A Further Discussion on the Fourteen Questions of Identification in The Agama Sutras --Also on the Principle of Equal Effectiveness for Documental Evidence

Lin Weizen
Associate Researcher, Buddhist Institute of True Enlightenment
MBA, National Chiao Tung University


This article discusses the meaning of identification, the categories of identification, the reason why the Buddha had the capability of various identifications, and the reason why other religions have no capability of identification. Based on these discussions, this article further investigates the fourteen questions of identification. It is found that the reason why the Buddha had the capability of identification is that the Buddha personally realized the permanent existing Tathagatagarbha. Due to the fact of the real existence of Tathagatagarbha, the Buddha had the capability of identification, the liberation of Hinayana does not fall into nihilism, and the cycling of births and deaths of sentient beings can thus be in effect and conforms to the retribution of cause-and-effect.

The conditioned dharma is the fundamental Buddhist doctrine. The Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies claims that “the nature of dependent-arising (idappaccayata)”is the truth and exists permanently, is the power for the conditioned dharma to work, pertains to the conditioned dharma, and does not need the existence of another neither-arising-nor-ceasing dharma. But this article finds out from the Buddhist sutras that even though “the nature of dependent-arising” and “the nature of return-to- extinction” exist permanently, they must depend on the aggregates, fields, and divisions, which have the nature of arising-and-ceasing, to exist and manifest themselves. Without the dharmas of arising-and-ceasing aggregates, fields, and divisions, both “the nature of dependent-arising” and “the nature of return-to-extinction” will not be able to exist or be realized. The aggregates, fields, and divisions, with the natures of dependent-arising and return-to-extinction, are only some of the intrinsic-natures of Tathagatagarbha, and do not belong to the conditioned dharma itself. Therefore, the real existence of neither-arising-nor-ceasing Tathagatagarbha is indeed the foundation for the conditioned dharma to exist and also the root of the theory of “the empty nature of dependent- arising.”

The fourteen questions are tough to solve and had been in existence before the Buddhism was founded. Is it unidentifiable because the Buddha could not answer the question about “the real existence of Tathagatagarbha” that the fourteen questions point to? Or is it identifiable because the Buddha could answer it? Besides, it is concluded in this article that the sixty-two non-Buddhist views include all non-Buddhist views and that the fourteen questions are the outline of the sixty-two views. The key point of whether the fourteen questions are identifiable or unidentifiable depends on if the questioner has the scientific spirit of positivism and the correct understanding of the “real existence of Tathagatagarbha.”

It is also found that, in the Buddhist research academia, the prerequisite for precisely understanding Buddhist sutras and obtaining correct results is to comply with the principle of equal effectiveness for documental evidence when citing references. Without following this principle, most of the research results may not be valid.

Keywords: the fourteen questions, identification, ontology, the principle of equal effectiveness for documental evidence, congruent proposition


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