Permanent Training in Buddhist Studies (PTBS)

The Permanent Training in Buddhist Studies (PTBS) is an initiative of the Ghent Centre for Buddhist Studies (GCBS) in collaboration with the Department for Languages and Cultures at Ghent University. The PTBS consists of short term training courses and lectures on diverse aspects of Buddhology. It aims to offer an international forum for scholars and students interested and/or engaged in the field of Buddhist Studies.

The 2021 Spring Lecture Series is generously sponsored by by the Tianzhu Foundation. All lectures will be held remotely over Zoom. Interested parties are welcome to attend the series or individual talks. The lectures start at 7:00 pm (CET), except the lecture by Pei-ying Lin which starts at 12:00 pm.

2021 PTBS Lecture Series

  • March 9: Anna Andreeva (Uni Heidelberg & Ghent University)

“Buddhism and Women's Health in Medieval Japan”

  • March 16: Matthew Orsborn (Oxford University)

“Monastic Training and Education in Contemporary Taiwanese Buddhism."

Since the middle of the 20th century, Buddhism in the Republic of China has been led by the reformist ‘Humanistic Buddhism’ (Renjian fojiao 人間佛教) movement. One key area of Taixü’s 太虛 program of modernization was that of monastic education and training, centered on Buddhist colleges (Fo xüe yüan 佛學院). However, this proposed ideal system was unable to be actualized during his lifetime in mainland China. His successors in Taiwan, such as Yin Shun 印順, Hsing Yun 星雲 and Sheng Yen 聖嚴, encountered the challenge of a new social, cultural and political climate. Numerous Buddhist colleges were established by various monastic leaders and monasteries, promoting a flourishing of modern Buddhist education. Such institutions were able to maintain a full range of traditional Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhist models of education, drawing from numerous lineages (zōng )Political forces, however, restricted the Ministry of Education from accrediting these colleges and recognizing the degrees and qualifications offered by such institutions. Meanwhile, ‘Buddhist studies’ (Fo xüe 佛學as an academic discipline began to emerge in recognized Taiwanese universities, influenced first by Japanese and later Western models of scholarship. Many Humanistic Buddhism monastic orders then set up departments and institutes within their own privately-run universities. But they still face a critical dilemma in educating and training their future generations of monastics: Continuation of training monastics in non-recognized Buddhist colleges under their own control, or adoption of degree-granting university Buddhist studies education which must conform to Ministry of Education secular requirements. This paper seeks to examine the responses of the leading educators of Humanistic Buddhism to this quandary at the start of the 21st century.

Key terms:   Humanistic Buddhism, Taiwanese Buddhism, Buddhist college, Buddhist studies, Buddhist education

Matthew Orsborn is a Buddhist studies scholar originally from New Zealand. After starting seminary training with the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order in 2000, he was an ordained monastic for 17 years. During this time he studied for a master’s degree and PhD at the University of Hong Kong, graduating in 2012. His dissertation on inverted parallel structures in the Perfection of Wisdom literature was later published as The Structure and Interpretation of Early Prajñāpāramitā: An Analysis via Chiasmic Theory, and he has several other journal articles on such structures in other Buddhist texts. Working with Pāli, Sanskrit and Chinese literature, Matthew’s other main work is Old School Emptiness: Hermeneutics, Criticism and Tradition in the Narrative of Śūnyatā, which challenges the standard narrative of emptiness in Indian Buddhism. Along with such writings on Indian Buddhist texts and doctrines, Matthew’s many years of experience in contemporary Chinese/Taiwanese Buddhist traditions has inspired him to recently turn his research attention in this direction. This includes a planned forthcoming series of articles on Chinese Buddhist monastic ordination, education, and the lived experience of monastic life. He has taught Buddhist studies in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Australia and Thailand, and is presently at the Institute for Oriental Studies at Oxford University in the UK.

  • March 23: Lewis Doney (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)

“Incantations and Empire: A study of some Tibetan dhāraṇī texts from Dunhuang"

From the late eighth century to the middle of the ninth century, the Tibetan empire (circa 600–850) held and administered Dunhuang in what is now Northwest China. From the 820s to the 840s, several copies of texts within the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajñāpāramitā) genre and thousands of copies of an incantation (dhāraṇī ) text called the Aparimitāyur-nāma mahāyāna-sūtra were commissioned as a gift for the Tibetan emperor. Copies of the latter were made in scriptoria in eastern Tibet and Dunhuang and eventually stored in Mogao Cave 17, becoming one of the most represented works within that treasure-trove of manuscripts. As embodiments of a number of buddhas and their teachings, copying and thus spreading the incantation and surrounding sūtra generated merit for the emperor and his realm, his saṃgha and his subjects. The copying project as a whole was supported by taxation and by levies of paper, and so participated in both an employment and ritual economy in which the principles of royal giving and karmic merit dynamically interacted with legal codes, corporal punishment and a posssible "black market" in scripture copies. This talk will contextualise this imperial sūtra copying project and the effect of the Tibetan empire on the Dunhuang Buddhist community that it reveals. Also, by briefly touching on Uṣniṣavjijaya-dhāraṇī texts and some other manuscripts from the same Mogao corpus, it will question to what extent the Aparimitāyur-nāma mahāyāna-sūtra contained the most popular incantation practised around Dunhuang at this time.

Lewis Doney specialises in Tibetan and religious studies and is currently on the BuddhistRoad project at Ruhr-University Bochum. He received his PhD from SOAS, University of London (2011) and has since researched early Tibetan kingship and religion, their connections with South Asia and their impact on Sino-Tibetan communities around Dunhuang and later southern Tibetan Buddhist historiography and ritual. His publications include a monograph, The Zangs gling ma: The First Padmasambhava Biography (International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 2014) and an edited volume, Bringing Buddhism to Tibet: History and Narrative in the Dba’ bzhed Manuscript (De Gruyter, 2021).

  • March 30: Matthew Milligan (Trinity University)

“Economic Class in Early South Asian Buddhism: Perspectives from Epigraphy and the Divyāvadāna"

To date, most studies of classical South Asian Buddhist demographics have focused on varṇa and conversion, mercantile professions, and, more recently, finally, on gender. Unfortunately, even when scholars have turned their gaze onto demographics they have primarily relied upon anachronistic and generalized readings of literature and/or century old tabulations of inscriptions. As far as I can tell, there have been no attempts to critically examine economic class through close readings of texts and historical documents together. In this paper, I will evaluate the definition of “economic class,” decouple it from classical Sanskrit concepts of idealized varṇa, and introduce some new data from texts and inscriptions to examine the lived realities of “class" from approximately 300 BCE until at least the 5th c. CE when the Divyāvadāna was composed.

Matthew D. Milligan is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX. He is also a Harwood Research Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research. He works on the intersections of Buddhism, Economics, and Philology and has published numerous articles on the economic history of Buddhism in South Asia. In addition to forthcoming articles in the Journal of Contemporary Religion and South Asian Studies, he is completing a book manuscript titled Of Rags and Riches: The Disruptive Business of Early Buddhism. His latest project involves decolonizing the field of engaged Buddhist Economics in the United States.

  • April 20: Lina Verchery (University of Otago) cancelled

“The Personal and the Planetary: Cosmological Thought and the Moral Imagination in Everyday Chinese Buddhist Monastic Life” 

Drawing on years of ethnographic research with the Chinese Buddhist monastic organization Fajie Fojiao Zonghui 法界佛教總會, known in English as the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, this talk explores how Buddhist cosmological thought trains the moral imagination in everyday Buddhist monastic life. Situating contemporary Chinese Buddhism as a decidedly global phenomenon, this talk challenges the simplistic categories of “modernism” versus “traditionalism” to instead highlight how very ancient Buddhist ideas about cosmology present resources for reflecting on contemporary questions of immediate concern, including the intensifying climate crisis and our uncertain planetary future.

Lina Verchery is Lecturer in Religion at the University of Otago in New Zealand, where she teaches courses on Buddhism and Asian Religions. Her doctoral dissertation in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University, Impersonal Intimacy: Relational Ethics and Self-Cultivation in a Transnational Chinese Buddhist Monastic Network, is an ethnographic study of sociality, interspecies ethics, and moral cultivation in the Fajie Fojiao Zonghui, a transnational Chinese Buddhist monastic organization. Lina is also an award-winning filmmaker and has produced several documentary and multimedia works as part of her ethnographic research. Prior to joining the University of Otago, she was Visiting Assistant Professor of Asian Religions at Union College.

  • April 30: Pei-ying Lin (Fu Jen Catholic University) 

“On the Materiality and Cultural Identity of the Tang Dynasty: East Asian Buddhist Networks behind a Royal Portrait” (this lecture is kindly sponsored by the National Taiwan Library)

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  • May 4: Serena Saccone (Istituto Universitario Orientale, Napoli & IKGA, ÖAW) 

“One Flew Over the Nest: an Externalist Among Pramāṇavādins”

  • May 11: Ingo Strauch (University of Lausanne)

“Newly discovered Śāradā documents from a private collection in the UK”

2019 PTBS Lecture Series

06.03   Albert Welter (University of Arizona, US)

A New Look at Old Traditions: Reimagining East Asian Buddhism through Hangzhou


The history of Buddhism incorporates East Asia in meaningful ways, but still tends toward Indo-centrism in its overall conception. This makes sense when one considers India as the birthplace and homeland of Buddhism and the development of key teachings and traditions. Yet, the history of Buddhism covers 2500 years, and for the last 1000 years or more, India has ceased to be a significant source of Buddhist inspiration, and figures primarily in passive memory rather than as active agent. This is especially true in the case of China, which actively reimagined Buddhism in unique and indigenous ways to form an intrinsically authentic form of East Asian Buddhism.

Hangzhou, a former capital of China during the Song dynasty (960-1278), was the focal point for these developments. From the Hangzhou region, new forms of Buddhism spread throughout East Asia, especially to Japan and Korea. As a result, when we speak about East Asian Buddhism today, we are largely speaking about forms of Buddhism that were initiated in Hangzhou, and adopted and adapted in other regions and time periods. The most prominent among these is Chan Buddhism, known in Japan as Zen and Korea as Sŏn, the practice of which from the 10th century on is indebted to Buddhist developments in Hangzhou.

The presentation reviews how the history of Buddhist Studies has neglected and marginalized East Asian Buddhism and the role of the greater Hangzhou region. It suggests how the Hangzhou region became a Buddhist center, a new Buddhist homeland, and a hub for interactions with Korea and Japan that were instrumental in the development of unique forms of East Asian Buddhism.

13.03   Shaku Jinsen (KULeuven – Chingokuji, Japan)            

Pilgrimage into Freedom: a Buddhist Phenomenology of Mind


Shaku Jinsen, KU Leuven and Chingokuji, JapanAfter graduating from the Japanese Studies department at the KU Leuven University, Belgium, Shaku Jinsen received his Master’s degree in Buddhist Philosophy at the University of Koyasan, Japan. He became a Buddhist monk of the Shingon-school of Japanese Buddhism. He currently resides both in Belgium and Japan, leading the Buddhist centre Yo e an in Belgium and assisting the activities of the Shingon-temple Chingokuji in Kagoshima, Japan.


An introduction to the philosophy of Kūkai (774-835) and the Shingon-school of Japanese Buddhism.
In 9thcentury Japan the Buddhist monk and philosopher Kūkai devised a grand scheme incorporating all forms of knowledge known to him. Buddhist and non-Buddhist, religious and non-religious; every lifestance that had been transmitted to Japan at that point, was put together in an ascending order of spiritual depth and philosophical scope. On the basis of two of the major works of Kūkai; the’ Precious Key to the Secret Treasury’ and the ‘Ten Layers of Mind’, we will introduce the key points of this grand summary of human experience and Buddhist philosophy. We will also touch on the significance of Kūkai’s philosophy as a model for cultural/spiritual integration in Japanese culture in general, and try to ponder the possibilities and limits of this model for our (post-) modern times.​

20.03   Beatrix Mecsi (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary) 

How Did a Religious Founder Become a Doll? Bodhidharma Representations in East Asia


Beatrix Mecsi is an art historian with a specialization of East Asian Art. She has studied European Art History, Japanese and Korean Studies in Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in Budapest. After finishing her MA degrees (Art History 1998 and Japanese Studies 1999), she went to England and obtained her PhD degree in University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in the Department of Art and Archaeology. Her research interest includes religious iconography in East Asia, text-image relationships, art theory and contemporary art. She won the Pro Scientia golden medal bestowed by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for outstanding research in 1999, and other prizes with her essays in art history. She taught at University of London (SOAS) and also taught MA classes at the Sotheby’s Institute in London, and taught the course “Comparative East Asian Art” at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea between 2006 and 2008. She has completed her habilitation in 2009 in the field of East Asian art history. Currently she is the head of the Korean Studies Department, teaches at the Institute of East Asian Studies, at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest.


According to tradition the founder of Chan or meditational Buddhism, Bodhidharma, originated from India, yet his legend and first representations are more typically associated with China and his legendary figure is frequently seen in the visual art and popular culture of the East Asian countries. In my lecture I focus on the visual representations of Bodhidharma as they became popular in Korea and Japan, attempting to show the basic differences in the popularization of the visual images of Bodhidharma in these countries, focusing mainly on the visual appearance and iconography. The power of the image is seen in the commercialization of representations of Bodhidharma, particularly in Japan, where his image became to be formed in a shape of the popular Daruma doll.

27.03   Hans Martin Krämer (Heidelberg University, Germany)                    

Click here to listen to audio of the whole lecture 

“Even Three-Year-Old Children Know that the Source of Enlightenment is not Religion but Science”: Modern Japanese Buddhism between ‘Religion’ and ‘Science,’ 1860s–1910s


Hans Martin Krämer is professor Japanese Studies at Heidelberg University. His main expertise is in the modern history of Japan, with a specific focus on education, religion, and human–nature relations. His most recent publications include the article “Pan-Asianism’s Religious Undercurrents: The Reception of Islam and Translation of the Qur’ān in Twentieth-Century Japan” in the Journal of Asian Studies (2014), the monograph Shimaji Mokurai and the Reconception of Religion and the Secular in Modern Japan (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015), and the co-edited volume Religious Dynamics under the Impact of Imperialism and Colonialism: A Sourcebook (Brill, 2016).


The acceptance of the truth claims of modern science as being fundamentally of a different order than those of ‘religion’ was a central feature of a globally shared concept of religion emerging in the nineteenth century. Conversely, refusing to make the distinction and continuing to claim religious authority over matters of science became the hallmark of ‘esoteric’ movements or ideas. In Japan, religions were quick to identify the challenges posed by the materialistic natural sciences; in response, Japanese Buddhists emphasized the compatibility of Buddhist doctrine with the causal rationality seen in the natural sciences. Concretely, this could mean either viewing certain Buddhist teachings as identical with science, or judging that Buddhism and science belonged to different realms but were in no conflict with each other. In this paper, I will examine the Japanese Buddhist debate before ca. 1900, identifying the strategies Japanese Buddhists employed to position themselves vis-à-vis science. I will argue that the processes examined here contributed crucially to creating the division between proper religions and esoteric movements present in Japan until today

03.04   Marjan Beijering (Geschiedenislab, The Netherlands)          

Fame Gets to your Head: Janwillem Van de Wetering in Amsterdam, 1966-1975


Marjan Beijering studied social history in Rotterdam and is an independent historian ( She is working on the biography of Janwillem van de Wetering.


Among Buddhists Janwillem van de Wetering is probably still famous for his book The Empty Mirror, his account of his year and a half stay in a Zen monastery in Japan. The book was published in 1973 in the United States and became an immediate success. Although the book was published in 1971 in the Netherlands, he only became well known here after his success overseas. With the detective novels featuring the duo Grijpstra en de Gier Van de Wetering became a celebrated and bestselling author whose novels were read not only in The Netherlands, but also widely abroad. On a recent list of best-selling Dutch writers abroad, he is still number 7 in the top ten. In this lecture I would like to share with you the dualism in his life.
Janwillem van de Wetering moved to Maine in 1975. There he died on July 4, 2008, at the age of 77. The message of his death appeared in Dutch newspapers as well as in The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel. He was known as bestselling author, adventurer and philosopher – more than as a Buddhist.

24.04   Huayan Wang (Inalco, Paris, France)

Frontier, Ethnicity and Religion: the Azhali Buddhist Tradition of the Bai People in South-Western China


Huayan (Cécile) WANG is Postdoctoral research fellow in history of Buddhism at the Centre d’Etudes Interdisciplinaires sur le Bouddhisme (CEIB) of the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) in Paris. She got her Ph.D. in history from the École des hautes études en sciences socials (Paris) in 2015. Her main study area is history and anthropology of Chinese religions, especially their social and political role in local societies. Her recent publications include “To know how to predict, to translate, and to write: the division of religious work in the rebulding of a temple in Changzhi (Shanxi) today” (with Guillaume Dutournier, Routledge, London, 2019, forthcoming); “The Revival of the Cult of Cui Fujun in Shanxi and Hebei”, in Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore, 195 (2017.3): 79–140; “Cui Fujun : un protecteur des empereurs du Xème au XIIème siècle ?”. Études chinoises, Vol. XXXI-1 (2012), p. 49-65.


This paper focuses on a local Buddhist tradition, the Azhali Buddhism of the Bai people, a minority ethnic population in northwest Yunnan (PRC) who belong to the Tibeto-Burmese group. Azhali means “preceptor or instructor in religious matters” and is the transcription of Sanskrit “Acarya”. They were supported by several successive regimes in this region since the 7th century. Azhali Buddhism became the dominant religion, although some other religious traditions co-existed there as well. According to historical records, ritual manuscripts, and fieldwork observations, I will discuss (1) the origin, evolution, and characteristics of the Azhali Buddhist tradition; (2) the relationship between this tradition and the construction of the Bai’s ethnic identity; and (3) its present practice, particularly its transmission and adaptation strategies in response to new situations, such as the government’s religious politics aiming to control religions within a secular society.

08.05   Ben Van Overmeire (Ghent University)          

Click here to listen to audio of the whole lecture 

Zen Buddhist Convert Literature in America during the 20th Century: A Selective Overview


Dr. Ben Van Overmeire is a Postdoctoral Fellow of the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) at the Centre for Buddhist Studies, Ghent University.  Currently, he is working on a book on how modern autobiographical narratives of Zen life incorporate koan, Zen riddles revolving around seemingly unsolvable questions such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” His work has appeared in Religions, Japan Studies Review, The Journal of Popular Culture, and Buddhist-Christian Studies, among other journals. Van Overmeire has presented his work at the annual conferences of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), the Modern Languages Association (MLA), the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA). He blogs on and tweets @Zenmirrors.


During the 20th century, Zen Buddhism became an important cultural force in the United States. In this talk, I will discuss how five different authors have responded to the influence of Zen ideas and literature, arguing that despite the significant transformations Zen underwent (such as becoming a Japanese aesthetic separable from ritual and monastic practice), the idea, core to Zen, that Zen masters are enlightened beings, continues to play an important role.
I start my discussion by sketching what premodern Zen Buddhism and Zen Buddhist literature looked like. Then, I discuss how this East-Asian tradition was “translated” for western audiences by examining the influence of the “two Suzukis” (Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki and Shunryu Suzuki). In 1950s America,  some of the ideas of the first Suzuki featured in the literature of the so-called “Beat Generation” of writers, of whom I will discuss Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder. Starting in the 1970s, Janwillem van de Wetering would start to publish his own idiocentric take on the tradition in a series of memoirs. Somewhat later, Natalie Goldberg would apply her Zen training to very act of memoir writing itself. Finally, around the turn of the century Ruth Ozeki took Zen literature and memoir writing in postmodern directions.

15.05   Andrew K. Whitehead (Kennesaw State University, US)

Wordless Practices: Zen Critiques of Language


Prof. dr. Andrew K. Whitehead is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Kennesaw State University in the United States. He specializes in East-West comparative philosophy, particularly concerning Japanese Buddhist philosophy, the Kyoto School, Chinese Daoism, and the German and French traditions of phenomenology and existentialism.  His recent publications include “Ikkyū Sōjun” in The Dao Companion to Japanese Buddhist Philosophy (Springer, 2019), as well as the co-edited volumes (Bloomsbury): Imagination: Cross-Cultural Philosophical Analyses (2018), Wisdom and Philosophy: Contemporary and Comparative Approaches (2016), and Landscape and Travelling East and West: A Philosophical Journey (2014).He is presently the President of the Académie du Midi Philosophical Association, and Associate Editor of the journal Comparative and Continental Philosophy (Taylor & Francis).


Beginning with the initial transmission of the dharma to Mahakasyapa, leading up to and including the recognition of the sixth Chinese patriarch of Zen, Huineng, the lecture offers a genealogy of select Zen Buddhist philosophical ideas and practices concerning language and its critique. Taking a selection of short texts that showcase the Zen attitude towards language, the lecture explores the complicated relationship between language and Zen as a philosophical practice in its own right. The lecture will also offer commentary on and explanation of a wide array of Zen practices in which language plays only an indirect role (or no role at all), as a means of better appreciating the unique hermeneutical methodologies used to show suchness and no-thing. In order to provide a means by which to understand the paradoxical use of language in Zen practice, the lecture will discuss select koān and recorded encounters of Zen masters, with an emphasis on the role of the body, and of gestural language.


Poster PEV 2019


Library Lab Magnel, Arts and Philosophy Faculty Library, Rozier 44, Ghent



Wednesdays, 19:30 – 21:00



The PTBS is open to anyone interested in Buddhist Studies. As some of the lectures will be hosted by scholars from abroad, a basic knowledge of English is recommended. Participation is free of charge for all students and members of Ghent University. All other participants who wish to attend the lectures without certification are requested to pay an entrance fee of 3 per lecture.



Participants who attend 80% of the lectures and wish to be granted an official certificate will have to enrol as a student of Ghent University. They need to preregister online via and visit the central administration (Ufo, St.-Pietersnieuwstraat 33, 1st floor, ticket on the groundfloor) to complete their registration.

For more information on the cost of the certificate (fixed amount), please visit

The required level of English for non-native speakers is B2. For those who have completed secondary education in Belgium, the secondary education graduation diploma testifies to this level; others will have to provide another form of proof. In accordance with the educational regulations of Ghent University, students cannot obtain credits for their participation in the PTBS.

For further information on the PTBS, please contact: