Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood

The Rise and Fall of a Chinese Heresy

Jamie Hubbard

Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001. xvii+333 pages.

In spite of the common view of Buddhism as non-dogmatic and tolerant, the historical record preserves many examples of Buddhist thinkers and movements that were banned as heretical or subversive. The San-chieh (Three Levels) was a popular and influential Chinese Buddhist movement during the Sui and T’ang periods. Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood uses manuscripts discovered at Tun-huang to examine the doctrine and institutional practices of this movement in the larger context of Mahayana doctrine and practice. By viewing San-chieh in the context of Mahayana Buddhism, Hubbard reveals it to be far from heretical and thereby raises important questions about orthodoxy and canon in Buddhism. He shows that many of the hallmark ideas and practices of Chinese Buddhism find an early and unique expression in the San-chieh texts.

Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood fills a void in Western Scholarship on China. The importance of the Three Levels movement is not limited to Buddhism during the Sui and T’ang dynasties, but extends to economics and social history.… This is honest and serious research on a subject that the author has reflected on for decades.

Antonino Forte, Italian School of East Asian Studies

Jamie Hubbard provides a résumé and geneology of Hsin-hsing’s religious program based on newly discovered Tun-huang materials—the first study of its kind in a Western language.… In addition to shedding light on one of the most important, yet neglected, Buddhist movements of early medieval China, Hubbard provides stimulating insights into the complex social and rhetorical processes through which the ‘orthodox’ East Asian Buddhist traditions themselves emerged.

Daniel Stevenson, University of Kansas