Brook Ziporyn’s (Chinese) Buddhist Reading of Chinese Philosophy

Buddhist Studies Review 34 (2):259-267 (2018)
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Abstract

This review article defends Brook Ziporyn against the charge, quite common in graduate classroom discussions, if not in print, that his readings of early Chinese philosophy are ‘overly Buddhist’. These readings are found in his three most recent books: Ironies of Oneness and Difference: Coherence in Early Chinese Thought, Beyond Oneness and Difference: Li and Coherence in Chinese Buddhist Thought and Its Antecedents, and Emptiness and Omnipresence: An Essential Introduction to Tiantai Buddhism. His readings are clearly Buddhist-influenced, but this is not in and of itself problematic. The core issue is rather to what degree these ‘Buddhist elements’ are actually already existent in, and have subsequently been carried over from, early Chinese thought in the development of Chinese Buddhism. Indeed, some scholars of Chinese Buddhism have pointed out that much of the vocabulary, concepts, and logic used in schools such as Tiantai may owe more to Daoist influences than to Buddhist ones. Accordingly, Ziporyn’s ‘overly Buddhist’ approach might simply be an avenue of interpretation that is actually quite in line with the thinking in the early texts themselves, albeit one that is less familiar. The article also aims to show how Ziporyn’s theory concerning the importance of ‘coherence’ in early and later Chinese philosophy is also quite important in his above work on Tiantai Buddhism, Emptiness and Omnipresence. While in this work Ziporyn almost entirely abstains from using the language of coherence, much of it actually rests on a strong coherence-based foundation, thereby demonstrating not Ziporyn’s own prejudice, but rather the thoroughgoing importance and versatility of his arguments on coherence. Indeed, understanding the importance of coherence in his readings of Tiantai Buddhism only bolsters the defense against the claims that he makes ‘overly Buddhist’ readings of early Chinese philosophy.

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