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Establishing a Pure Land on Earth

The Foguang Buddhist Perspective on Modernization and Globalization

Stuart Chandler

Publication Year: 2004

With more than 150 temples in thirty countries, Foguangshan has developed over the last thirty-five years into one of the world’s largest and most influential Chinese Buddhist movements. The result of two years of fieldwork in Foguangshan temples in Taiwan, the U.S., Australia, and South Africa, this volume is an unprecedented examination of the inner workings of a dynamic and innovative religious movement.

Based on direct observations, private interviews, and careful textual and historical analysis, Stuart Chandler looks at the challenges faced by Foguangshan’s leader, Master Xingyun, and his followers as they try to adhere to traditional practices and values while tapping into the advantages afforded by modern, global society. Foguangshan’s slogans (“Humanistic Buddhism” and “Establishing a Pure Land on Earth”) are placed in historical context to reveal their role in shaping the group’s attitudes toward capitalism, women’s rights, and democracy, as well as toward the traditional Chinese virtue of filial piety and the Chinese Buddhist concept of “links of affinity” (jieyuan).

Chandler goes on to analyze Foguangshan’s educational system and its understanding of how precepts relate to contemporary problems such as abortion and capital punishment. The book’s final chapters consider the cultural and political dynamics at play in Foguangshan’s ambitious attempt to spread Humanistic Buddhism around the world and how its followers have reinterpreted the Buddhist ideal of homelessness to take advantage of the spiritual potentialities of people’s lives as global citizens.


Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii

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Series Editor’s Preface

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pp. ix

Once confined to Asia, Buddhism has in the last century become a conspicuous part of the religious landscape in countries the world over. From the severest levels of ascetic practice to media images in daily culture, its forms and expressions are recognizably Buddhist even in Buddhism’s immense variations. As well as an ancient religion, Buddhism is a modern phenomenon. Establishing a Pure Land on Earth is the first volume ...

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pp. xi-xiii

Any time a study relies heavily on material gathered ethnographically, there is the problem of how to document the sources of one’s data. Public meetings, conferences, and ceremonies as well as formal interviews do not pose much of a problem since they can be listed as part of the References section, as I have done in this book. The dilemma arises in determining whether to indicate one’s source when the information was given as part of an informal conversation.

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pp. xv-xvii

The material utilized in this book was gathered through fieldwork conducted from 1996 to 1998. I spent most of that period at the Foguang headquarters inKaohsiung County of the Republic of China, although for four months I escaped southern Taiwan’s brutal summer heat to live at Nan Tien Temple, the Foguang branch in Wollongong, Australia. I also spent a month at Hsi Lai Temple, just outside Los Angeles, and several days in the fall of 1999 at Nan Hua Temple in Bronkhorstspruit, South Africa.

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pp. 1-7

Master Xingyun, the founder of the Foguang Buddhist order, frequently announces to his devotees: ‘‘I am a global person’’ (wo shi guojiren). This book explores the historical background, cultural context, and social implications of that deceptively simple comment. The master began to refer to himself in this manner around 1990, just as his organization undertook an ambitious campaign to expand beyond its base in Taiwan and establish branch temples around the world, an effort that by ...

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1 A Mountain Monastery in an Urban Society

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pp. 8-27

When in 1967 Master Xingyun first viewed what was to become Foguangshan (lit., ‘‘Buddha’s Light Mountain’’), the area was covered by impenetrable stands of bamboo and thick jumbles of vines and underbrush. The journey from Kaohsiung along small country lanes and narrow dirt tracks had taken several hours. The lay devotees who accompanied the master were not at all impressed by the site, even refusing to leave their small van to explore the area.

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2 Master Xingyun: Foguang Patriarch

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pp. 28-42

‘‘To know Foguangshan,’’ Master Xingyun advised me during an interview, ‘‘you must know me’’ (Chandler 1996b, 6). What the master meant in this blunt assessment was that Foguangshan as place and Foguangshan as institution are so closely associated with him that it is impossible to speak of either without reference to his activities, values, and ideals. The master’s presence is continually felt by his disciples: his photograph invariably will be found in the main office of every Foguang ...

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3 Foguang Humanistic Buddhism

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pp. 43-77

In the last chapter, I focused on the master as personality. Here, I shift my attention to consider him as a creative and persuasive advocate of a new vision of Chinese Buddhist teachings. The key term that the master uses to designate the form of practice at Foguangshan is ‘‘Renjian Fojiao,’’ which translates into English as ‘‘Humanistic Buddhism.’’1 My discussion will, therefore, be structured around this phrase.

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4 Humanistic Buddhism in Practice

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pp. 78-117

The slogan ‘‘Humanistic Buddhism’’ is employed in much the same way by Vens. Xingyun, Zhengyan, and Shengyan as the phrase ‘‘engaged Buddhism’’ has come to be used by a variety of Buddhist practitioners and scholars in Southeast Asia and the United States.1 ‘‘Engaged Buddhism,’’ which refers to those individuals and organizations that have explicitly applied Buddhist values in the attempt to influence ...

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5 Cultivating Talent through Education

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pp. 118-136

The first building that Master Xingyun had constructed on Foguangshan was not a shrine, recitation hall, or meditation center. It was the compound for the Eastern Buddhist Academy (Dongfang Fojiao Xueyuan). Such a move was not mere happenstance, for the master has always regarded a systematized, comprehensive education, especially of the sangha, to be the key to the regeneration of society and the revival of Buddhism.

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6 Cultivating Faith through Discipline

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pp. 137-190

Participants in a triple refuge ceremony openly express that, henceforth, the Buddha, his teachings, and the community that he founded will be the locus of their faith. They do so by reciting the phrases ...

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7 Institutionalizing Buddhism

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pp. 191-235

The creation of a large, popular religious institution requires both a charismatic figure whose personality and ideas can attract great numbers of people and someone who can coordinate activities, mobilize resources, and organize a core group of devotees. Foguangshan has grown so tremendously over the past three decades because Master Xingyun brings together these two qualities: along with his ability ...

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8 Perpetuating Traditional Modernism

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pp. 236-259

Foguang clerics pride themselves on introducing ever more ambitious innovations into Sino-Buddhism. Ironically, they also regard themselves as forming the strongest bulwark protecting China’s heritage. This heritage has two interrelated aspects that are of particular value and are notably imperiled by the onslaught of modern popular culture: aesthetics and ethics.

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9 Globalizing Chinese Culture, Localizing Buddhist Teachings

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pp. 260-274

Master Xingyun first went abroad in 1963, when he joined a contingent of bhikshus sent to India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Japan, and Hong Kong on a government-sponsored initiative to bolster support for the Republic of China (ROC). The beginnings of Foguangshan’s globalization are, however, to be traced to a more recent trip: the master’s visit to the United States in 1976, ...

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10 Globalizing and Localizing: Three Case Studies

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pp. 275-300

Master Xingyun would like for Buddhists to work more closely together because he believes that such solidarity will strengthen the tradition’s place vis-à-vis other religions. This brings us to yet another prong of Foguangshan’s globalization program: promoting interfaith communication. All religious leaders who share a humanistic perspective must, in the master’s view, ensure that their traditions will work ...

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Conclusion: Global Homelessness

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pp. 301-306

In the introduction to this book I quoted Heidegger’s comment: ‘‘Homelessness is coming to be the destiny of the world’’ (Heidegger [1947] 1977, 219). Others have employed similar language to describe the modern human condition. In his book of essays treating the exploration of Australia, Paul Carter observes: ‘‘We are almost all migrants; and even if we have tried to stay at home, the conditions of ...

Appendix: Chronological Table: Master Xingyun and Foguangshan

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pp. 307-313


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pp. 315-344

Glossary of Chinese Buddhist Terms and Names

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pp. 345-351


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pp. 353-364


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pp. 365-371

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862404
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824827465

Publication Year: 2004