The Treatise Of The Golden Lion

There is a story of a Chinese Buddhist monk called Fa-Tsang who was summoned to the Empress’s palace in 699 and asked to explain what it is that Buddhism teaches. In answering he used the figure of a golden lion that stood in the imperial hall in order to illustrate his metaphysical ideas. This therefore became known as the Treatise of the Golden Lion, the first sections of which go as follow:

  1. Clarification of Dependent Origination – Gold has no self-nature. Through the agency of a skilled craftsman there is at length the coming-into-being of this phenomenon of the lion. But since this coming-into-being is dependent, therefore it is called ‘dependent origination’.

  2. Distinction of Matter and Emptiness – The character [phenomenon] of the lion is empty [of substantial reality]; there is nothing but gold. The lion is not existent, but the substance of gold is not nonexistent. Therefore they are called separately Emptiness. Also, Emptiness, having no self-character and manifesting itself through matter, does not prevent illusory existence. Therefore they are separately called matter and Emptiness.

  3. Relation to Three Natures – the Yogachara School, whose philosophy influenced the Hua-yen, posited a triad of natures. The first of these is the world of phenomena, that which is “ubiquitously constructed and clung to”. The second nature is “dependent on something else,” that is, the product of causes and conditions. The third nature is “perfect.” It refers to the identity of everything with the Absolute. – The lion comes into existence because of our senses. This is called “ubiquitously constructed.” The golden lion has apparent existence. This is called “dependent on something else.” The nature of gold [of which the lion is made] is unaltered. This is called “roundly perfected.”

  4. Manifestation of Characterlessness – Since the gold comprises the whole lion, and since there is no lion-character to be found apart from the gold, therefore it is called “characterlessness.”

  5. Explanation of Not-coming-into-being – If one rightly looks at the lion at the time of its coming into being, it is only gold that comes into being. Apart from the gold there is nothing. Although the lion has [the characteristics of] coming into being and extinction, the gold-substance at bottom neither increases nor decreases. Therefore we say that there is no coming-into-being.


From: Chin-shih-tzu chang, in Taisho daizokyo, XLV, 663-67