TIANTAI (Chinese : 天台; pinyin : PRC Standard Mandarin: Tiāntāi,
ROC Standard Mandarin: Tiāntái) is a school of
Korea , and
Vietnam that reveres the
Lotus Sutra as the
highest teaching in Buddhism. In
Japan the school is known as Tendai
Cheontae , and in
Vietnam as Thiên thai.
The name is derived from the fact that
Zhiyi , the fourth patriarch,
Tiantai Mountain .
Zhiyi is also regarded as the first major
figure to make a significant break from the Indian tradition, to form
an indigenous Chinese system.
Tiantai is sometimes also called "The
Lotus School", after the central role of the
Lotus Sutra in its
Tang dynasty , the
Tiantai school became one of the
leading schools of Chinese Buddhism, with numerous large temples
supported by emperors and wealthy patrons, with many thousands of
monks and millions of followers.
* 1 History
* 1.1 Patriarchs
* 2 Texts
* 3 Classification of teachings
* 3.1 Five Periods
* 3.2 Eight Teachings
* 3.2.1 Four Doctrines
* 3.2.2 Fourfold Methods
* 4 Teachings
* 4.1 The Threefold Truth
* 4.2 Three Contemplations
* 4.3 The Fourfold Teachings
* 5 Meditation-practice
* 6 Influence
* 7 See also
* 8 References
* 9 Sources
* 10 Bibliography
* 11 External links
Avalokiteśvara , an important figure from the
Unlike earlier schools of
Chinese Buddhism , the
Tiantai school was
entirely of Chinese origin. The schools of
Buddhism that had existed
China prior to the emergence of the
Tiantai are generally believed
to represent direct transplantations from
India , with little
modification to their basic doctrines and methods. However, Tiantai
grew and flourished as a natively Chinese Buddhist school under the
Zhiyi , who developed a hierarchy of Buddhist sutras
that asserted the
Lotus Sutra as the supreme teaching, as well as a
system of meditation and practices around it.
Tiantai was eclipsed for a time by newer schools such as
East Asian Yogācāra and Huayan schools , until the 6th patriarch
Zhanran who revived the school and defended its doctrine against rival
schools. The debates between the Faxiang school and the
concerning the notion of universal
Buddhahood were particularly
heated, with the Faxiang school asserting that different beings had
different natures and therefore would reach different states of
enlightenment, while the
Tiantai school argued in favor of the Lotus
Sutra teaching of
Buddhahood for all beings.
Over time, the
Tiantai school became doctrinally broad, able to
absorb and give rise to other movements within Buddhism, though
without any formal structure. The tradition emphasized both
scriptural study and meditative practice, and taught the rapid
Buddhahood through observing the mind.
The school is largely based on the teachings of Zhiyi,
Zhanran , and
Zhili , who lived between the 6th and 11th centuries in China. These
teachers took an approach called "classification of teaching" in an
attempt to harmonize the numerous and often contradictory Buddhist
texts that had come into China. This was achieved through a particular
interpretation of the Lotus Sūtra .
Due to the use of Nāgārjuna 's philosophy of the Middle Way, he is
traditionally taken to be the first patriarch of the
The sixth century dhyāna master Huiwen (Chinese : 慧文) is
traditionally considered to be the second patriarch of the Tiantai
school. Huiwen studied the works of Nāgārjuna, and is said to have
awakened to the profound meaning of Nāgārjuna's words: "All
conditioned phenomena I speak of as empty, and are but false names
which also indicate the mean."
Huiwen later transmitted his teachings to Chan master Nanyue Huisi
(Chinese : 南嶽慧思, 515-577), who is traditionally figured as the
third patriarch. During meditation, he is said to have realized the
"Lotus Samādhi ", indicating enlightenment and
Buddhahood . He
authored the Mahāyāna-śamatha-vipaśyanā. Huisi then transmitted
his teachings to
Zhiyi (Chinese : 智顗, 538-597), traditionally
figured as the fourth patriarch of Tiantai, who is said to have
practiced the Lotus Samādhi and to have become enlightened quickly.
He authored many treatises such as explanations of the Buddhist texts,
and especially systematic manuals of various lengths which explain and
enumerate methods of Buddhist practice and meditation. The above
lineage was proposed by Buddhists of later times and do not reflect
the popularity of the monks at that time.
Most scholars consider
Zhiyi to have been the major founder of the
Tiantai school, since he did the most to systematize and popularize
the doctrines and methods associated with it. At a later date, the
school's sixth patriarch,
Zhanran , would compose clarifying
commentaries on Zhiyi's writings.
Zhiyi analyzed and organized all the Āgamas and
Mahayana sutras into
a system of five periods and eight types of teachings. For example,
many elementary doctrines and bridging concepts had been taught early
in the Buddha's advent when the vast majority of the people during his
time were not yet ready to grasp the 'ultimate truth'. These Āgamas
were an upaya , or skillful means - an example of the Buddha employing
his boundless wisdom to lead those people towards the truth.
Subsequent teachings delivered to more advanced followers thus
represent a more complete and accurate picture of the Buddha's
teachings, and did away with some of the philosophical 'crutches'
introduced earlier. Zhiyi's classification culminated with the Lotus
Sutra , which he held to be the supreme synthesis of Buddhist
doctrine. The difference on Zhiyi's explanation to the Golden Light
Sutra caused a debate during the
Song dynasty .
Tiantai school takes the Lotus Sūtra (Saddharmapuṇḍarīka
Sūtra) as the main basis, the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Śāstra of
Nāgārjuna as the guide, the
Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra
Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra as
the support, and the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā
Sūtra (The Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra in 25,000 Lines) for methods of
In addition to its doctrinal basis in Indian Buddhist texts, the
Tiantai school also created its own meditation texts which emphasize
the principles of śamatha and vipaśyanā. Of the
treatises, Zhiyi's Concise Śamatha-vipaśyanā (小止観),
Mahā-śamatha-vipaśyanā (摩訶止観), and Six Subtle
(六妙法門) are the most widely read in China. Rujun Wu identifies
Mohe Zhiguan of
Zhiyi as the seminal meditation text of the
CLASSIFICATION OF TEACHINGS
Tiantai classified the Buddha's teachings in Five Periods and Eight
Teachings. This classification is usually attributed to Zhiyi, but is
probably a later development. The classification of teachings was
also done by other schools, such as the Fivefold Classification of the
Huayan school .
The Five Periods are five periods in the life of the Buddha in which
he delivered different teachings, aimed at different audiences with a
different level of understanding:
* The Period of Avatamsaka . During twenty-one days after his
Enlightenment, the buddha delivered the
Avatamsaka Sutra .
* The Period of Agamas. During twelve years, the Buddha preached the
Agamas for the
Hinayana , including the
Four Noble Truths
Four Noble Truths and
dependent origination .
* The Period of Vaipulya. During eight years, the Buddha delivered
Mahayana teachings, such as the Vimalakirti
Sutra , the
Śrīmālādevī Sūtra , the Suvarnaprabhasa
Sutra and other Mahayana
* The Period of Prajna. During twenty-two years, the Buddha
explained emptiness in the Prajnaparamita-sutras .
* The Period of Saddharmapundarika and
Nirvana Sutra. In the last
eight years, the Buddha preached the doctrine of the One Buddha
Vehicle , and delivered the
Lotus Sutra and the
before his death.
The Eight Teachings consist of the Four Doctrines, and the Fourfold
Tripitaka Teaching: the
Abhidhamma , in which
the basic teachings are explained
* Shared Teaching: the teaching of emptiness
* Distinctive Teaching: aimed at the Bodhisattva
* Perfect Teaching - the Chinese teachings of the
Lotus Sutra and
the Avatamsaka Sutra
* Gradual Teaching, for those with medium or inferior abilities
* Sudden Teaching, the Distinctive Teachings and the Complete
Teaching for those with superior abilities
* Secret Teaching, teachings which are transmitted without the
recipient being aware of it
* Variable Teaching, no fixed teaching, but various teachings for
various persons and circumstances
David Chappell lists the most important teachings as the doctrines
* The Threefold Truth,
* The Threefold Contemplation,
* The Fourfold Teachings,
* The Subtle Dharma,
* The Nonconceivable Discernment.
Nan Huai-Chin , a 20th-century Chan teacher, summarizes the main
teaching of the
Tiantai school as the following:
* The One Vehicle (Skt.
* The vehicle of attaining
Buddhahood , as the main principle;
* The three forms of śamatha -vipaśyanā correlated with the
meditative perspectives of śūnyatā ,
* The mean, as the method of cultivating realization.
THE THREEFOLD TRUTH
Tiantai school took up the principle of The Threefold Truth,
derived from Nāgārjuna:
* Phenomena are empty of self-nature,
* Phenomena exist provisionally from a worldly perspective,
* Phenomena are both empty of existence and exist provisionally at
The transient world of phenomena is thus seen as one with the
unchanging, undifferentiated substratum of existence . This doctrine
of interpenetration is reflected in the
Tiantai teaching of three
thousand realms in a single moment of thought.
The Threefold Truth has its basis in Nāgārjuna :
All things arise through causes and conditions.
That I declare as emptiness .
It is also a provisional designation.
It is also the meaning of the Middle Path .
While the Three Truths are essentially one, they may be recognized
separately as one undertakes the Three Contemplations:
* The first contemplation involves moving from the world of
provisionality to the world of śūnyatā.
* The second contemplation is moving back from the world of
emptiness to the world of provisionality with an acceptance thereof.
* The third contemplation involves balancing the previous two by
following the Middle Path.
THE FOURFOLD TEACHINGS
The Three Contemplations and Threefold Truth in turn form the basis
of the Fourfold Teachings, making them "parallel structures".
Charles Luk , in
China it has been traditionally held
that the meditation methods of the
Tiantai are the most systematic and
comprehensive of all.
Tiantai emphasizes śamatha and vipaśyanā
Regarding the functions of śamatha and vipaśyanā in meditation,
Zhiyi writes in his work Concise Śamatha-vipaśyanā:
The attainment of Nirvāṇa is realizable by many methods whose
essentials do not go beyond the practice of śamatha and vipaśyanā.
Śamatha is the first step to untie all bonds and vipaśyanā is
essential to root out delusion. Śamatha provides nourishment for the
preservation of the knowing mind, and vipaśyanā is the skillful art
of promoting spiritual understanding. Śamatha is the unsurpassed
cause of samādhi, while vipaśyanā begets wisdom.
Tiantai school also places a great emphasis on
Breathing (Skt. ānāpānasmṛti) in accordance with the principles
of śamatha and vipaśyanā.
Zhiyi classifies breathing into four main
* Panting (喘),
* Unhurried breathing (風),
* Deep and quiet breathing (氣),
* Stillness or rest (息).
Zhiyi holds that the first three kinds of breathing are incorrect,
while the fourth is correct, and that the breathing should reach
stillness and rest.
In Zhiyi's magnum opus, the "Great Samatha-Vipasyana ", he outlined
his meditation system as consisting of 25 preparatory practices, 4
kinds of samadhi and ten modes of contemplation.
David Chappell writes that although the
Tiantai school, "has the
reputation of being...the most comprehensive and diversified school of
Chinese Buddhism, it is almost unknown in the West" despite having a
"religious framework that seemed suited to adapt to other cultures, to
evolve new practices, and to universalize Buddhism". He attributes
this failure of expansion to the school having "narrowed its practice
to a small number of rituals" and because it has "neglected the
intellectual breadth and subtlety of its founder".
Chinese folk religion
Chinese folk religion
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Buddhism in a nutshell: Tien-tai
* Digital Dictionary of
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Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra
* THREEFOLD LOTUS SUTRA :