Self-reflection in the Sanlun Tradition:
Madhyamika as the "Deconstructive Conscience" of Buddhism
By Alan Fox

Journal of Chinese Philosophy
V. 19 (1992)
pp. 1-24

Copyright 1992 by Dialogue Publishing Company

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    This paper concerns the work of the 6th century Chinese Buddhist monk Jizang. Although his work indicates an affinity with and sympathy for virtually the entire spectrum of Chinese Buddhist thought, Jizang is most often identified with the Chinese Maadhyamika school, most often called the "Three [or Four] Treatise School." Specifically, I will try to demonstrate that it is possible to read his notions of po xie xian zheng (usually translated as "refuting what is misleading and revealing what is corrective") and si zhong er di (the "four levels of the two kinds of discourse") in a manner consistent with modern deconstruction theory, and, for this reason, that they can be seen to function as the critical "conscience" of Buddhism.

    The attempt to find modern philosophical language to express ancient ideas and attitudes is not new.[1] Lately, a number of scholars are beginning to explore the practicality of using terminology and techniques from various modern philosophical approaches to gain insight into traditional concerns. However, by using the term "deconstructive," it is not my intention to suggest that this term explains and exhausts the entire purpose and method of Jizang's work in particular, nor of the Maadhyamika tradition in general. Furthermore, I do not pretend to have discovered Jizang's "original intent" behind his formulations. Certainly, the problems and approaches defy such simplistic reduction. Nevertheless, it will be fruitful to explore those aspects of the work which contain elements that can be described, from our modern perspective at least, as




deconstructive. In order to do this, however, we must be clear about both the meaning of "deconstructive" and about the central concern of this study. Through Jizang's own reflections on the role of the commentator in the Buddhist tradition, we will explore the question of why, in spite of emptiness, the Buddhist must nevertheless speak, and how such utterances might be understood.


A.    Deconstruction as a Critique of Logocentrism

    I believe that Jizang has largely been misunderstood, because of the veil-documented tendency to read his project as a nihilistic or negativistic one.[2] The same readings plague Jacques Derrida, the ostensible father of deconstruction. Certainly, the language used by both can lead to such a conclusion, but on close examination it can be seen that to read Jizang,. or Derrida for that matter, in this fashion is to seriously misunderstand them both. If Jizang is to be properly understood, it must be realized that his refutation of his opponents' arguments serves to remind us that all formulations are tentative and merely pedagogical in nature. Calling his method deconstructive, then, is very different than calling it negativistic. As one of Derrida's translator's puts it:

"Deconstruction is not a form of textual vandalism designed to prove that meaning is impossible. In fact, the word 'deconstruction' is closely related not to the word 'destruction' but to the word 'analysis,' which etymologically means to 'undo'- a virtual synonym for 'to deconstruct.' The deconstruction of a text does not proceed by random doubt or generalized skepticism, but by the careful teasing out of warring forces of signification within the text itself: If anything is destroyed in deconstructive reading, it is not meaning but the claim to unequivocal domination of one mode of signifying over another..... It can thus be seen that deconstruction is a form of what has long been called a critique."[3]

Thus, deconstruction can be said to be a critical technique which addresses




presuppositions, and questions not "'what does this statement mean?' but 'where is it being made from? What does it presuppose?"'[4] Or, as another of Derrida's commentators puts it:

"in its negative component, the core of Derrida's analysis, or 'deconstruction,' is a sustained argument against the possibility of anything pure and simple which can serve as the foundation for tile meaning of signs. It is an argument which strikes at the very idea of a transcendental phenomenology."[5]

    As Derrida himself often describes it, deconstruction is an attack on logocentric philosophies. By "logocentrism" he seems to mean the "belief in the self-presentation of meaning."[6] That is to say, deconstruction offers a critique of the (according to him) more or less naive acceptance of meaning at face value, apart from historical, personal, or linguistic (in Jizang's case we might add "soteriological") context. Derrida's critique is based, in part, on the distinction between speech and writing, and is directed towards the Western privileging of speech over writing. It is commonly accepted, he suggests, that speech is more reliable than writing because it involves no distance, either in time or space, between speaker and listener, and thus offers less opportunity for misunderstanding. Derrida, however, does not merely invert the value of these two modes of communication - rather he "attempts to show that the very possibility of opposing the two terms on the basis of presence vs. absence or immediacy vs. representation is an illusion..."[7] In other words, he argues that the dualistic form in which the argument presents itself is inappropriate. I will argue that Jizang's Formulation serves a similar function.

    Admittedly, it is possible to go too far in comparing bodies of work from such disparate times and places as Jizang and Jacques Derrida. Nevertheless, there seems to be a place for such comparisons, granted that they stay within their limitations. As Andrew Tuck says, in Comparative Philosophy and the Philosophy of Scholarship:

"It is a very different thing to assert that both Kant and the




author (or authors) of the Brhaadaranyaka Upanisad, for example, are 'saying the same thing' than to demonstrate the possibility of reading the Brhadaaranyaka in a Kantian manner, and the divergence between these is a distinction between different comparative tones."[8]

The reading presented here, then, is offered in the latter tone, one which suggests that reading Jizang's texts as deconstructive might lead to fruitful insight, yet which does not insist that such a reading recaptures Jizang's 'original intent.' Such a reading is creative, to be sure, since, as it has been suggested,

"An interpretation involving no creativity . . . would be uninteresting and purposeless, for it could consist in nothing more than repetition of the text itself. Readings are either creative or superfluous."[9]


B.     Maadhyamika in China

    Maadhyamika studies in China really begin with the work of Kumaarajiiva (344-413), one of the most outstanding translators and transmitters of Buddhist thought to China. His translations of scores of Buddhist, and particularly Maadhyamika, texts have been considered authoritative by many subsequent scholars even up to the present day, and his students and in turn their students became leading figures in the brief though influential evolution of Chinese Maadhyamika One need only remember that the name of the Maadhyamika tradition in China, the Sanlun Zong, means "Three Treatise Tradition,"[10] and refers to Kumarajiva's translations of three central Maadhyamika texts. These are the Zhonglun,[11] or Middle Treatise, which is a translation of Naagaarjuna's Muulamaadhyamikaakarikaas; the Shi Er Men Lun,[12] or Twelve Gate Treatise, which is also believed to be the work of Naagaarjuna; and Aryadeva's Bai Lun,[13] or Hundred Treatise (Saatasaastra)




    Jizang lived about a hundred and sixty years after Kumaarajiiva, in the 6th century (549-623). Although he championed a wide assortment of Buddhist formulations besides those normally associated with the Maadhyamika tradition,[14] his work is often regarded as the culmination of the Sanlun tradition, and thus Jizang is commonly considered to be the leading representative of what comes to be known as Chinese Maadhyamika.[15] Best known' for his innovative formulations, the bulk of Jizang's writings were commentaries on other texts, including the three saastras by Naagaarjuna and Aaryadeva from which the Sanlun tradition takes its name as well as Buddhist suutras and other works. He also often criticized and analyzed other Buddhist traditions such as Abhidharma, Satyasiddhi,[16] and certain Chinese Mahaayaana schools including the Dilun and Shelun schools. It is significant that most of Jizang's works are commentaries on other texts or traditions.[17] Given the ostensible though fundamental reluctance on the part of traditional Maadhyamika to formulate propositional doctrines,[18] however, one might wonder how a writer in the Chinese Maadhyamika tradition, such as Jizang, might have seen his own role. Why was he not guilty of engaging in more prapa~nca more mere wordplay?

    For Jizang, the answer can be found in his general methodology of "po xie xian zheng, " which I will argue might fruitfully be read as "deconstructing what is misleading and revealing what is corrective," and its specific application in the form of the "sizhong erdi, " or "four levels of the two kinds of discourse".[19] It is from these formulations that we most clearly recognize Jizang's insistence that one must never settle on any particular viewpoint or perspective, but that even the so-called "higher discourse" becomes mundane and misleading if it becomes itself a source or object of attachment and fixation. Therefore one must continually re-examine previously established formulations in order to avoid such sedimentations of thought and behavior. For this reason, even though Jizang often combines, or at least supplements, his Maadhyamika dialectic with elements of what might be called "tathaagatagarbha essentialism," I am characterizing the deconstructive aspect of his Sanlun analysis as the critical "conscience" of Buddhism. Most often, and certainly for Jizang, the deconstructive elements of the Buddhist tradition are present,




not to destroy Buddhism, but to remind it not to become overly attached to dogma and doctrine. This seems to be the purpose of what Jizang calls po xie xian zheng or "deconstructing what is misleading and revealing what is corrective."

    I propose to examine the po xie xian zheng approach as it appears in several works by Jizang. These include the Profound Meaning of the Three Treatises (Sanlun Xuanyi, Taisho vol. 45, #1852), the Treatise on the Mystery of the Mahayana (Dasheng Xuanlun, Taisho vol. 45, #1853), and the Meaning of the Two Kinds of Discourse (Erdi Yi, Taisho vol. 45, #1854). Specifically, this study will emphasize Jizang's use of the last term of the phrase, zheng, which has traditionally been translated with a broad range of meanings including "orthodox," "correct," "true," and so on.



    The question of the meaning of this term arises because if, as Jizang claims, and as the practice of the four levels of the two kinds of discourse seems to suggest, it is meaningless to speak of "true" or "false" in any kind of final or ultimate sense, then in what sense is he justified in using Chinese terms such as zheng and its opposite, xie, which are often translated as "true and false"? Or, as Jizang puts the question himself in the Xuanyi: "If there is no assertion and no denial, and no zheng and xie, then why is it that [we] write about deconstructing [or refuting] what is xie and revealing what is zheng? "[20] As I will attempt to show, for Jizang the term zheng cannot be taken as meaning "true" or "correct," but rather "corrective" or "appropriate," since it largely represents the attempt to overcome obsessive commitment to such dualistic distinctions, found commonly in Chinese Buddhist literature, as "emptiness and being" or "worldly and authentic discourse." At the same time, it must be kept in mind that Jizang is not suggesting that we should not make these distinctions: under the proper circumstances they can and do have pedagogical and soteriological value. What is being emphasized is that we should not become committed and attached to such distinctions.




    However, Buddhism has traditionally recognized a difference between or "ontological commitment" and siddhaanta or "positional commitment."[21] To the extent that they adopt an outlook, as critical as it may be, even the Maadhyamika is necessarily positionally situated. Commentary, since it always remarks on what has been said before, always represents a commitment to a tradition. What is being deconstructed here, then, is the kind of obsession which turns points of view into dogmatic ontological fixations. To the extent, therefore, that one becomes ontologically committed to one's pedagogically efficacious point of view, it becomes necessary to engage in deconstructive analysis. It seems justified to describe this analysis as deconstructive because Derrida deals with a similar concern in his critique of logocentrism.

    The textual basis for Jizang's emphasis on the necessity for the further deconstruction of deconstructive language can be found in Kumaarajiiva's translation of the Zhonglun, Chapter XIII ("Guan Xing Pian or "Chapter Contemplating Samskara"), verse 8:

"The Great Sage [Buddha] taught the Dharma of emptiness
In order to overcome all views.
If one persists in viewing emptiness as an existent [thing],
Such a one cannot be saved by all the Buddhas."

This passage suggests at least one aspect of Naagaarjuna's understanding of the basic thrust of Buddhist thought and practice, which is the overcoming of attachment or ontological commitment in order to solve the problem of du.hkha or "suffering." The Maadhyamika tradition is in fact named for the attitudinal standpoint of Buddhism from the time of its earliest formulation: the Middle Way. One way of understanding the fourth aspect of the Fourfold Noble Axiom, namely the "eightfold path" of Buddhist practice, is to see it as consisting of the avoidance of extremes, in any direction, in the areas of moral, spiritual, or intellectual activities (`silaa, samaadhi, praj~naa). In fact, the Chinese translation of "samyak"[22] or "right" as it appears in the name of each element of the eightfold path is the very character we are considering, zheng, and, as we shall see, Jizang at times uses zheng, ("corrective" or "appropriate") and zhong ("middle")




as though they were synonyms.

    However, this Middle Way cannot be said to have a center. That is to say, there is no central standpoint or perspective which may be viewed as the uniquely correct standpoint. This is because the idea of a correct standpoint implies the positing of an incorrect standpoint over and against which the ostensibly correct viewpoint seeks to distinguish itself. This, then, necessarily involves dualistic thinking, and the condition of dualism is a form of extremism, involving as it does such distinctions as up/down, right/wrong, and so on. One strives, then, for a kind of flexibility or fluidity, responding and adapting to circumstances, but remaining unencumbered by the structures of thought and behavior one establishes for the purposes at hand. This can be seen in the early Buddhist parable of the raft which is abandoned once it serves its purpose: even Buddhism is to be abandoned when its purpose has been achieved.

    The problem is that, as Naagaarjuna had anticipated in the previously quoted verse 8 from Chapter XIII of the Zhonglun, there is a tendency to become attached to the effort to become unattached. If one begins to take deconstructive and pedagogically useful notions such as sunyata or "emptiness" as ultimately or fundamentally "true," then one is not only thwarting the cure, one is actually intensifying the illness.[23] As Jizang says:

"It is like water, which is capable of extinguishing fire; if the water itself were to catch on fire, what would one use to extinguish it? Nihilism and eternalism [the two extreme positions] are like the fire, and emptiness is capable of extinguishing them. [But] if one persists in becoming attached to emptiness, there is no medicine which can extinguish this,"[24]

The mechanism by which water can be said to "catch on fire" seems to be "persistent attachment." This suggests that even emptiness, which is a cure and not a thing, can itself become poisonous and unhealthy if one allows it to become the object of one's commitment and clinging. This kind of attachment to the cure is not overcome by additional exposure to the original illness, but rather by revealing the merely provisional or




pedagogical nature of the medicine. Jizang at one point has his hypothetical opponent raise the question:

    "Question: If one develops the illness of attachment to emptiness, why then don't you treat him with the medicine of "being" rather than ending the teaching?
    "Answer: Because teaching about "being" [you] causes obsession[25] with being. If one forgets [the intended meaning or purpose of] the word [`suunyataa or emptiness], one becomes further attached to nihilism: how can such people ever be truly saved?"[26]

The question seems to suggest that "being" is the opposite of emptiness. Since this is not the case, and since it is also not itself what we are calling a deconstructive notion, Jizang says it is not appropriate to use the idea of being to counteract attachment to emptiness. Thus, if one develops a fixation on the language of deconstruction, this language must be further deconstructed. This necessity is described in Buddhist terms as "Sunyata sunyata," or the "emptying of emptiness."[27] The same dilemma faces the modern proponent of deconstruction, for, as Barbara Johnson points out,

"... it is not possible to show that the belief in truth is an error without implicitly believing in the notion of Truth. By the same token, to show that the binary oppositions of metaphysics are illusions is also, and perhaps most importantly, to show that such illusions cannot simply in turn be opposed without repeating the very same illusion."[28]

    The objection is raised that the progressive deconstruction of all positions is itself a form of nihilism or negativism. But Jizang disagrees, and instead argues that:

"One speaks of non-being only because there is initially the illness of [attachment to] being. If the illness of being




subsides, and the medicine of emptiness is discarded, then one realizes that the holy path has nothing to do with being and non-being. ...Originally nothing is asserted; subsequently nothing is denied."[29]

Jizang thus seems to reject the charge of nihilism by insisting that no negation would be possible without a prior assertion, and that the Maadhyamika deconstruction thus remains a dialectical response to a prior misconception. Although it takes the form of negation or refutation, this is only because the propositions of its opponent are formulated as assertions and affirmations. Again, as in the case of Derrida, it is meaningful only because it responds to a previous text or position. The dialectical nature of this endeavor is brought out even by the structure of Jizang's Xuanyi, which often takes the form of a question and answer dialogue.



A.    Po

    Let us now take a close look at the phrase "po xie xian zheng," for which I am suggesting tile translation "deconstructing what is misleading and revealing what is corrective." The first term, po, literally means "to break" or "to see through or lay bare," although in Buddhist logic it tends to have the meaning of "to refute" or "to negate." I would argue that this term can be meaningfully read as "deconstruction," if we can agree with Roger Jackson when he says that:

"Deconstruction . . . begins as a critique of the idea that there is a privileged authorial point of view to be found in literary texts and ends as an attack on the essentialist, substantialist 'logocentrism' or all Western philosophies of 'presence.' Throughout his or her critique, the deconstructionist generally is careful not to propound any privileged point of view that might itself be regarded as logocentric and hence ripe for deconstruction."[30]




As we shall see in the following discussion, even though the eclectic Jizang is sympathetic to essentialist and substantialist formulations of Buddhist doctrine, to at least a certain degree he is lobbying against excessive, obsessional commitment to any particular, ultimate formulation which is then believed to comprehensively and finally describe the nature of ostensible reality. To that extent, Jizang can be seen as deconstructing those viewpoints within the Buddhist community which have become the objects of attachment, and he does this by critiquing them and pointing out their limitations. He is not destroying them, because he recognizes their soteriological value. His deconstruction, like Derrida's, is an analysis, a systematic breaking down (po) which yet leaves its object standing. It takes the form of total negation, but is not, according to Jizang, negative because it does not represent a context-free nihilistic intention. Its purpose is to correct prior misconceptions. He is only showing how all ostensible truth is dependent on its circumstances, whether soteriological, epistemological, or whatever. As Nathan Katz says, Maadhyamika is often mistaken as a form of nihilism

"... precisely because their negations are taken as ontological rather than grammatical, leading to the false idea that Naagaarjuna negates reals. ...Naagaarjuna's negation is a corrective, an inquiry into the grammar of talking about the world, while the nihilist's negation is, according to the Maadhyamika, just another view (d.r.s.ti)."[31]


B.    Xie

    The word "xie" usually means, among other things, "heterodox," "depraved," "evil," "deflected," or "harmful." As we have suggested above, for Buddhist purposes it can be argued that any view (Ch. jian, Skt. d.r.s.ti) is productive of suffering to the extent that one clings to it. Therefore it seems that it is not the viewpoints themselves, but rather one's attachment to or identification with a particular viewpoint which must be regarded as "harmful." Therefore, and in order to emphasize the fact that viewpoints lend to be seductive in various ways, I am translating




xie as "misleading" rather than "false" or "incorrect." "Po xie, " then, becomes "deconstruction of what is misleading."


C.    Xian

    The third term, "xian," has the literal meaning of "to manifest," "to reveal," or "to display." Here it seems to suggest the making evident of what is in this case described as "zheng. " If it is the case, as Francis Cook and others have suggested, that the traditional Maadhyamika position is that "the correct view is no view,"[32] then the revelation is identical with or constituted by the deconstruction. But even if, as other scholars suggest, the Maadhyamika position Is not really that exclusive or radical, the point remains that those who are considered Maadhyamikans have the common trait of arguing against the finality of the arguments of their opponents. That is to say, the deconstruction, or breakdown, of those viewpoints which have become misleading is in and of itself the revelation of what can be called zheng. The fact that the thoroughgoing negation represented in Jizang's formulations is described as something which is revealed also supports the contention that Jizang considers this project as one which is not entirely negative.


D.    Zheng

    As for "zheng," I suggest again that this can only mean "what is corrective" rather than "what is correct."[33] In the Xuanyi, Jizang analyzes the term in two different ways. On the one hand, utilizing the common Chinese analytic device of "ti/yong" or ''essence/function," he distinguishes between "essential" (tizheng) and "functional" (yong-zheng) references of the word "corrective." Jizang describes the distinction between these two in this way:

"The denial of both authentic and conventional [zhensu: the two kinds of discourse] is called 'essentially corrective.' Affirming [that distinction] is seen as 'functionally corrective'"[34]




Jizang is saying that although, essentially, it is meaningless to speak of such dualistic distinctions as "authentic" and "conventional," still, such distinctions can and should be made in accord with pragmatic concerns. In other words, although the "essential nature" of things can be paradoxically described as their lack of any distinguishable essence, nevertheless there is a functional or pragmatic purpose for making such dualistic distinctions as "authentic and conventional," in the interest of liberation.

    Jizang cites Sutras Such as the Lotus, Vimalakiirti, and Huayen to provide a textual basis for this kind of distinction. For example, Jizang says that, as for the meaning of "zheng":

"The Huayen Suutra says: 'The nature of the corrective Dharma [zhengfa xing] completely transcends language. Everything is appropriated and not appropriated; all bear the characteristics of quiescence and extinction.' This corrective Dharma is precisely the middle way [zhongdao]. To be apart from all one-sidedness is called 'zhong' ['middle'] ; to be opposed to perverse [views] is called ''zheng' ['corrective']."[35]

Jizang seems here to be relating the "zhengfa" or "corrective Dharma" and the "zhongdao" or "middle way." Whereas zhong or "middle" suggests a lack of bias, zheng or "corrective" implies opposition to bias, so that it could be said that zhong is somewhat passive while zheng is active.

    Further, since "zhengfa " is one Chinese translation of "saddharma" which Kumarajiva elsewhere renders as "miaofa" ("wondrous," "subtle," or "profound" Dharma),[36] it might be inferred that "zheng" and "miao" have some affinity. If this is the case, then there would be an apparent equation of zheng, zhong, and miao, or corrective, middle, and wondrous. Thus it could perhaps be argued that what makes the middle wondrous or profound is precisely that it is not ultimate or definitive but rather corrective, that is, deconstructive. Regardless of the significance of this terminological conjunction, it is here, in Jizang's citation of the Huayen Suutra and his discussion of a non-linguistic "corrective Dharma," that we most clearly detect traces of his sympathy for tathaagatagarbha and




Buddha-nature formulations, provided that they do not develop into obsessive fixations.

    In a further development of the passive/active modes of opposition to bias and one-sidedness, Jizang also analyzes the meaning of the term "zheng" in another, tripartite fashion. This consists of: l)"correctives which confront one-sidedness" [duipian zheng]; 2) "correctives which exhaust one-sidedness" [jinpian zheng]; and 3) "completely corrective" [juedai zheng]. [37]

    The first of these, the "correctives which confront one-sidedness," or "duipian zheng," includes those correctives which stand in direct, dualistic opposition to accepted standards of thought, and thus force one to come face to face with one's hidden presuppositions, obsessions and ontological commitments. In this sense, then, Jizang says that "perspectives which confront the illness of one-sidedness are regarded as corrective." I believe this refers, at least in part, to the tendency found in early Sanlun arguments to use the idea of "non-being" (wu) for the purpose of challenging attachment to the idea of "being" (you).[38] This kind of confrontational approach is considered useful for diagnosing or bringing to light the nature of the problem, but because it's formulation is essentially dualistic it is not final, and it remains necessary to employ the second kind of corrective.

    These next correctives are the ones which "exhaust one-sidedness," "jinpian zheng." In this sense, Jizang says, "words which exhaustively purify one-sidedness are regarded as corrective." Once the nature of the problem is clarified and brought to one's attention, one must then consistently and progressively direct one's meditative efforts towards curing the disease of dualism and its consequent one-sided attachment. Thus it is necessary that one continues one's efforts until one is able to completely eliminate all vestiges of dualistic attachment, even to the duality between the problem and its solution, or, as Jizang describes it, between the illness and the medicine.

    Finally, once all traces of the illness of one-sidedness are eliminated, the idea of "corrective" no longer makes sense. Yet there is still reason for using the word. Jizang says:




"As for the third [kind of corrective] , once the illness of one-sidedness has departed, no trace of a corrective is left behind. This is neither one-sided nor is it corrective. How magnificent it is! But still one is forced to call it 'corrective.'"[39]

In other words, even though the distinction between the illness and the cure has been overcome, at times the requirements of communication make it necessary to describe the condition of health. Although Jizang never makes this clear, it is possible that this necessity arises due to the characteristic Mahaayaana emphasis on compassion. That is to say, even though from the perspective of one who is healthy it makes no sense to speak of a cure, nevertheless pedagogical and therapeutic considerations sometimes make it necessary to do so. Reference to the final condition of health is what is meant by "completely corrective."



    These three senses of the term "corrective" can be seen as operative in Jizang's meditative and hermeneutic principle of "sizhong erdi, " or "four levels of the two kinds of discourse." The so-called "two kinds of discourse," or "two truths," are the conventional or mundane (Ch. shisu di, Skt. sa^mv.rtisatya) and the authentic or higher (Ch. zhendi, Skt. paramaarthasatya). In terms of the current discussion, these could also be described as "tacit acceptance" on the one hand and "deconstruction" on the other. Jizang says:

    "Some schools believe that you (existence) and wu (non-existence) constitute the two levels of discourse. That is why we say that they don't understand. We say, speak of existence if you want to indicate what is not existent. Speak of non-existence if you want to indicate what is not non-existent. Existence and non-existence indicate what is neither existent nor non-existent. Therefore, [we say that we] understand.
    "Some schools merely regard [talk of] 'existence' [you]as worldly discourse and [of] 'emptiness' as authentic dis-




course. But then it becomes clear that [distinctions such as] existence and emptiness are valid [only] in a worldly sense, and then talk of what is neither empty nor existent becomes authentic discourse.
    "On the third level [the distinction made on the second level between] emptiness and existence is regarded as a dualism, and the denial of both emptiness and existence [also made on the second level] is regarded as non-dual. Here, [on the third level], duality and non-duality are regarded as true in the worldly sense, and the denial of both duality and non-duality is called authentic discourse.
    "On the fourth level, the [first] three levels of the two kinds of discourse are all regarded as [merely] pedagogical approaches. One speaks of these three approaches in order to bring about the understanding that there really are no three [levels]. Once there is no reliance on anything, one can call this the principle [li]."[40]

    On the first level, discussion of existence [you] is what is considered worldly, and what is higher is the idea of non-existence [wu]. Specifically, Jizang identifies this level of analysis with the Abhidharma tradition. On the second level, becoming attached to the distinction between existence and emptiness [kong][41] is considered dualistic and thus worldly, and the deconstruction of this dualistic perspective constitutes the higher discourse. That is to say, in the higher sense, tile distinction between existence and emptiness is repudiated. Jizang offers the Chengshi or "Satyasiddhi" school as an example of this kind of formulation.

    On the third level even the distinction between, on the one hand, existence and emptiness, and on the other hand, the denial of both existence and emptiness, is regarded as dualistic, and thus worldly. A (deconstructive) standpoint which avoids both duality and non-duality is then termed an authentic form of discourse. The Dilun and Shelun schools are offered as examples of this third level of deconstructive analysis.[42]

    On the fourth level, all of the distinctions made on the previous




three levels are repudiated. This level emphasizes that any point of view, no matter how therapeutic and soteriologically effective it may be under certain circumstances, it cannot be said to be ultimately true, and is only of value so long as it serves to discourage or dislodge commitment and attachment. Thus, if one becomes attached to any such device, it becomes counter-productive and must be discarded. The apparent intent of this kind of analysis is to emphasize that the way to overcome clinging to a deconstructive strategy is to further deconstruct it. Even though only four levels are described here, there doesn't seem to be a point at which one can stop and rest. Jizang's description of the fourth level suggests that even the analytic of the four levels of the two kinds of discourse is provisional, is useful only for a given purpose, and does not express any essentially true or ultimately valid perspective.

    Here it is worth noting another parallel with Derrida's deconstruction. His methodology also resists fixation:

"Because Derrida's text is constructed as a moving chain or network, it constantly frustrates the desire to 'get to the point.' . . . In accordance with its deconstruction of summary meaning, Derrida's writing mimes the movement of desire rather than its fulfillment, refusing to stop and totalize itself."[43]



    Although the purpose of this paper is merely to gain some understanding of how one might understand Jizang's role as a commentator in the Buddhist tradition, nevertheless it seems necessary to briefly point out some of the problematic aspects of his formulation. To begin with, in his discussion of the four levels of the two kinds of discourse, he seems to treat existence and emptiness as though they were opposites, at least on the second and third levels. In fact, this would suggest an improper and misleading use of the term emptiness [`suunyataa], which is in fact a synonym, and not an antonym, for existence.

    Secondly, he seems to ignore the problem of definition. The Sanlun




tradition never actually addresses this problem, which so occupied Candrakirti and others in the Indian Maadhyamika tradition. To be sure, the idea of definition is related to the idea of "self-essence" or "svabhaava," which might be understood in a manner similar to Derrida's idea of "logocentrism," and analysis of which, it can be argued, lies at the heart of the Indian Maadhyamika deconstructive analysis.

    Thirdly, he frequently laments that, even though the "corrective Dharma" is non-linguistic, he is nonetheless compelled to speak of it. Although we have speculated previously that it might be the Mahaayaana insistence on compassion which necessitates this, Jizang himself never explains why this is the case, and in fact his compulsion to speak itself creates the need for (endless) further deconstruction. If, in fact. this process is never-ending, then it is doubtful that Jizang can meaningfully speak of any kind of liberation or enlightenment. This regress would not, perhaps, be necessary if he would allow emptiness to speak for itself.

    Finally, he is also somewhat guilty of a kind of circular reasoning. He criticizes other traditions for their dualistic formulations, but claims special privilege for his own. He suggests that since his distinctions are pedagogically motivated and critical (deconstructive), he remains immune to his own argument. It is not clear why the same defense cannot be raised on behalf of his opponents, at least in certain cases.



    Despite these apparent inconsistencies, what I have intended to indicate in this paper is how we might understand Jizang's role as Buddhist commentator. I argue that, as one of the most representative figures in what comes to be known as Chinese Maadhyamika, Jizang tries to explain the function and role of commentary as an attempt to force the Buddhist tradition to remain honest to itself, and to remain always on the lookout for evidence of sedimentation and complacency. This is why I describe his critiques of other Buddhist schools as "deconstructive."

    For this reason, then, and for the reasons discussed above, it would seem reasonable, or at least fruitful, to read the phrase "po xie xian zheng" as "deconstructing what is misleading and revealing what is




corrective." Jizang's formulation of this methodology seems to emphasize the necessity for constant and continuous re-evaluation of one's conceptual framework in order to avoid settling into fixed patterns of clinging and attachment. Although he does import a whole range of conceptual frameworks, which sometimes tend to confuse the issue, Jizang seems to subordinate them to, and to generally advocate, what can be described as a deconstructive dialectic. But as long as one operates within a dialectical framework one must resist the temptation to become obsessed with any individual stage or aspect of it. It would appear, then, to be the function of Sanlun commentary, as represented by the writings of Jizang, to insist that the Buddhist tradition keep this concern in mind, and it is in this sense that it can be described as the deconstructive conscience of Buddhism.






1.    See, for example, Roger Jackson, "Matching Concepts: Deconstructive and Foundationalist Tendencies in Buddhist Thought," Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume LVII, No. 3, fall 1989; Andrew Tuck, Comparative Philosophy and the Philosophy of Scholarship, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990; and an entire recent issue of the Journal of Chinese Philosophy(l7: 1990), among others.

2.    This is in fact a most common argument against the Maadhyamika position: see, for example, Junjiro Takakusu, The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass; 1975, pp. 99-111. Also, John Keenan's translation of Gadjin Nagao's The Foundational Standpoint of Maadhyamika Philosophy (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989), suggests that Nagao also reads Jizang as a nihilist. In the English translation (I have not checked this against the Japanese original), the text says that "although the 'Wondrous Meaning of the Three Texts" [Sanlun Xuanyi] speaks of 'overthrowing falsehood, i.e., manifesting truth,' in point of fact Chi-tsang stressed the refutation of falsehood, focusing on emptiness and non-being" (p. 22) For an historical overview of this tendency to read Maadhyamika as nihilism, see Andrew Tuck, Comparative Philosophy and tire Philosophy of Scholarship, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.




3.    Barbara Johnson, tr., Jacques Derrida's Dissemination, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981, p. xiv.

4.    Ibid.

5.    Newton Garver, in Preface to David B. Allison, tr., Jacques Derrida's Speech and Phenomena, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973, p. xxii

6.    Barbara Johnson, tr. Jacques Derrida's Dissemination ,Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981, p. ix.

7.    Ibid.

8.    Andrew Tuck, Comparative Philosophy and the Philosophy of Scholarship, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p.10.

9.    Jeffrey Stout, "What is tile Meaning of a Text?" New Literary History, 14 (1982-82), p. 8.

10.     Sometimes the tradition is referred to as the Silun or "Four Treatise" School, in which case Kumaarajiiva's translation of the Da Zhi Du Lun, or Mahaaprajnaparamita `Saastra, also attributed to Naagaarjuna, is included in the list of central works.

11.    Taisho vol. 30 #1564, pp. 1-39.

12.    Taisho vol. 30 #1568, pp. 159-167.

13.    Taisho vol. 30 #1569, pp. 168-182.

14.    Jizang also defended certain formulations of Buddha-nature and Tathagatagarbha doctrine, for example, which, it could be argued, since they defend the idea of some kind of more or less transcendentally ontological ground for experience and liberation, are in some ways diametrically opposed to the more deconstructive approach of the Maadhyamika school See Aaron Koseki, "Praj~naapaaramitaa and the Buddhahood of the Non-sentient World: The Sanlun Assimilation of Buddha-nature and Middle Path Doctrine," Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 2, No. 3, 1980, pp. 16-33. However, as I will emphasize later, it is precisely because his formulation is deconstructive rather than negativistic that Jizang can be justified in using all of the available Buddhist models without fixture or attachment.

15.    It must be emphasized that we are not establishing arbitrary classifications and then forcing Jizang to live up to our standards. Jizang himself, as shall be demonstrated, emphasizes that his use of language is reluctant though somehow necessary, and this dilemma can also be found in the works of Derrida. See, for instance, David Dilworth, "The Critique of Logocentrism...," Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 17 (1990), pp. 5-18.

16.    The term Satyasiddhi is one current reconstruction of a name which appears only in Chinese. It is a possible Sanskrit rendering for the Chinese term "cheng shi," which Literally translates as "completion (or establishment) of reality (or actuality)." For more information, see the English Translation of the Satyasiddhisastra of Harivarman, by N. Aiyaswami Sastri, Baroda: Oriental




Institute, 1978.

17.     Similarly, "Derrida's writing ... is always explicitly inscribed in the margins of some pre-existing text." Barbara Johnson, tr., Jacques Derrida's Dissemination, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981, p. x.

18.     Although the distinction between Prasangika and Svatantrika forms of Maadhyamika thought was not explicitly designated until the time of Tsong-kha-pa, still the roots of this distinction were already present in Candrakiirti's  attacks on the position of Bhaavaviveka. It is the position later associated with Candrakiirti which is most easily associated with the attitude toward propositional statements discussed here. However, by emphasizing the pedagogical value of certain types of expressions, Jizang seems to locate the Chinese Sanlun tradition in between the two extremes later articulated by Candrakiirti. For a more detailed discussion of the Prasangika/Svatantrika debate, see Donald Lopez, Jr., A Study of Svaatantrika, Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1986.

19.    In his earlier works, Jizang spoke only of the "three levels" or "sanzhong," excluding the fourth level. However, even in this more limited formulation, the implication is that the "corrective Dharma" is non dualistic, and the purpose of the analysis is the same: to progressively overcome attachment to deconstructive dualisms which are taken to be a higher discourse.

20.    Taisho vol. 45, #1852, p. 7a, line 5.

21.     Siddhanta has been translated into English, for example, as "doctrinal position" (Malcolm Eckel, J~naanagarbha's Commentary on the Distinction Between the Two Truths, Albany: SUNY Press, 1987) and as "point of view or method of teaching" (Paul Swanson, Foundations of T'ien T'ai Philosophy, Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1989).

22.    The Sanskrit term "samyak" means "right" or "proper." See Franklin Edgerton, Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar and Dictionary, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, Vol. II, p. 582.

23.    This idea as well is expressed in an early Buddhist parable, the one concerning the king shot by a poisoned arrow, who wanted to know all kinds of useless information regarding his attacker before allowing the doctor to cure him.

24.    Taisho vol. 45 #1852, p. 7a, line 14.

25.    The Chinese word "zhi" literally means to obstruct, to hinder, to clog, etc. I am translating here as obsession to emphasize that the obstruction in question is at least partially neurotic (that is, obsessive-compulsive) in nature.

26.    Taisho vol. 45 #1852, p. 7a, line a16.

27.     Chinese kong kong.

28.     Barbara Johnson, tr., Jacques Derrida's Dissemination, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981, p. x.

29.    Taisho vol. 45 #1852, p. 6c, line 27.




30.    Roger Jackson, "Matching Concepts: Deconstructive and Foundationalist Tendencies in Buddhist Thought," Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume LVII, No. 3, Fall 1989, p. 563.

31.    Nathan Katz, "Nagarjuna and Wittgenstein on Error," in Buddhist and Western Philosophy, ed. Nathan Katz, New Delhi: Sterling Press, 1981, p. 319-320.

32.     Franciss Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism, University Park: Penn State University Press, 1981, p. 39.

33.    Or, at least, "correct" as a verb rather than as a noun, i.e., "to correct."

34.    Taisho Vol. 45 # 1852, p. 7b, line 9. For another perspective on this passage, see Aaron Koseki, "The concept of practice in San-lun thought: Chi-tsang and the 'concurrent insight' of the two truths," Philosophy East and West, 31, # 4 (October 1981), pp. 453-4.

35.    Taisho Vol. 45 # 1852, p. 14a, line 27; Jizang's quotation comes from Buddhabhadra's translation of the Huayen Sutra, Taisho Vol. 9 p. 615a, line 3. I am translating zhengfa as "corrective Dharma" for consistency's sake, though it could also be reasonably rendered as "Correct Dharma" or "True Dharma."

36.     Dharmaraksa's translation of the Lotus Sutra, or Saddharmapundarika Sutra, is entitled Zhengfa Hua Jing, although Kumaarajiiva's later translation, which is usually considered more authoritative, is called the Miaofa Lianhua Jing. See Bunyiu Nanjio, A Catalogue of the Chinese Translation of the Buddhist Tripitika, San Francisco: Chinese Materials Center, reprint 1975, p. 44-45; For a discussion of Kumaarajiiva's and's translations of the Lotus see Richard Robinson, Early Maadhyamika in India and China, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1978.

37.    This three-fold analytic can be recapitulated in Sanskrit in terms of a) vaadavidhi; b) prasa^nga; and c) prapa~nca upa`sama. Vaadavidhi refers to methods of refuting competing points of view in terms of independent criteria, and thus can be seen as comparable to "duipian zheng" or "confrontational correctives." Prasa^nga refers to the use of the opponent's own logic against himself, in a kind of reductio ad absurdum or deconstructive analytic, and thus can be compared to what Jizang calls "jinpian zheng" or "exhaustive correctives" Finally, prapa~nca upa`sama refers to the putting to rest of obsessive intellectualizing or "melodramatic discourse," which in the Maadhyamikaakarikaas is equated with, and thus can be compared to "juedai zheng" or''completely corrective."

38.    This problem arises early in the transmission of Buddhism into China, and is exacerbated by Kumaarajiiva himself in his translation of the Zhonglun, Chapter XXIV ("Guan Sidi Pian" or "Chapter Contemplating the Fourfold Axiom"), verses 18-19, I translated these verses as follows:




"All conditionally arisen dharmas
I say are themselves non-existent (wu):
This is, furthermore, a provisional designation,
As well as the meaning of the Middle Way.

There has never been a single dharma
Which did not arise from causes and conditions;
Therefore, of each and every dharma,
There is none which is not empty (kong)"

The underlines are mine, and are included in order to emphasize the apparent identification of "wu" or "non-being" in the second line and "kong" or "emptiness" in the last line. They seem to be used as synonyms. Chinese commentators following Kumaarajiiva were prone to similarly identify these two terms. For a more detailed account of this problem, see Paul Swanson, Foundations of T'ien T'ai Philosophy, Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1989.

39.    Taisho Vol. 45 #1852, p. 7b, line 26; Later in the Xuanyi Jizang uses virtually the exact same tripartite formulation to analyze the term "zhong" or "middle," further strengthening the affinity between "zheng" or "corrective" and "zhong" or "middle"; see ibid., p. 14b, line 15.

40.    See the Treatise on the Mystery of the Mahaayaana or Dasheng Xuanlun, Taisho Vol. 45 # 1853, p. 15c, line 5. It should be noted that the term for principle, "li," is sometimes used as a translation for "siddhaanta" or "positional commitment," and sometimes for "truth" or "objectivity," although it is not clear at all that this is what Jizang means here. Derrida would probably emphasize that this semantic resonance is significant, although not concisely definitive.

41.    Here we note an instance of Jizang equating kong (emptiness) and wu (non-existence), even though, as indicated previously, they are not synonyms.

42.    Theses two schools represent the Yogacaric antecedents of the Huayen school. The name "Dilun" comes from the Shidi Lun, or Da`sabhuumikaasuutra `Sastra and the name "Shelun" comes from the She Dasheng Lun or Mahaayaanasa^mgrapha. For more information on these two traditions, see Robert Gimello, Chih-yen and the Foundations of Huh-Yen Buddhism, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1976.

43.     Barbara Johnson, tr., Jacques Derrida's Dissemination, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981, p. xvi.









Bai Lun 百論 Sanlun Xuan Yi 三論玄義
Cheng Shi 成實 San lun Zong 三論
Dasheng Xuan Lun 大乘玄論 Shelun 攝論
Da Zhi Du Lun 大智度論 Shi Er Men Lun 十二門論
Dilun 地論 shisu di 世俗諦
dui pian zheng 對偏正 si zhong er di 四種二諦
er di 二諦 ti yong 體用
Er Di Yi 二諦義 wu
Guan Xing Pin 觀行品 xian
jian xie
jin pian zheng 盡偏正 you
Jizang 吉藏 zhen di 真諦
jue dai zheng 絕待正 zhen su 真俗
kong zheng
li zheng fa 正法
miao fa 妙法 zhong
po zhong dao 中道
po xie xian zheng 破邪顯正 Zhong Lun 中論
san zhong er di 三種二諦