained, like dharanis and ceremonies, but it is not a separate school. In fact, it's hard to talk about separate schools in Chinese Buddhism, unlike in Japan. Currently there are some tantric groups, of which there are three versions: 1, imported from Shingon 2, imported from Tibet/Mongolia 3, Chinese concoction, mainly from the other two. If you're looking for magic in China you better look around Taoist traditions, actually they've incorporated a lot from Buddhist tantra.

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Fri Sep 24, 2010 12:15 pm
by Huseng
Sonrisa wrote:I have always been curious about the esoteric aspects of Buddhism. I like to focus on the internal a lot. I practice Mahayana but I wanted to know if there were esoteric schools in the Chinese traditions.
The formal Vajrayana tradition died out in China around the 9th century due to the great Buddhist oppression in 845 CE. However, it carried on in Japan in the form of Shingon, but then what Kukai initiated and what developed since then would be different from what was practised in Tang China, though Japanese Shingon priests insist rituals have remain unchanged.

Probably since the Yuan Dynasty in China (13th century), Tibetan Buddhist traditions were a part of Buddhism in China, though this often is ignored because it is politically inconvenient for some individuals. Particularly in the Qing Dynasty you see Tibetan Buddhist favoured by the court. The following photo is proof as it was, among other items, part of the Chinese imperial collection. We also know for certain that certain members of the imperial family were fond of Tibetan Buddhism. There were also projects undertaken to catalogue and study the Tibetan canon.

Image

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Fri Sep 24, 2010 2:00 pm
by plwk

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Fri Sep 24, 2010 3:13 pm
by Astus
plwk wrote:TangMi
That is a good example of Shingon imported back to China.

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Sat Sep 25, 2010 3:34 am
by Huifeng
Astus wrote: ... If you're looking for magic in China you better look around Taoist traditions, actually they've incorporated a lot from Buddhist tantra.
A much overlooked point.

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2010 5:45 am
by tktru
Sonrisa wrote:I have always been curious about the esoteric aspects of Buddhism. I like to focus on the internal a lot. I practice Mahayana but I wanted to know if there were esoteric schools in the Chinese traditions.

I dont feel affinites toward Vajrayana (it's too strong for me :cry: )

I mean, Japanese have Shingon so that is why Im wondering.
In terms of developing the goal of reaching the summit of enlightenment, what do you hope to accomplish with the Esoteric? For example in Shingon Buddhism, it has the extra wrinkle of not teaching true esoteric Buddhism unless one really taps into one's bodhicitta.

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2010 11:10 pm
by Astus
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."

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 7:21 am
by eijo
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.

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 1:59 am
by Druniel
Astus wrote:
Fri Sep 24, 2010 3:13 pm
plwk wrote:TangMi
That is a good example of Shingon imported back to China.
Thank you!

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 2:12 am
by Druniel
eijo wrote:
Sun Oct 24, 2010 7:21 am
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.

But of course Kukai must have met Huiguo somewhere, and study there and practice! I'd say it was a 真言 Zhēnyán Temple. So, of course was a School, or you can use another name. No need to have the Emperor word for it.
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.

This way of thinking is pure dullness. Thinking of great Masters not having awareness of what they were and were doing. A tipical accademic reductive tendency, aimed at devaluing and resizing a glorious past, in exchange for a dull historical materialism.

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 7:24 pm
by Sentient Light
Huseng wrote:
Fri Sep 24, 2010 12:15 pm
The formal Vajrayana tradition died out in China around the 9th century due to the great Buddhist oppression in 845 CE. However, it carried on in Japan in the form of Shingon, but then what Kukai initiated and what developed since then would be different from what was practised in Tang China, though Japanese Shingon priests insist rituals have remain unchanged.
It was carried on in Vietnam as well, though remains an oral and largely secretive tradition.

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Fri Mar 15, 2019 3:16 am
by 如傑優婆塞
The formal Vajrayana tradition died out in China around the 9th century due to the great Buddhist oppression in 845 CE. However, it carried on in Japan in the form of Shingon, but then what Kukai initiated and what developed since then would be different from what was practised in Tang China, though Japanese Shingon priests insist rituals have remain unchanged.
It was carried on in Vietnam as well, though remains an oral and largely secretive tradition.
Is this assertion with reference to:
a. the alleged early period of 3rd or 2nd century B.C.E (Viet. Late Hồng Bàng, Thục & Triệu Dynasties) by Indian delegations or
b. the 1st - 2nd Chinese Domination Periods around 1st & 2nd C.E or
c. the Táng Dynasty Period (Viet. 3rd Chinese Domination) of Śubhakarasiṃha, Vajrabodhi, Amoghavajra & Huìguo or
d. the (unlikely) surviving Chinese remnant of Huìguo's legacy or the Korean side after the devastating 'Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution' in 845 C.E by Táng Emperor Wuzong or
e. fragmented elements of Esoteric practices absorbed into Chinese Chán & Pure Land after the Persecution & Sòng Period into Thiền & Tịnh độ

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Fri Apr 05, 2019 10:53 pm
by Sentient Light
如傑優婆塞 wrote:
Fri Mar 15, 2019 3:16 am
Is this assertion with reference to:
a. the alleged early period of 3rd or 2nd century B.C.E (Viet. Late Hồng Bàng, Thục & Triệu Dynasties) by Indian delegations or
b. the 1st - 2nd Chinese Domination Periods around 1st & 2nd C.E or
c. the Táng Dynasty Period (Viet. 3rd Chinese Domination) of Śubhakarasiṃha, Vajrabodhi, Amoghavajra & Huìguo or
d. the (unlikely) surviving Chinese remnant of Huìguo's legacy or the Korean side after the devastating 'Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution' in 845 C.E by Táng Emperor Wuzong or
e. fragmented elements of Esoteric practices absorbed into Chinese Chán & Pure Land after the Persecution & Sòng Period into Thiền & Tịnh độ
So I had to do some research and pondering after you brought up this question, and was not getting a very clear answer, with tradition telling me it was some mix of C and E, but with nothing more to go on.

As I uncover more, I've become a bit skeptical. I think the Mat Tong (Esoteric or "Secret") school of Vietnamese Buddhism is actually mostly made up of what we got from Tiantai, though now integrated with a lot of Tibetan practices in the contemporary era. I do think there are fragments of the esoteric Chan practices from China absorbed into this milieu, but I'm getting more and more the sense that these esoteric practices were preserved not from the Tangmi school, but from the Tiantai.

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Thu Apr 18, 2019 2:12 am
by humble.student
如傑優婆塞 wrote:
Fri Mar 15, 2019 3:16 am
The formal Vajrayana tradition died out in China around the 9th century due to the great Buddhist oppression in 845 CE. However, it carried on in Japan in the form of Shingon, but then what Kukai initiated and what developed since then would be different from what was practised in Tang China, though Japanese Shingon priests insist rituals have remain unchanged.
It was carried on in Vietnam as well, though remains an oral and largely secretive tradition.
Is this assertion with reference to:
a. the alleged early period of 3rd or 2nd century B.C.E (Viet. Late Hồng Bàng, Thục & Triệu Dynasties) by Indian delegations or
b. the 1st - 2nd Chinese Domination Periods around 1st & 2nd C.E or
c. the Táng Dynasty Period (Viet. 3rd Chinese Domination) of Śubhakarasiṃha, Vajrabodhi, Amoghavajra & Huìguo or
d. the (unlikely) surviving Chinese remnant of Huìguo's legacy or the Korean side after the devastating 'Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution' in 845 C.E by Táng Emperor Wuzong or
e. fragmented elements of Esoteric practices absorbed into Chinese Chán & Pure Land after the Persecution & Sòng Period into Thiền & Tịnh độ
From my contacts with Vietnamese monks, I would say that (e) is the most likely scenario, but perhaps 'mainstream' would be better put than 'Chan & Pure Land' i.e. more or less the same as in China: fragmented and discrete, and the object of a certain revival in the 20th century. However, it is worth pointing out that in recent years, some Vietnamese masters went to India/Nepal/Bhutan to study Tibetan Vajrayana and brought that back.

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Fri Apr 19, 2019 2:33 pm
by Astus

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Mon Apr 22, 2019 6:37 pm
by Sentient Light
Astus wrote:
Fri Apr 19, 2019 2:33 pm
Is there really "Esoteric" Buddhism? by Richard D McBride
Thanks for that. It's a view I've been leaning toward lately myself, though this aspect of our classification coming from Japanese sectarian polemics is new to me.

One thing worth noting: the "esoteric" section of the Taisho Canon is the largest, by far, both in terms of number of fascicles and number of individual volumes/texts.

Re: Are there esoteric schools of Mahayana in Chinese tradition?

Posted: Tue Apr 23, 2019 3:27 pm
by humble.student
I've posted this list of suggested readings before:

In no particular order, the following books and articles will help give a better idea of Tantrism in China.

Chou Yi-liang: Tantrism in China https://www.jstor.org/stable/2717819
Charles Orzech: ‘Seeing Chen-yen Buddhism: scholarship and the Vajrayana in China’ https://www.jstor.org/stable/1062679
Richard McBride: “IS THERE REALLY “ESOTERIC” BUDDHISM?” https://www.academia.edu/25175930/Is_th ... c_Buddhism
Robert Sharf: Appendix 1: ‘On Esoteric Buddhism in China’, in: Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism.
Michel Strickmann: Mantras and Mandarins
Richard K. Payne ed.: Tantric Buddhism in East Asia
Orzech et al eds.: Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in East Asia
Yael Bentor ed.: Chinese and Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism