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Co-sponsored by Department of Religion
A remarkable rethinking of temporality is embedded in Tiantai Buddhist thought, which can be excavated directly from its classificatory scheme of the “Four Teachings of Transformation” (化法四教). What is most philosophically intriguing about this view is the way in which it embraces a view of both impermanence and permanence for all real and virtual entities without exception. This is because, although the teaching moves from affirming the “arising and perishing” 生滅 of suffering and its end in the Tripiṭaka Teaching 藏教 to their “unbornness” 無生 in the Shared Teaching 通教, to the “limitless” forms of suffering and endings of suffering 無量 in the Separate Teaching 別教, to their “unmadeness” 無作 in the All-Around Teaching 圓教, these teachings do not replace each other so much as intersubsume, each teaching retaining the previous teaching while opening up its provisional character to reveal that it is itself just one side of the truth of the following teaching: the radical impermanence seen in the first teaching is simply seen more fully in the final teaching. Precisely the fact about all dharmas that is named “impermanence” in the first teaching is renamed “permanence” in the final teaching. Both are always not only coextensive but even synonymous, i.e., each is a one-sided name for the intersubsumptive totality of the two. This simultaneous permanence and impermanence of every moment of experience can be given a feasible and intuitive exposition precisely by means of the Tiantai Three Truths, and bears fruit in the teaching of the “Middle Way Buddha-nature” derived from the Tiantai reading of the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, with its implication the presentness of futurity as the necessary already-but-not-yet Buddhahood of all sentient and insentient beings.
Brook Ziporyn is Professor of Chinese Religion, Philosophy and Comparative Thought at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. He has authored several books on Chinese Buddhist thought, the most recent being Emptiness and Omnipresence: An Essential Guide to Tiantai Buddhism (Indiana, 2016). He is also the translator of the Daoist classic Zhuangzi: The Complete Writings (Hackett: 2020).