An Alternative Tiantai Vision: Buddha-Nature in the Heretical Writings of Qiantang Tiantai Monks


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


Religious Studies


Vigorous debate arose in early Song (960-1279) Tiantai Buddhism during a period of institutional and intellectual flourishing. The “Home Mountain-Off Mountain” controversy, as this event came to be known, refers to the Song Tiantai schism and the initial doctrinal disputes from which it emerged. Each side offered competing interpretations of a fundamental ambiguity inherent in the writings of the Tang master Zhanran (711-782). This dissertation focuses on the development of the supposedly heretical Qiantang community’s soteriology which amalgamated tathāgatagarbha doctrine within their own vision of Tiantai orthodoxy. The project explains how members sought to demonstrate Tiantai was capacious and flexible enough to accommodate tathāgatagarbha ideas through coherent and plausible explanations grounded in the Nirvana-sūtra, Zhanran’s texts, and classical Tiantai thought. More broadly, it illuminates the wider early Song embrace of tathāgatagarbha thought and its representative Chinese texts, a momentous shift towards buddha-nature in the history of Chinese Buddhism.