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Toward a Modern Chinese Buddhism

Taixu's Reforms

Don Pittman

Publication Year: 2001

The Venerable Master Taixu (1890–1947) is the most important and controversial Chinese Buddhist reformer of the twentieth century. Viewed as dangerously rash by conservative Buddhists, irrelevant by secular humanists, and spiritually misguided by Christian missionaries, Taixu was nevertheless committed to forging a socially engaged form of Buddhism and to organizing a Buddhist mission in the West. His bold and inventive "Buddhist revolution" continues to shape aspects of a revitalized Buddhism in East Asia and around the world. The present volume is the first major study in English to focus on the charismatic reformer and his teachings and provides a comprehensive and absorbing interpretation of Taixu’s aims and the divisive controversies that surrounded him. This nuanced work is richly documented with quotations from Taixu’s own writings and from various Chinese intellectuals and evangelists of the period. As the most politically involved of all the Buddhist leaders in the Republican period, Taixu sought to present Mahâyâna Buddhism as the core of a new Chinese culture and the only adequate foundation for a truly global civilization. Distancing himself from those masters who focused on otherworldly paradises and stressed dependence on celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas, he emphasized what could actually be accomplished in this world through the work of thousands of living bodhisattvas dedicated to building a pure land here and now. A realist who acknowledged the complexities of the human condition in an increasingly interdependent and violent world, Taixu was also a utopian who tried to imagine how Buddhists could begin to realize their ultimate ideals—ideals that in fact lay beyond the preservation of institutional Buddhism itself. Students of Buddhism, Chinese religion, contemporary Chinese history and culture, and Taiwan studies will welcome this study of a crucially important and intriguingly complex individual whose life encapsulates many of the forces and possibilities apparent within Chinese Buddhism in the contemporary world.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

This book on modern Chinese Buddhism evolved over a number of years, and in its preparation I benefited from the help of many people.Those who read all or part of the manuscript and offered valuable comments include Joseph M. Kitagawa, who first suggested to me a study of Taixu’s reforms when I was a doctoral candidate at the...

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A Note on Romanization

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pp. xi

No single romanization system for Chinese names and terms is satisfactory in all respects.The Wade-Giles-system or some variant of it was used in virtually all the English-language resources cited in this study.However, because the pinyin romanization system, often referred to as the United Nations’ Mandarin Phonetic...

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Introduction: In Search of a New Buddhism

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pp. 1-12

The chaotic Republican period in China (1912–1949) was one of intense self-criticism, ideological polarization, military conflict, and change. The corrupt Manchu dynasty had been overthrown, yet the forging of a new social order proved far more difficult than anyone had imagined. It was a time of grand utopian dreams and of harsh, unyielding realities. Foreign intrusions, famine, civil war,...

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Chapter 1: Defending the Dharma in a Revolutionary Age

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pp. 13-60

In the late nineteenth century, long before the 1911 revolution that forced the abdication of Puyi (1906–1967), the last emperor of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), Chinese intellectuals were engaged in a reevaluation on an unprecedented scale of the very foundations of their ancient culture. The primary reasons for this intense introspection, and the sometimes polarizing,...

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Chapter 2: The Sound of the Tide for a New China

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pp. 61-104

To understand the mental universe of many religious leaders, it is important to know something about the fabric of their lives. In such cases, interpretation requires a sense not only of the person’s historical context but of how he or she experienced and engaged it. Thus biographical accounts and autobiographical reflections are crucial to appreciating...

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Chapter 3: An Ecumenical Vision for Global Mission

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pp. 105-152

During the last thirty years of his life, in addition to his efforts in the field of monastic education,Taixu devoted considerable energy to the establishment of regional and world Buddhist organizations. Xuming asserts that the reformer’s growing interest in the 1920s in the global organization of Buddhists reflected a definite strategic decision...

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Chapter 4: Mahāyāna and the Modern World

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pp. 153-195

Yu-yue Tsu has asserted that the first phase of the revival of Chinese Buddhism that began during the final years of the Manchu dynasty was primarily political rather than spiritual in nature. That is, the most important attempts to reform and reenliven the Chinese Buddhist community during the waning years of the Qing and the initial years...

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Chapter 5: A Creative Recovery of Tradition

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pp. 196-254

The central spiritual paradigms of any religious tradition can be understood to address the existential situation of the majority of individual people who are perceived to form its holy community. The Confucian scholars of classical China, for example, understood their community, in the midst of disorder, to be on the way—via the rectification of names and the extension...

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Chapter 6: Taixu's Legacy

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pp. 255-298

None of Taixu’s twenty-four tonsure disciples and grandson-disciples proved capable enough in the continuation of his master’s work to be widely recognized. In fact, six of them left the order to return to lay life, and two renounced Buddhism altogether.¹ Yet after the reformer’s death in 1947, there were prominent members of the sangha in China,Hong...


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pp. 299-352

Glossary of Chinese Characters

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pp. 353-362

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 363-378

Index [Includes About the Author]

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pp. 379-391

E-ISBN-13: 9780824865269
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824822316

Publication Year: 2001