Awakening of Faith (Dasheng Qixin Lun)

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The Dasheng qixin lun (Treatise on the Awakening of Faith According to the Mahāyāna) is a Chinese apocryphal composition believed to have been written during the sixth century. The text is important for its appropriation of the tathĀgatagarbha, the doctrine of Buddha-nature, into the central teaching of Chinese Buddhist schools such as Huayan and Chan. The Dasheng qixin lun explains how ordinary, deluded beings can attain enlightenment without renouncing this worldly life. The text was reputed to have been written in Sanskrit by AŚvaghoṣa (Chinese, Maming; first century c.e.) and then translated into Chinese in 550 by the Indian dharma master ParamĀrtha (Chinese, Zhendi; 499–569). However, no Sanskrit version of this text exists, and most scholars accept its indigenous Chinese provenance.

The Dasheng qixin lun is divided into five parts. In part one, the author explains his motives for writing the treatise. In part two, he outlines the significance of his discussion. In part three, he focuses on two aspects of mind to explicate the relationship between enlightenment and ignorance, nirvāṇa and saṃsāra, or the absolute and the phenomenal. In part four, he enumerates five practices that aid the believer in the awakening and growth of faith, with an emphasis on calmness and insight meditation. In part five, he describes the benefits that result from cultivating the five practices. The content of the Dasheng qixin lun is often summarized as "One Mind, Two Aspects, Three Greatnesses, Four Faiths, and Five Practices."

The composition of the Dasheng qixin lun represents a process of Sinicization of Indian Buddhism. The text seeks to synthesize tathāgatagarbha and yogācāra philosophies of mind by positing that one mind has two aspects: the absolute aspect, which is the equivalent of the tathāgatagarbha, and the phenomenal aspect, which refers to the ĀlayavijÑĀna (storehouse consciousness). Since the tathāgatagarbha is the underlying ontological matrix upon which the phenomenal aspect of mind is grounded, the latter always has the potential to be transformed into the absolute mind. Ignorance is simply the manifestation of one's defiled modes of consciousness, which do not have distinct characteristics of their own and are not separate from the mind's true essence. To attain enlightenment, one needs only to free oneself from deluded thoughts and cultivate faith in one's inherently pure mind. Enlightenment is accordingly conceptualized as a process in which one fully actualizes one's initial awakening into one's true nature through religious cultivation and meditative practice.

The Dasheng qixin lun has exerted a profound impact on the development of East Asian Buddhism; numerous Buddhist exegetes in China, Korea, and Japan have written commentaries on it and have incorporated its thesis into their systems of thought. The terminology and hermeneutic of the Dasheng qixin lun represent a Chinese shift away from the apophasis of the Madhyamaka teaching of ŚŪnyatĀ (emptiness)to the kataphasis of the doctrine of immanent Buddha-nature. Its use of the paradigm of ti (essence) and yong (function) in analyzing the relationship between the abstract and the phenomenal realms also plays an influential role in the Huayan teachings of lishi wuai (unimpeded interpenetration between principle and phenomena) and shishi wuai (unimpeded interpenetration of all phenomena). Most importantly, through its explicit linkage of tathāgatagarbha and ālayavijñāna, the Dasheng qixin lun succeeds in adapting the tathāgatagarbha doctrine to the indigenous Chinese milieu. It assures the Mahāyāna ideal of universal salvation and affirms the sanctity of life in this world. Its assumption of the inherent purity and enlightenment in the minds of all sentient beings also provides an ontological basis for the Chan school's doctrine of "seeing one's nature and attaining Buddhahood" (jianxing chengfo).

See also:Apocrypha; Chan School; China; Huayan School


Buswell, Robert E., Jr. The Formation of Ch'an Ideology in China and Korea: The Vajrasamādhi-sūtra, a Buddhist Apocryphon. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

Buswell, Robert E., Jr., ed. Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.

Gregory, Peter N. Tsung-mi and the Sinification of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Hakeda, Yoshito S., trans. and ed. The Awakening of Faith, Attributed to Aśvaghoṣa. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967.

Ding-hwa Hsieh