2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

Hva shang Mahāyana and His Teaching in Tibetan Literature: An Invented Tradition

Wei-rong Shen

Visiting research fellow of Kyoto University; JSPS Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Cultural exchanges between the Chinese and Tibetans stemmed from a time when Tibetan civilization was still in a very primitive stage. To learn from Chinese and absorb Chinese cultural elements was one of the most important driving forces behind the rapid development of Tibet both as a nation and as a cultural entity. For a time, Chinese Ch’an Buddhism was very popular among Tibetan Buddhists. However, it eventually provoked serious philosophical questioning on various paths towards enlightenment and intense intellectual confrontation between different Buddhist traditions, and led to the famed bSam yas debate between the Chinese Ch’an Master hva shang Mahāyana and the Indian Madhymakanist Kamalaśīla. A close scrutiny of contemporary Chinese and Tibetan sources reveals that the bSam yas debate was actually a series of internal and rational dialogues and arguments between two major Buddhist traditions. Judged even by today’s standards, it can be considered  a sophisticated intercultural dialogue between Chinese and Indian Buddhists. Unfortunately, the bSam yas debate evolved into a life or death struggle in which it was claimed justice vanquished evil and orthodoxy excluded heterodoxy in late Tibetan historical and religious literature. Hva shang Mahāyana and the Chinese Buddhist tradition was continuously demonized as a synonym for all heretical beliefs and often used as a tool of vicious attacks among different schools of Tibetan Buddhism. This study aims at further clarifying the real face of Chinese Ch’an doctrinepropagated by hva shang Mahāyana in Tibet, analyzing Tibetans’ understandings and misunderstandings of hva shang Mahāyana’s teaching and exploring why and how hva shang Mahāyana and his teaching became demonized in Tibetan literature through scrutinizing numerous accounts of hva shang Mahāyana’s life and teaching in Tibetan historical and religious texts. This article concludes that the long-established tradition of hva shang Mahāyana and his teachings in Tibetan literature was artificially invented and manipulated.


Keywords: hva shang Mahāyana, Ch’an, Cig char pa and rim gyis pa, the Great Debate of bSam yas, invention of tradition