Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana
Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna (reconstructed Sanskrit title: Mahāyāna śraddhotpādaśāstra; Chinese: 大乘起信論; pinyin: Dàshéng Qǐxìn Lùn; Japanese: 大乗起信論; Korean: 대승기신론; Vietnamese: Đại thừa khởi tín luận) is a text of Mahayana Buddhism. Though attributed to the Indian master Aśvaghoṣa, no Sanskrit version of it exists and it is now widely regarded by scholars as a Chinese composition.
While the text is traditionally attributed to Aśvaghoṣa, no Sanskrit version of the text is extant. The two earliest existing versions are written in Chinese, and contemporary scholars widely accept the theory that the text is a Chinese composition.
However, D.T. Suzuki accepted its Indian Sanskrit origin, while acknowledging that it was unlikely the historical Aśvaghoṣa (Chinese: 馬鳴菩薩) was the author, and that it was more likely that the attribution to Aśvaghoṣa was an honorific appellation due to the profundity of the treatise. Suzuki saw the Awakening of Faith as being "inspired by the same spirit" as the Lankavatara (Chinese: 楞伽經), Avatamsaka (Chinese: 華嚴經), and the Mahayana Parinirvana Sutras (Chinese: 涅槃經), and regarded its identification as a Chinese text as "not well grounded". Suzuki's views were written before modern computer assisted analysis could be undertaken by scholars.
Paramartha (Chinese: 真諦; 499-569) was traditionally thought to have translated the text in the 6th Century CE in 553. However, many modern scholars now opine that it was actually composed by Paramartha or one of his students. King remarks that, although Paramartha undoubtedly was among the most prolific translators of Sanskrit texts into Chinese, he may have originated, not translated, the East Asian Yogācāra (Chinese: 唯識宗) text of the Buddha-nature Treatise (Chinese: 佛性論) as well as the Awakening of Faith.[a] Other experts dispute that it has anything to do at all with Paramartha.
The title of the text, the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, should therefore be understood as the "Awakening of Faith in the Absolute", not in Mahayana Buddhism as distinguished from Hinayana Buddhism.
In rendering the title of the Dasheng qixin lun as Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith, as opposed to Hakeda's "Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna" I am following the position put forth by Sung Bae Park in Chapter Four of his book Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment. There he argues that the inner discourse of the text itself, along with the basic understanding of the meaning of mahāyāna in the East Asian Buddhist tradition does not work according to a Western theological "faith in..." subject-object construction, but according to an indigenous East Asian essence-function 體用 model. Thus, mahāyāna should not be interpreted as a noun-object, but as a modifier, which characterizes the type of faith.
In other words, the treatise is not discussing "Faith in the Mahayana," rather it is presenting the Mahayana style of faith, which is faith in the true suchness of mind.
The text is divided into five sections, and often summarized as “One Mind, Two Aspects, Three Greatnesses, Four Faiths, and Five Practices". Following two introductory chapters dealing with the oneness of mind and motivations for the text's composition, part three focuses on two aspects of mind to clarify the relationship between enlightenment and ignorance, nirvana and samsara, or the absolute and the phenomenal. Part four describes five practices that aid in the growth of faith, emphasizing calmness and insight meditation. Part five describes the benefits that result from cultivating the five practices.
Written from the perspective of Essence-Function (simplified Chinese: 体用; traditional Chinese: 體用; pinyin: tǐyòng), this text sought to harmonize the two soteriological philosophies of the Buddha-nature (tathagatagarbha) and Eight Consciousnesses (or Yogacara) into a synthetic vision based on the One Mind in Two Aspects:
In the words of the Awakening of Faith — which summarizes the essentials of Mahayana — self and world, mind and suchness, are integrally one. Everything is a carrier of that a priori enlightenment; all incipient enlightenment is predicated on it. The mystery of existence is, then, not, “How may we overcome alienation?” The challenge is, rather, “Why do we think we are lost in the first place?”
Commentaries on the Awakening in Faith were composed in China, Japan, and Korea by numerous exegetes. Commentaries composed before the mid 9th century in Chinese and Korean include those by Jingying Huiyuan 淨影慧遠 Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 44, No. 1843 大乘起信論義疏 Dasheng qixinlun yishu; two by Wonhyo 元曉 Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 44, No. 1844 起信論疏 Gisillon so and Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 44, No. 1845 Daeseung gisillon byeolgi; by Fazang 法藏 Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 44, No. 1846 大乘起信論義記 Dasheng qixinlun yiji; and by Zongmi 宗密, as well as others no longer extant.
Although often omitted from lists of canonical Buddhist texts, the Awakening of Faith strongly influenced subsequent Mahayana doctrine. It reflects an important stage in the synthesis of Indian and Chinese Buddhist thought, and the elevation of the tathagatagarbha doctrine to a central place in Chinese Buddhist soteriology.
The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana had a great influence on Chinese Buddhism. One of the reasons for this is the status of the commentator Fazang 法藏 as state preceptor (Guoshi) and third patriarch of the Huayan school . The Awakening of Faith is thought to have played a role in the Huayan doctrine of the interpenetration of phenomena.
In great part due to the commentaries by Wonhyo, the Awakening of Faith ended up having an unusually powerful influence in Korea, where it may be the most oft-cited text in the entire tradition. It also provided much of the doctrinal basis for the original enlightenment thought found in the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment.
The view of the mind in the Awakening of Faith had a significant import on the doctrinal development of the East Mountain Teaching. It is also considered to have strongly influenced the Chan doctrine of "seeing one's nature and attaining Buddhahood" (jianxing chengfo).
In Tendai, it is often used to explain the original enlightenment thought (doctrine). Medieval Tendai Original Enlightenment Thought is established. It indirectly influenced the sects of the Kamakura period.
Hakeda's translation is based on Paramārtha's version of the Chinese text (Taisho No. 1666) while Suzuki's translation is based on Śikṣānanda`s version (Taisho No. 1667).
Vorenkamp's translation of Fazang's commentary includes a translation of Paramārtha's version.