This paper reconsiders the applicability of Shun'ei Hirai's critical assessmeat of the ‘four interpretations’ of the Fahua wenju (Sections and Sentences of the Lotus Sutra): (1) interpretation according to cause and condition (因縁釈), (2) interpretation on the basis of doctrinal teaching (約教釈), (3) interpretation from the perspective of original ground and manifest trace (本迹釈), and (4) interpretation from the perspective of contemplating the mind (観心釈). On the basis of the substantial resemblance of Jizang's ‘four interpretations’ to the ‘four interpretations’ of the Fahua wenju, including their common adoption of ‘four’ categories, Hirai inferred that the system of the Fahua wenju was formed through reference to Jizang's ‘four interpretations,’ namely, (1) interpretation according to key constituent terms 随名釈 (or on the basis of key terms 依名釈), (2) interpretation on the basis of cause and condition 因縁釈 (or through mutual reference 互相釈; alternatively, through mutual conditioning 相資釈), (3) interpretation with intention to reveal ultimate reality 顕道釈 (or interpretation according to principle and teaching 理教釈), and (4) unlimited interpretation (無法釈). Hirai further noted that the ‘four interpretations’ of the Fahua wenju lacked both universality and suitability as a method for scriptural exegesis in comparison to Jizang's system.
However, the author has ascertained that ‘interpretation on the basis of doctrinal teaching’ and ‘interpretation from the perspective of contemplating the mind’ were already established in the Weimo wenshu (Interlinear Commentary on the Vimalakirti Sutra), and that forms of interpretation can be found there which also possibly anticipate the development of ‘interpretation according to cause and condition’ and ‘interpretation from the perspective of original ground and manifest trace.’ Therefore, even though it is conceivable that the four interpretations of the Fahua wenju were influenced by Jizang's four forms of interpretation, the author thinks that they were not a “totally pointless act of plagiarism” as Hirai has concluded. Moreover, the similarity of the two systems of interpretation suggested by Hirai (that is to say, the four interpretations of the Fahua wenju and the four interpretations of Jizang) are shown to be largely groundless.
If we were to ask whether the four interpretations are applied systematically through the entire text of the Fahua wenju, then one cannot say that this is the case, for it must be admitted that there are instances where the application is unsuccessful. When it comes to this kind of scriptural exegesis, the author thinks that perhaps we should be satisfied with simply presenting the basic idea and providing a few exemplary applications on behalf of the reader. In point of fact, interlinear sutra commentaries consist almost entirely of analytic parsing of sutra text and explanation of the meaning of individual words.
Finally, the author points out that three of Jizang's four interpretations are not only presented as a discrete set in Huijun's Dacheng silun xuanyi ji but that the beginnings of the ‘unlimited interpretation’ can also be seen there. Moreover, the form of interpretation in Jizang's system that properly corresponds to ‘interpretation from the perspective of contemplating the mind’ is not the ‘unlimited interpretation’ but, in fact, the ‘contemplation of non-arising (無生観)’ that appears in the Fahua tonglüe.