This article explores how the Lengyan jing, or Śūrangama Sūtra – an apocryphal Buddhist scripture written in China around 705 ce – remapped Chinese Buddhist understandings of moral responsibility in consequential ways. Although grounded in the orthodox doctrinal premise that all sentient beings innately possess buddha-nature, the Lengyan jing is punctuated by warnings about the danger that even the most earnest seekers of enlightenment might be possessed by demons, embark on evil behavior, and end up fully demonic. Such warnings depart from longstanding norms in Buddhist ethics, according to which responsibility for fault is measured in terms of a person’s intentions. Instead, I argue that the Lengyan jing articulates a moral logic of what Sandra Macpherson calls “tragic responsibility.” This logic informed important but overlooked aspects of the soteriological vision found in key texts from the Chan (Japanese Zen) tradition, which rose to prominence in the centuries following the Lengyan jing’s composition.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Religious studies