Other Sellers on Amazon
+ Free Shipping
+ Free Shipping
Emptiness and Omnipresence: An Essential Introduction to Tiantai Buddhism (World Philosophies) Paperback – May 2, 2016
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Frequently bought together
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
"Those who take the journey with Ziporyn will find a rich and rewarding work, not simply due to the mind-boggling Tiantai doctrine, but also because of Ziporyn's respect for the tradition and his extraordinary finesse in presenting its demanding ideas."(Publishers Weekly)
"Introduces new stories and expressions of rather arcane and often scholastic teachings, and succeeds in making the subject matter interesting and relevant, for the general reader as well as the specialist."(Paul Swanson, author of Foundations of T'ien-T'ai Philosophy: The Flowering of the Two Truths Theory in Chinese Bu)
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Ziporyn’s presentation of Tiantai provides us with nearly 300 pages of spell-binding philosophical insights on the nature of the human condition, chock-full of Indian-cum-Chinese wisdom which, in Ziporyn’s expert hands, is deftly and at times humorously explained using contemporary language and cultural references. It’s a shame there aren’t already 500 reviews of this book here on GoodReads—Ziporyn’s work deserves much larger readership and wider exposure. As a long-time student of Buddhism and East Asian philosophy, I spent the summer of 2016 slowly digesting this book soon after it came out. I continue to go back to it in order to more completely absorb its many insights. Only now do I feel ready to write this review (OK, I procrastinated a bit too).
As you’ve probably already guessed, <i>Emptiness and Omnipresence</i> is not an introductory book on Buddhism but rather best described as an introductory book on Chinese Tiantai for those already familiar with Buddhism. People new to Buddhism would be easily lost here. If you’re inclined towards original Hinayana-Theravada Buddhism, you’ll loathe this book—this is Mahayana emptiness on steroids. If you’re a Zen or Tibetan Buddhist practitioner interested in learning about a different form of East Asian Buddhism, then this is a great place to start. If like I am you’re interested in cross-cultural philosophy, you’ll learn how Tiantai is the distinctive synthesis of two very different cultural systems of thought: a) indigenous Chinese philosophy and b) Indian Mahayana Buddhism as read from one primary text, the <i>Lotus Sutra</i>. The Tiantai school is,
<i>the most rigorous theoretical edifice in all of East Asian intellectual history, using modes of argumentation and praxis that are derived squarely from Indian Buddhism but in the service of ideals and metaphysical conclusions that are rooted deeply in the [Chinese] indigenous philosophical traditions. The result is a comprehensive system of thought that is utterly new, rarely understood, and, as it happens, still quite unique and unduplicated fifteen centuries later</i> (preface pp. ix-x).
Author Brook Ziporyn, professor of Chinese religion, philosophy, and comparative thought at the University of Chicago, notes in the preface that Tiantai Buddhism is of particular interest to contemporary Westerners in that it is a rare example in world history when two radically different cultural systems of thought encountered each other and entered into a prolonged reconciliation and synthesis of their differences. It is of interest to us in this regard because of how we find ourselves in a similar situation wherein Western thought, struggling from decades of its own internal existential crisis, is confronted with increasing challenges from Asian cultural systems. The Tiantai synthesis of Chinese and Indian Buddhist philosophical systems stands as a model for the current Asian-Western encounter. The opportunities for cross-cultural fertilization are staggering as the postmodern West and the nondual East gradually interpenetrate.
Now to the contents:
On my reading, the book can be divided into three parts having to do with the consequences of adopting the philosophy of emptiness: 1) Chapters 1 to 4 deal with basic Mahayana Buddhist thought ending with <b>the emptiness of space—of things and of states</b>; 2) Chapters 5-7 deal with <i>the Lotus Sutra</i> and its unique teaching of <b>the emptiness of time, past and future</b>; 3) Chapters 8-10 present the Tiantai synthesis in the doctrine of <b>the Three Truths</b>: emptiness, provisional positing, and the center (aka: emptiness, dependent arising, and nonduality). The third truth of Tiantai, the center (pinyin <i>zhong</i>, 中), is thoroughly Chinese and a beautiful expansion of the Mahayana Two Truths doctrine.
The intro and the first four chapters present basic Buddhist thought from the Four Noble Truths, to <i>prajnaparamita</i> and <i>Madhyamaka</i>, up to Buddha-Nature.
<b>Chapters 1-2</b>: The first two chapters examine original Buddhism’s approach to suffering (<i>dukkha</i>) and the end of suffering (<i>nirvana</i>). Chapter one examines the paradox at the heart of original Buddhism—the desire to end suffering. By employing the parables of the Raft and the Arrow, chapter two shows how Buddhism leads to the doctrine of the Two Truths, conventional and ultimate truth. Chapter two begins with the enticing question: Does the end of suffering begin? These first two chapters are excellent summaries of the basic tenets of Buddhism.
<b>Chapters 3-4</b>: Chapters three and four introduce the central Mahayana concept of emptiness and how it expands the original Two Truths of early Buddhism. Chapter four adds the further development of emptiness in the concept of Buddha-Nature. Together, chapters three and four deconstruct our standard ideas of “things” and “states” in “space” (states as states of affairs, moments).
Chapter three is a fascinating examination of the exceedingly common idea of “a thing” which, in this explanation, lies at the heart of our samsaric confusion—we are unliberated because of how we think of “things”. Emptiness shows that our standard view that things persist through time, possess characteristics, have definite borders, or exist in and of themselves is deeply mistaken. The Two Truths model of Mahayana Buddhism is a way to “wean ourselves from this type of default ‘thing-thinking’ based on attachment, which inevitably leads to suffering” (p38). After a brief explanation of the concepts of emptiness and its corollary dependent origination, Ziporyn presents an excellent summary of six approaches to emptiness in relation to conventional ideas of what things are: 1-The whole/part approach, 2-The cause/effect approach, 3-The thing/characteristic approach, 4-The language approach, 5-Emptiness as the self-overcoming of both holism and reductionism, 6-The this/that approach.
Here Ziporyn also introduces another way to understand the Mahayana concept of emptiness in what he terms <i>ontological ambiguity</i>. This simply means that since all things arise only due to causes and conditions, no thing (no state, condition, experience, element, no phenomenon) can ever exist independently, definitively, <i>as-it-is-of-itself-apart-from-everything-else</i>. No thing has inherent is-ness (in Sanskrit, <i>svabhava</i>). This is the meaning of <i>pratitya-sammutpada</i>, the Buddhist doctrine of dependent arising. Since no thing can exist in isolation as itself alone, “whatever you are seeing, touching, thinking, or feeling right now got there and to the way it is because of something else.” <i>Something else</i> is always necessarily involved in whatever you have before you now. Chapter four expands on chapter three and contains an extended analysis of our commonsense notions of <b>space</b> which, in Ziporyn’s hands, are as mind-bendingly weird as anything in modern physics.
<b>Chapters 5-6-7</b>: Chapters five through seven introduce the Tiantai interpretation of the <i>Lotus Sutra</i> which focus on its unique teaching of the emptiness of <b>time</b>, of past and future, and the consequences thereof. By applying the previous analysis of the emptiness of things, Ziporyn shows how the <i>Lotus</i> radically reframes the doctrine of transmigration and the idea of rebirth through infinite lifetimes to show that all beings are on a path to Buddhahood—all beings are “buddhas in the making” over the course of infinite lifetimes. Ziporyn’s story of The Dolphin School is a beautiful illustration of the themes in chapter five. Chapter six presents new perspectives on the Middle Way offered by the parables in the Lotus Sutra, perspectives that constitute much of Tiantai philosophy. Chapter seven describes how “The <i>Lotus Sutra</i> provides a template with which to rethink how holders of one view can regard holders of another view. It is an idea about ideas and about what it means for different ideas to ‘contradict’ one another, or to ‘be included’ in a larger idea, or ‘be versions of’ or ‘extensions of’ one another” (p118). The latter part of this long chapter gets rather bogged down in my view. Much of chapter seven’s discussion of the interpervasion of views revolves around the meaning of Mahayana idea of “the One Vehicle.”
<b>Chapters 8-9-10</b>: Chapter eight presents the meat of Tiantai philosophy in the doctrine of the Three Truths. Ziporyn employs the Chinese philosophical concept of “coherence” (pinyin <i>li</i>, 理) and shows how it can be used to characterize any phenomena as a “local coherence,” an instance of dependent arising, but also emptiness as “global incoherence” which is another way of saying no one (local) context of meaning/truth satisfies all (global) contexts of meaning/truth. Local coherence is conventional truth. Global incoherence is ultimate truth. The third truth that links the Two Truths of (ultimate) emptiness and (conventional) dependent arising is the (nondual) Center. All phenomena arise <i>as</i> all three: ultimate, conventional, nondual (Ziporyn’s summary of these ideas is on p156-157). Chapter eight is so chock full of nondual insights that you’ll just have to read it yourself!
Chapter nine presents a number of Tiantai techniques and practices having to do with meditation and contemplation. I’ve yet to mention the scholar-sage responsible for establishing the Tiantai view – Zhiyi, (智顗, pronounced “Juh-yee”) the illustrious founder who lived in the mid- to late 6th century (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhiyi). Zhiyi’s voluminous works were substantially supplemented by two subsequent Tiantai scholars, Zhanran (8th c.) and Zhili (late 10th c.). Nine is a very valuable chapter in that Ziporyn takes a number of these practices and walks us through performing them in the context of what has been presented. It makes what would be a book of abstract philosophy into a practical handbook of practices.
Chapter ten sets out to demonstrate the utility of Tiantai ethics by applying its insights to what is arguably the most complex and problematic scenario of ethical violations in human history, Hitler and the Holocaust. Ziporyn, who is from Jewish background, is well aware of the perils of so doing and addresses these upfront. Can Tiantai perspectives possibly shine any new light onto the long and labored history of Holocaust studies? My sense is that most people will not think so after reading this particularly since “getting” nondual Tiantai thought takes so much time and effort in the first place. Nevertheless, to the extent Tiantai philosophy is a fundamentally novel approach and so thoroughly non-Western, it has the potential to bring some new understandings to this great human tragedy. Judge for yourself.
Ziporyn ends with an epilogue, a lovely summary of Tiantai principles and practices as they apply to our contemporary lives. How are we to live as practitioners of Taintai principles? It starts by quoting Zhiyi’s <i>One-Practice Samadhi</i>, a gorgeous pointing-out instruction that has the effect of a long and serene breathing-out into the knowing that <i>everything is alright</i>, completely and utterly the way it should be. Yet this is not traditional Tiantai but Tiantai Buddhism for current times brought to us through Ziporyn’s skillful presentation.
I could say a thousand more things about this book. If you’re an open-minded student of Buddhism, by all means treat yourself to Ziporyn’s works.
Here, for what it’s worth, are all the chapter and sub-section titles:
<b><i>Emptiness and Omnipresence<i/>: Chapters and Sub-Chapters</b>
1. <b>1-Just Here is the End of Suffering: Letting Suffering Be in Early Buddhism</b>
a. The Paradox of Suffering
b. Ineradicable Evil: Enlightenment as Transformative Inclusion of, rather than Replacement of, Evil
i. The Middle Way between active control and Passive Subjection
2. <b>2-Rafts and Arrows: The Two Truths in Pre-Tiantai Buddhism</b>
a. Does the end of suffering begin?
b. The Arrow and the Raft
c. The Commandment or the Off-Duty Taxi Driver?
d. The Two Truths
3. <b>3-Neither Thus nor Otherwise: Mahayana Approaches to Emptiness</b>
i. The whole/part approach
ii. The cause/effect approach
iii. The thing/characteristic approach
iv. The language approach
v. Emptiness as the self-overcoming of both holism and reductionism
vi. The this/that approach
4. <b>4-Buddha-nature and Original Enlightenment</b>
a. Whatever is, is not Nirvana
b. Everywhere and Nowhere: “Like Space”
c. The Milk Medicine
5. <b>5-How Not to Know What You’re Doing: Introduction to the Lotus Sutra</b>
a. The Irrelevance of Transmigration
b. The Bodhisattva
c. The Dolphin School
6. <b>6-The New Middle Way: Highlights of the Lotus Sutra in Tiantai Context</b>
a. The New Middle Way Between Bodhisattvas and Non-Bodhisattvas
b. The New Middle Way Between Desire and Desirelessness
c. The New Middle Way Between Enlightenment and Delusion: Assurances of Buddhahood
d. The New Middle Way Between Time and Timelessness: The Past Made Present
e. The New Middle Way Between Presence and Absence: The Buddha’s “Eternal Life”
f. The New Middle Way Between Acceptance of the Present Reality and Progressive Change Toward and Ideal: The Dragon Girl and the Bodhisattva Never-Disparage
g. The New Middle Way Between Good and Evil: Devadatta
7. <b>7-The Interpervasion of All Points of View: From the Lotus Sutra to Tiantai</b>
a. Global Proselytizing One-Upmanship? Non-Buddhist As Potential Buddhists
b. Non-Buddhists as Young Buddhas in the Formative Stage
c. Non-Buddhist Practices as Causes of Future Buddhahood
d. Non-Buddhist Practices as Causes of Future Buddhahood Because they are Non-Buddhist
e. A Musical Metaphor
f. Interfaith Application
g. Not Quite Pantheism, Not Quite Relativism
h. What is “the Dharma” that Must Be Heard?
i. Not That All Dharmas Are or Are Not One Vehicle: All Dharmas May Be Read as the One Vehicle
j. A Crucial Further Reversal
8. <b>8-Tiantai: The Multiverse as You</b>
a. From Emptiness to the Three Truths
b. You Are a Floating Finger
c. What You Are and How You Are Seen
d. Not Changing, Not Staying the Same
e. The Eternity of All Moments and the Ultimate Reality of All Experiences
9. <b>9-Experiencing Tiantai: Experiments with Tiantai Practice</b>
a. Only a Buddha Together with a Buddha: The Ultimate Reality as Each Moment of Experience
b. Essentials of Tiantai Meditation
i. Emptiness 1.0
ii. Emptiness 2.0
c. “Style” as the Three Truths: Full Realization of Delusion as Liberation from Delusion
d. Awareness of Mentation and the Freeze-Frame Method
e. Sovereignty and Atheist Miracle
10. <b>10-Tiantai Ethics and the Worst-Case Scenario</b>
<b>Epilogue: So Far and Yet So Close</b>
<b>Some Thoughts Regarding Tiantai and Western Science</b>
I adore Ziporyn’s work and Chinese Tiantai thought but I can’t help but think of how or in what ways these fabulous insights might be applied to Western thought, particularly the worldview we call science. In that science is humanity’s most significant consensus reality and in the interest of cross-cultural coherence of views and future Asian-Western synthesis, I’d like to see more direct attention paid to how Asian perspectives such as Tiantai Buddhism can inform Western perspectives, particularly the worldview of science. Whereas <i>Emptiness and Omnipresence<i/> aims at presenting Tiantai thought per se, Ziporyn, in his (also fabulous) book, <i>Being and Ambiguity</i>, applies Tiantai thinking to various Western philosophical issues. However, neither addresses science-specific questions. And that’s OK – Dr. Ziporyn is not a scientist. But as a student of both Buddhism and science I want to know: In what lifeworld context can each retain their truth value and also be compatible? In what way can both science and nonduality agree? Now THAT’S the question.
For example, Ziporyn characterizes the central concept of emptiness as “ontological ambiguity” and as “global incoherence.” This makes total sense in the context of contemplative nondual philosophy, but apart from quantum ambiguities, the laws of physics and chemistry are solidly unambiguous. Yes, context and view determine everything; yes, The Three Truths—but what about things that, for all intents and purposes, <i>remain the same</i> in all [mundane waking state] contexts such as <b>the laws of physics, chemistry, thermodynamics, and complex systems</b>? What about the regularity and stability we observe in nature – across the entire universe? What <i>unambiguous regularities of nature</i> allow us to build intricate digital devices, precisely land a spacecraft onto the surface of Mars or the Moon, to fly by distant planets, moons, and asteroids and send back coherent data, or to discover the exact same chemistry in interstellar dust and on distant exoplanets as is here on earth?
Yes, these things may appear ambiguous in the context of <b>non-scientific worldviews</b> (such as nondual contemplation, religious mysticism, or also perhaps extreme postmodern constructivism) but the laws of physics and chemistry still hold whether or not the worldview context can describe why.
Newtonian truths did not become ambiguous when Einsteinian truths later showed they were just spatio-temporally limited; thus, re-contextualization and ontological ambiguity need to be somehow reconciled with the regularities observed in nature through science and mathematics. As far as we know, there’s nothing ambiguous anywhere in the universe about electrons, hydrogen atoms, or the structure and properties of water… perhaps only in the context of black holes or other extreme conditions, but in all other contexts, they are, for most intents and purposes, very ontologically <i>unambiguous</i>. We have only one universe as far as we know so we can only claim ontological ambiguity in a scientific sense if we allow ourselves to recontextualize the entire universe… yes? To me this is the task ahead for students of comparative philosophy—to find a context in which Asian nonduality is compatible with the laws of Western science as well as the principles of Western postmodern thought. Thankfully, more and more effort is being thus directed.
Posted, May 28, 2019
The group was split in their opinion of this book. Many felt it was too opaque. I have a strong background in philosophy, and more than a casual understanding of some of the key ideas underpinning eastern religious thought, so I didn't have as much trouble with this book as many in my group did. I enjoyed it, and got a tremendous amount out of it; but I would not necessarily recommend this as an introduction to Buddhism. It is not good for a "casual" read. The book takes some work; but if you put in the time and the effort, you will be richly rewarded.
Again, a book for someone interested in philosophical thinking rather than the more common narrow academic monograph.