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Li Cheng, Epistemology, and Genuine

AS THE IMPERIAL age came to an end and the Republican era began, Buddhism,
like China, struggled to find a way to respond to the challenges of modernity.
Western ideas-especially in philosophy, science, and technology-could not be
ignored after a humiliating century of foreign domination. Even Japan, which in
the past had been an avid consumer of Chinese culture, now had risen to cultural
prominence in East Asia, primarily due to a deliberate and dramatic pursuit of
modernity, incorporating Western trends and ideas into its fabric. The cultural
vanguard of East Asia-in the arts, science, humanities, fashions, the full gamut
of cultural touchstones-had become Japan, not China. China looked within for
native tools with which to regain its former preeminence, and looked beyond its
borders for new ideas or inspiration in order to remake itsel Buddhism, since
it had always been pan-Asian and never exclusively Chinese, provided several
conduits for the infl ux of new ideas. Moreover, of all the traditional Chinese phil
osophical systems, the one that most nearly matched the epistemological com
plexity and rigor of the Western systems, such as the Kantian and neo-Kantian
systems that had become popular in Europe and Japan in the early twentieth
century, was Yogacara. ( How to interpret Yogacara correctly, and the proper way
to view its relation to other East Asian forms of Buddhism-historically and
I. A number of scholars, especially in Japan, have drawn attention to similarities be
tween the Yogacara notion of vinapti.matra (nothing but mental construction) and Kant's
Vorstellung ("representation"). One can fnd additional afnities. For instance, "Accord
ing to Kant, sensibility can only intuit, understanding can only think; the two cannot
exchange their functions." (J. N. Mohanty, Edmund Husser/'s Freiberg Years: 1
(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 2on]. p. 195.) This bears a striking parallel to the
distinction between perception (pratyak$a) and inference (anumana) in Yogacara hetuvidya
epistemology in that the former only cognizes particulars while the latter only cognizes
conceptual universals.
conceptually-became major debate topics among the Buddhist intelligentsia, as
well as among some of their rivals.
The foreign conduits were of two basic types: [:) Buddhist traditions and lit
eratures from India, Tibet, Japan, and so on, that had not previously received at
tention in China; and (2) new methodologies for recontextualizing and reaching
new understandings of traditional Chinese Buddhist literature, such as historical
and philological criticism.
Buddhism had flowed into China from India and Central Asia from the frst
through seventh centuries. Within a generation or so from the time of the great
pilgrim and translator Xuanzang (600-664), China-and thus East Asia
ceased to receive new ideas and developments, even though translators remained
sporadically active until the eleventh century.2 In the early eighth century it was
as if a great spigot was turned and Buddhism ceased to fow into China, instead
fowing into Tibet. Absolutely foundational Indian fgures for later Indian and
Tibetan Buddhism, such as Dharmaklrti (seventh century), Candraklrti (600-
ca. 650), Santarakita (725-788), and so on, were unknown to East Asian Bud
dhists until the twentieth century. As knowledge of Sanskrit and Indic languages
disappeared from China by the end of the Song Dynasty, deciphering difcult
texts and obscure translations could go no further than what the traditional com
mentaries had provided, or what the ingenuity and inventiveness of novel-but
frequently uninformed-readings could concoct. As Chinese Buddhists in the
early twentieth century earnestly began to study Tibetan and Sanskrit, they sud
denly had access to a vast quantity of Buddhist literature previously unknown,
and also could now consult alternate translations and commentaries of texts well
known within the Chinese tradition, sometimes with startling results. Addition
ally, many important texts, such as key commentaries by Xuanzang's success
Kuiji ) (632-682), had long been lost and forgotten in China, but preserved
in Japanese or Korean collections. Reintroducing these forgotten texts to Chinese
readers spawned excitement, new studies, and new insights.
In addition to gaining a variety of new materials with which to work, new
methodological strategies for working on them also emerged. Western philologi
cal and textual methods cae directly from Wester scholars in China-such
2. The major exception were the forms of early tantra that entered China during the eighth
and ninth centuries, which, while leaving some tacit traces in China and Korea, passed
to Japan where they survived and were further developed as the Shingon / School.
See also Tansen Sen, "The Revival and Failure of Buddhist Translations during the Song
Dynasty" T'oung Pac 88 (2002): 27-80. The last prolifc translator was Danapala H&
(tenth centur). t whom IlS translations found in the Taisho-either done by himself or
in collabration with others-are attributed. He worked until 1017 or so. Of all the texts he
translated only one refects a signifcant post-Xuanzang Indian development: Kamalasila's
Bhavanalrama (Guang shi puti xin lun Mn1'c,; Extensive Explanation ofthe Treatise
on Bodhi-mind) T.J2.1664.
La Cheng, Epistemology, and Genuine Buddhism
as Baron Alexander von Stel-Holstein (r877-r937)3 and Ferdinand Lessing
(r882-196r)4-who became influential teachers for a generation of Chinese
scholars, or indirectly through the appropriation and deployment of European
methods by Japanese scholars, which in turn infl uenced Chinese exegesis and
hermeneutics. A variety of text-critical methods had also been developed during
the Qing Dynasty primarily within Neo-Confucian circles in China, helping to
set the groundwork for an appreciation of the usefulness of such approaches.
Li Cheng and "Genuine Buddhism"
U Cheng (1896-1989) was both a benefi ciary and contributor to these
cross-currents. Arguably the key initiator and founder of the modernizing ap
proach to reforming Buddhism was Yang Wenhui f(r837-r9II) whose lec
tures U attended in Nanjing while still very young, under the influence of his
older brother, L Fengzi @( (r886-r959). This was also how Lii Cheng first
met Ouyang Jingwu W] (1871-1943) who was working with Yang at that
time. Ouyang would infuence the course of Lii's life and career. When Ouyang
established the Buddhist Research Institute (Fojiao'yanjiubu it!l'$) at Jin
ling Sutra Press ( Jinling kejingchu |) in 19r4, U Cheng became one
of its earliest members.
Ouyang was a fierce defender of the Yogacara promulgated by Xuanzang and
of Xuanzang's translations, and he especially valued the Yogacarabhumi-sastr
(Yuqie shidi lun fTl=Treatise on Grounds for Disciplined Practice), a huge
compendium of Buddhist doctrine and practices) Xuanzang's ostensive motive
for undertaking the perilous journey to India across the deserts and mountains
3. On Baron Stael-Holstein, see the overview of his life and work by Wang Qilong Q,
Ganghetai xueshu nianpu jianbian M#=q=,$ (A Brief Chronological Biography
of Alexander von Stael-Holstein) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2008), and a shorter English
version, Wang Qilong, "A Brief Review of Alexander von Stael-Holstein: A Great Scholar
in Asian Studies: Chinese Tibetology 1 (March 2008): 80-93. For examples of the Baron's
scholarship, c Baron A. von Stael-Holstein, KMyapaparivana (China: 1923) [correlated
Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan editions of the text, with an English introduction]; "The
Emperor Ch'ien-lung and The Larger 5urargamasutra: Harvard journal ofAsiatic Studies
1, no. 1 (April 1936): 136-146; "Avalokita and Apalokita: Harvard journal ofAsiatic Studies
1, no. 3 (November 1936): 350-362; and "On a Peking Edition of the Tibetan Kanjur which
Seems to be Unknown in the West: edited and introduced by Jonathan Silk,journal ofthe
International Association ofBuddhist Studies 22, no. 1 (1999): 215-249'
4. Lessing, perhaps best known for his works on Tibet, "Lamaism: and Tantra, came to
China in 1907 and spent seventeen years there teaching languages and philology at vari
ous institutions.
5. For a fuller account of Ouyang, see the essay by Eyal Aviv in this volume_
of Central Asia was to retrieve a complete copy of the Yogacarabhumi; he trans
lated it in one hundred fascicles soon after returning to China.6 Unlike Ouyang,
who apparently never learned Sanskrit or Tibetan, and so could work only with
Chinese sources and Chinese translations, Li studied Sanskrit and Tibetan and
came to realize that correlating Chinese texts with their Sanskrit and/or Tibetan
versions provided insights otherwise unobtainable from the Chinese texts alone.
In the case of difcult texts or passages-and there were many-consulting the
Sanskrit or Tibetan could ofer invaluable clues to otherwise unsolvable interpre
tive conundrums. Indian and Tibetan texts not only ofered alternative interpreta
tions of important Buddhist concepts, but they also shed light on how to critically
read the Chinese translations more accurately, since they could reveal what lay
behind a translator's method and choices and clarify the intended denotations
of terms that were sometimes obscured by their Chinese literary equivalents.7
The ability to read the texts more accurately facilitated a clearer understanding
of their original purport and meaning. In the sometimes-heated debates over
the correct interpretation of Buddhist concepts and

odels, and over which texts

might justifably serve as reliable proof texts, these textual methods, Li believed,
could help distinguish "genuine" Buddhism (zhenshi Foxue [ .1?) from the
6. Xuanzang left China in 627, arrived in India (Kashmir) in 629, studied at Nalanda
and elsewhere, and traveled through most of India. His travelog, Xiyu ji , (Record
of Western Lands; T.5I.2087) compiled from his notes by the young monk Bianji
(who sufered an ignoble and painful death shortly after completing that project due to
a scandalous intimacy with the Emperor's married sister) remains one of our most im
portant historical documents about seventh-century India and Central Asia. Xuanzang
began his return t China in 643 and arrived back in Chang'an in 645. He translated the
Yogicirabhimi with a team of over twenty assistants from July 3, 646 to June II, 648, while
Simultaneously translating nearly a dozen other texts.
7. To give one example: The Chinese word xiang;was used by translators for a variety of
Sanskrit terms, such as laka'a (characteristic or definition of something), lklra (mental
image), nimilta (signature feature Q, or a cause j, linga (mark, indicatory feature,
sign, cause), and s on. While such terms are clearly distinguishable in a Sanskrit text,
the proper intended sense may not be as evident in a Chinese translation using xiang.
A discussion of the second of the Five Dharrs in the Lanklvatlra-satra [Discourse
[the Buddha's) Entering [the Country of Lanka) in an essay titled "Lengqie guan wangyi
Q (An Examination of Erroneous Ideas in the Lankivatlra Satr) is included
in La Cheng FOX lunzhu xuanji gifj (Selected Collection of L Cheng's
Writings on Buddhism) 5 vols. (Jinan: Qilu shushe, 1991), vol. 1. pp. 266-277, an essay
first published on Ma 28, 1930. In this example, where the Chinese gives xiang, Lil Cheng
pints out that the underlying Sanskrit term is nimitta (ni-mi-ta )j,which has two
main meanings, cause" and signature feature" [T!t=/Qj/j,he com
pares its usage in the Lanklvatlra with the usage of nimitta in a foundational Yogacara
text, Madhylnta-vibhlga (Zhong bian fenbie lun 1;'lDiferentiating the Middle
from the Extremes), and concludes that the Lankivatira's primary sense for nimitta is
sign" while retaining aspects of cause" (p. 269). This determination would have been
difcult to reach on the basis of the Chinese texts alone.
La Cheng, Epistemology, and Genuine Buddhism
"fake" imitations (xi angsi Foxue ;ff7") that had displaced the genuine article
in East Asia.
Although Lil Cheng provides no manifesto or tenet-list defi ning Genuine
Buddhism, his writings and those of his contemporaries ofer some guidance.
It must accord with and not distort the authentic teachings of the Buddha as
recorded and transmitted in legitimate Buddhist sutras and treatises. Buddhist
texts, especially the treatises, were ofen very argumentative, and Indian Bud
dhists contested and disputed the whole gamut of Buddhist doctrines, so Gen
uine Buddhism was less about adhering to a fundamentalistic or catechismic
dogma than thinking with and working from the parameters advised by the le
gitimate materials. Although ultimately the originating sources were from India,
their Chinese transmissions and exemplifcations were also "Genuine." In the
view of Ouyang and his disciples, like Lil, the Yogacara tradition developed by
Asariga, Vasubandhu, and others, and promulgated in China by Xuanzang, Kuiji,
etc., provided the necessary basis-doctrinally and methodologically-for devel
oping Buddhism in the twentieth century, embodied in their institutional dream
to revive the traditions of Nalanda University-the premier Indian Buddhist in
stitution for many centuries, including when Xuanzang studied there-with its
focus on the fi ve "sciences."g L devoted a good portion of his early career to
fguring out and lucidly presenting two of those sciences, hetuvidya (logic and
epistemology) and s abdavidya (grammar and linguistics),9 an immensely signifi
cant contribution, since for the last thousand years few in China have correctly
understood them.
Ouyang's promotion of Yoga car a in particular struck many of his younger
contemporaries as more relevant and authentic than the alternative forms of
Buddhism competing at that time. Liang Qichao / (1873-1929), who
studied with Ouyang, wrote in the earlY,1920S: "It is only after having heard
the teachings by Master Ouyang Jingwu on the thought of the Nothing-but
Consciousness ( Weishi) school that I knew there exists a Genuine Buddhism
8. The fve sciences (pancavidya; wu ming ])are: [ijgrammar, linguistics, and literary
arts (sabdavidya; shengming ,(2) fne arts and mathematics (Silpakarmasthanavidya;
gongqiaoming ),(3) medicine (cikitsavidya; yifangming N7):(4) logic and episte
mology (hetuvidya; yinming Q,and (5) ethical, psychological, and intellectual cultiva
tion (adhyitmavidya; neiming ,
9 His main hetuvidya writings are discussed below. His Shengming /ae G (Precis
on [Sanskrit) Grammar), which has been reprinted a number of times-for instance,
combined with Ouyang's Weishi jueze tan N (Critical Essays on the Doctrine
of Nothing but Consciousness) (Nanjing: Zhina Neixue yuan, I922)-not only presents
an overview of Sanskrit grammar (case endings, conjugations, etc.), but discusses how a
variety of challenging passages found in Chinese translation should be understood in the
light of the underlying Sanskrit.
|771!!". |."'Liheld a similar conviction. The ideo
logical nemesis of Genuine Buddhism was the tathagatagarbha-laden meta
physics anchored in Dasheng qixin lun :*mf (Awakening of Mahayana
Faith) and related texts, almost all of which Li came to demonstrate were
Chinese pseudepigraphic creations pretending to be original Indian texts.
Genuine Buddhism eschewed such forgeries and the distorted Buddhism
they promoted, an uphill battle in many quarters given that this pseudepi
graphic ideology had dominated the East Asian Buddhist scene since the Song
A project based on recovering Genuine Buddhism while discrediting Mis
taken Buddhism not surprisingly contains both strong radical and conserva
tive impulses. The radical impulse is to shake up and overthrow the status
quo by exposing its fallacies, replacing it with the newly discovered ideas.
The conservative urge is to anchor the new discoveries in a notion of a lost
"original" meaning, then work to retain the genuine article once recovered
while preventing any further deviations and distortions. The genuine is to
be uncovered, deciphered, unpacked, propagated, applied, extended, but not
"altered" or distorted, since recovering it means to save it from centuries of
The doctrinal disputes engaging the Chinese intellectuals in the early decades
of the twentieth century ofen turned on the prior ideological commitments and
biases that the various disputants brought to the table, each rehearsing ingrained
arguments to which they might add new polemical and rhetorical twists, but
having no clear criteria with which to adjudicate diferences of interpretation.
Under such circumstances there was little to prevent each side from talking at
or past the other, rather than providing clear and decisive evidence for deciding
in favor of one idea or interpretation over another. For Lu, the philological tools
he acquired, along with access to the witness of Indian and Tibetan traditions
their original languages, would serve precisely as means to reach defnitive u
derstandings of what the Buddhist texts say and mean, and thus what Genuine
Buddhism truly is.
10. In Liang Qichao, Liang Qichao qlnji .i (Complete Collected Works of Liang
Qichao), vol. 8,juan 20, (Beijing: Beijing chubanshe, 1999), p. 641; cited i n Ni Ping,
"Mise en oeuvre de )a pensee buddhique Vijf:nav:da (Rien-que-Conscience) dans les
ecrits Iitteraires et philosphiques de Yuan Hongdao (1568-1610)," PhD diss., I'Institut
national des langues efcivilisation orientales [INALCOJ, Paris, 2012), p. n; Ni translates
Liang's line as: 'C'est seulement apres avoir entendu I'enseignement de Maitre Ouyang
Jingwu sur la pensee de I'ecole Rien-que-Conscience que j'ai su qu'i1 existe une veritable
La Cheng, Epistemology, and Genuine Buddhism
Digniga, Alambana-parfka, and the Yogicira
epistemological tradition
In December 1928 L published his study of the sixth-century Indian logician
Dignaga's Alambana-parrka (Investigation of What Lies behind Perceptual Ob
jectspI in Neixue 7"(Inner Teachings)." He was assisted by the cleric Shi Yin
cang iPlI3 (196-1943), who also worked with him on another of his major
Dignaga projects, a detailed study of the Nyayamukha (Introduction to Logic)
called "Yinming zhengli men lun ben zhengwen "1"l+" ( Evidential
Study of Intrduction to Logic).I4 This is the same period in which L published
II. A number of the texts to be discussed are well known in Buddhist studies circles by
their Sanskrit or Chinese titles, but they lack standard English equivalents.
I2. Lil Cheng and Shi Yincang, Guan suoyuan shi lun hui shi CmM (Correla
tion and Explanation of the Texts of the Alambana-parika), Neixue 4 (1928): 123-I64. A
French translation of the Alambana-parfki by Susumu Yamaguchi with Henriette Meyer
that included a partial rendering of VinIta de va's (ca. 690-750) commentary appeared the
following year: Examen de l'objet connaissance (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1929). Erich
Frauwallner's German translation of Dignaga's text, which includes a Tibetan edition, ap
peared the year after that: "Dignaga: Alambanaparrka, Text und Obersetzung," Wiener
ZeitschriJ t fur die Kunde des Morgenlandes, Bd. 37, Heft I und 2 (1930): 174-194. Five years
later a German translation of the Dharmapala commentary by Magdalene Schott was pub
lished: Sein als Bewutsein: Ein Beitrag zur Mahayana-Philosophie (Heidelberg: Carl Winters
Universitatbuchhandlung), in Materialien zur Kunde des Buddhismus 28 (I935): pp. 25-50.
N. Aiyaswami Sastri published Alambanaparika and Vrtti by Diimaga with the Commentary
ofDharmapaia, Restored into Sanskrit from the Tibetan and Chinese Versions and edited with
English Translation and Notes and with copious extracts frm Vinrtadeva's Commentary (Adyar
Madras: The Adyar Library, I942), but is deeply fawed: his renderings of Dharma pal a's text
bear almost no resemblance to the original. See n. 33 for additional editions and translations.
13 Although the term shi indicates his ordained status, Yincang was actually his secu
lar name; his monastic name was Weizong ,. It is unclear why his name appears in
the Neixue bylines in a hybrid form-a secular name with a monastic title-rather than
simply as one or the other, which would be the normal procedure (technically, once a
monastic name is bestowed with ordination, one's secular name should be obsolete). In
r929 Weizong (aka Shi Yincang), having completed his studies, left the Neixue institute
for the Bolin Doctrinal Academy in Bolin Monastery !+Vin Beijing. From that point on
he pursued a monastic rather than an academic career, and died in 1943 of tuberculosis.
I4 Neixue 4 (1928): 237-264. The Nyayamukha (Introduction to Logic) study does not
appear in La Cheng Foxue lunzhu xuanji, but it was reprinted in Xiandai Fojiao xueshu
cong kan
HPii!.v. 42 (I978): pp. 335-36r). Shi Yincang received co-author
credits with Lil for their work on the Alambana-parfka and Nyayamukha when they were
originally published in volume 4 of Neixue, but Shi Yincang's name is omitted from the
reprinted version of the portion of the Alambana-parfki study reprinted in La Cheng
lunzhu xuanji. The Nyayamukha study was not included in La Cheng Foxue lunzhu
xuanji, but a study of the related Nyayapravesa (Yinming ru zhengli lun [IAi:; En
y into Logic), the other introductory hetuvidya text translated by Xuanzang, written
by $
aIkarasvamin) is included in volume 3, pp. 1500-1620 (title: Yinming ru zhengli lun
jiangjie [IAi:M [Detailed Explanation of the NyiyapravdaJ).
his detailed overview of Dignaga's PramalJasamuccaya Uiliang lun iM
Compendium on Epistemology) called "Jiliang lun shi liie chao iit"
(An Abridged Exposition of Compendium on Epistemology.)I5 His work on these
three crucial Dignaga texts-Pramalasamuccaya, Nyayamukha, and Alambana
parrka-was a stunning achievement, although it undeservedly remains largely
unknown among Buddhist scholars u
til now. It is also a good illustration of
what could be accomplished with Hi's textual tools.
LU's study of the Alambana-parrk$a provides a good example of his method
and approach, showing that despite having three Chinese translations of the
same text by three of the most famous and illustrious medieval translators, the
Chinese materials themselves prove to be frequently insufcient for solving
major problems. Solving such problems would require consulting the original
Sanskrit versions, or, in the absence of available Sanskrit, Tibetan versions. Lil's
interest lay
ot in creating an Vr-text (doing philology for its own sake) but rather
in recovering Genuine Buddhism. Additionally, such careful textual analysis
provides useful insights into how each of the translators worked, thereby resolv
ing uncertainties while helping one to acquire more sophisticated and solidly
grounded historical and hermeneutic sensibilities that could carry over to read
ing other texts by these translators with more confdence. Although eventually
Alambana-parrka was superseded in India (and later Tibet) by more sophisticated
IS The Pramlasamucaya study is in La Cheng Foxue lunzhu xuanji, vol. I, pp. 176-243
(it originally appeared in Neixue 4 [Dec. 1928]: 165-235). Neixue 4 contained, in addition
t the Alambana-parlll, Nyayamukha and Pramaasamuccaya studies (the frst two i n
collaboration with Shi Yincang), another study by L Cheng of a Dignaga text, *Hetu
cakra-hamaru (Wheel of[lnferential] Reasons), in which Dignaga provides rubrics for dis
cerning whether an inference is valid, contradictory, or inconclusive. Lil's study in based
on the Tibetan, which alone preserves this text. His essay i s titled "Yin che lun tu jie U
"(Charts Explaining the Wheel of Reasons), Neixue 4 (1928): 265-27' This was
reprinted in La Cheng Foxue l unzhu xuanji, V.l, pp. 170-175.
It is notable that Lil focused so much attention on Dignaga and these three (or four)
texts. The NYlyamukha survives only in Chinese. Pramalasamuccaya (Compendium on
Epistemology) , considered to be Dignaga's magnum opus, survives i n complete form only
in two por Tibetan translations; aside from a couple of verses translated into Chinese by
Xuanzang, there is no extant Chinese version. Yijing (635-713) is reported to have
translated it as Jilianglun in four fascicles, but that has not survived; see Kaiyuan
shiiao [u /U(Record of S:kyamuni's Teachings Compiled during the Kaiyuan
Reign Period) , compiled by Zhisheng (730 CE), T'55.2154.S68b3-5 and 637C3;
ZMnyuan xin ding shiio lu RTH(Record ofS:kyamuni's Teachings Revised
during the Zhenyuan Reign Period) compiled by Yuanzhao P.T.5S.2157.972b1 S-16. I
am indebted to Michael Radich for this information. There was no Sanskrit version avail
able to LI Cheng. The Sanskrit ofJinendrabuddhi's (B.725-750) commentary, which con
tains much of Dign:ga's root text has only recently been discovered and is gradually being
published. Alambana-parrk1 is preserved in Chinese and Tibetan translations (see below),
and only a few of its Sanskrit passages have been identifed as preserved in other India
texts, although these too were unavailable t Lil.
La Cheng, Epistemology, and Genuine Buddhism
and complex critiques of atomism, none of those later works reached China and
East Asia until the twentieth century. Thus, Alambana-parrka represents the
high water mark in the East Asian appropriation of Indian Buddhist critiques
of atomism, and as such received much attention among twentieth-century Chi
nese intellectuals for its seeming relevance to modern scientific atomic theories
as well as to contemporary trends in the psychology and philosophy of perception.
For Lu, as the essay accompanying his textual correlations and annotations illus
trates,16 this sort of study aforded an opportunity to understand Xuanzang and
his influences more insightfully.
Dignaga's Alambana-parrk$a ( Investigation of Alambana) is a short, terse text,
consisting of only eight verses with Dignaga's auto-commentary (vrtti). The San
skrit is not extant, but there are three Chinese versions:
I. Paramartha translated the entire text in the mid-sixth century: Wu xiang si
chen lun f* (T.
2. Xuanzang translated it-quite diferently-in 657: Guan suoyuan yuan lun
If#$t (TV.I62
. Yijing , in 710, translated Dharmapala's @ (sixth century) commen
tary on Alambana-parrka (T.
) which includes nothing related to the
last two verses-conceptually the most challenging and innovative section of
Dignaga's text. It is unclear whether the omission is because this section was
never translated by Yijing, or whether it failed to be preserved in transmission,
though there is no mention anywhere of a portion being lost. Unfortunately
incomplete translations were not uncommon at that time, but that often went
unnoticed since only someone with access to a full text would be aware of the
missing parts.
There is also a Tibetan translation of the verses alone, another of the verses with
the vrtti, and a Tibetan translation of an illuminating commentary by the eighth
century Yogacara commentator Vinrtadeva.17
16. This essay was titled Fu lun Zangi ben tezheng HI4|(Addendum: Discussion
of the Distinctive Features ofXuanzang's Translation). See below for further discussion.
17. The verse text: dmigs pa brtag pa, (Peking No.] 5703; (Oerge No.] 425; (Narthang] ce
180a2-180bl; (KinshaJ 3702, ce 235b6 (p.n9-3-6). The text with vrtti: dmigs pa brtagpa'i 'grel
pa, [Po No.] 5704; [D. No.] 4206; [N] ce 180bI-I82a2; [Kinsha] 3703, ce 236bI (p.u9-4-I). The
VinItadeva (dul ba'i lha) commentary: dmigs pa brtag pa'i 'grel bshad, [Po No.] 5739; [D. No.]
4241; [N] ze 186bI-200b6; [Kinsha) 3739, ze 243bI (p.123-2-1), the VinItadeva text trans
lated into Tibetan by
akyasirha and dpal brtsegs. For a translation and study based on
the Tibetan, see F Tola and C. Dragonetti, Being as Consciousness (Delhi: MotHal Banarsi
dass, 2004), Part I, although I fnd their interpretation, and at times their translation prob
lematic and unconvincing. For additional translations into Western languages, see n. 12.
The argume! of Alambana-parIka
Ofen mischaracterized in the secondary literature as an idealist argument that
rejects the reality of external objects, Dignaga's goal is more modest and interest
ing. An alambana is that from which a cognitive image is produced. In Indian Re
alist schools, such as the Buddhist Sarvastivadins, an alambana is not only based
on a material object conducive to being perceived by the senses (i.e., a vi$aya),
but it is also composed of atoms, irreducible material entities too tiny to see. The
Alambana-parrk$a has two goals. The first is to refute the claim that either atoms
or groupings of atoms can serve as an alambana. The second is to suggest that the
mental images (akara) we see are 'mentally constructed based on mental habits.
Whether these mental constructions do or do not correspond in some way to some
sort of materiality other than atoms Dignaga explicitly declares indeterminate.,8
The refutation of atoms works as follows. Dignaga stipulates that an alambana
must satisfy two criteria: It must convey an image of itself to the cognition, and i
must be a causal factor in the cognition. Since when one sees an object one does not
see the image of an atom, single atoms fail the frst criteria. No atom is conveying
an image of itself to a cognition. A "group" of atoms would only be many atoms
conceptually lumped together as a "group," none of which individually conveys its
image. Such a grouping would be a mental abstraction superimposed or abstracted
from individual, actual atoms (if such existed). For most Buddhists, such a con
ceptual collocation, or "group," has no 'reality' aside from the actual components
comprising it. It is merely a conceptual-linguistic label that lumps actual things
together; such heuristc labeling is called prajnapti (heuristic label; a merely nomi
nexstent) by Buddhists. A paradigmatic example in Buddhist texts is a chariot,
which is simply a heuristic label for the collocation of the various parts-axle,
wheels, bucket, rein, etc.-of which it is constituted. There is no whole that exists
18. This explicit declaration is the penultimate sentence of Dignaga's essay, and hence the
conclusion he wishes us to draw from his exercise. Perception involves (ijindriya, sense
faculties, or, as Dign:ga prefers to describe them, "capacities" (sakti), i.e., the physical eyes,
ears, etc, which are occasions for the capacities to see, hear, etc.; and (2) viaya, physical
senseobjects, like colors, shapes, sounds, etc. Standard Buddhist doctrine classifes the
physical indriya and viaya as rupa, sensorial-physicality, or materiality. Having just dis
cussed indriya and viaya, Dign:ga concludes in his penultimate sentence the following.
Param:rtha's version: Q]++. "Some [claim that] consciousness
is diferent from those two [i.e., the rupa or matter of which the sense faculties and the
senseobjects are composed]; some [claim] it is not diferent from the two; some are unable
t say (one way or another)." Xuanzng's version: .Q. "As
t whether the two rupas-viz. indriya and viaya-and consciousness are the same or dif
ferent, or whether they are neither the same nor diferent: One can say according to one's
wishes (sui I \,yath4-Maya)." The Tibetan reads: rnam par shes pa las de gnyis ghan
nyid dang ghan r yin pa nyid du cid gar brod par bya'o, "Whether those two are the same
as or something other than consciousness, say however you wish. "
La Cheng, Epistemology, and Genuine Buddhism
or acts independent of its parts. The "whole" qua group of atoms is a constructed
fction. Being fctional, a "group" is therefore incapable of causing anything. Fic
tional entities have purely fctional status and are no more capable of producing
real efects than Sherlock Holmes is capable of solving a real crime. Again, in Bud
dhist jargon, such groupings are prajnapti (nominal existents), not drvya (causally
efcacious entities). Thus the group of atoms fails the second criteria.
In short, Dignaga concedes for the sake of argument that an atom might cause
a cognition, but it does not convey an image of itself And, even if it is a certain
confguration or grouping of atoms that conveys the image of a certain shape,
etc., such a grouping being merely a prajnapti, with no power of agency beyond
the actual individuals that constitute it, it cannot cause the cognition. As Vasu
bandhu had already argued in his Vilsatika (or Vil]sika) ( Twenty Verses). the
notion of groupings of partless entities that lack extension is prima facie incoher
ent. The atom. even if one grants it could be a cause, fails to convey its own image;
the grouping. even if arrayed in certain confgurations and shapes. fails to be a
cause (and thus. by default, cam
ot be conveying "its" or "their" image). Hence,
neither the atom nor the grouping satisfies the criteria for being an ilambana.
Having refuted in the frst six verses that atoms or atom groupings could serve
as an alambana, Dignaga devotes the fnal two verses with their commentary to
explaining that consciousness itself produces mental images based on prior ex
periences. The "images" it conveys are its own fabrications, and consciousness
itself is the cause of the cognizance of such images, thus satisfying both crite
ria. This is not unlike Kant's Vorstellung, which are mental projections that we
experience in such a way that the actual noumena that might lie beyond the
sensory intuition are obscured and only appear in our consciousness in the form
we construct of them, our own mental "representations" that are not the things
in-themselves. Or to take a less abstract account, physiological analysis of visual
perception shows that colors" are not properties of objects-as we think we per
ceive them to be-but are mental constructions fabricated in our visual appara
tus and brains.19 There are no exact objective correlates to such colors. Not only
do diferent species see diferent ranges of colors (not to mention the variations
in diferent types of color blindness" in humans), but there is no one-to-one
constant between specifc light waves and corresponding colors. The same color
can be produced by entirely diferent wave frequencies, so there is no one-to
one correspondence between light frequencies and perceived colors.20 Dignaga
19. There is a vast scientific literature on this subject based on decades of experiments and
tests. See. for instance. http://w
20. Similarly. see
is arguing that when we perceive objects as "solid," or of this or that "shape" and
so on, we are projecting our fictional images and concepts onto these things in
the same way modern physiology has demonstrated we see colors, contrasts,21
or the way we group discrete items into meaningful units,22 and so on. As with
color perception, we take these projected fictions to be intrinsic to the images and
meaning-units we experience as if they were external to us, while we ourselves
are producing them. To what extent something outside the cognitive sphere is
participating or contributing is, Dignaga concedes with great honesty, impossible
to determine epistemologically.
Problems and Discrepancies between the Chinese
The three Chinese versions of Alambana-parrka difer from each other in nu
merous small details and in some major ways as well. Starting with their basic
formats, Paramartha's text begins with just the verses, not divided into a frst
verse, second verse, etc., but simply sequenced together as one continuous string
of verse. This is followed by the entire vrtti (auto-commentary) devoid of verses.
Paramartha provides no indication where the verses should be inserted into the
commentary. The reader has to determine this on his own.
Xuanzang's text, on the other hand, inserts complete verses into the com
mentary. However, as he did in his translations of other texts consisting of verse
and commentary such as the Abhidhar makosa-bhaya (Vasubandhu's Auto
commentary on Storehouse of Higher Doctrine), Xuanzang does not separate out
the parts of the verse that go with specific portions of commentary, but places
the entire verse as a single unit. Actually, as the Tibetan versions illustrate, the
commentary frequently only addresses a phrase or so of a verse at a time, so the
relation between verse and comment is much clearer when the verses are broken
up and the specific segment is inserted exactly where the comment addresses it.
None of the Chinese translations does that.
Yijing's translation of Dharmapala's comentary, in fact, does not demarcate
the verses from the comments at all, nor does it mark of where Dignaga ends
and Dharmapala begins. Without an independent version of the text it would be
nearly impossible to tell which is which. Yijing's translation is also very obscure
in many places, and, as il says, "difcult to understand" (ao nan jie QM).
22. "Gestalt grouping" is a well-established phenomenon, with a large literature.
La Cheng, Epistemology, and Genuine Buddhism
Since in the course of making his argument Dignaga attempts to carefully
define a number of terms critical to Indian epistemology-such as alambana,
viaya, akara, etc., all of which denote distinct aspects of the process of producing
a mental image in perception-as well as explaining how they relate to each other,
determining with some precision the exact underlying terms being rendered by
their Chinese equivalents would be a desideratum for getting a handle on his
presumed epistemology. With three translations by three of the most prominent
translators one might imagine that triangulating between them would be a fairly
straightforward task. That turns out not to be the case. There is little consistency
when comparing them. In order to find consistency, one expects that when term
A is being used by Paramartha and term B is being used by Xuanzang in the
same location, the next time A appears in Paramartha's text Xuanzang will have
B in the comparable position. But that does not happen. And when one factors in
the Tibetan, rather than it deciding in favor of one or the other, it frequently in
troduces a third possibility. To crown of the discrepancies, a few passages of the
original Sanskrit have been preserved in other Sanskrit texts, and these some
times ofer a diferent term from what one might expect in either the Tibetan or
Chinese options. There are also entire lengthy passages that lack a corresponding
passage in the other texts, so even simply trying to line them all up is a challenge.
The terminological confusion starts from the very beginning. Xuanzang
translates the title as 1B#,f Guan suoyuan yuan lun. The word lun, al
though ofen mistakenly treated as an actual part of a text title and then me
chanically treated as an equivalent for {astra, is actually included in many
Chinese titles as a classifier, to show that the text is not a sutra (discourse of the
Buddha; in Chinese,jing ), but something written by a later Buddhist. It is a
classifier, and like a particle, it often should not be translated.23 Guan is a stan
dard equivalent for parrka, meaning "investigation" or "examination." Suoyuan
is the standard Chinese term for alambana. But, as Li notes, Xuanzang has
added an extra yuan, "condition"; suoyuan yuan is the standard equivalent for
23. Similarly, placing ** dasheng (Mahayana), /1'* xiaosheng (HInayana), or HFoshuo
(Buddha Says) at the front of a Chinese title served to classify the type of text it was, and
not to render into Chinese some part of the text's original title. I suspect that is why
Paramartha and Xuanzang translate the title of the Mahayana-saJlgraha into Chinese as
She dasheng lun f** (Compendium of the Great Vehicle), placing the " Mahayana"
(dasheng) inside the title, to signal that the term "Mahayana" is indeed part of the original
title and not a mere classifer. While sometimes an Indic title will include sastra and this
would be properly rendered into Chinese as lun, the lun classifer is more commonly added
to many texts whose Sanskrit titles did not include the word sastra; either no classifer at
aU was included in the original title (e.g., ViJsatiki or ViJsiki), or one of a much broader
range of Sanskrit text-type classifers was used (bhiya, vyikhyi, vivaraa, paricheda,
saJlgriha, prkaraa, tlki, etc.).
alambana-pratyaya, "the type of condition that is an alambana." It is an accept
able gloss since that is what the term alambana means here, but it does intro
duce something not in the original, and hence is not a strictly literal rendering.
Yijing renders the title Guan suoyuan lun 1IM, dropping the added "con
dition," while adding shi , indicating his text is an explanatory commentary
(by Dharmapala).
Paramartha's title is initially odd, and actually hard to translate. In his render
ing Wuxiang si chen tun ;,\,, there is no obvious equivalent for alambana.
Chen, which literally means "dust," is commonly used by Paramartha and some
other translators for "sense-object," and is more typically deployed as an equiva
lent for viaya. 24 Si means "thought," "idea," or, if taken as a verb, "thinking, con
sidering." So si chen could be seen as an imprecise rendering of alambana-parrka
(investigation of alambana) as "thinking about or considering the 'dusts' (sense
objects)," imprecise precisely because it fails to distinguish alambana from the
other object-words used by Dignaga and other Indian writers to identify the
distinct components of the epistemological process active in creating a mental
image. Wuxiang could be understood a number of ways, depending on how one
reads xiang here. In some Buddhist literature wuxiang might denote something
"formless," or something "with no marks or characteristics," or it could mean
"without images." On frst blush wuxiang bears little relevance to the original
Sanskrit title. nor does Dignaga discuss being "imageless" or "formless," etc.
There are some indications that Paramartha sought to ofer a series of works con
nected by a theme of wuxiang (in whichever sense would have been involved>5),
24 While the reason translators into Chinese chose chen to render sense-objects (viaya,
etc.) is unclear. two hypotheses suggest themselves. Some may have presupposed a per
ceptual theory, similar to Jain theory, in which an unhindered consciousness can perceive
everywhere and anywhere, until blocked or hindered by some physical obstruction, viz.
an object_ The bright, luminous consciousness is blocked by "dust," which impedes the
fulI ptential range of the sense faculty. The other theory is that "dust" did not necessar
ily carry negative implications in Chinese thought, but was a euphemism for the things
and afairs of the everyday word. the dust kicked up in the marketplace and during one's
travels. etc. C( Daodejing 4 and 56: BHM X M ."Blunt the sharpness.
untangle the knots. merge with the light. unify with the dust: with the expression "unif
with the dust" usualIy understod as returning t ordinary afairs after experiencing the
merging with light. This interpretation is reiterated in the fnal two ox-herding pictures
tbatfollow the round emptiness of the eighth picture.
25. I suspect the sense of wuxiang in that thematic would have stood for the term nirakara.
Le . the idea that enlightened cognition is devoid of (nir-) images (akara) . an idea embraced
at that time the Sal)mitIyas. whom. I als suspect. exerted a strong but so far unac
knew!mgminfl uence of Paramrtha. whose base in India. Ujjain. was famous then as a
SalmitTya center. Xuanzangdebates Salmitlyas while in India on the issue of nirakara.
with Xuanzangptemetinga sakara (enlightened cognitions do include images) position.
La Cheng, Epistemology, and Genuine Buddhism
but exactly which texts were included remains unclear.26 If that is the case,
then the wuxiang
in this title would only denote its belonging to that series,
and should
ot to be considered an integral component of the text's title. If
nonetheless, one were to attempt a possible reading of the full title as is, it
could be interpreted as: "Treatise on Considerations about Sense-objects as
Lacking Materiality," taking wuxiang as representing "devoid of materiality," a
usage which, I believe, would be unusual for Paramartha. Another possibility
is to take si ._ . and chen as indicating mental functions and sense-objects,
Putting this trivia aside, if we look at the frst sentence of the Paramartha and
Xuanzang translations, important discrepancies emerge.
Paramartha: |/M7- #;r:,
"There are some people who hold that what the six consciousnesses, such as
eye-consciousness, etc. , take as an alambana is produced by an external object
Xuanzang: (j1M]- ;r1tm##:,
"There are some wishing to claim that what causes the fve sensory conscious
nesses, such as eye-consciousness, etc., is an alambana-pfatyaya made by ex
ternal rupa _,
Already in this first sentence, diferences begin to mount. Paramartha tells
us there are six sensory consciousnesses; Xuanzang says fve. Xuanzang again
Paul, "The Structure of Consciousness in Paramartha's Purported Tril
" Philosophy East and West 31, no. 3 (July 1981): esp. 298 and 313 n.8, though Paul fails
to mention Paramartha's
lambana-parfk$a translation as a candidate for a Wuxianglun,
instead suggesting three other texts as a possible Wuxianglun "trilogy" based on the fact
that in the Taisho edition the phrase jj"extracted from the Wuxianglun" appears
afer the title of two of them, and the comparable phrase J!mappears after the title of
third. A Wuxianglun is cited several times by Huizhao E8(648-714), Kuiji's succes
sor, in his Cheng weishi lun /iaoyi deng f (( Illuminating the Defnitive Mean
ing of Demonstration
ofNothing but Consciousness), T.43.18p.729b22-C29, but he seems to
be paraphrasing texts, not quoting them verbatim, since not only are the statements he at
tributes to the Wuxianglun not found in any TaishO texts, but the statements he attributes
to other texts in the same passage, such as the Madhyanta-vibhaga (Diferentiation the
Middle from the Extremes) and Lalkavatara-sutra (Discourse on [the Buddha's] Entering
[the Country of Lanka) are also not found in the received versions. Fazang (643-712),
the putative Huayan patriarch, also provides an otherwise unattested quotation from a
WUxianglun in his commentary, Dashengqixin lun yiji 7^N(Notes on the Mean
ing of The Awakening ofMahayana Faith; T. 44.1846.262C5-7). Similarly Wonhyo $
(617-686), in his *Vajrasamadhi-sutra commentary, Jingang sanmei jing lun _Q
(Commentary on the Sutr on the Adamantine Meditation), T.34.1730.969aI4-17. cites an
other passage from a Wuxiang lun that is not found in any extant text.
uses the full term suoyuan yuan (alambana-pratyaya) while Paramartha uses
only the single word yuan (rather than suoyuan), which ambiguates between
pratyaya ("condition"), for which yuan is the common equivalent, and alambana,
since, used verbally at the beginning of a phrase, yuan can mean "to take as an
alambana," i.e_, to take up as an object for perception_ Notably he does not use
chen, "dust," that appeared in his title_ Both Paramartha and Xuanzang tell us '
that the claim these people wish to make is that the alambana is produced by
something "external" (wai 7|), Paramartha says it is an externaljing [7'),Xu
anzang that it is an external Tupa (>r-).27
As Ll Cheng demonstrates, when Xuanzang stipulates "five conscious
nesses," he is following Dharmapala, who in Yijing's translation explicitly
argues that one shoud understand "five conscious
esses" here because,
Dharmapala claims, all Buddhists are already in agreement about the way the
sixth consciousness works, so it is only the first five that need to be debated by
Dignaga. Specifically, when the sixth, the manovYfana, takes any or all of the
fve sensory consciousnesses as its cognitive object(s), it perceives their percep
tion_ Thus other Buddhists accept that the sixth consciousness can have for its
object the perceptions of another consciousness such that an object appears to
the sixth as a material object when it is, in fact, only the perceptual object of a
sense-consciousness. For instance, the shape sensed by visual consciousness is
perceived by the sixth consciousness also as a physical visual shape_ Al Bud
dhists accept the sixth consciousness as a type of "common sense," one that
propriates what each sense discretely senses, combining them into an "object"
characterized by color, shape, texture, smell, etc., although each of the senses
alone only obtains and provides the data restricted to its specifi c domain. Eye
consciousness sees shapes, colors, etc.; auditory consciousness hears sounds;
and so on It is the sixth consciousness that takes their percepts and combines
them as that rotund, garlic-reeking opera singer intrusively inviting a donation.
Hence all Buddhists accept that in such cases so-called perception of a physical
object actually involves mental processes that are internal, since one does not
take cognizance of a visual, auditory, etc. percept unless it is noticed, processe
and cognized by the sixth consciousness. Perception, therefore, involves one in
ternal mental function apprehending the activity of another mental function.
Thus, according to Dharmapala, what remains in contention is whether this
27. I leave jing untranslated here and provide no Sanskrit equivalent since jing could be
used for many diferent terms including viaya, gocar, rltra, de1a; adhithlna, arthakira,
orthyo, Irambao, gati, jneya, jieya-vastu, and a host of other attested equivalents. Since
deciding which equivalent is at play in this passage is the task, it would beg the question
to supply a Sanskrit term. Xuanzang's se, on the other hand, is unambiguously an
equivalent for rupa.
La Cheng, Epistemology, and Genuine Buddhism
process, accepted as a legitimate account of how the sixth consciousness func
tions, can be applied to how the fve sensory consciousnesses work as well. Put
more simply, Buddhists do not argue that the sixth consciousness directly ac
cesses external things, but rather that it gathers data from the five sensory con
sciousnesses and processes that for its cognitive grist. If as indicated above, a
percept as seemingly primitive as color is actually a mental construction-which
is the implicit claim of Dignaga and Dharmapala-then in an important way the
five sense consciousnesses are also operating in a manner similar to the sixth
consciousness, constructing a perceptual experience based on internal mental
processes. Since Dharmapala apparently seized an opportunity to make this ar
gument by supplying explicit numbers of consciousnesses involved, one may
infer that the original text had no number at all here, leaving him this opening.
Thus, one may also conclude that Paramartha's gloss of "six consciousnesses"
is as much an interpretive addition as Xuanzang's "five consciousnesses." Xu
anzang specifies "five consciousnesses" because he is following Dharmapala's
interpretation here. We are now on alert that neither Paramartha nor Xuanzang
is translating in a strictly literal word for-word fashion, but that both are willing
to add interpretive glosses to "guide" the reader. Visualizing an imagined San
skrit original behind either or both translations has now become a shade more
difcult and tenuous.
What of the diference between what each identifes as the external pro
ducer of the alambana? Is it viaya or rapa? Can the Tibetan mediate? Where
Xuanzang uses wai se |. "external rapa," the Tibetan has phyi rol gyi don,
which represents the Sanskrit bahyartha (bahya = external + artha = refer
ent). So the Tibetan has neither viaya nor rapa, but a third candidate: artha.
Was the underlying term artha, rapa, or v iaya? These are not synonyms, and
to conflate them would cloud rather than clarify the epistemological distinc
tions Dignaga and his contemporaries found important, even necessary, to
An artha is a "referent," "that toward which an intention intends," and thus
artha also signifes "meaning," "a target: and "wealth." It is something reached
for, grabbed, acquired, and appropriated. Its signifcance lies in the attitude with
which it is approached and considered, not in some quality independent of such
an attitude. A viaya is a sense-object, something amenable to being taken up by
one of the senses, such as a certain type of color, shape, sound, smell, etc. When
a viaya is being taken up by a cognition, the viaya as contributing cause and the
cognitive aspect doing the taking up are together called alambana. A vi$aya's on
tological status was a matter of dispute between diferent Buddhist schools. Rapa
is physical materiality. Of the three terms, r apa carries the strongest materialist
connotations; artha, the most abstract metaphysical implications; and vi$aya, the
most concretely sensorial.
The term suggested by the Tibetan, bahyartha ("external referent"), is com
monly found in Buddhist discourses of this type!8 so that would be the expected
term in this context. But, following the principle of lectio dicilior, Xuanzang's
rendition is the most appealing, since it would be the least expected of the three.
The Tibetan translator may have glossed the original term into bahyartha as re
fexively as Paramartha added "six" to the types of perceptual consciousnesses.
That Xuanzang's unexpected choice, Tupa, deserves consideration is possibly
buttressed by one of the few passages of the Alambana-parrlqa for which we
have a surviving Sanskrit passage, the beginning of the sixth verse, which is
attested in two texts (Kamalaslla's [eighth century] Tattvasa1-graha.pafjika
[Commentary on the Compendium on the Components of Reality] and Sankara's
[eighth century] Brahma-satra-bha$ya [Commentary on the Brahma Sutra] ). It
states: yad-antarjfeya-Tupa1- tu bahirvad avabhtsate, "that Tupa is known within
[consciousness] but appears as if external." This is, however, not conclusive,
since the context is somewhat diferent (rupa here is probably an abbreviation
for svar.a, the basic nature of a thing in-itself), and the Tibetan for verse six
is consistent with Tupa (though Paramartha's rendering is not; he again
jing :l).
In any event, many of the Chinese terms used by both translators have well
known Sanskrit equivalents, but even when we compare all the various transla
tions, the exact underlying Sanskrit term often remains uncertain.
Li Cheng's edition ofthe Alambana-parIka
Having looked only at the title and frst sentence, we already see the types of
problems that quickly leap out. The discrepancies and problems do not diminish
as one continues, but grow increasingly thorny as the disparities accumulate. If
one !ok only at the Paramartha and Xuanzang translations, their alternatives
are incommensurate and irresolvable. If one then turns to Yijing's text for resolu
tions, one fnds a text that occasionally may shed some light, as it did with the
question of why Xuanzang stated "fve consciousnesses" rather than the "six"
glossed by Paramartha. The impression that the original text did not specify a
number here, so that both "five" and "six" are translators' glosses, is confrmed
by the Tbetan, which indeed gives no number here. Although it is helpful in this
instance, Yijing's translation frequently becomes inscrutable, eventually posing
many more problems than it solves. If one could read only the Chinese versions,
attempting to work through these three texts would result in a frustrating in
terpretive impasse, which may be one reason the East Asian tradition did not
28. When the YogC:ra position is described in Sanskrit literature as the rejection of "ex
ternal objects; the term typically used for external object is bahyltha.
La Cheng, Epistemology, and Genuine Buddhism
devote much attention to this text prior to the twentieth century with the eforts
by Ouyang Jingwu, Li Cheng, and others.29
Since enlightenment involves purifying the mind of misconceptions and ig
norance, logic and epistemology are indispensable. A mind that sees things as
they are (yathabhatam) is one that functions with clarity and logically. Muddle
headedness is the antithesis of enlightenment. Hence Li , from his earliest explo
rations of Buddhist thought, developed an interest in clarifying Buddhist logic and
epistemology, topics that until that point had received more veneration than un
derstanding among East Asian Buddhists. That the Alambana-parrk$a contained
a critique of atomism, seemingly a very modern, scientific concern, gave it perti
nence to the efort to address modernity critically with traditional Buddhist tools.
Since it was evident that the Chinese texts alone would not lead to a resolution of
the interpretative impasses, and the original Sanskrit was not available, Li tured
to the Tibetan to mediate. He translated the entire Tibetan text into Chinese and
then correlated the results between it and the three Chinese versions. He worked
over the Yijing text, annotating it, re-puctuating it, trying to make sense of it where
it seemed most inscrutable. Consulting the Tibetan and Xuanzang texts, he judi
ciously determined where in Paramartha's text to insert Dignaga's verses into the
commentary}O I is worth emphasizing that his translation of the Tibetan is superb)
29 Clearly at a certain stage in the development of Yoga car a epistemology Alambana-parrk$i
was considered a major text, which explains why across three centuries three leading transla
tors produced Chinese versions. As Ltl Cheng recognized, Alambana-parrk$t was a further
refnement of the critique of atomism found in several verses of Vasubandhu's Vilsatiki
(Twenty Verses). Some centuries later, it was still considered important enough to be trans
lated into Tibetan, along with Vinltadeva's commentary. That it subsequently fell into relative
disuse in India and Tibet is easily explained by the exponentially more sophisticated debates
on epistemology and atomism that one fnds beginning with Santarakita's Tattvasal]graha
(Compendium on the Components of Reality; eighth century). Dignaga's little text is quaint
and simplistic in comparison. However, since these later discussions of atomism were
never introduced into East Asian Buddhism, the centries of relative neglect of Dignaga's
text requires a diferent explanation. There was a revival of interest in the Xuanzang and
Dharmapala-Yijing Alambana-parrk$t texts during the Ming Dynasty, but then little more
until the twentieth century. Ouyang's Guan suoyuan yuan lun shiie PM(Inter
pretative Exposition on the Alambana-parrk$t) appeared in 1914 in Foxue cngbao "II.
30. Yamaguchi included editions of the Paramartha and Xuanzang Chinese texts as appen
dices t his Frend translation of Alambana-parrk$i, which he cllated (there are so many
substantial divergences, including extended passages with no corollary in the other text, that
simply lining them up against each other is a daunting undertaking), and he too inserted the
verses where he thought they should go. His correlations and inserton points frequently difer
from Hi's. In my opinion Lt's doices for verse insertion and passage correlation are superior.
31. As part of this project, John Powers, Leslie Kawamura, John Makeham and I scrupu
lously went over Ltl's translation, line by line, word by word, comparing it with the Tibetan.
We grew to admire his ability to solve-with possibly one or two exceptions perhaps due to
his using a diferent edition of the Tibetan-the text's intricate challenges, while render
ing it into a clear, classical Chinese. In my opinion, his translation is superior to and more
insightful than any of the published modern translations I have seen.
He titled the study that appeared in Neixue, Guan suoyuan shi lun huiyi
tlmw: which we might render as "A Comparative Exposition [of the
Chinese and Tibetan] Translations of the Alambana-parrka." It consisted of
three parts.
I. A very short introduction (six lines) briefly explaining which texts are involved.
2. The Texts. This section, which is the major portion of the study, presents the
versions in the following order. For each passage, frst Lu's translation of the
Tibetan is given, followed by Paramartha's text, followed by Xuanzang's, fol
lowed by his annotated version of the Yijing text. In other words, the Tibetan is
the first version one encounters, followed by the three Chinese versions given
in chronological order. A page and a half of endnotes follows the presentation
of the passages.
3. An analytic essay that highlights diferences and similarities between the
texts, and draws some conclusions about the nature of the diferent versions,
their relation to each other, and what can be gleaned about Dignaga's original
text on that basis. As the title of the analytic essay explains, UFu lun Zangyi
ben tezheng It*Wn (Addendum: Discussion of the Distinctive Fea
tures of Xuanzang's Translation)'), its primary focus is Xuanzang's version,
viewing the others in terms of how they shed light on it.
In the essay LU notes from the outset that Xuanzang's translation is unique,
diferent from the others. He concludes that Paramartha and the Tibetan are
closest, and that while Xuanzang was influenced by Dharmapala's interpretation,
there are noticeable diferences between his interpretation and the one found in
the Yijing translation. One senses that just as LU is carefully documenting that
Xuanzang is, on the one hand, clearly influenced by Dharmapala, while, on the
other hand, remaining sufciently independent, and thus not a blind follower, of
Dharmap:la-being, as H puts it, more faithful to the intent and literal wording
of Dignaga's text than to doctrinal afliation-LU is likewise implicitly declaring
his own independence from Xuanzang while acknowledging Xuanzang's deep
infuence on him. He seems to see Xuanzang more as a kindred spirit than as an
infallible beacon.
32. This addendum essay is the only part included in La Cheng Foxue lunzhu xuanji,
where the title is slightly modifed as "Lun Zangyi Guan suoyuan shi lun zhi tezheng
7DDR~/"(Discussion of the Distinctive Features ofXuanzang's transla
tion of Alambana.parrkI). The name of Lil's collaborator, Shi Yincong, is not mentioned
(was Yincong only involved in preparing the texts, not this essay?) and there is some minor
reworking and rewording of the text primarily for the sake of added clarity, for instance,
more clearly demarcating quotations.
La Cheng, Epistemology, and Genuine Buddhism
It bears noting that of the editions he used and worked on, Xuanzang's
text required the least amount of work. The Tibetan had to be translated;
Para martha's text required parsing and decisions on where to insert the verses
meaningfully into the commentary; Yijing's text required much wrestling with
obscure passages, decoding difcult terms and phrases, and adding many
useful, if sometimes tentative annotations and punctuations. Xuanzang's text,
by way of contrast, is left intact. Rather, Li saw his task as understanding its
philosophical meaning, along with an understanding of the motives and tech
niques used by the translator. Xuanzang's text required analysis and study, but
not alteration.
Some implications ofLO' study ofAlambana-parlka
Without recourse to the Tibetan version, solving the countless puzzles and prob
lems posed by even the most scrupulous comparisons of the Chinese texts alone
would have been impossible. Liis warning his contemporaries that they cannot
rely on Chinese materials alone if they want to understand "Genuine" Buddhism
correctly instead of the imaginary construction of Buddhism that had been

d over the centuries by other uninformed but imaginative readers of the

Chinese texts. With an ability to read Sanskrit and Tibetan, a proper and profit
able way to read the long venerated Chinese texts was now at hand. In the case
of Alambana-parrka, without a careful consideration of the Tibetan, the Chinese
versions would be difcult to understand, appreciate and reconcile with each
other. Although the Tibetan does not solve everything, at least it makes a more
informed reading possible.
Philology and textual-critical method are deployed by t Cheng not to pro
duce a scholarly artifact, such as an Ur-text, but to recover the original meaning
and import of the text(s) and the ideas it bears. t was attempting to understand:
1. What each translator was doing to and with the text;
2. Why they were treating it as they did;
. What diferent, considered interpretations were like, in order to have a herme
neutic space within which to make genuine and informed interpretive choices
of one's own.
That activity itself-a hermeneutics grounded in careful philology and text
criticism-in a certain sense, is what Genuine Buddhism is about for iil Cheng.
His modus operandi consisted of careful readings designed to pare of question
able or untenable options through strict attention to the basic texts and their
history, thereby determining the viability of diferent interpretations and even of
certain texts.
LU's sustained interest in hetuvidya (Buddhist epistemology and logic), of
which his Alambana-par'ka study is an important part, paved the way for sub
sequent East Asian studies, such as those by Yamaguchi Susumu land Ui
Hakuju T!Western studies of Yoga car a have tended to focus exclusively
on texts dealing with the supposed signature Yogacara doctrines, such as the
three natures (trisvabhava), the eighth consciousness (alayavijiana), and cogni
tive closure (vijiapti-matra), while those working on the hetuvidya and pramaIJa
vada (epistemic validation) literature have tended to show little interest in how
Buddhist pramalJa-vada was a natural outgrowth of Yoga car a and remained in
formed by Yogacara concerns'and concepts (aside from repeatedly trying to find
"idealist" elements or "tacit idealist assumptions" in early pramaIJa-vada think
ers such as Dharmaklrti) . But pramalJa-vada in a form recognizable as founda
tional for the later developments frst appears in Asaiga's Yogacara works, gets
refined in several texts by Vasubandhu (only fragments of which are extant34),
becomes further refined and sharpened by Dignaga, and reaches a system
atic sophistication in Dharmakrrti. Each of them was a Yogacara thinker. That
Yogacara and hetuvidya are the same tradition has always been understood in
East Asia.
Li Cheng' methods for dealing with other texts
To gain a fuller sense of LU's project and how he approached controversies, men
tion can be made of some of his other essays, which take on popular but apocry
phal texts. The first has the provocative title "Lengyan bai wei ||,"which
we might render as 'One hundred things wrong with the 5arligama [sutmJ_"J5
In fact, he even provides a bonus example, so the full count is actually 101 things
wrong with this text. Even toay the 5uraligama remains very popular among
33- On Yamaguchi's French translation of Jlambana-parrkl see supra n. 12_ Yamaguchi
also produced a Japanese translation with VinItadeva's commentary: Yamaguchi Susumu
and Nozawa JOsM 5,Seshin yuishiki n genten kaimei tNU XM (Study of
Source Texts ofVasubandhu and Vinapti-mitra) (Kyoto: H1z1kan, 1953). Vi's Bukkyo ron
rgku |( Buddhist logic) (Tokyo: Dait1 shuppansha, 1933) includes his Japanese
translation and study of Dign:ga's Nylyamukha (Introduction to Logic) on pp. 363-392.
His study of Dign:ga, Jinna chosaku no kenkya P^M (Studies of Dign:ga's Writ
ings) (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1958), includes his study of Jlambana-parrki (pp. 24-130,
with his Japanese translation of the Param:rtha, Xuanzang, and Yijing versions), and
studies of three other Dign:ga texts. Ui's indebtedness to LU Cheng is clearly evident.
34. E. Frauwallner, Vasubandhu's Vadavidhi: Wiener Zeitschrii far die Kunde Sad- und
05ta5iens I (195
7): 2-44

35. La Cheng Foxue lunzhu xuanji, pp. 370-395.
Ii Cheng, Epistemology, and Genuine Buddhism
East Asian and Vietnamese Buddhists, and is used ritually as well as an object
for conceptual study)6
After pointing out that there are other popular but "spurious" (wei )
texts, namely Renwang j ing (The Benevolent Kings Sutra); the Chinese
*Brahmajala-sutra (Fanwang j ing }.Sutra of Brahma's Net);37 Dasheng qixin
(Awakening of Mahayana Faith) , Yuanjue jing (The Per
fect Enlightenment Sutra), and the Zhancha [shan e yebaoJ j ing 2[*3l#
(Sutra on Divination of the Efects of Good and Evil Actions), he proceeds to
compare details given in the *Surangama-sutra (Sutra on the Hero's Progress)
with comparable information provided by other, authentic sutras. Some of the
details he discusses are doctrinal, some are seemingly trivial (such as at what age
the Buddha and a certain king meet), and he shows that it is precisely with these
other spurious texts that this Surangama shows most consistency, highlighting
trains of "spurious" Buddhist themes embedded in spurious texts. Although
many of the details on their own might seem slight, almost insignifcant, the evi
dence mounts, as more and more spurious things accumulate, until their sheer
number makes the case compelling and decisive.
In another work, " Lengqie rulaizang zhang jiangyi T1J#"
(Lecture Notes on the Tathagatagarbha chapter of the Lalikavatar-sutra),38 Hi's
aim is not to challenge the authenticity of the text itself but to strip away errone
ous interpretations that have attached to it, in this case concerning the notion
of tathagatagarbha, in Chinese rulaizang J, the zang of the tathagata (Le.,
buddha). Tathagatagarbha has become a seemingly indelible part of East Asian
Buddhism, although, as Lil sets out to demonstrate, how i is understood has
36. The full Chinese title is Dafo ding rulai mi yin xiu zhengliao yi zhu pusa wanxing shou
lengyan jing m'5Z'lO!PM.(T.I9.945), but it is best known
by the abbreviated Lengyan jing j.This has long been recognized as an apocryphal
text written in China, though the "translation" is ascribed to a Paramiti (Bancimidi
T&R}, supposedly in 705 CEo This is not to be confused with another text titled
Surangama-samidhi-sutra (Shoulengyen sanmei jing UME=: abbrev.: R5
Shoulengyan jing; the Chinese titles being transcriptions of the sounds for Surangama
which in Sanskrit means something like "heroic or courageous progress"). This latter
5urangama-samidhi-sutra is an authentic Indian text that was ofen studied together with
the Vimalakrrti-nirdesa-sutra (The Teachings of Vimalaklrti). The authentic Surngama
sutra, extant in Kumarajlva's Chinese translation (T.I5.642) was translated into French by
Etienne Lamotte, La Concentration de la march htrorque, in Mtlanges chinois et bouddhiques
V. XIII(Brussels: Institut BeIge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises. 1965). which in turn was
translated into English by Sara Boin-Webb, 5ural1lgamasamadhisutra: Te Concentration of
Heroic Progress (London: Buddhist Text Society, 1998) .
37. Not to be confused with the Pali Brhmajala sutta that begins the Dfgha-Nikaya, with
which it has nothing in common aside from the title.
38. La Cheng Foxue lunzhu xuanji, pp. 257-265.
become infected with a variety of spurious concepts derived from spurious texts.
How, for instance, should one understand the zang of rulaizang? The Chinese
term suggests a storehouse, someplace where something precious might be
hidden. Lii explains: "The 'zang' should be taken in the sense of 'womb (zang)
of an embryo; that from which a buddha is born" [!J" ).
He further informs us that tathagatagarbha is a Mahayanic exposition of the
theme that "mind-nature is originally pure," understood by some to mean that
this is some sort of special, unique mind. "This mind is tathagatagarbha; when
consciousness obtains this mind, it can become buddha . . . [S]tudents of Bud
dhism already know this. Tathagatagarbha is mind. But what sort of mind is
this mind? It is the everyday/ordinary mind of sentient beings, not some special
mind out there apart from that."40 Having presented his thesis, he proceeds to
support it, while attacking Dasheng qixin lun for having infected the concept of
tathagatagarbha with spurious interpretations.
Dasheng qixin lun-one of his favorite foils, since its ideas have become foun
dational for much of what Lii and some others saw as misguided Buddhism
ofen gets criticized in the course of analyzing other texts, and he devotes several
essays to specifcally exposing it as spurious. In one, " Qixin yu Lengqie
D"(The Awakening of Mahayana Faith and the LaJkavatara-sutra), he writes:
Long before Dasheng qixin lun became widely circulated, there were trans
lations of the Lankavatara by GUIabhadra41 in the Song42 dynasty and
[another] translation4; by Bodhiruci during the Wei dynasty.44 (There is a
tradition that in ancient times there was also a translation from the Liang,
but no details from that text are available.45) The ideas in this text are quite
unique, but if one examines them in comparison with the Sanskrit text
and the Tibetan translation, thereby determining the original wording of

p. 257
40. Ibid.
41. Lengqie abaducluc bacjing [J0,(partial) trans. by Guabhadra 2&|R
in 443 (4 fasc.), T.16.670.
42. I.e . the Liu Song Dynasty )( (420-479), not t be confused with the later Song
Dynasty (ca. 960-1279); GUJabhadra's dates are 394-468; he arrived in China ca. 435.
43. Rulengqieing JCI,trans. Bodhiruci lii; in 513 (10 fasc.), T.16.67I.
44. Bodhiruci arrived in Chang'an in 502 and died in 527. The Wei Dynasty ran from 386
until 534 or 535. Dasheng qixin lun did not appear until the second half of the sixth century.
45. This is the Lengqiejing siuan HCQ}trans. by Dharmakema =between 412
and 433 (not extant), but listed in Kaiyuan shiia lu at T.5PI54629bu.
La Cheng, Epistemology, and Genuine Buddhism
the text, the Song translation matches up closely, while the Wei transla
tion is filled with errors and hundreds of deviations [from the original
Now, if we examine Dasheng qixin lun in comparison with the
Lankavatara, it definitely is not an authentic original [Indian] text. It
is based on erroneous translations it stole from the Wei [version of the
Lalkavatara]. Moreover it barely muddles through their meanings. It
could only have been written by a Chinese person, no one else. How could
Asvagho$a46 have been the original author of something that we know
could only have been composed by a Chinese scholar who derived errone
ous expressions from the Wei translation of the Lankavatar? By applying
this criterion one recognizes that the Awakening of Mahayana Faith is a
spurious text - reaching this conclusion is simple, nothing complicated.
Now I will prove it with seven demonstrations. 47
We do not need to explore the seven demonstrations here to appreciate his point.
His claim that the Awakening ofMahayana Faith relies heavily on the vocabulary
of the Bodhiruci Lankavatara is spot on, as has been confrmed by more recent
studies aided by the power of computer searches.48 One obvious implication of
the fact that it is not an authentic translation, but a forgery composed by someone
drawing on Bodhiruci's vocabulary, is that Paramartha-who developed his own
technical vocabulary, which difered from Bodhiruci's-was not involved in the
production of Dasheng qixin lun. Hence attributing the translation to Paramartha
is as spurious as attributing authorship to Asvagho$a.
L mentions three Chinese versions of the Lankavatara: the earliest version
by Dharmak$ema, which is no longer extant; the GU1abhadra translation, which
46. The reputed author of Dasheng qixin lun, an attribution universally discredited by
scholars today.
47. "Qixin yu Lengqie: La Cheng Foxue lunzhu xuanji, vol. r, p. 293.
48. Cf. Frederic Girard's French translation of Dasheng qixin lun: Traite sur I'acte de fi dans
Ie Grand Vhicule (Tokyo: Keio University Press, 2004)-which draws heavily on Japanese
scholarship-states: "La version de Paramartha ofer des similitudes et des afnites ter
minologiques ainsi que stylistiques tout d'abord avec des ouvrages traduits du Sanskrit par
Bodhiruci et Ratnamati. . . . C'est ce que suggere Ie comparaison d'un certain nombre de
termes techniques du TrUt avec ces ouvrages." [The version (of Dasheng qixin lun attrib
uted to) Paramartha shows some similarities and some terminological afnities fi rst of all
with works translated from Sanskrit by Bodhiruci and Ratnamati (and not Paramartha) . . . .
That is what suggests comparing a number of technical terms in the Treatise with their
works.], pp. xxxi-xxxii. This "thesis' is attributed to Takemura Makio "||in his 1986
article, "Kishiron to lajikyoron ]J'x" (Dasheng qixin lun and Dasabhami
satra-bhaya), Tihogaku 72 (July 1986): 1-15. Not surprisingly, LCheng is not mentioned,
much less given credit for having already demonstrated this many decades earlier.
he correctly pronounces as closest to the received Sanskrit version; and the Bod
hiruci translation, which he also rightly criticizes for a host of deviations from the
Sanskrit, deviations he then documents that Dasheng qixin lun has appropriated
and refashioned in a muddled manner. Since his interest is to show how Dasheng
qixin lun exposes its own apocryphal status by revealing that it "stole" terms and
concepts from an error-riddled predecessor, which it incorporated, reproducing
those errors, the fourth Chinese version of the Lanklvatlra, Dasheng rulengqie
jing /9/]}T, translated by the Khotanese monk Sikananda | in
700 (T.r6.672), is irrelevant, since that translation post dates Dasheng qixin lun
by more than a century.
It is important to keep in mind that without being able to compare the various
Chinese LanklvatlYa-S against the Sanskrit original, Lii's analysis and its conclu
sions would be impossible, since identifying conclusively which translation is
faithful to the Sanskrit and which deviates from i would be impossible.
For Li Cheng, Genuine Buddhism cultivates logic and clear thinking in order
to purify the everyday mind. Distinguishing the true from the false, the authen
tic from the imaginary, the clear from the distorted, insight from ignorance has
always been Buddhism's goal and raison d'etre. Shedding centuries, or even
kalpas of mistaken views-including about Buddhism itself-and thereby "puri
fying the mental stream of karmic pollution" has always been Yogacara's project.
Few in China did it better than L.