The History and Inheritance of Yinmingxue (The Lost Teaching of Hetuvidyā)

China Social Science Review

No.3, 2020


The History and Inheritance of Yinmingxue (The Lost Teaching of Hetuvidyā)



Editor’s note: Yinming or yinmingxue, a paraphrase of the Sanskrit Hetuvidyā, refers to ancient Indian logic. Together with shengming (language philology), gongqiaoming (arts and crafts and calendrical science), yifangming (medicine) and neiming (each school’s own doctrine; for Buddhists, this refers to Buddhist doctrine), these branches of learning are called the wuming (panca-vidya, or the five sciences of ancient India). The yin of yinming refers to the ground of reasoning and to reasons and causes, while ming refers to clarity, knowledge and learning. The Chinese form of hetuvidyā was introduced from India by the Tang monk, Xuanzang. One of the two great schools of hetuvidyā brought from India was Chinese, the other the Tibetan. Today, we term it a “lost teaching” for two reasons. First, it is the quintessence of a unique classic of learning that reflects national characteristics. In the Northern Song, Zhang Zai once propounded, “ordaining conscience for Heaven and Earth, securing life and fortune for the people, continuing the lost teachings for past sages, and establishing peace for all future generations.” As a Buddhist classic alongside those of Confucianism and Taoism, hetuvidyā is undoubtedly part of the “lost teachings of the sages.” Second, it refers to teachings that are in danger of disappearing. This is because for nearly a thousand years, the transmission of this form of logic, once grasped by Buddhist disciples, is in danger of dying out with the decline of Buddhism.

With the deepening of reform and opening up,China has given ever more attention to teachings in danger of being lost and to neglected subjects. In 2016, General Secretary Xi Jinping clearly pointed out at the Symposium on Philosophy and Social Science Work that we should attach importance to the development of lost teachings and neglected subjects that had important cultural value and heritage significance. Xie Fuzhan, President of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), has repeatedly emphasized strengthening support in basic disciplines and less studied subjects for people with talent, so that neglected subjects can be passed on from generation to generation. With regard to the development of hetuvidyā in recent decades, in 1982, a “Symposium on Retrieving Hetuvidyā” was held in Beijing; at the end of 2008, CASS listed the first batch of special disciplines, including a project on building up lost teachings, and clearly stipulated its policy support for it; and in 2019, the National Planning Office for Philosophy and the Social Sciences included hetuvidyā in its “List of special projects approved by the National Tax Payment Fund for research on neglected ‘lost teachings’ and national history in 2019.” These tokens demonstrate academic attention to this area, which allows teachings in danger of disappearing to be passed on. 

With this in mind, the Editorial Board invited three experts in the field, Professors Shen Jianying, Sun Zhongyuan and Fu Guangquan, to discuss the historical development of hetuvidyā in China, together with its principles and the connotation of its logic, as well as its contemporary value.

Fu Guangquan argues that historically, Buddhism was the main factor that led to hetuvidyā becoming a lost teaching. The existence or nonexistence of a necessary relationship between the two is a matter of debate. Hetuvidyā was nearly lost three times; the first time was closely related to the collapse of Buddhism in India, the second was related to the Dharmacharacter school of Buddhism (faxiangzong), and the third was related to Langdarma’s antiBuddhist movement. The reason hetuvidyā is classified as a lost teaching in China is because its transmission has been interrupted and because it is a lofty and unique branch of learning that needs special protection and retrieval. The aim is not to make it a prominent discipline, but to ensure its transmission and make it shine out as it should.

From the perspective of “the whole of world logic”, Sun Zhongyuan argues that the Indian hetuvidyā, the Mohist debating theory of China and Western logic are the world’s three major sources of logic. `In terms of the transformation of research paradigms, the key to innovation in hetuvidyā research is the use of modern scientific methods to highlight the nature of the discipline of logic in hetuvidyā. Analyzed in terms of a comparative view of traditions of logic, there is an urgent need to improve research that salvages hetuvidyā, to encourage the exchange of the world’s different logical traditions in China, and to build together a strikingly beautiful mansion of the human science of thought that brings unity to plurality. This has extraordinary theoretical significance and practical effectiveness.

Shen Jianying points out that the three dimensions of yin represent the core theory of hetuvidyā. On the basis of discussion of the essentials of hetuvidyā theory, we should seize the historic opportunity of state support for lost teachings. In the course of retrieving hetuvidyā, we should pay more attention to interpretation, collation and research on Chinese hetuvidyā texts of the Tang dynasty, as well as translation of and research on ancient Tibetan hetuvidyā documents, the organization of Sanskrit hetuvidyā manuscripts in the pattra-leaf scriptures in Tibetan monasteries and the collation of Chinese and Tibetan translated texts, while undertaking comparative research that draws on the essence and methodology of modern Western philosophy.