Ontological indeterminacy and its soteriological relevance: An assessment of Mou zhongsan's (1909-1995) interpretation of zhiyi's (538-597) tiantai buddhism [Book Review]

Philosophy East and West 56 (1):16-68 (2006)
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Abstract

: This is an attempt to clarify a vital ontological aspect of Tiantai teaching created by the sixth-century Chinese Buddhist monk Zhiyi. To do this Tiantai must first be distanced from Mou Zongsan's interpretation of its central pattern of nonduality, a reconstructive theory that refers to both Chinese Buddhism and Confucianism and sees a "two-level ontology" in Chinese philosophical traditions, grounded in both the Chinese Buddhist patterns of "nonduality between the sacred and the profane" and the Kantian distinction between "noumena and phenomena." Part 1 of this article is a critical analysis and evaluation of Mou's theory, concluding that the Buddhist patterns of nonduality and the Kantian distinction are not mutually convertible. Part 2 focuses on Tiantai ontology in the specific context of its soteriological relevance, demonstrating that the ideal of "universally saving all sentient beings" in Tiantai soteriology must presuppose the conception of "nonduality of/between the sacred and the profane," and that the ambiguous ontological status of existing things corresponds to this soteriological doctrine in a manner that can only be expressed by a "paradoxical articulation." The ontological meaning of Tiantai teaching is then specified with regard to Zhiyi's discussion of reality and the diversity of existing things. The three constitutive elements of Tiantai Buddhism—the soteriological doctrine of nonduality, ontological indeterminacy, and paradoxical articulation—are all based on an ideal of universal salvation that excludes a level of "being" transcending the realm of sentient beings. This conclusion directly controverts Mou's metaphysical notion of a "two-level ontology."

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