“Buddha-Nature” (Foxing 佛性) in Zhanranʼs (湛然) Adamantine Scalpel Treatise (Jinʼgangpi Lun 金剛錍論),with special focus on its congruence with the Saddharmapundarika (Miaofalianhua Jing 妙法蓮華經) and Mahaparinirvana Sutras (Niepan Jing 涅槃經)
Despite the existence of voluminous research on the concept of Buddha-Nature foxing佛性, and the Adamantine Scalpel Treatise or Jin’gangpi-Lun金剛錍論 (c.780A.D.) of Zhanran 湛然 (711–782 A.D.), little attention has been given to the way in which Zhanran’s ‘innovations’ can be interpreted as extensions of, or natural conclusions derived from the Mahāparinirvāṇa (Niepan Jing涅槃經) and Saddharmapuṇḍarīka Sūtras (Miaofalianhua Jing妙法蓮華經). The dominant narrative within scholarly literature contends that Zhanran’s claim for the Buddha-Nature of the insentient, directly conflicts with statements in the Mahāparinirvāṇa, and that Buddha-Nature as term and concept is absent from the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka Sūtra altogether. On the basis of this narrative, it is concluded that Zhanran’s concept of insentient Buddha-Nature is to be traced from exegetical tradition, or non-buddhist sources rather than from these sūtras themselves.
Returning to the above scriptures qua primary sources, this study attempts an exegetical reappraisal of Zhanran’s concept of Buddha-Nature, by demonstrating the confluence between these scriptures and Zhanran’s treatise. Via a textual analysis of the two sūtras and Zhanran’s Jin’gangpi, this study endeavours to reveal the intertextual set of meanings Zhanran inherited from earlier Tiantai tradition, and establish not only his consistency with this hermeneutic, but the dialogic relation understood to exist between the two sūtras.
By raising questions about the sources underlying Zhanran’s arguments, I respond to the concerns of Buddhists as inheritors of his ideas, and re-examine the conclusions of scholarship by offering an overview of the textual and conceptual parameters in which Zhanran’s ideas must necessarily be viewed. This reassessment contributes to our broader understanding of Chinese intellectual trends, and offers a model for the relation of the thesis and antithesis dichotomy.