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 宗). 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)

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”

These lecture series were generously sponsored by the Tianzhu Foundation.