Asian Philosophy 14 (3):255 – 276 (2004)

This is a comparative study of the discourses on the nature of sacred language found in Indian Abhidharma texts and those written by 7th century Chinese Buddhist scholars who, unlike the Indian Buddhists, questioned 'the essence of the Buddha's teaching'. This issue labeled fo-chiao t'i lun, the theory of 'the essence of the Buddha's teaching', was one of the topics on which Chinese Yogācāra scholars have shown a keen interest and served as the inspiration for extensive intellectual dialogues in their texts. It is in Hsüan-tsang's massive and organized translation works, begun in 648, that various previous translations of the term buddhavacana from Indian Abhidharma texts were given the unified translation of fo-chiao. (Fo-chiao literally means "the Buddha's teachings," and is the term used in the modern period for "Buddhism.") By combining fo-chiao with the term t'i, meaning 'essence' or 'substance' throughout his translations, Hsüan-tsang attempted to define 'the essence of the Buddha's teaching'. In Indian Abhidharma texts, the nature of the Buddha's word was either 'sound' (abdha), the oral component of speech, or 'name' (nāma), the component of language that conveys meaning, or some combination of the two. From the time of Hsüan-tsang's translation, however, discourse on the nature of sacred language was no longer relegated to the category of language or of epistemological investigation, but became grounded in the Chinese discussion investigating the 'essence' or 'substance' of the Buddha's teaching, and even of 'Buddhism' itself. As such, it sought to transcend the distinction between language and meaning. This gradual but explicit process of inquiry into the nature of 'the Buddha's word' was a necessary antecedent to the transition to a 'Chinese' Buddhism.
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DOI 10.1080/1463136042000270605
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