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The Revival of Tiantai Buddhism in the Late Ming:
On the Thought of Youxi Chuandeng (1554-1628)
This dissertation is a study of Youxi Chuandeng’s (1554-1628) transformation of
“Buddha-nature includes good and evil,” also known as “inherent evil,” a unique idea
representing Tiantai’s nature-inclusion philosophy in Chinese Buddhism. Focused on his
major treatise On Nature Including Good and Evil, this research demonstrates how
Chuandeng, in his efforts to regenerate Tiantai, incorporated the important intellectual
themes of the late Ming, especially those found in the Śūraṃgama Sūtra.
In his treatise, Chuandeng systematically presented his ideas on doctrinal
classification, the principle of nature-inclusion, and the practice of the Dharma-gate of
inherent evil. Redefining Tiantai doctrinal classification, he legitimized the idea of
inherent evil to be the highest Buddhist teaching and proved the superiority of Buddhism
over Confucianism. Drawing upon the notions of pure mind and the seven elements
found in the Śūraṃgama Sūtra, he reinterpreted nature-inclusion and the Dharma-gate of
inherent evil emphasizing inherent evil as pure rather than defiled. Conversely, he
reinterpreted the Śūraṃgama Sūtra by nature-inclusion.
Chuandeng incorporated Confucianism and the Śūraṃgama Sūtra as a response to
the dominating thought of his day, this being the particular manner in which previous
Tiantai thinkers upheld, defended and spread Tiantai. What set Chuandeng apart from his
predecessors were his efforts to harmonize rather than criticize other Buddhist schools.
The Śūraṃgama Sūtra was emblematic of the syncretic intellectual trend of the late Ming
and its popularity was widespread. Chuandeng ably took ideas from the Śūraṃgama
Sūtra to make his points.
Chuandeng was a culminator and innovator of nature-inclusion and his thought and
activities represent the revival of Tiantai in the late Ming. This study proves that the
Tiantai school was not a marginal but rather an active contributor to the overall revival of
Buddhism in the late Ming.