Mapping the Pathways of Huayan Buddhist Thought

Its Origins, Unfolding, and Relevance

by Ronald Y. Nakasone (Author)
©2022 Monographs XXII, 202 Pages


The Huayan scholar-monk Fazang (643-712) formulated, with the ‘Ten Subtle and Unimpeded Dharma-Gates’ of Pratītyasamutpāda, or ‘Ten Dharma-Gates,’ a series of cognitive and affective paradigms that describe how the Enlightenment-Mind apprehends reality. These patterns, in turn, model the way Buddhists understand, explain, configure, reflection, imagine, and engage the world. The basis for these paradigms is the truth and experience of pratītyasamutpāda, ‘dependent-co-arising,’ which the Buddha intuited.
This book traces the origins and unfolding of the insight of an interdependent and multi-centered reality, which Fazang crystallizes with the ‘Ten Dharma-Gates,’ and employs that insight to reflect on modern ethical and moral concerns, curriculum design, and aesthetics. Examination of the presuppositions of Buddhist thought—distinguishing it from the certainty of absolute-centered ideologies that subsume all meaning and values—should be of interest to academics. Aestheticians, artists, and Buddhist devotees will appreciate the intuitive sources of Buddhism. This book opens new vistas for Buddhist studies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Conventions
  • List of Illustrations
  • Introduction
  • Part I Orientation
  • 1 Spiritual Geography
  • 2 Mind, The Cartographer
  • 3 Surveying the Terrain
  • Section 1 Pratītyasamutpāda
  • Section 2 Fazang, The Mapmaker
  • Part 1 The Cartographic Features: Six Causal Corollaries of Pratītyasamutpāda
  • Part 2 The Map: Ten Subtle and Unimpeded Dharma-Gates of Pratītyasamutpāda
  • 4 Alternative and Ambiguous Maps
  • Part II Explorations
  • 5 The Ambiguity of Death
  • 6 Moral Ambiguity
  • 7 Curriculum Design: Spirituality and Aging in the Japanese Experience
  • 8 Spiritual Aesthetics of Sho (Calligraphy)
  • 9 Dharma Gate of Beauty
  • Discoveries and Reflections
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Index of Names

←viii | ix→


The publication of Mapping the Pathways of Huayan Buddhist Thinking: Its Origins, Unfolding, and Relevance by Professor Ronald Yukio Nakasone is a major contribution to Huayan and Buddhist Studies. He traces Huayan doctrine from the insight and experience of pratītyasamutpāda that propelled Siddhārtha Gautama to become the Buddha, through the Early Buddhist and Early Indian Mahāyāna periods. By referencing the six aspects of bīja outlined by Asaga in the Mahāyānasagraha with Fazang’s Causal Corollaries of Pratītyasamutpāda in the Huayan-yizheng-wujiaozhang (Kegon ichijō gokyōshō), Professor Nakasone doctrinally links Indian with Chinese Buddhism, affirming the continuous development of the tradition. He continues this development by illuminating its cognitive paradigms along which Buddhist thinking and activity proceeds. His effort provides a powerful tool for understanding Buddhist thought and culture, as well as the unforeseen dilemmas wrought by recent breakthroughs in science and medical technology.

I first met the author in 1973, when he matriculated in the MA program at the Department of Buddhist Studies at Ryūkoku University. Professor Nakasone and I were advised by Fukuhara Ryōgon Sensei. An authority on Abhidharmaskośā Śāstra and early Buddhist thought, Fukuhara Sensei provided a foundational knowledge of Buddhist thought, especially of the different strands of karma ←ix | x→and pratītyasamutpāda that played out in the subsequent unfolding of Buddhist thought. Additionally, Professor Nakasone received a liberal Buddhist education. The Buddhist Studies curriculum at Ryūkoku University required its students to study all the major branches of Buddhism. Professor Nakasone’s book reflects this liberal outlook.

After graduating, he entered the University of Wisconsin at Madison. We reconnected 3 years later when he returned on a Fulbright-Hays Dissertation Fellowship to complete his dissertation. He and his family were most helpful while I was a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley. We have fond memories, including the October 17, 1989, Loma Prieta Earthquake. On that day Professor Nakasone found me at the Downtown Berkeley BART Station, frazzled.

With the passing of Takamine Ryōshū in middle of the last century, the rich tradition of Kegon Studies in Ryūkoku University lapsed. Hopefully, Professor Nakasone’s scholarship and reflections will rekindle an interest in Kegon Studies. His application of Kegon doctrine to mundane and tangible issues expands our buddhalogical imaginations. I welcome the publication of Professor Nakasone’s book with boundless hope and enthusiasm.

Yoshinari Honda

Professor of Buddhist Studies (Emeritus)

Soai University, Osaka, Japan

←x | xi→


One of the great difficulties in writing this book was to formulate a map, a way to navigate numerous documents and ideas, and to propose a suitable methodology to organize my material. I was concerned that to imagine an end point and the route before beginning or even while wayfinding would prematurely limit my explorations. However, a suitable road map, a coherent outline, would reduce the amount of material to consider and provide a basis for selecting information and ignoring others, thus making this project much easier. There is no reason to believe one route is inherently better; I was nonetheless in need of a map that would best plot my intention and what I am trying to communicate. Settling on a map, as a metaphor, I could choose and organize appropriate examples, references, and comparisons to shape the contours of this book.

This vehicle of discovery, that is, this project, is the map that I created. In researching and writing, innumerable false starts, dead ends, interesting tangents, and unanticipated bits of information emerged, prompting me to reconfigure my map and navigate through the documents. Often, insights remained amorphous and elusive, until I formed some way to articulate them. New insights often resulted in confusion, urging the need for additional research and reassessment. Articulation, understanding, confusion, and reimagining the way forward ←xi | xii→alternated. This is still very much a work in progress, an early sketch that others will need to fill out.

In the end, this project is but a single projection—a map—of my explorations on how the third Chinese Huayan patriarch Fazang 法蔵 (643–712) and other Mahāyānists imagined and configured reality and constructed “truth.” Their imaginings and resulting doctrinal formulations color my own reflections of Buddhist narratives, doctrines, artifacts, and images that span two and a half millennium in several languages, cultures, and formats. The following problems were even more vexing: (1) describing the Buddha’s Enlightenment, a first person a-rational, a-temporal, all-encompassing and immediate apprehension through the rationality of language, which at best is only a schematic overlay of the Enlightenment experience; (2) ascertaining the validity of that experience; (3) recounting the content of the Enlightenment and its subsequent doctrinal formulations; and (4) faithfully transposing into current English the nuances of an intensely personal event in a temporally and culturally remote milieu. Other concerns included (5) How fair is my retrospective understanding of Buddhist thought and Fazang’s thinking? And (6) why this project? Why plot the structure of Huayan thinking? Questions abound.

The first dilemma, describing Siddhārtha Gautama’s Enlightenment, recalls the task of the visual artist, attempting to render a three-dimensional world in two-dimensions. Perspective, a technique that gives the illusion of spatial depth, allows the viewer to “see” what the artist sees from a single vantage point. Accordingly, the best that I can do is “enter” in the spirit of Siddhārtha Gautama’s Enlightenment based on my own “glimpses” and write in a way that will quicken the reader’s imaginative empathy to enter the life of the Buddha and his spiritual epiphany. This is at best, a most imperfect method.

The second and third concerns are regarding the validity of the Enlightenment and its content. The ancient accounts of Siddhārtha Gautama’s ascent and the descriptions of his experience and insight are cogent and entirely within reach of the human experience and imagination, for those familiar with the spiritual rhythms which forged them. I allowed the texts to “speak” for themselves, rather than imposing a methodological template to extract information.

The fourth difficulty concerns translation. Relying on English and Japanese translations of the accounts recorded in Pāli and Sanskrit further obscured the Enlightenment. The Chinese preserves many texts not extant in Indic languages. Translating and explaining the nuances of Buddhist thought and practice into current English is an ongoing struggle. Not only must the translator find a suitable English expression that corresponds to a Buddhist one, ideally that word ←xii | xiii→or expression should crystallize the Buddha’s original experience and articulate its ideological content and its doctrinal evolution. My English renderings of the Chinese and Japanese expressions are at best rough and imprecise.

An intensely personal epiphany, the Enlightenment, like music and poetry with their subtle nuances, references, and allusions, is resistant to translation. I tried to remedy this difficulty by associating the Buddha’s Enlightenment with the discovery of a new spiritual landscape, while comparing Fazang’s reiteration to a map, a schematic grid cast over the terrestrial landscape. Just as a cartographer identifies significant landmarks, the Buddha and his devotees identified psycho-spiritual features of the Enlightened-Mind. To illustrate these features, my preference has been to rely on visual metaphors because of my experience with the art and aesthetics, particularly of Chinese and Japanese sho (calligraphy). Another partial remedy is a glossary of Buddhist and foreign words.

A pair of expressions proved to be troublesome. These are “cognitive paradigms” and “epistemological paradigms.” Generally, “cognitive” refers to the way we apprehend the world. On the other hand, “epistemology” is associated with “theory of knowledge,” a philosophical enterprise. I understand “cognitive paradigms,” on the other hand, to include “intuition.” We know the world directly through seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching, all our senses, not only indirectly through the mind, which must interpret the psycho-sensuous impressions that the five sense organs transmit. The Japanese cleric Dōgen (1200–1253) writes that to intuit is “to see and hear with the whole body and mind.”1

The expressions “true” and “real” are similarly problematic. “True” and “truth” reference issues related to ontology—existential and moral concerns. “Real” and “reality” refer to objective and verifiable facts. “Reality” also means “the world.” “Dharma” has a multitude of meanings. Capitalized, it refers to Reality, Truth, Moral Law, or Teaching of the Buddha. The expression, not capitalized, means psycho-physical components that momentarily coalesce to establish an existent reality. More broadly, “dharma” refers to things, beings, and events, including objects of cognition. Where appropriate, I use the expressions “dharmic-entities” and “dharmic-events” to refer to discrete phenomenological units. Although these units are essentially identical, it is often important to distinguish “things” and “beings” from “event.” “Enlightenment,” the spiritual epiphany that thrust Siddhārtha Gautama to Buddhahood, and its variations, such as “Enlightenment-Mind,” are ←xiii | xiv→capitalized. “Karma” is not italicized. “Landscape” and related expressions such as “terrain,” “geography,” “topography,” and “cartography” indicate terrestrial landmarks and psycho-spiritual markers. For clarity, I often insert the kanji 漢字 after a technical Buddhist expression, especially in Chapter 3, followed by the English translation. Sanskrit expressions are favored over Pāli.

Fifth, how accurate is my understanding of Fazang’s thought? In addition to being woefully uninformed of the complete cultural and intellectual currents that guided Fazang, my reflections are colored by modern and post-modern discourses. Sixth, why illuminate the cognitive structure of Buddhist thinking? To wit, much of Buddhist Studies is devoted to reconstructing the development of Buddhist doctrine, collating texts, or understanding key passages of canonical documents. I do not question the importance of these efforts. There is so much that is not known. But I believe that my exploration of how a Buddhist constructs truth is a fruitful exercise for highlighting the distinctiveness of Buddhist thought—especially its cognitive paradigms for understanding, interpreting, and engaging an everchanging world—as well as clarifying the presuppositions on which the Buddhist experience rests.

Further, I doubt that Fazang anticipated that I would extrapolate from his reiteration of pratītyasamutpāda 縁起 (Ch yuanqi, Jpn engi), or “dependent co-arising,” cognitive paradigms to interpret unprecedented ethical dilemmas, to critique single-centered ideologies, or to justify my creative exercises. But in so doing, I am extending the ideological parameters of pratītyasamutpāda. As far as I am aware, this is a unique exercise. I know of no other attempt to critically and comprehensively examine the cognitive structure of Enlightened-knowing and explore its epistemological implications.


XXII, 202
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (September)
Its Origins, Unfolding, and Relevance Ronald Y. Nakasone Lorraine Capparell (illustrator) Huayan Buddhism pratītyasamutpāda mapping Fazang cognitive paradigms ambiguity spiritual geography mind Enlightenment Mapping the Pathways of Huayan Buddhist Thought
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. XXII, 202 pp., 18 color ill.

Biographical notes

Ronald Y. Nakasone (Author)

Ronald Y. Nakasone, a member of the Core Doctoral Faculty at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, earned his MA from Ryūkoku University in Kyoto, Japan, and his PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has written extensively on Buddhist doctrine, ethics, and aesthetics, aging and spirituality, and Ryūkyūan studies. He is a Jōdo Shinshū priest and a skilled sho(calligrapher)-artist.


Title: Mapping the Pathways of Huayan Buddhist Thought
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226 pages