Chih-I and Madhyamika

Yu-Kwan Ng, McMaster University


In this thesis a systematic comparative study is made between Chih-i's thought and the Mādhyamika. The study is a response to a basic problem that can be formulated as follows. Indian Mādhyamika influenced the development of Chinese Buddhism amply and deeply. Chih-i, the founder of the Chinese T'ien-t'ai School, had a close relationship with the Mādhyamika tradition textually and theoretically. However, in his classification of the Buddhist doctrines, he regarded the Mādhyamika as "Common Doctrine" and theoretically lower than his "Perfect Doctrine". Here, then, are our questions:

1. Why is Chih-i not satisfied with Mādhyamika thought?

2. Why does he advocate the Perfect Doctrine?

Our study shows that these questions are mainly concerned with the understanding of Truth and its realization. For Chih-i, the Mādhyamika Truth (termed Emptiness or the Middle Way) lacked permanence, function and all-embracing nature; the Truth explicated in the Perfect Doctrine (termed the Middle Way - Buddha Nature) is permanent, functional and all-embracing. With regard to the realization of the Truth, Chih-i mainly points out that in the Mādhyamika, the Truth is attained in the extirpation of defilements, while in the Perfect Doctrine, the Truth can be attained in making use of defilements. Chih-i obviously advocates that Truth should be permanent, functional and all-embracing, and that it is better to realize Truth in the midst of defilements than by eliminating them.

It is hoped that the study of these questions will enhance our understanding of Chih-i's thought in light of its relation to the Mādhyamika as well as our understanding of the essence of the Mādhyamika as viewed by Chih-i. We shall consequently be able to see how a Chinese thinker absorbed Indian Buddhist doctrines, developed them, and eventually built up a great Buddhist school in a distinct, Chinese style.