2023 PTBS Lecture Series

Abstract: Our Spring 2023 Lecture Series highlights a diverse spectrum of topics related to Buddhism. The lectures take place on Tuesday evenings from 7–9PM CET, and will be hybrid (delivered in person while streamed simultaneously).

The physical location is at Ghent University in Room 0.4 (Blandijnberg 2, 9000 Ghent) unless otherwise stated. The series is open to anyone interested in Buddhist Studies.

March 14: Anna Sokolova (UGent)

Stone Inscriptions as Source Material in the Doctrinal and Social History of Medieval Chinese Buddhism”

Whenever a renowned Buddhist monk passed away in medieval China, his disciples, lay followers, and state officials collaborated to establish a stele with a carved epitaph relating to the life of the deceased master. Other common reasons for the establishment of a commemorative, inscribed stele were the foundation of a significant institution, such as a monastery or ritual sanctuary, and the erection of a statue. Although very few of these medieval Buddhist stelae inscriptions are still in situ, a large corpus of texts has been transmitted in literary collections, and several important memorials have been excavated over the last century. This talk will focus on medieval Buddhist epigraphy from the seventh to the tenth century with a view to explaining its value as source material on early Chinese Buddhist communities and their interactions with secular society from a variety of perspectives. Specifically, these sources will be referenced to address such key questions as: How did Buddhist identities and lineages evolve in medieval China? What was the role of the imperial court and state bureaucrats in the formation and growth of regional Buddhist communities? And how did certain ritual practices emerge and develop? The talk will also touch upon the methodology of working with Buddhist epigraphy, such as the application of Social Network Analysis (SNA) in studies of Chinese medieval Buddhism.

March 21: Henry Albery (UGent)

“Pleasure and Fear: On the Paradox of Art and its Responses, from Ghent to Gandhāra”
In person/online

March 28: Edel Maex (psychiatrist and Zen teacher) (in Dutch)

“Waar anders dan in de dagelijkse praktijk?”

Je kunt het boeddhisme vanuit verschillende invalshoeken benaderen. Voor een filosoof is het een filosofie en voor een godsdienstwetenschapper een geloof. En ook wie op zoek is naar sjamanisme en magie kan er zijn gading in vinden.  Voor vele Aziaten maakt het deel uit van de vanzelfsprekende culturele achtergrond. Een Westerling daarentegen kan zich juist door de exotiek ervan aangesproken voelen. Maar misschien is het boeddhisme in de eerste plaats een praktijk. En ook al heeft de  praktijk van meditatie, vooral het in het Westen, daarin een belangrijke rol, uiteindelijk komt het neer op de praktijk van het dagelijkse leven.

“Buddhism in practice: where else?”

 One can approach Buddhism from different angles. For a philosopher it is a philosophy and for a scholar of religion a faith. And those looking for shamanism and magic can also find their likings in it. For many Asians, it is part of the natural cultural background. A Westerner, on the other hand, may feel drawn to it because of its exoticism. But perhaps Buddhism is first and foremost a practice. And even though the practice of meditation, especially in the West, has an important role in it, ultimately it comes down to the practice of daily life.

April 18: Lucas Vanden Boer (UGent)

“The Great Monastery of Nālandā: The World’s First University?”

Nālandā mahāvihāra was a large Buddhist monastery in the East of India which flourished from the 5th until the early 13th century CE. In its heyday, it attracted thousands of students from all over Asia who did not only study the Buddhist scriptures but also learned sciences, such as grammar, philosophy, and medicine. For this reason, the monastery of Nālandā is often portrayed as a university. However, the labelling of Nālandā as a university in some early scholarly publications has led to many ahistorical claims and fantasies in later academic and popular literature. In my talk, I will discuss what we actually know about Nālandā as a centre of knowledge and learning. I will also explore the merits and demerits of using the European label ‘university’ for a Buddhist institute of knowledge that predates the foundation of the first European universities for more than half a millennium.

April 25: Martin Seeger (University of Leeds)

“The veneration of Buddhist relics in Thailand”

Relics, stūpas (sacred monuments containing Buddhist relics), and amulets are key elements of Thai Buddhist culture. Discussing a number of relevant case studies, I will demonstrate the importance of studying material culture when trying to better understand religion. I will address the following questions: How can we explain the fascination with (Thai Buddhist) relics? How does our understanding of (Thai) religion change when we also consider material culture? What can we learn from a study that focuses on the veneration of Buddhist relics? Thus, I will show that material objects, such as relics and stūpas, often have a much wider and profound impact on religious practices, beliefs and emotions than canonical and other important Buddhist texts.

May 2:  Max Deeg (Cardiff University)

“Holy topography: The role and function of space in the development of Buddhism in India”

This talk will focus on the conceptual and physical construction of space in the history of Indian Buddhism. It will argue that the evolvement of a sacred topography in the Buddhist heartland in the Gangetic plain – but also beyond it – played a crucial role in the success of the religion as it gave both the monastic community (saṅgha) and the Buddhist laypeople a concrete framework for religious practice (relic and stūpa veneration, contemplation, commemoration of the “glorious past” of the Buddha’s lifetime). The examples or case studies will be taken from the speaker’s recent exploration of respective sites in Bihar, particularly the region between Bodhgayā, the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment, and Rājgir (Rājagṛha), the ancient capital of Magadha.

May 9: Aruna Keerthi Gamage (Philipps Universität Marburg) 

“Metonymy and Meditation: A Study of (rūḷhi) in Theravāda Buddhism”

Metonymy is a figure of speech and it is represented by the Pāli term rūḷhi (Skt. rūḍhi). It refers to the substitution of the original meaning of a phenomenon to a secondary one. For instance, the original meaning of the term maṇḍapa is ‘scum-drinker.’ But it is secondarily substituted to a ‘pavilion.’ As the primary sources of the Theravāda Buddhist tradition show, many of the rūḷhis have two diametrically opposed metonymic functions—1 Either the expansion or 2 the contraction of the original meaning—when they appear in the Tipiṭaka, which is the canon of Theravāda Buddhist tradition. Theravāda Buddhist masters record a considerable number of canonical words that are examples of rūḷhi. Important interpretations of these are to be found in the commentaries of Buddhaghosa (5th c. CE), especially in his magnum opus entitled Visuddhimagga. The ninth chapter of this commentary teaches how the knowledge in metonymy helps meditator to successfully develop loving kindness (mettā). This lecture focuses on this particular exegesis appearing in the Visuddhimagga.

May 16: Daniela Campo (Université de Strasbourg)

“Individual and Collective Practices at a Chan Female Monastery in Contemporary China”

The Great Chan Monastery of the Golden Mountain (Dajinshan Chansi 大金山禪寺) is a large monastic complex for nuns located in Jiangxi province in southeast China and belonging to the Chan (meditation) school. The monastic community counts a steady average of two hundred nuns, including about a hundred student-nuns of the Buddhist Academy. This case study will consider the monastery as an institutional environment where religious practice is conducted: who practices what, and why? Are practices taught and learned, and if yes, how and by whom? What changes did religious practice undergo in the post-Mao era? How do these changes reflect shifts in individual, social and institutional goals? This presentation will try to answer these questions by providing an overview of the individual and collective practices performed at the monastery, including ritual, devotional and renunciatory practices, as well as of the different actors teaching and performing them.