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The Sanron-shū ( Japanese三 論 宗; dt. About "School of the three Shastra ") is a Japanese form of the Madhyamaka school of philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism that emerged in the 7th century from the Chinese Sanlun . The name refers to the canon of the school, which consists of the three discussions ( Chinese 三 論 , Pinyin Sānlùn , W.-G. San-lun ).  


According to its own tradition, the Sanron-shū was made in 625 by the Korean monk Hye-kuan (around 600; Japanese Ekan ), a student of Ji Cang (549–623; Chinese  吉 蔵 ; Japanese Kichizō ; in turn, a student of the founder of Sanlun branch Fa-lang , Seng-ch'üan) founded in Japan and spread on Gangō-ji , which is why he is considered their first patriarch. In fact, the Sanron teachings had already been spread before by Hye-cha (around 600; Japanese Eji ; teacher of Prince Shōtoku Taishi ) and Hye-chong (around 600; Japanese Esō ) in Japan.

In the year of his arrival in Japan, Hye-kuan was awarded the title of Sōjō , created a year earlier , which designated the highest Buddhist office in Japan at that time. Linked to this was the task of ensuring correct teaching and discipline in the monastic system.

Hye-kuan's students, the monk scholars (僧 学者, sōgakusha ) Fukuryō and Chizō , continued the Sanron-shū in the 7th century after him. Chizō taught after a trip to China at Hōryū-ji and was also appointed Sōjō in 673 . He is considered the school's second patriarch.

The third patriarch was the monk scholar Dōji (675-744), a student of Chizō who, after a stay in China from 701 or 702 to 718, made the Daian-ji in Nara the center of the school and briefly strengthened the influence of the Sanron-shū, which was already in decline in the course of the strengthening of the Hossō-shū . Nevertheless, the philosophical teachings of the Sanron-shū should still be among the most dominant in the early Nara period , although at this time they were already divided into different, inconsistent teaching centers at Gangō-ji, Daian-ji, Saidai-ji , Hōryū-ji and am Tōdai-ji was fragmented.

In the middle of the Nara period there was a new doctrine of Sanron in Japan, the Betsu-Sanron , which , aside from the lineage of Jizang, went back to the Indian tradition of the sixth and seventh centuries.

Under the influence of the Shingon-shū came in the Heian period within the Sanron-shū an increased interest in esoteric Buddhism ( Mikkyō ). The Shingon monk and founder of the Tōzan-ha of Shugendō Shōbō (聖 宝; 832-909) set up the Tōnan-in at the Tōdai-ji as the center of Sanron studies at the beginning of the 10th century . The combination of Sanron and Shingon teachings developed there became known under the name Ronmitsu , the best-known representatives of which were Yōkan (1033–1111), Chinkai (1087–1165) and Myōhen (1142–1224). This line eventually died out with the death of the priest Echin in 1169.

Other authors who were committed to the teachings of the Sanron-shū, but were already working towards the synthesis of their teachings with those of the other schools, were Chūdōbō Shōshu († 1291) at the Shingon-in des Tōdai-ji and Chōzen († 1307) at the Keigū-in of the Kōryū-ji in Kyoto. Together with the Shinzen-in des Tōdai-ji, these were the - even if only academic - centers of the Sanron activities until the late Muromachi period . Around this time, however, the Sanron-shū went out as an independent school and, like the Kusha-shū and the Jōjitsu-shū , only became an object of academic study for other schools. Like the teachings of the Hossō-shū, their theoretical core should determine the development of Buddhism in Japan up to the present day .


The three discussions mentioned at the beginning are:

  • Chūron ( Skt. Madhyamaka-śastrā ; German about "Discourse on the Middle Way"), a commentary on Nagarjuna's Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā , originated in the 4th century. The authorship is controversial.
  • Jūnimon-ron (skt. Dvādaśa-nikāya-śāstra ; Eng . About "Discourse on the Twelve Entrances"), a text by Nagarjuna himself.
  • Hyaku-ron (skt. Śata-śastrā ; German about "discourse in a hundred stanzas"), a text by Nagarjuna's disciple Aryadeva (approx. 3rd century; Japanese Daiba ).

All texts are translations of the Chinese translations of the Sanskrit originals, made by Kumārajīva (344–413; Japanese Kumarajū ), an Indian monk and scholar who translated vast amounts of Buddhist scriptures. They contain a multitude of teachings of the Indian Madhyamika , which are mostly developed in refutations of other teachings.

The oldest surviving writings by representatives of the Sanron-shū date from the 8th century, including the Hannya-shin-gyō-justu-gi , a commentary on the Hannya-shin- by Chikō (a student of Chizō) gyō and von Anchō (763-814; pupil of Zengi (729-812), in turn pupil of Dōji) the Chūgan-ron-sho-ki or Chūron-sho-ki (not to be confused with a font of the same name but only known by name by Chikō), a commentary on the Chūron .


The Sanron-shū radicalized the logic of the tetralemma explicated by Nagarjuna and applied this without restriction to all statements discussed in it, which are thus indefinable and therefore meaningfully empty (Japanese ), which ultimately also applies to the teaching of the Sanron-shū itself would apply, as well as this assertion etc. ad infinitum. By subjecting all concepts and linguistic statements about it to the " middle way eightfold negation" (Japanese happu-chūdō ) without exception , self-contradicting monistic or dualistic positions are to be avoided and enlightenment , i.e. H. entry into nirvana can be achieved.

Wrong teaching

According to the Sanron-shū, false teachings are attached to four different categories of attachment :

  • non-Buddhist teachings that believe in the existence of the self and the factors of existence (this includes the materialists and the proponents of the concept of an atman )
  • Teachings that misunderstand the Abhidharma (this includes the Sarvāstivādin with their understanding of the eternal existence of the Dharma in the three worlds, i.e. the temporal modes of past , present and future )
  • Teachings attached to the concept of emptiness of self and dharma (this includes jōjitsu-shū )
  • Doctrines that adhere to the postulate of non-existence (this includes Mahāyānistic doctrines which, in order to reject hīnayānistic teachings, claim their non-existence)


According to the Sanron-shū, all alleged views of these teachings (as well as all views in general) can be assigned to one of the four formulas of the tetralemma:

  1. Existence (A)
  2. Non-existence (~ A)
  3. Both-and (A & ~ A)
  4. Neither-nor (~ (A & ~ A))

After assigning the specific individual standpoints, the writings of the Sanron-shū then continue to refute them in a reductio ad absurdum . Ultimately, the only truth that is valid is that which lies beyond these standpoints, namely the absolute truth ( paramārtha satya ).

In its absoluteness, however, this does not have an independent being, but is only defined in the rejection of the determinations that are detrimental to nirvana (i.e. here: all determinations explicitly explained in accordance with the tetralemma) by means of the insight into their emptiness, which in the consequent analysis is also the rejection of the assertions of these insights (which can only be explicated in the form of the tetralemma) in a process of the middle way ad infinitum .

Interpretation of the factors of existence

In contrast to the Abhidharma schools, the Sanron-shū did not divide the factors of existence into complex systems of categories, but represented a simple scheme of different classes of interpretation of the factors of existence:

  1. Interpretation of a factor of existence through its mere names
  2. Interpretation of a factor of existence through what is caused directly or indirectly by it or through its direct or indirect causes
  3. Interpretation of the totality of all factors of existence through the middle way out of each individual factor of existence
  4. Interpretation of a single factor of existence through the middle way out of the totality of all other factors of existence

Classification of the sutras

In contrast to the usual Buddhist schools, the Sanron-shū did not establish a ranking of the sutras with regard to the ability to explain one's own teaching. Their lists of sutras include discourses from the realms of Hīnayā as well as Mahāyāna, i.e. accordingly those of Śrāvakas (i.e. all teachers who consider themselves to be disciples of the Buddha) and Bodhisattvas . Ultimately, however, for the Sanron-shū all sutras were only means that were only relevant in their adaptation to the conventional understanding of the learner, but were therefore generally equivalent as adapted teachings ( upaya ).


  • Daigan Lee Matsunaga and Alicia Orloff Matsunaga: Foundation of Japanese Buddhism; Vol. I; The aristocratic age . Buddhist Books International, Los Angeles and Tokyo 1974. ISBN 0-914910-25-6 .
  • Daigan Lee Matsunaga and Alicia Orloff Matsunaga: Foundation of Japanese Buddhism; Vol. II; The mass movement (Kamakura & Muromachi periods) . Buddhist Books International, Los Angeles and Tokyo 1976. ISBN 0-914910-27-2 .
  • Bunyiu Nanjio: A Short History of the Twelve Japanese Buddhist Sects, Bukkyo-sho-ei-yaku -shuppan-sha, Tokyo 1886. Internet Archive
  • Gregor Paul: Philosophy in Japan: from the beginning to the Heian period; a critical investigation . Iudicium, Munich 1993. ISBN 3-89129-426-3 .

Individual evidence