The Debate at bSam yas:
religious contrast and correspondence

By Roccasalvo, Joseph F. Philosphy East and West 30:4(October,1980) P.505-520 (C) by The University of Press of Hawaii


    In  the  book, Kumbum  Dschamba  Ling, a  volume  of Tibetan  art  dedicated  to  "the  cloister  of  one hundred  thousand  pictures  of  Maitreya,"  Wilhelm Filchner  describes  the  expulsion  of the  Chinese Buddhists   from  Tibet,  as  it  remains  a  living tradition   in  the   memory   of  the   people   in mythological  form.  This  event  is enacted  in the Tscham mystery-dances, which are performed yearly in the village  monasteries, especially  at Kumbum.  He writes:

    The theatrical  element  in the Tscham dances, which are  brought  to production  in Kumbum, is presented and  portrayed   through  Hwaschang   and  the  four Atsaras.  Hwaschang  is surrounded...  by a group of similarly  clothed children  in similar masks.  They portray  his  students, or, according  to the  other version, his children also, or indeed, boys who make fun of the odd old man.(1)

    In his  study  of Buddhist  mythology  in Tibet  and Mongolia, Albert  Grunwedel  further  adds  that the figure  of Hva 'sa^n appears  in an exaggerated  and grotesque  form as the representative  of the ousted ston  min pa, or, party  of the sudden  path.  He is held up to ridicule  by the children  of the village and  is  known  among  them  as the  monk  with  the oversized  stomach.  In colloquial  English we might say  that  Hva  'sa^n  is  scornfully   called  "the pot-bellied Buddha" (der Dickbauch-Buddha).(2)

    The   expulsion   of  the   Chinese   Buddhists, symbolically   represented  by  the  Tscham  dances, determined  that Tibet  should  not adopt  the Ch'an version  of Buddhism  but  Indian  Mahaayaana.  This event has received conspicuously little attention in the  text-books, and when  it has, it is usually  to the  detriment  of  the  Chinese  contingent,  whose doctrine  of subitism has been grossly misunderstood to  this   day.   One  striking   example   of  such misunderstanding in past history was the debate held at  bSam  yas  under  the  rule  of K'ri  sro^n  lde btsan--the  so-called  Council of Lhasa.(3) There in the  late  eighth  century  (792-794),  the  Chinese Mahaayaana  Hva  sa^n, a  follower  of  the  Dhyaana school, was  sternly  opposed  by a group  of Indian Mahaayaana   Buddhists   under  the  leadership   of Kamala'siila.   According  to  the  various  Tibetan sources, especially  Bu-ston's  History  of Buddhism (Chos-.hbyung), the Indian hostility is presented as a reaction  against  the  growing  influence  of the Chinese masters who had won the majority  of Tibetan Buddhists  to their cause: "The number  of pupils of the  Chinese  Hva-sa^n  Mahaayaana   increased, "(4) Bu-ston  tells us;  he then proceeds  to discuss the consequences of the effectively propagated teachings of  the  Chinese  in  whom  "the  Tibetans, for  the greater part, found pleasure" (192).  Giuseppe Tucci remarks  in this regard  that "we do not know if the Indian  party  really  lost  a great  number  of its adherents; the sources agree in telling us that they were the minority and that only some of the leading monks remained  faithful  to the teaching of the Bodhisattva  [Saantirak.sita].(5) In any  event, it is clear  that  the preaching  of Hva 'sa^n Mahaayaana  had steadily gained ground to such an extent  that the king was compelled  to intervene by staging a debate between the conflicting parties.

    Paul  Demieville, in  his  book  Le  Concile  de Lhasa, which Tucci  rightly  calls  "one of the most learned  contributions  to the  history  of cultural relations   between   China   and   Tibet   as   yet undertaken,"(6) has  suggested  in  his  "Historical Commentary"  that  more  than theological  doctrines were  at play in the Indian-Chinese  debate  at bSam yas. He writes:

    That a sinophobic  party had existed at the court of Tibet, and  that  it had  backed  the  Buddhists  of India, less  suspicious  of  political  compromises, nothing  [is]  more  likely,  especially  since  the rapport  between  China  and Tibet  was particularly strained  at the end of the eighth  century.  Across all her history, since her origins up to our present day, Tibet has been tossed between  China and India; its  politics   have  always  tended   to  safeguard national  independence  by playing these powers, one against the other ... and in favoring that which the circumstances  of the moment  made  appear  the less dangerous.(7)

    And "the circumstances of the moment" pointed to the fact that the Dhyaana school headed by Hva 'sa^n had gained  enthusiastic  acceptance  among  the Tibetan population,   thereby    threatening    to    assume proportions  which  were  able  to stir  up latently hostile attitudes  toward China.  In whatever way we understand  the political  sentiments  involved, the debate at bSam yas must be regarded  as a historical event   of  the  greatest   importance,  what   Paul Demieville  has aptly  called  "a major  turn in the religious  history  of  Tibet"  (183).  Fortunately, (thanks  (1) to the  Chinese  dossier  of Hva  'sa^n Mahaayaana  which  was recovered  in the  grotto  of Tuen-huang,  (2) the  Sanskrit  text  of  the  third Bhaavanaakrama, (3) the longer  Tibetan  version  of the latter, and (4) Bu-ston's  History  of Buddhism, Part  II), we are in a position  today  to make some judgments   regarding   what  occurred  during  this disputation.  But  regarding  who actually  won  the debate there is no complete  agreement  between  the Chinese records and the Tibetan tradition. According to the Chinese dossier translated by Demieville, the Tibetan  king  decided  in  favor  of Hva  sa^n  by passing an edict in 794 confirming  the doctrine  of dhyaana  as taught  by the Chinese  party (42).  The Tibetan  sources, however, speak of the firm support given by K'ri sro^n Ide btsan to Kamala'siila and his point of view. Bu-ston writes in his History:

    Thereafter   the  king  gave  the  following  order: --Henceforth, as concerns the theory, one must adopt the  system  of Naagaarjuna.  With  regards  to  the practice--one must become trained in the 10 kinds of virtuous   conduct  and  in  the  10  Transcendental Virtues. As to the Ton-mun views, the propagation of these  is  not  to  be  permitted! -Accordingly  the Hva-ca^n  was sent back to China, and his books were collected   and  kept  concealed  in  a  storehouse. (195-196)

    Tucci  rightly  points  out in Minor Buddhist  Texts that, in an edict intended  for laymen, it is rather odd  that  Naagaarjuna  is mentioned, for  his  name signified little to the Tibetan people at large.  He concludes that it is most probable

    The  king  did not at all intervene  in an energetic way  in  the  debate: he attended  it, followed  the course of the discussion  but did not evidently have the doctrinal preparation to be judge: most probably he established  at the conclusion of the debate that the doctrine to be followed was the Maadhyamika....  And this did not say very much, because neither  sholar could   deny   resting   on  that   system   for   a starting-point.(8)

    No less  a Tibetan  scholar  than  David  Snellgrove affirms the generally held opinion that Kamala'siila "came  out the winner  from the confrontation"(9) and later composed three works(the Bhaavanaakrama) which expound  the gradualist  point  of view which he had defended  at the council.  Even  if we suppose  that Kamala'siila  was proclaimed  the victor, this  does not  imply   that   there   occurred   an  immediate persecution  of the Ch'an  party.  The court and the ministers  might have counselled  that the doctrines of the Indian Mahaayaana  be followed, but we have no reason  to believe  that steps were taken  to impose the Indian theory  on the people  by force of edict. As Tucci further suggests,

    The impression  which one gathers  is that after the death  of K'ri sro^n  lde btsan  there  was a strong revival of Indian-  Buddhism, caused not only by the direct instigation  of the court, anxious to prevent any  further  Chinese  influence, but  also  by  the growing  prestige  of the Indians  and the coming of Indian aacaaryas in greater numbers than before.(10)

    Despite the ambiguity of the debate's outcome, it is historically indisputable  that Tibetan Buddhism sat at the feet of Indian  Mahaayaana  for its religious tutelage.

    While  one cannot  help  but be fascinated  by a religious  debate  which seems to have turned into a melodrama--with  members of the two opposite parties having   recourse    to   violence,   suicide,   and murder--the  doctrinal issues, themselves  raised at the "council" are more than sufficient  to focus the attention  of  the  student  of  both  Buddhism  and comparative  religion.  The question  of sudden  and gradual  enlightenment, the value  and  disvalue  of moral  selfcultivation  at certain  stages, and  the problem of language being employed from two distinct standpoints, all are issues  structurally  analogous to  certain  historical  thought-trends  within  the Christian   context   of  mysticism   and  doctrinal orthodoxy, faith, and works, as well  as theological precision  and  religious   hyperbole.   Within  the Tibetan  context, however, such difficulties  become compounded  to an even greater degree because of the linguistic  disparity  between the opposing parties, as Demieville points out in his "Introduction":

    They  [the  Chinese  party  certainly  did not  know Sanskrit, any more  than  their  Indian  adversaries were familar with Chinese. The controversy must have developed  around written fragments  in Sanskrit and Chinese, with Tibetan serving as common language for the two groups in the oral debate  whatever  language  had been used, some thought in Sanskrit, others in Chinese (20-21).

    Given  such  wide linguistic  requirements  together with  nationalistic  prejudices, it is not difficult to see how each side failed to comprehend  fully its opponent's point of view.

    In this brief study, my interest  will not focus on the historical details of the controversy.  These have  been  exhaustively  examined  by the two great Buddhologists, Paul Demieville  and Giuseppe  Tucci, whose respective  studies  are models of clarity and erudition.  Rather, I  should  like  to  confine  my attention  to the  two  standpoints  represented  by Kamala'siila  and Hva 'sa^n, especially  since  they have been made available to us in various edited and translated documents. Such interest in the debate at bSam yas poses a number  of striking  questions  for the comparative  religionist  who is concerned about the   encounter    of   differing    religious    or philosophical  perspectives.  The further importance of  this  inquiry  also  becomes  apparent  when  we examine the writings  of historians  of this period. In his book, The Religions of Tibet, Helmut Hoffmann characterizes  the standpoints  of our two religious protagonists in the following way:

    The  most  important  matters  of doctrine  in which Hva-shang  differed  from his Indian  rival were (1) the attainment  of Buddhaship  does  not take  place slowly  as the  result  of a protracted  and onerous moral struggle  for understanding, but suddenly  and intuitively--an  idea which is characteristic of the Chinese  Ch'an  and of the Japanese  Zen sect  which derives from it;  (2) meritorious actions whether of word  or deed, and, indeed, any spiritual  striving, is evil; on the contrary one must relieve one's mind of all  deliberate  thought  and abandon  oneself  to complete inactivity.(11)

    Judging from Hoffmann's  unnuanced  characterization of Hva 'sa^n's position  vis a vis Kamala'siila, one has further evidence of the kind of misunderstanding this  debate  may  generate, even  in the mind  of a modern scholar.

    In this article  I will restrict  myself, first, to an examination  of the  third  Bhaavanaakvama  as given in the French translation  by Etienne  Lamotte of the  later  Tibetan  version, with  an occasional reference  to  the  recent  Italian  translation  by Corrado  Pensa  (of the  original  Sanskrit  version edited by Tucci). Bu-ston's History of Buddhism will act  as an important  apologetic  commentary  on the Indian   source-material.   I  will  then  turn   my attention  to the Chinese  dossier  of Hva 'sa^n  as given  in translation  by  Demieville.  The  overall effort will be to ascertain the religious  contrasts and correspondences  between  our two interlocutors, Kamala'siila  and  Hva 'sa^n  Mahaayaana, concerning their views of gradual and sudden enlightenment.  Of no  less  significance   will  be  the  endeavor  of discovering   how  much  mutual  understanding   and misunderstanding  took place, and whether  there  is any   suggestion   that   they   embraced   (however haltingly!) each other's frame of reference.


    Several months before his death in 1935, the Russian scholar  E.  Obermiller  pointed  out a new document concerning the Sino-Tibetan controversy at bSam yas. He had found a Sanskrit  manuscript  whose  text was printed  on Tibetan  paper  at  the  library  of the Asiatic  Museum  in Leningrad.  It had been  brought into  Russia  by  the  celebrated   Siberian   lama, Dorjeev, leader  of the  Russian  Buddhists  at that time.  The text  is attributed  to Kamala'siila  and represents his side of the debate at bSam yas. As an appendix  to the  book  by Paul  Demieville, Etienne Lamotte translated  this important treatise from its Tibetan version (336-353), with the crucial Sanskrit passages   underlined.   On   the   basis   of   the photographic copy which Giuseppe Tucci obtained from Leningrad and his own manuscript  text, the Sanskrit version  has recently  been produced,(12) and it has been translated  into Italian by Corrado  Pensa.(13) Both the Sanskrit  and the Tibetan  versions  of the third  Bhaavanaakrama   are  organized   into  three sections: first, there is the careful exposition  of the  nature  of  'samatha  and  vipa'syanaa  with  a discussion  of  the  objects  of  these  two  mental operations prescribed for the yogi aspirant; second, there  is  a  detailed  presentation  of  "spiritual exercises"   to  be  practiced   by  the  yogin   in conjunction  with  'samatha  and  vipa'syanaa;   and third, the controversy  with Ho-chang (Hva 'sa^n) is mentioned  with  a refutation  of  his  quietism  by establishing  that  it  is  contrary  to  the  Great Vehicle,  that  it  neglects  essential   means  for attaining enlightenment, and that it is incapable of grasping 'suunyataa.

    In the opening section Kamala'siila  follows the Indian  tradition   by  stressing  the  dual  mental operations  of  'samatha  (stillness  of  mind)  and vipa'syanaa  (intensive  meditation  with  a view to correct analysis).  These two activities of the mind are important, he tells  us,because  they unite  all the  forms  of concentration  which, when  practiced assiduously, free one from bondage by destroying the obstacles  (336-1337).  Edward  Conze describes  the function   of  'samatha  in  the  context  of  yogic meditation in the following way:

...after   some  degree  of  contentment   with  the conditions  of  a  solitary, beggarly, and  homeless life has been achieved, the mind  is at last capable of doing its proper  yogic  work.  This consists  in systematically   withdrawing   attention   from  the objects of the senses..And what could be the aim and outcome  of this  act of sustained  introversion.... All the adepts  of Yoga, whatever  their theological or  philosophical   differences,  agree  that  these practices  result  in a state of inward  tranquility ('samatha).(14)

    Hence, the point of 'samatha or mental stillness  is to  set  the   stage   for   the   next   operation, vipa'syanaa;  wherein  the object  of meditation  is focused  efficaciously.  Etienne  Lamotte  describes this level  of concentration  as a piercing  view of insight,(15) which  has  as  its  effect  a profound penetration   into   'things'.   In   other   words, vipa'syannaa  is that mental operation  within which praj~naa occurs, resulting in an act of insight that sees dhnrmas as they are in themselves, that is, as transitory and deprived of substantial  reality.(16) Kamala'siila  depends  on imagery  to describe  this level of mental achievement.

    By the force  of 'samatha, thought  (citta), like  a lamp  placed  in shelter  from  the  wind, does  not swerve from its object (aalambanaan na vicalati); by vipa'syanaa,   the   brilliance   of   true   wisdom (bhuutapraj~naaloka) is born after  the manner  of a sunrise   (suuryodaya) ,  by  virtue  of  reflective examination    conforming    to   the   reality   of things(yathaadharmattvam),  and  all  the  obstacles ( are destroyed" (337).(17)

    What Kamala'siila  seems  to be saying  is that such intensively  analytical  meditation  involved in the operation of vipa'syanaa  leads to a judgmental  act of  extraordinary  lucidity  (praj~naa) wherein  one sees  the dharmas  as they  truly  are, desires  are eliminated ipso facto, attachments  to the obstacles (sensuality,   rebirth,   vain    speculation,   and ignorance) are neutralized, and one is freed for the state of enlightenment.

    In  the  second   part  of  the  first  section, Kamala'siila  proceeds  to a discussion  of the four levels  of attainment  in 'samatha  and vipa'syanaa: (1) reflections  free  of concepts;  (2) reflections accompanied by conceptual thought;  (3) knowledge of the proper nature  of realities  in which "the Yogin attains  (upagacchati) all the dharmas according  to their  nature  (yathaabhaavam)"  (337), and  (4) the final  transformation  of the Yogi who "by means  of the    way    of    meditation     (bhaavanaamaarga) revolutionizes     his     personality     gradually (krame.naasraya^m  paraavartayati) by the production of    successive     moments     of     purification (supravi'         (338)       . Kamala'siilla's  terse conclusion to this portion of his  treatise  is  as follows: "Consequently, he who desires  to obtain the state of Buddha must practice 'samatha and vipa'syanaa;  those who do not practice them do not grasp  the final goal and do not succeed in the undertaking"  (338).  It is important to note here how, from the outset, Kamala'siila  insists  in true Indian fashion on discovering  the way in which the mind is structured  to ascend  in stages  to the ultimate  level, and to recognize  how this goal  is gradually  appropriated  by means of a process.  Our Indian protagonist emphasizes a step-by-step  effort to enlightenment and thereby stresses the importance of   concomitant    psychic   development    through meditational practices.  In this way, the outflow of mental defilements  is gradually  purified  and 'the final goal' is achieved.  Kamala'siila exhibits what might  be called  a picture-preference  for  viewing enlightenment  from the standpoint of process rather than from the standpoint of the goal.

    In the second  part of the dossier  Kamala'siila provides   a  practical   guide  for  the  yogin  by detailing  the order  of spiritual  exercises  to be followed   for  the  attainment   of  'samatha   and vipa'syanaa.  He suggests  that the aspirant fix his thought  on  the  various  corporeal  forms  of  the Tathaagata, and then, by examining  their coming and going, realize  that  "they  are empty  of own-being (svabhaava-;suunya) and  deprived  of  Me  and  Mine (aatmaatmiiyarahita)" (339). It is vipa'syanaa which achieves  this correct analysis by recognizing  that phenomena which succeed one another serially  last but a moment and are bound to disappear, because as such they are deprived of  all  autonomy,  neither   constituting   an  Ego  nor depending on one.  It is also vipa`syanaa  which dispells the error due to ignorance which considers  realities  as 'Me'  or 'Mine', thus detaching  us from  these  fugitive entities.  Kasmala`siila's  description  of practices  is exhaustively detailed, including a section on distraction and agitation during meditation with corresponding mental forms of recreation to refresh the yogin. One is reminded here of the Roman Catholic  Doctor  Mysticus, John of the Cross whose analysis  of the various stages of prayer and spiritual purification  in The Ascent of Mount Carmel are as  subtle  as Kamala`siila's  and, not  infrequently, as laborious.

    The third and last section of the Indian dossier deals  with controversy  with Ho-chan (Hva sa^n);as Demieville   points  out,  "the  Bhaavanaakrama, in Indian fashion,,does not make any mention  either of China      or     of     historically      determine adversaries"(18).Kamla'siila  gives a resume  of the false, quietistic dectrine of "certain teachers":  

By the force of good and bad acts coming from mental concepts (citta-vikalpa.samutthaapita-`subhaa`subha- krama-va'sena),  beings  wander  in  transmigration, enjoying  heaven  (svarga), etc., as  the  fruit  of their acts;  but those who do not think  of anything and who do nothing  are  freed  from  transmigration (sa^msaaraat parimucyante).  Consequently (to attain  it  is  not  necessary  to  think  about anything, there is no further necessity to engage in good practices  (ku`sala-caryaa), as giving (daana), etc.;   the  practice  of  giving,  etc.,  has  been prescribed  solely through  involvement  with stupid people     (kevala^m     muurkhajanam     adhik.rtya daanaadi-ku`sala-caryaa nirdi.s.taa)(348).

    He  then  proceeds  to refute  Hva  `sa^n's  alleged position  by  showing  that  it is contrary  to  the spirit of the Great Vehicle of Mahaayaana.  First he tells us that "to say that (to attain it is not necessary  to think of anything, is to reject wisdom which has as its hallmark  correct  analysis" (348) .  Kamala`siila's  continued  insistence  that correct analysis  (which he has earlier equated with vipa`syanaa  [340])  is  the  root  of  supramundane wisdom  (praj~naa) is a valid recapitulation  of the Indian   tradition   of  meditation;   but  such  an assertion  is true  from  the standpoint  of one who stresses the step-by-step  process to enlightenment, and  this  is  not  Hva  `sa^n's  position  at  all. Kamala`siila's debating tactics are clear: he sets up what  he  claims  to be  Hva  `sa^n's  denial  of  a constant  in the Indian meditational  tradition, and then  proceeds  to  deny  that  denial  by  a clever marshalling  of  texts  by  way  of refutation.  His conclusion, then, is that one "who  rejects  correct analysis  (bhuutapratyavek.saa) also  rejeckts the principal instrument of illumination which is called the       discernment       of      the      dharmas (dharmapravicayaakhyaa^m.pradhaanam              eva bodhya^ngam)" (349).

    The second part of his refutation has to do with Hva `sa^n's  supposed  rejection  of pious practices within  the context  of the  bodhisattva  ideal.  He tells  us that  "to say  as follows  that  it is not necessary  to practice  goodness, giving, etc., that is also  to destroy  the Mahaayaana  by casting  off giving, etc., which are salvific  means  (upaaya).  It is said  in the AArya Gayaa'  'In   summary,  the   way   of   the Bodhisattva  involves  two things...  salvific means and  wisdom'  "  (349) .  Once  again,  Kamala'siila attempts  to refute Hva 'sa^n's so-called  libertine view of the Indian tradition with regard to works by denying  Hva  'sa^n's  denial  of a constant  in the Great  Vehicle;  once  again, one  must  remark  (by anticipation) that such  a gross  oversimplification does not truly  represent  Hva 'sa^n's  position  at all.  In  fact, as  a  careful  examination  of  the Chinese  dossier will show, our Chinese  protagonist explicitly  recognizes the importance  of good works as well as the need for mind-cultivation, even  in a gradualist's  sense, but all from the standpoint  of the process, not from that of the absolute goal.

    Such misunderstanding  of Hva 'sa^n continues in Bu-ston's  History  of  Buddhism  in  an  even  more exaggerated fashion.  We are told that the followers of Hva 'sa^n "favored  nihilistic  views and did not exert   themselves   in  the  practice   of  virtue, saying:--By  acting  according  to the  Doctrine, by virtuous  acts of body and speech, one cannot become a buddha.  One attains  the state  of the latter  by abiding in perfect inactivity"  (192).  According to Bu-ston, Hva 'sa^n  makes a vain effort  to marshall evidence for his unorthodox  views by turning to the 'Satasaahasrikaa  and other  suutras  to demonstrate that   "action   according   to  the  Doctrine   was unnecessary, and that it was sufficient  to abide in a state of deep sleep" (192).  However, when he sees that  the Sa^mdhinirmocana  Suutra  contradicts  his conduct  and views, we are told by Bu-ston  that Hva 'sa^n "cast it away with a kick" (192).  The overall impression  that the Tibetan  commentator  wishes to leave his reader is patently clear: Hva 'sa^n is not only  the  purveyor  of false  doctrine, he is  also malicious. This becomes clearer in Bu-ston's account of how the Chinese representatives reacted after the king  gave  the order  that  the  Indian  school  of Buddhism  was to be followed: "(the  Chinese  party) were enraged, armed themselves with sharp knives and threatened   to  kill   all  the  Tsen-min-pa   (the adherents  of the Bodhisattva)" (192).  As the final proof  of Hva 'sa^n's  viciousness, and with details that  appear  to  come  straight  from  the  Tibetan tabloids  of the day, Bu-ston  tells  us that  "four Chinese  butchers,  sent  by  Hva-Ca^n,  killed  the teacher Kamalaciila by squeezing his kydneys" (196). According  to  A.  K.  Warder  in  his  book, Indian Buddhism, Kamala'siila "was murdered, apparently, by followers  of  the  ancient  Tibetan  religion."(18) Whatever  may be the  historical  truth, it is clear that  by the time  Bu-ston  writes  his  History  of Buddhism,  Hva  'sa^n's  antinomian   character  has become   proverbial.   This  supposed   extra  legem attitude  of Hva 'sa^n  is demonstrated  in the only speech which Bu-ston  permits  him in the account of the debate at bSam yas:

    If one commits  virtuous  or sinful deeds, one comes to blissful  or to evil  births  (respectively).  In such  a  way  the  deliverance   from  Sa^msaara  is impossible, and there will always be impediments  to the attainment of Buddhahood.  (The virtuous and the sinful  deeds) are just like white and black  clouds which alike obscure  the sky.  But  he who has  no thoughts  and inclinations  at all, can  be fully  delivered  from Phenomenal Life. The absence of any thought, search, or investigation brings about the non-perception  of the reality of separate  entities.  In such a manner one  can  obtain   (Buddhahood)  at  once,  like  (a Bodhisattva) who has attained the 10th Stage (193).

    Bu-ston's   presentation   of  Hva  'sa^n's  alleged position  regarding  works is surprisingly  close to Helmut   Hoffmann's   evaluation   which   has  been previously  cited, though the Tibetan  commentator's prejudice  leads  him  to  caricature   rather  than oversimplification.   Yet  through  the  caricatured position  one can gain some  insight  into  why such misunderstanding   occurs.    Bu-ston,   like   most commentators   who   are   unsympathetic   to  Ch'an Buddhism,  fails  to  understand   the  experiential direction  of Ch'an  language.  In their efforts  to calm   the  mind   so  that   the  reality   of  the Buddha-nature  can be apprehended, the Ch'an masters insist that intellectual  analysis  can only scratch the surface  but cannot get at this most fundamental reality.  Furthermore, in any conscious  thought  or deed  there  is  the  ego  at work, making  for  the distinction   between  subject   and  object.   Such conscious  polarities  beget  karman, which ties one down  to the  recurrent  cycle  of birth  and death, while  deeds  breed  attachment  to  external  goals including  enlightenment.   Hence,  when  Hva  'sa^n speaks disparagingly  of "virtuous and sinful deeds" and  urges   that   one  have   "no   thoughts   and inclinations at all," he is exhorting such practices from  the  point  of view  of the  goal, which  sees Ultimate  Reality  as inconceivable  in thought  and inexpressible in word and deed.

    According to Bu-ston's account, Kamala'siila  argues that  Hva  'sa^n's   literal  renunciation   of  all spiritual activity is precisely calculated to render impossible the attainment of praj~naa:

    Thou sayest  thus that one ought not to think  about anything  whatever.  But this means the negation (or rejection)   of   the   Highest   Analytic    Wisdom [vipa'syanaa] likewise. Now as the latter represents the foundation  of the Divine Wisdom [praj~naa] of a Saint, the rejection of it necessarily  leads to the negation  of  this  sublime  Transcendental   Wisdom (193).

    Kamala'siila  has argued incisively  and within  the Indian meditational  school of step-by-step  process toward  the  goal, but he has missed  the point  Hva 'sa^n  has  been  trying  to  make.   Kamala'siila's disciple, J~naanendra, is  no  less  obtuse  to  the Chinese party's point of view. He goes still further in misunderstanding  and suggests  that  Hva 'sa^n's approach is tantamount  to the passivity of slumber: "If we admit your point of view, it follows  that... mental  training  is not required, and the knowledge of the worldly matters is unnecessary.  But, in such a  case,  how  can  the   knowledge   of  everything cognizable  be attained? If you do nothing  and only sleep, you will not even  take food  and thus die of hunger!" (195).  According  to Bu-ston, the  Chinese party  (Ton-mun-pa)  were  unable   to  answer   and declared  themselves  the losers  by presenting  the wreath of flowers  to Kamala'siila; the  king  then  ordered that henceforth  no one should regard  the teachings of Hva 'sa^n  Mahaayaana, and  the  writings  of the vanquished  party were collected  and put under lock and key.

    Despite Bu-ston's  rather biased and exaggerated presentation  of what went on at the debate  at bSam yas,  is  there   any  indication   from  the  third Bhaavanaakrma  that Kamala'siila might have grasped, however  briefly, Hva 'sa^n's  point  of view? There are  certain  remarks  he makes  at the  end  of the Sanskrit  dossier which would suggest an affirmative answer.  After addressing  himself  to the question, how it would be possible  to know the absence of the own-nature of dharmas as well as the memory of one's former existences, he answers that "without  correct analysis  (bhuutapratyavek.saa) ,  to  practice  the absence  of memory  and  the  absence  of reflection (asm.rty-amanasikaara-bhaavanaa) ,  is  to  practice foolishness"   (351) .   Though   Kamala'siila   has maintained  this critique  from the point of view of the   process,  for  a  moment   he  qualifies   his accustomed  position  by admitting  that  "from  the absolute  point  of view  (paramaarthata.h), one may speak  of the  absence  of memory  (asm.rti) and the absence  of  reflection  (amanasikaara) "  [emphasis mine] (352).  But he continues to maintain that this necessarily  must be preceded  by correct  analysis. Actually, this latter position is not that different from   the   position   which   Hva  'sa^n   himself articulates  toward the end of the Chinese  dossier, though our Chinese  representative  will also insist that from the Ultimate  point  of view there  are so such  dualities  as process  and goal, striving  and achievement, purification  and  attainment, and that finally, the time element is completely  transcended in the totality of the enlightenment experience.

    That neither Kamala'siila nor Bu-ston caught the full flavor  or subtlety  of this standpoint  was of decisive significance  for the history of Tibet.  To what extent the Indian  side of the debate  is to be judged as deliberately  culpable in its rejection of Hva  'sa^n's   arguments,  the  reader   can  better ascertain from the Chinese dossier itself.


    What  was the  doctrinal  position  which  Hva 'sa^n defended  in the Chinese  dossier, and which  eluded his Indian opponents? We have seen in Kamala'siila's third  Bhaavanaakrama  that  the Chinese  master  is accused  of the repudication  of those  meditational constants  ('samatha  and vipa'syanaa) which are the sine qua non for the attainment of wisdom leading to enlightenment.  He is also accused of rejecting  the practice   of  virtuous  means  (upaaya)  which  are required  for the path  of the bodhisattva.  Bu-ston charges  him with indifference  to human actions  to the point of antinomianism, further suggesting  that such laxity accounts for his vicious activity  after his complete  defeat  in the debate.  A careful  and unbiased  reading  of the  Chinese  dossier  reveals another  image  of Hva 'sa^n, one which  contradicts the caricatures  and oversimplifications  of hostile commentators  and historians.  What the Ch'an master affirms, even if somewhat  diffusely, is that from the Ultimate level of truth, enlightenment  does  not take  place  in a step-by-step  process  but is given totally, in that sense, 'suddenly'.  Such bodhi is beyond  discursive reasoning, states of quietude, correct  analysis, or the polarities  of evil  and  virtuous  actions, for these   have  all  been  experienced   and  are  now transcended  in the  firm  realization  of the final goal.   In  fact,  such  notions  and  activity  are therapeutically  valuable  only  during  the initial phases  of  the  yogin's  spiritual  process  toward enlightenment.  However, from the standpoint  of the Absolute, nothing  can  be said  about  it, nor  can anything  be done about it.  As Edward Conze rightly points out in characterizing  the Ch'an school, "Any exertion put forward in favour of the Unconditioned, results  only in useless  toil.  Any idea we form of the   Absolute   is  ipso   facto   false....   This 'Absolute', which forms the object  of a provisional and ultimately untrue thought, is then, in religious prjctice  seen  side  by side  with  the conditional world."(19)

    Given this picture-preference for viewing things from  the ultimate  level  of truth, it is no wonder that  Ch'an  Buddhism  is  reluctant   to  speculate metaphysically and is averse to theory and intent on the abolition of reasoning. Direct insight is valued more  highly  than the intricate  network  of subtle thought  constructed, for  example, by Kamala'siila. Hva   'sa^n   is   no   exception   to  this   Ch'an thought-trend. In the Chinese dossier, he constantly inveighs  against the snare of notions, invoking the scriptural authority of the La^nkaavataara Suutra to evidence   his   position:  "It   is  said   in  the Ln^nkaasuutra:  'In   my  teaching   there   is  the elimination  of differentiated  knowledge of what is knowable, which is called'. It is not said that  the path of  is the Triple  vehicle" (66).  To the objection of the Indian opponents that one obtains peaceful contemplation  only after being exercised   in  examination   which  is  a  "gradual practice"  and that "the gradual  door [is] what the Buddhas teach" (73-74), Hva sa^n replies incisively:

    The notion  of'gradual'  and 'sudden'  of which  you also speak are only notions of beings' spirit, false notions of things seen. That is why the suutra says: "It is necessary  to abstain, Mahaamati, from  views of  gradual   and  sudden,  in  what  concerns   the particularities    of   combinations    of    causal activities."  If one abstains  from every notion and false  notion,'gradual'  and 'sudden'  are not to be found...  one thing  alone is of import, to suppress false notions (75).

    Hva 'sa^n's repeated citation  of the La^nkaavataara Suutra  is consonant  with  this  Mahaayaana  text's affinity  with the Ch'an tradition.  In A History of Zen  Buddhism, Heinrich  Dumoulin,  S.  J., suggests that

    The conspicuously irrational character of this sutra demonstrates its close relationship to Zen. Possibly the obscure allusions and the odd replies may have a function similar to that of the Koan in Zen, namely, to  unmask  the  inadequacy   of  reason   (emphasis mine).(20)

    It is in his efforts  to 'unmask'  the insufficiency of reason  that  Hva 'sa^n  resorts  to the  use  of paradoxical language which comes remarkably close to the pithiness  of a koan: "to see that  notions  are not notions  at  all  is  to  see  the  Tathaagata.   To understand  that thought  well is of such merit that all  the merits  which  are  acquired  in practicing goodness during numberless periods are not worth the merit of that unique thought" (76-77). The defect of notions, of discursive  thought  in general, is that they   have   the   power   to  "obstruct   original omniscience" (77), and that is why Hva 'sa^n insists that if one is to return one's vision  to the source of  the  spirit, one  "is  not  to reflect  even  on non-reflection" (78). What the Chinese master has in mind here is Ch'an's  intuitive  method of spiritual training  aimed  at the disclosure  of the  original reality   an  Buddhanature   within   the  innermost recesses  of the  individual.  This  reality  is  as Kenneth  Ch'en  points  out, "the fundamental  unity which pervades  all the differences  and particulars of the world.  This reality  is called  the mind, or the Buddha-nature  that  is present  in all sentient beings."(21)  Hva  'sa^n,  along   with   the  Ch'an masters, insists  that this  apprehension  does  not mean the acquisition  of something  new;  rather, it means  only  the realization  of something  that  is always present.  The problem is that the aspirant to bodhi is not aware of this because  of his ignorance and   folly,   especially   demonstrated    in   the ratiocinative process of conceptualization. In fact, Hva 'sa^n  stresses  that  all the buddhas  who were disengaged  from every thought  of what is graspable and ungraspable  were "without  thought  and without reflection, as s clear mirror"(83).

    It is important  to note here that Hva 'sa^n  is not denying the need for these mental practices at a certain stage in the process. In fact, he explicitly recognizes  the 'gradual'  point  of view  (even  if grudgingly), as represented by Kamala'siila  and the Indian  meditational  school.  But  he  consistently claims   priority   for  viewing   things  from  the standpoint of ultimate truth:

    From  the point  of view  of the essence  of things, they escape the word. For whoever is grounded in the essence   of   things,   the   necessity   and   the nonnecessity,  being  and  non-being,  identity  and difference-all that is ungraspable....  It is spoken of in the suutras... of the necessity (of practicing the perfections) for beings of obtuse faculties; for those whose faculties  are sharp, the discussion  of necessity or non-necessity is not discussed. All the same, medication  is necessary  for  the ill person, the boat is necessary  for one who wishes to cross a river; but for the healthy man, it is not a question of saying if medicine is necessary  or not;  for one who  has crossed  the river, the  boat  is no longer necessary (86-87).

    Still  later,  quoting  the  La^nkaavataara   Suutra again, Hva 'sa^n  asserts  that  the six  paaramitaa "are  accomplished  automatically  as soon as one is capable   of  being   without   reflection,  without examination"  (88).  in a footnote  to this passage, Paul Demieville  remarks  that "one will notice here the explicit acknowledgement  of the value of works" (88), on the condition  that the spiritual  aspirant does not engage  in them solely  out of interest  in the rewards such practices bring. What is of supreme importance  here  is  the  purport  of  Hva  'sa^n's assertions    which   have   so   frequently    been misunderstood.  He did  not intend  to say  that  no preparation was necessary nor that enlightenment was won suddenly  or automatically;  as if these latter  two adverbs  were  commensurate   with  the  expression, "easily   and   in   a  very   short   time."   More significantly, throughout  the Chinese  dossier  Hva 'sa^n has laid stress on the common  Buddhist  truth that  bodhi  occurs  in a timeless  moment, that  it transcends  time  and, in that  sense, our own doing (whether  of thought or action) which takes place in time.  In other words, it just happens, without  the mediation  of any finite influence or condition.  It is, as Edward  Conze describes  it, a totally  "free event."(22) It is not  the gradual  accumulation  of meditational   merit  or  virtuous  practices  which causes  enlightenment, but  an unpredictable  act of recognition.  All this teaching  is, in its essence, irreproachably orthodox.(23)

    In commenting  on the La^nkaavataara  Suutra  in his book, On Indian Mahayana Buddhism, D. T.  Suzuki makes some remarks which are applicable  also to Hva 'sa^n's thought-trend. Suzuki writes:

    Sa^mbodhi  or enlightenment  looks  more toward  the cognitive aspect of the revulsion (paraav.ritti) one experiences.  This  is all  well  as far as it goes, which  is indeed  the  basis  of all Buddhism, be it Hinayana  or Mahayana.  The La^nkaavataara, however, has come to see that the whole of the Buddhist  life is not  in merely  seeing  into  the  truth, but  in living it, experiencing it, so that there will be no dualism  in one's life of seeing  and living: seeing must  be living, and living  seeing, with  no hiatus between them, except in language.(24)

    Hence, when Hva 'sa^n suggests  that "what is called the perfection  of wisdom...  is that which does not admit either of notion or appropriation, abandonment or  attachment"   (90) ,  in  the   spirit   of  the La^nkaavataara  he is moving beyond 'the dualism' of existence  in seeing and living.  Or again, when, in almost koan fashion, he urges that "to practice  all the practices  is not to practice them at all" (67), he is by no means preaching a slovenly antinomianism . Rather, the direction of this paradoxical language is more concerned  with a standpoint  taken from the ultimate level of truth.  As Dumoulin has succinctly pointed out with regard to the Ch'an school:

    The stages  and gradations  refer to the way and not to the goal of enlightenment, to the process and not to the liberating insight itself. It is important to note that, conceptually, instantaneous enlightenment applies first of all to the goal.  The attainment of the goal happens suddenly, in the instant of arrival after the ardors of the way (emphasis mine)."(25)

    In Hva 'sa^n's  language, "once one has grasped  the principle  (of which one can say only) thusness, and which admits neither of reflection  nor examination, by that [thusness] one possesses all the dharmas and one  is  able  to  practice  well  the  thirty-seven rubrics"  (153).  He then adds: "As long  as one has not  grasped  this  principle, it  is  necessary  to practice  the six paaramitaas  and the  thirty-seven auxiliary dharmas of 'bodhi" (153).

    The point being made here, though  often subject to  misunderstanding, is that, from  the  subjective (or processive) point  of view (where  the goal  has not been reached), there is not only the possibility of gradations of spiritual comprehension, but also their necessity; however, in terms of the attainment of the ultimate, viewed from the  objective   of  the  goal,  gradual  stages  of reflection and examination are impossible since they have  been experienced  and transcended;  such  that good practices are the 'overspill'  of that state of attainment. According to Suzuki:

    The process  needed by the Buddha  for the notion of cleansing is sometimes gradual and sometimes abrupt. But the notion of up-turning  (paraavritti) leads us to imagine  the  process  to be abrupt  rather  than gradual, while  in our  actual  experience  of life, what the psychologist  calls conversion  takes place in either way, gradual or abrupt.... Psychologically this  is  a phenomenon  'suddenly  happening  in the consciousness.(26)

    Suzuki   is  suggesting   here   that   in   gradual purification, the initiate experiences enlightenment suddenly  in  his  consciousness,  where  the  inner change  produced  is a new insight  or vision  which breaks in abruptly on the inner eye.  Such vision of the  'Absolute'   is  by  its  very  nature  simple, undivided, and empty, and can  only  be comprehended in  tote.  Hence  for  Hva  'sa^n  and  other  Ch'an masters,  given   this   indivisible   and  absolute standpoint, gradual enlightenment  is a metaphysical impossibility. Toward the end of the Chinese dossier, there are further explicit references concerning  the need for practices  from the gradual  point  of view.  At the same  time such acknowledgment  is qualified  by the repeated insistence  on the priority of the absolute standpoint.  Hva 'sa^n  tells  us that  "He  who has penetrated the nature of thusness is established  in dhyaana!  But  whoever   has   not   yet  penetrated (thusness) must roll out the sacred  tests, join the palms, give  himself  up to cultic  salutations, and cultivate the goal" (159) (emphasis mine).  Here we see  Hva  'sa^n's  expressed   recognition   of  the necessity  of practices  for beginners.  In fact, he has  incorporated  such  advice  in his  counsel  to disciples  who come  to him for instruction.  In his third  and last  memorial  to the king  of Tibet, he writes:

    Never have I, Mahaayaana, been lacking, when one of  the  disciples  whom  I  am  teaching  comes  to interrogate    me    concerning    my   views    and interpretations.  Never  do I fail to teach  him the field of merits which is giving  (daana), and to get him to take a vow to abandon...  his body, his head, his eyes, and every  necessity  except  the eighteen things  the Great  Vehicle  permits  (162) (emphasis mine).

    If that  were  not enough, he completes  his defense with two remarks which admit his recognition  of the gradualist view of moral development  as well as the 'subitist'  standpoint  which  transcends  word  and deed:

    When one explains to another the sense of, (it  is necessary  to place  oneself  at a point  of view) which transcends  the domain of every word and ratiocination...  (but) as long  as one is incapable of  being  established   in  dhyaana  then  one  has recourse to the perfection  of morality, to the four immeasurable   qualities   [of   maitri,   karu.naa, muditaa, upek.saa] and to the rest (164).

    Such  is  Hva  'sa^n  apology   in  the  Chinese dossier.  In this document we have not confronted  a man  of libertine  inclinations  who  is capable  of deceit and murder, as Bu-ston would have us believe; nor are we faced with a teacher whose lazy reasoning and heterodox  views  lead  to the rejection  of the Great Vehicle, together with praj~naa and upaaya. On the  contrary, we  have  encountered  a man  of deep interiority, whose 'passion' for the truth and whose respect for transcendence  have led him to ever more subtle  leveles  of expression  and paradox, but who knows down deep (like  Cotama  before  him) that the real  truth  "is only transmitted  and conferred  by silence" (156). The unprepossesing manner with which he answers  his  interrogators, the  simplicity  and directness  with which he presents  his own defense, cannot but impress  the unprejudiced  reader who has tried  to uncover  the facts  in the debate  at bSam yas.     Despite    the    intrigue     and    petty misunderstanding, the  so-called  Council  of  Lhasa continues to act as cautionary  history for those of us who are concerned  about the meeting of different (and difficult) religious  points  of view;  it will also continue to interest those students of Buddhism who  look  forward  to  a  religious   enlightenment (gradual  and  sudden) which  may emerge  out of the cumulative traditions of mankind,


1.  Wilhelm Filchner, Kumbum Dschamba  Ling: Das Kloster   der   Hunderttausend    Bilder   Mailteyas (Leipzig:  F.  A.  Brockhaus,  1933),  p.  311.  The English  translation  is my own.  The German  reads: "Das  theatralische  Element  in den  in Kumbum  zur Vorfuhrung   gebrachten  Tscham-Tanzen   wird  durch Hwaschang  und  die  vier  Atsaras  dargestellt  und versinnbildlicht.  Hwaschang  ist hier...  von einer Schar gleichgekleideter  Knaben  in gleichen  Masken umgehen.  Sie stellen  seine  Schuler, nach  anderer Version  aber auch seine  Kinder dar, oder gar Buben, die sich uber den drolligen Alten lustig machen."
2.  Albert Grunwedel, Myrhologie  des Buddhismus in Tibet und der Mongolei (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1900), p. (169)
3.  Confer Giuseppe Tucci, Minor Buddhist Texts: PartII  (Rome:  Serie  Orientale  Roma,  1958),  pp. 32-33.  Tucci gives impressive  evidence for calling this  debate  the Council  of bSam  yas  instead  of Lhasa.
4.      Bu-ston,     History     of     Buddhism (Chos-.hbyung)II, trans. E.  Obermiller (Heidelberg: O.  Harrassowitz, 1932), p.  (191).  Hereafter  page references   to  Bu-ston's   Hisrory   will   be  in parentheses within the text.
5. Tucci, p. 9.
6. Ibid., p. 5.
7.  Le Concile de Lhasa.  Une Controverse sur le Quietisme entre Boudhistes  de l'Inde et de la Chine au  VIII'  Siecle   de  l'Eere  Chretienne   (Paris: Bibliotheque   de  1'Institut   des  Hautes  'Etudes Chinoises, 1952).  All English translations from the French  are my own.  Hereafter  page  references  to Demieville's  work will be-in parentheses within the text. The quotation cited is on p. (182).
8. Tucci, p. 52.
9.  Cristiani e Buddhisti.  Orientamenti  per Il Dialogo   fra   Cristiani   e  Buddhisti,  I  (Rome: Secretariat for Non-Christians, 1970), p. (103). The Italian translation  of Snellgrove's  comment reads: "Kamala'siila  usci vincitore dal confronto....  " I have rendered it back into English.
10. Tucci, p. 50
11. Helmut Hoffmann, The Religions of Tibet (New York: MacMillan, 1961), p. 76.
12.  Giuseppe Tucci, Minor Buddhist Texts.  Part III (Rome: Serie Orientale Roma, 1971).
13.  Corrado Pensa, "Il terzo Bhaavanaakrama  di Kamala'siila," Rivista  degli Studi  Orientali, vol. 39, no. III(Rome, 1964): 211-242.
14.  Edward  Conze, Buddhist  Thought  in India: Three  Phases  of Buddhist  Philosophy  (Ann  Arbor, Michigan: University  of  Michigan  Press, 1970), p. 18.   In   the   Mahaa-Vaccha-gottasutta^m,   Buddha recommends these two forms of mental development  to Vacchagotta  who has passed  beyond beginner's  lore and  wishes  further  instruction.  The  Paali  text reads: Tena  hi tva^m? Vaccha  dye  dhamme  uttari^m bhavehi, samatha~nn  ca vipassana~n  ca.  Ime kho te Vaccha dve dhammaa  uttrari.m? bhavitaa, samatho  ca vipassanaa        ca,        anekadhaatupativedhaaya sa.mvattissanti.
15.  Etienne  Lamotte,  Histoire  du  Bouddhisme Indien  (Louvain: Institut  Orientaliste,  1967), p. 48.
16. Ibid.
17.  Confer  Corrado  Pensa, p.  2.  An  English rendering  of  his  Italian  translation   from  the Sanskrit  is  as  follows: "In  virtue  of  'samatha thought rests immobile on its own proper support, as light  in a place without  wind;  while through  the operation  of vipa'syanaa  there  is added  a proper understanding  of what  really  are the dharmas;  an understanding  by the power of which the daylight of true knowledge  rises  up.  It is in this way, then, that darkness vanishes with the appearance of light, and thus every kind of obstruction diminishes."
18.   A.  K.  Warder,  Indian  Buddhism  (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1970), p, 477.
19.  Edward  Conze,  Buddhism: Its  Essence  and Development  (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1959), p. 112.
20.  Heinrich Dumoulin, S.  J., A History of Zen Buddhism   (Boston,  Massachusetts:  Beacon   Press, 1963), p. 46.
21.   Kenneth   Ch'en,  Buddhism   in  China:  A Historical  Survey (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1964), p. 357.
22.  Edward  Conze, Buddhism.  Its  Essence  and Development  (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1959), p. 204.
23.  Confer Rune E.  A. Johansson, The Psycholgy of Nirvana (New York: Doubleday  AnchorBooks, 1969), p. 100. Johansson quotes from the A^nguttara Nikaaya IV, 448, where  the Buddha  tells  AAnanda:''And  as long  as I did not attain  to and emerge  from these nine successive states, both forwards and backwards, I  did  not  completely,  as  one  wholly  awakened, realize the full perfect awakening." Johansson makes the further  comment: "This text shows  that all the levels of samaadhi were considered as an instrument, a means to an end.  None of the levels was nibbaana, and he [Buddha] had to emerge from them all, but all could   be  used   as  a  platform   for  the  final realization."
24.  D.  T.  Suzuki, On Indian Mahayana Buddhism (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1968), p. 128.
25. Dumoulin, p. 64.
26. D. T. Suzuki, Studies in the La^nkaavataaara Suutra (London: G. Routledge, 1930), p. 207.