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Taiwan's Buddhist Nuns

Elise Anne DeVido

Publication Year: 2010

Explores the milieu of Taiwan’s Buddhist nuns, who have the greatest numbers in the Buddhist world and a prominent place in their own country. Taiwan’s Buddhist nuns are as unique as they are noteworthy. Boasting the greatest number of Buddhist nuns of any country, Taiwan has a much greater number of nuns than monks. These women are well known and well regarded as dharma teachers and for the social service work that has made them a central part of Taiwan’s civil society. In this, the first English-language book on Taiwanese women and Buddhism, author Elise Ann DeVido introduces readers to Taiwan’s Buddhist nuns, but also looks at the larger question of how Taiwan’s Buddhism shapes and is shaped by women--mainly nuns but also laywomen, who like their clerical sisters flourish in that country. Providing an historical overview of Buddhist women in China and Taiwan, DeVido discusses various reasons for the vibrancy of Taiwan’s nuns’ orders. She introduces us to the nuns of the best-known of order, the Buddhist Compassion-Relief Foundation (Ciji) as well as those of the Luminary Buddhist Institute. Discussing “Buddhism for the Human Realm,” DeVido asks whether this popular philosophy has encouraged and supported the singular strength of Taiwan’s Buddhism women.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page

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pp. vii-viii

List of Maps and Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This book began as a research project at the Taipei Ricci Institute for Chinese Studies, and I offer my heartfelt thanks to the Ricci’s Academic Director Benoît Vermander for his support and guidance, and also to the Institute of Missiology Missio, e.V. (Aachen, Germany) for providing generous funding. I am especially grateful to Nancy Ellegate, Allison B. Lee, and Rebecca Searl of the State University of New York Press for their patience and encouragement throughout the publishing process. Without Nicola Thackeray’s computer expertise, the book could not have been finished. ...

Credits and Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Note on Romanizations and Names

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pp. xv-xviii

As a rule, this book uses the Hanyu pinyin romanization system for Chinese terms and names, except for certain well-known names and places (such as Chiang Kai-shek and Taipei) with an alternative romanization provided when helpful, such as Jilong (Keelung), but retains the romanization styles preferred by Shih Chao Hwei, Chern Meei-Hwa, and Lu Hwei-Syin, for ...

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pp. 1-5

In 1995 I came to Taiwan expecting I would revise my doctoral dissertation on the pre-1949 Communist movement in China. However, my employment brought me in contact with Taiwan’s religious landscape: first, as a study-abroad program director arranging field trips for foreign students in Taiwan, and then, as a research associate...

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Chapter 1: The Infinite Worlds of Taiwan’s Buddhist Nuns

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pp. 7-28

Oral and written sources often describe Taiwan as the tiankong (literally, heaven, or sky) for Buddhist nuns.2 I translate this term as “infinite worlds” for two reasons. First, to indicate that Taiwan is a free and open space for Buddhist nuns’ development, in stark contrast with China where the nuns are “utterly dependent on [the] patrilineal political hierarchy”3 of the Communist party-state and its Buddhist Association.

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Chapter 2: An Audience with Master Zhengyan

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pp. 29-47

Shi Zhengyan has been compared with Mother Teresa and Albert Schweitzer, and her followers consider her to be the Bodhisattva Guanyin incarnate, a loving, patient, and kind mother, and a benevolent and wise teacher (Figure 2.1). Since 1966, Shi Zhengyan has led the Ciji Compassion-Relief Foundation (Fojiao ciji gongde hui), Ciji for short, an international NGO with a board of ...

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Chapter 3: “Project Hope”: The Ciji Compassion-Relief Foundation’s Post-'9.21 Earthquake’ School Reconstruction Plan in Taiwan

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pp. 49-61

Excellent works are available on the nature and structure of the Ciji organization, about Zhengyan’s charisma, about Ciji’s achievements in charity, relief, and provision of medical care, and about emotions and gender in the Ciji organization.2 This chapter studies Ciji’s “Project Hope” (1999–2002), a plan to rebuild fifty schools destroyed by the earthquake of September 21 1999...

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Chapter 4: The Women of Ciji: Nuns, Laypeople, and the Bodhisattva Guanyin

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pp. 63-78

As we saw in Chapter 2, Zhengyan emanates an androgynous multifaceted personality: Buddhist master, visionary, mother, patriarch, commander-in-chief. In her youth she struggled with her mother and her family, rejected the roles of wife and mother, wandered in the wilderness of eastern Taiwan, and became a Buddhist nun. In all these acts, Zhengyan was a rebel, yet she ...

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Chapter 5: Jueshu renhua—“Cultivating Buddhist Leaders, Awakening Humanity’s Essence through Education”: The Nuns of Luminary Buddhist Institute

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pp. 79-92

As discussed in Chapter 1, though fully-ordained nuns have out-numbered monks since the 1950s, it was primarily monks who held leadership positions and gave public dharma talks during the 1950s–1970s.1 Li Yuzhen reports that before the 1980s, nuns at many mixed-gender temples in Taiwan were automatically relegated to kitchen duties and had few opportunities for study and giving dharma talks.2...

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Chapter 6: “Buddhism for the Human Realm” and Women

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pp. 93-110

Every chapter of this book has mentioned “Buddhism for the human realm,” renjian fojiao, the modernized form of Buddhism first formulated in early twentieth-century China and promulgated in Taiwan by a number of Buddhist groups.1 Though certainly not all Buddhists or Buddhist groups in Taiwan claim renjian fojiao affiliation or inspiration, many do so, including the three main “mountain-tops of Buddhism” in Taiwan, as well as the radical activist and feminist...

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Conclusion: Buddhism, Women, and Civil Society in Taiwan

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pp. 111-118

Over the past half-century, ordained and lay Buddhist women, together with monks and laymen, have built up modern Chinese institutional Buddhism on the foundations of zhaijiao and Japanese-era institutional Buddhism.1 Taiwan’s Buddhism is unique in the world...


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pp. 119-157

Glossary of Selected Chinese Characters

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pp. 159-162


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pp. 163-179


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pp. 181-188

E-ISBN-13: 9781438431499
E-ISBN-10: 143843149X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438431475
Print-ISBN-10: 1438431473

Page Count: 206
Illustrations: 12 b/w photographs, 2 maps, 1 table
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1