Template:Buddhism and China

East Asian Mādhyamaka refers to the Buddhist traditions in East Asia which represent the Indian Mādhyamaka system of thought. In Chinese Buddhism, these are often referred to as the Sānlùn school (Ch. 三論宗), or "Three Treatise" school, known as Sanron in Japanese Buddhism,[1] although modern scholars think them not an independent sect.[2] The Mādhyamaka texts that it was founded on were first transmitted to China in the early 5th century by the Buddhist monk Kumārajīva.

History in China

Founding and early teachers

The name Sanlun derives from the fact that its doctrinal basis is formed by three principal Mādhyamaka texts composed by Nāgārjuna and Āryadeva, which were then translated into Chinese by Kumārajīva. These three foundational texts are:[3]

  1. Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (including commentary by *Vimalākṣa / *Piṅgala), or "Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way" (Ch. 中論, T. 1564)
  2. Nāgārjuna's Dvādaśanikāyaśāstra, or "Treatise on the Twelve Gates" (Ch. 十二門論, T. 1568)
  3. Āryadeva's Śatakaśāstra, or "Hundred-Verse Treatise" (百論, T. 1569)

Sometimes a fourth text is added

  1. *Māhaprajñāparamitopadeśa, or "Commentary on the Great Perfection of Wisdom" (Ch. 大智度論, T. 1509), attributed to Nāgārjuna, but disputed by some modern scholars.

Nāgārjuna is traditionally regarded as the Indian founder of the Mādhyamaka school in India, while Kumārajīva is traditionally regarded as the founder of Sanlun school in China.[4] Kumārajīva's disciple Sengzhao then continued to promote Mādhyamaka teachings, and wrote several works from this standpoint.[5]

Popularization under Jizang

The Three Treatise teachings were first propagated widely by Jizang, a prolific writer who composed commentaries on these three treatises.[6] One of his most famous works is the Erdi Yi (二諦意), or "Meaning of the Two Truths", referring to the conventional and ultimate truths.[7] In one passage of the Erdi Yi, Jizang cites his own teacher, Falang:[8]

"My teacher [Falang] said: Although those four treatises (i.e. the Three Treatises and the [Mahāprajñāpāramitā Śāstra]) have different names, all of them have the same goal, which is to explain the two truths and manifest the doctrine of non-duality. If one can understand the two truths, then the four treatises may be understood completely. If one cannot understand the two truths, then the four treatises cannot be understood. For this reason, it is necessary to understand the two truths. Again, if one understand the two truths, not only may the four treatises be understood, but also all the sutras may be understood."

In addition to popularizing Mādhyamaka, Jizang also wrote commentaries on the Mahāyāna sūtras such as the Lotus Sūtra and the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra. In addition to Mādhyamaka, Jizang also wrote favorably about the Tathāgatagarbha teachings. In all, Jizang wrote nearly fifty books in his lifetime. A selection of his Mādhyamaka works is the following:

  • Zhongguanlun Shu (中觀論疏; "Commentary on the Mādhyamaka Śastra")
  • Erdi Zhang (二諦章; "Essay on the Two Truths")
  • Bailun Shu (百論疏; "Commentary on the Śatakaśāstra")
  • Shi Er Men Lun Shu (十二門論疏; "Commentary on the Twelve Gates Treatise")
  • Sanlun Xuanyi (三論玄義; "Profound Meaning of the Three Treatises")
  • Erdi Yi (二諦意; "Meaning of the Two Truths")
  • Dasheng Xuanlun (大乘玄論; "Treatise on the Mystery of the Mahāyāna")

Modern Chinese traditions

In the early part of the 20th century, the laymen Yang Wenhui and Ouyang Jian (Ch. 歐陽漸) (1871–1943) promoted Buddhist learning in China, and the general trend was for an increase in studies of Buddhist traditions such as Yogācāra, Mādhyamaka, and the Huayan school.[9][10]

In the 20th century, while the great monk scholar Venerable Yin Shun was often associated with this school, he himself did not claim such direct affiliation:[11]

In Zhōngguān jīnlùn (中觀今論 Modern Discussion on the Madhyamaka) [pg. 18, 24], I stated: “Amongst my teachers and friends, I am seen as a scholar of either the Three Treatise (三論 sanlun) or the Emptiness schools”, although I “certainly do have great affinities with the fundamental and essential doctrines of the emptiness school”, however, “I do not belong to any particular school of thought within the emptiness schools”.

History in Japan

In 625, the Korean monk Ekan brought the Sanlun school to Japan, where it was known as Sanron. Like all early Buddhist schools in Nara, Japan it eventually died out and was absorbed by later Japanese Buddhist sects, such as Shingon and Tendai.

The Three Treatise School, in keeping with Madhyamika doctrine, teaches that all phenomena, including ideas and thoughts, are fundamentally empty of a permanent, static existence. This is also defined as shunyata in Buddhism. In conventional existence, all phenomena can be said to exist, have names and so on, but in the Sanlun school, the ultimate truth is their empty nature.



  • Brian Bocking Nagarjuna in China: A Translation of the Middle Treatise (The Edwin Mellon Press), 1995.
  • Robert Magliola, "Nagarjuna and Chi-tsang on the Value of 'This World': A Reply to Kuang-ming Wu's Critique of Indian and Chinese Madhyamika Buddhism." Journal of Chinese Philosophy (U. of Hawaii; Blackwell P., U.K.). Vol. 31, No. 4 (December 2004). pp. 505–516. (Demonstrates Jizang neither denigrates 'this world' nor deviates from what was mainstream Indian Madhyamikan doctrine.)
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