Awakening of Faith

Jason Clower

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Awakening of Faith

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The Awakening of Faith (Ch. Dasheng qixin lun, Jpn. Daijō kishinron 大乘起信論) claims, in its colophon, to have been written by “Aśvaghoṣa” (presumably the 1st- or 2nd-century north Indian author), but its origin is uncertain. It exists only in Chinese, in two somewhat disparate versions, the first traditionally thought to have been translated by Paramārtha in 550, and the second being an alleged retranslation by Śikṣānanda between 695 and 700. In modern times, the Awakening of Faith has been surrounded by controversy regarding whether it is truly a translation from Sanskrit or a Chinese apocryphon, and also regarding whether its teachings are faithful to the Buddhist tradition that preceded it. Traditionalists have argued that the Awakening of Faith expresses doctrines already found in such Sanskrit texts as the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and Śrīmālādevī Sūtra, and that the hypothesis of a Sanskrit original is supported by the existence of a second translation by Śikṣānanda. However, critics point to historical problems with the traditional account of the text’s translation and transmission, and argue instead for a Chinese origin based on points of diction and doctrine. Most modern scholars now believe that it is an indigenous Chinese composition, though debate continues. What is not debated, however, is that the Awakening of Faith provided the doctrinal foundation for many of the nativized forms of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Buddhism. It is a central influence on the Huayan, Chan, Shingon, Nichiren, and Pure Land traditions, and it indirectly helped to shaped Tiantai and even Neo-Confucian philosophy as well. Famously, the Awakening of Faith marries together doctrines of tathāgata-garbha (the “womb of buddhas”) with the Yogācāra model of consciousness. Mind is intrinsically enlightened but has been overcome by ignorance, wherefore it gives rise to dualistic thought and phenomena. However, the text teaches, the mind remains essentially unsullied, and its untainted nature can “perfume” or “permeate” (Ch. xun, Jpn. kun 薰) ignorance and purify mind of defilements. Accordingly, the text teaches that there are two kinds or levels of enlightenment: the “original” enlightenment (Ch. benjue, Jpn. hongaku 本覺), which is the underlying condition of mind, and the “incipient” enlightenment (Chs. shijue, Js.shigaku 始覺), which results from mind’s liberation from ignorance. Such doctrines shaped the distinctly East Asian conceptions of buddha-nature (though the term “buddha-nature” [Ch. foxing, Jpn. busshō 佛性] does not appear in the text), mind, suchness, and the dharma body. Alternate forms of the title for this article could read: Ta-sheng ch’i-hsin-lun; Dacheng qixin lun; Ta-ch’eng ch’i-hsin-lun; Qixin lun; Ch’i-hsin-lun; Daijōkishinron; Kishinron;Taesŭng kisillon; Tae-sŭng ki-shin-non; Kisillon; Ki-shin-non; or Mahāyāna-śraddhotpāda-śāstra.

Article.  6827 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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