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It it well known that Tientai teaches the identity of the mundane and real truths.

  • In its complete teaching, what is being equated?

Is it equating the real truth of the separate teaching with the complete teaching's mundane truth?

The so called "separate teaching" is what Yogacara and Hua-yen Buddhists claim, and Zhiyi says (translated by Swanson) says that therein:

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I'm going to answer based on a hunch. Swanson notes, in his translation of the Mo-Ho-Chih-Kuan, that

These three [truths as] expressions [of the perfect teaching] seem to be the same as the formulation in the Distinct Teaching, but as Chan-jan points out (BT–I, p. 284), the Distinct Teaching takes each of these formulations to be a separate level of understanding.

My hunch is that:

  1. for the separate teaching, the mundane truth does not contain anything of the absolute, and is only its negation.

As the perfect teaching merely integrates the three truths of the separate teaching (see above quote) it only teaches:

  • neither existence nor emptiness, and not neither existence nor emptiness.

And, because the perfect teaching includes both truths of the separate teaching, the perfect teaching must include:

  • existence and nonexistence

All three truths in perfect teaching, beyond words.

The three types [of truth such as "emptiness"] are all empty because they are beyond verbalization

My second hunch is that:

  1. we can only express what is beyond verbalisation to say it is merely provisionally true.

Then the perfect teaching must only state that

  • any proposition that mentions existence, or non-existence, or emptiness, or non-emptiness, is merely provisionally true.

Whatever, that is, "existence" is translated as.

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The Threefold Truth The Tiantai school took up the principle of The Threefold Truth, derived from Nāgārjuna:

Phenomena are empty of self-nature, Phenomena exist provisionally from a worldly perspective, Phenomena are both empty of existence and exist provisionally at once.[5] The transient world of phenomena is thus seen as one with the unchanging, undifferentiated substratum of existence. This doctrine of interpenetration is reflected in the Tiantai teaching of three thousand realms in a single moment of thought.[5]

The Threefold Truth has its basis in Nāgārjuna:

All things arise through causes and conditions. That I declare as emptiness. It is also a provisional designation. It is also the meaning of the Middle Path

I am far from qualified to answer this question. But conceptually I believe it's not too difficult to understand the Three Truths, essentially it boils down to the following:

First, understanding that things are empty. Based on dependent origination, we realize that all phenomena that arises are subject to cessation. This is because that is, this is not because that is not. Hence, based on Nagarjuna designation, it is seen as empty.

However, seeing everything as empty doesn't tell us what really goes on. So we at least need to know how to make use of this emptiness. We need to be able to turn our ignorance and delusion into wisdom. We need to perceive the effects of the Four Noble Truths, see the Dharma from Suffering to End of Suffering. We need to become enlightened. We also need to avoid the dangerous pitfall of thinking there is nothing at all and become annihilistic.

Finally when we have attained some wisdom, we also need to realized that whatever attainments we have made, is too impermanent and subject to change. This realization is the middle way. That things are neither merely empty nor truly existent. This is the Middle Way between annihilism and eternalism.

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