Redefining Enlightenment Experience: A Philosophical Interpretation of the Dunhuang Version Platform Sūtra

  • Jinhua JiaEmail author
Part of the Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy book series (DCCP, volume 9)


The Platform Sūtra (Dunhuang version) presents a variety of concepts, but in the deeper plane all these concepts can be roughly induced as a reinterpretation of enlightenment and a description of Chan’s distinctive experience of enlightenment. Through a sophisticated display of ontological paradox, the sūtra integrates tathāgatagarbha thought with prajñā wisdom to illuminate why enlightenment is possible for ordinary people in their existential life experience. Following the claim of tathāgatagarbha and earlier Chan texts that all sentient beings possess Buddha-nature, the sūtra further blurs the line between empirical mind and pure nature and endows the mind-nature unity with the transcendental implication of original enlightenment. At the same time, the sūtra points out the emptiness and nonattachment of the mind-nature with the doctrines of no-thought, no-form, and no-abiding, which are grounded in the prajñāparamita and Madhyamika literature. For the soteriological-methodological concern, the Platform Sūtra applies the Awakening of Faith’s theory of “two aspects of one-mind” to advocate seeing one’s originally enlightened mind-nature directly from the perception of true reality. This perceptional experience of enlightenment solves the dilemmatic relationship between the two key soteriological categories of ignorance and enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition. As a result, the sūtra emphasizes the approach of sudden awakening and reinterprets samādhi (meditation) and prajñā (wisdom) as both identically, simultaneously, and inseparably representing the experience of enlightenment. Through metaphors of transmission of Dharma genealogy, ordination genealogy, platform, and even the Platform Sūtra itself, Huineng is presented as a “living Buddha” or successful enlightenment experience by an ordinary person.


Platform Sutra Dunhuang version Huineng Chan Buddhism Enlightenment 


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Hong Kong Polytechnic UniversityHung HomHong Kong

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