According to Mahāyāna Buddhism as seen in the Lotus Sūtra and many other Buddhist texts revered in Chinese and other East Asian traditions, the Buddha used his insight into each individual’s capacity for understanding, to tailor his teachings about how they should proceed toward overcoming suffering. For this reason, the Buddha is sometimes called the Great Physician, having the ability to diagnose an individual’s case and prescribe a specific remedy. This is the Buddha’s skillful means or skill-in-means (upāya), his expertise in crafting a personal plan for liberation. Thus, the overall ethical imperative is the same regardless of an individual’s aptitude, that is, a Buddha and a Bodhisattva is obligated to save all sentient beings from suffering. However, the specific ethical practices vary according to individual aptitude. Historically, Chinese Buddhists have generally held the belief that all people are endowed with Buddha-Nature, the innate ability to become enlightened. For example, in Chapter 12 of the Lotus Sūtra, the Buddha predicts the eventual enlightenment of even his antagonistic cousin Devadatta along with others once considered icchantika, deluded people thought to be incapable of attaining liberation. He further explains that some of the things the Devadatta did that appear to be hostile were actually indications that he was a good friend, because they enabled the Buddha to perfect the Six Pāramitās. Chinese Buddhists found theoretical basis for universal Buddha-Nature in Indian Tathāgathagarbha thought, which holds that all beings have within them an innate “womb of the Tathagāta”, the Buddha. However, based on his own study of Sanskrit Yogācāra texts, the famous Chinese Buddhist pilgrim to India, Xuanzang (c. 602–664 CE), opposed this long-held and cherished view of Chinese Buddhism with the theory that instead we have within us a Storehouse Consciousness (Sanskrit: ālayavijñāna) that accumulates the karmic seeds of negative emotions. Accordingly, for those able to do so, dedication to the Buddha’s Noble Path is the means of clearing the impure seeds stored in the ālayavijñāna and tied to individual and social suffering. Likewise, as the Eightfold Path instructs, individuals must help others to do the same. Yet, Xuanzang found that Yogācāra also taught that not all people are capable of transforming the karmic seeds of suffering and thereby attaining liberation. According to this understanding of Yogācāra’s teachings, a person seeking enlightenment must necessarily use skill-in-means to engage others based on their innate capacities, just as the Buddha had done. But what are the categories of human capacities, perhaps used by the Buddha as the Great Physician to prescribe remedies to suffering? Indeed, what is the nature of Buddha-Nature and of transformation? It is necessary to answer these questions in order to apply Yogācāra’s practical ethics to actual individual and group situations. Xuanzang left instructions on how to receive the Bodhisattva Vows to save all sentient beings. He also left a text that lists and explain specific ethical acts that those aspiring toward enlightenment must necessarily put into practice. However, he did not leave the necessary details about individual capacities. According to his closest student and successor of his Chinese Buddhist tradition, Kuiji (632–682), this task was left to him, taught by Xuanzang privately. This paper describes Kuiji’s detailed analysis of individual capacities, which is the philosophical basis of his entire system of enlightenment. Our treatment of his scheme includes a description of his breakdown of (1) Two aspects of Buddha-Nature, (2) Three Steps in the Process of Transformation(3) Two Divisions of the Basis (4)Five Gotras, and (5) Three types of Icchantika. We begin by describing the background to Kuiji’s understanding.
Draft prepared for presentation at the 2017 meeting of the South Carolina Society for Philosophy at Coastal Carolina University.