As I sit and watch yet another beautiful sunset over west Philadelphia, I let my brain recover from finally finishing Brook Ziporyn’s Emptiness and Omnipresence. As expected, he went off the deep end. I knew he would, but I also thought he’d quit his unending, repetitious logorrhea, which I complained about in his book on Guo Xiang. I had been fooled by his use of plain English. Even plain English can get tedious.
I read the book out of respect for a friend who studies Tiantai Buddhism. Out of the same respect, I walked down to the Free Library of Philadelphia on the Parkway this afternoon so I could download some articles on Tendai (Japanese form of Tiantai) by Princeton professor Jacqueline Stone. (I really do regret now passing up the chance to audit one of her courses in the Fall of 2018. It was for a better cause, but the opportunity won’t occur again. Not only because I’ve moved out of Princeton, but because she’s now emerita.)
I’m still studying her articles, but even as far as I’ve gotten, she’s helped cool the sizzle in my overworked brain. First, even though she’s writing in a scholarly journal and using Buddhist terminology, she has a much more straightforward way of explaining Tendai concepts and how they arose. Second, because she’s exploring both the history of Tendai and the history of scholarship on Tendai, she helps the reader understand how this school fits in with other forms of Buddhist thought and practice.
Ziporyn tries to expound one comprehensive Tiantai philosophy. What I can see now from reading Stone is that Tiantai/Tendai evolved with many teachers exploring different, even opposing, ideas. It’s far beyond me to say how well Ziporyn represents the many facets of Tiantai, but I feel less inclined to reject Tiantai out of hand now that I know he’s not the final word on Tiantai.
This is an inside Daly family comment, but I can’t resist it. I feel like my mother did when some priest-professor friend of my father’s told her about the Franciscan Duns Scotus as an alternative to the Dominican Thomas Aquinas. Up till then, she’d only heard my father’s view that Aquinas was the only game in town. In fact, Stone has me thinking about how Tiantai intersects with my exploration of open-close-open as a way to see and understand our world.