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Buddhism and Lao Religious Culture
Holt advances the provocative argument that common Lao knowledge of important aspects of Theravada Buddhist thought and practice has been heavily conditioned by an indigenous religious culture dominated by the veneration of phi, spirits whose powers are thought to prevail over and within specific social and geographical domains. The enduring influence of traditional spirit cults in Lao culture and society has brought about major changes in how the figure of the Buddha and the powers associated with Buddhist temples and reliquaries—indeed how all ritual spaces and times—have been understood by the Lao. Despite vigorous attempts by Buddhist royalty, French rationalists, and most recently by communist ideologues to eliminate the worship of phi, spirit cults have not been displaced; they continue to persist and show no signs of abating. Not only have the spirits resisted eradication, but they have withstood synthesis, subordination, and transformation by Buddhist political and ecclesiastical powers.
Rather than reduce Buddhist religious culture to a set of simple commonalities, Holt takes a comparative approach, using his nearly thirty years’ experience with Sri Lanka to elucidate what is unique about Lao Buddhism. This stimulating book invites students in the fields of the history of religion and Buddhist and Southeast Asian studies to take a fresh look at prevailing assumptions and perhaps reconsider the place of Buddhism in Laos and Southeast Asia.
27 illus., 6 in color
Writing, Orality, and Textual Transmission in Buddhist Northern Thailand
How did early Buddhists actually encounter the seminal texts of their religion? What were the attitudes held by monks and laypeople toward the written and oral Pali traditions? In this pioneering work, Daniel Veidlinger explores these questions in the context of the northern Thai kingdom of Lan Na. Drawing on a vast array of sources, including indigenous chronicles, reports by foreign visitors, inscriptions, and palm-leaf manuscripts, he traces the role of written Buddhist texts in the predominantly oral milieu of northern Thailand from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Veidlinger examines how the written word was assimilated into existing Buddhist and monastic practice in the region, considering the use of manuscripts for textual study and recitation as well as the place of writing in the cultic and ritual life of the faithful. He shows how manuscripts fit into the economy, describes how they were made and stored, and highlights the understudied issue of the "cult of the book" in Theravâda Buddhism. Looking at the wider Theravâda world, Veidlinger argues that manuscripts in Burma and Sri Lanka played a more central role in the preservation and dissemination of Buddhist texts. By offering a detailed examination of the motivations driving those who sponsored manuscript production, this study draws attention to the vital role played by forest-dwelling monastic orders introduced from Sri Lanka in the development of Lan Na’s written Pali heritage. It also considers the rivalry between those monks who wished to preserve the older oral tradition and monks, rulers, and laypeople who supported the expansion of the new medium of writing.
A Journey to the Summit of Mount Emei
Located in a remote area of modern Sichuan province, Mount Emei is one of China’s most famous mountains and has long been important to Buddhists. Stairway to Heaven looks at Emei’s significance in Chinese history and literature while also addressing the issue of “sense of place” in Chinese culture. Mount Emei’s exquisite scenery and unique geographical features have inspired countless poets, writers, and artists. Since the early years of the Song dynasty (960–1279), Emei has been best known as a site of Buddhist pilgrimage and worship. Today, several Buddhist temples still function on Emei, but the mountain also has become a scenic tourist destination, attracting more than a million visitors annually. Author James M. Hargett takes readers on a journey to the mountain through the travel writings of the twelfth-century writer and official Fan Chengda (1126–1193). Fan’s diary and verse accounts of his climb to the summit of Mount Emei in 1177 are still among the most informative accounts of the mountain ever written. Through Fan’s eyes, words, and footsteps—and with background information and commentary from Hargett—the reader will experience some of the ways Emei has been “constructed” by diverse human experience over the centuries.
Master Takuan and His Writings on Immovable Wisdom and the Sword Tale
Takuan Sōho’s (1573–1645) two works on Zen and swordsmanship are among the most straightforward and lively presentations of Zen ever written and have enjoyed great popularity in both premodern and modern Japan. Although dealing ostensibly with the art of the sword, Record of Immovable Wisdom and On the Sword Taie are basic guides to Zen—“user’s manuals” for Zen mind that show one how to manifest it not only in sword play but from moment to moment in everyday life.
Along with translations of Record of Immovable Wisdom and On the Sword Taie (the former, composed in all likelihood for the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu and his fencing master, Yagyū Munenori), this book includes an introduction to Takuan’s distinctive approach to Zen, drawing on excerpts from the master’s other writings. It also offers an accessible overview of the actual role of the sword in Takuan’s day, a period that witnessed both a bloody age of civil warfare and Japan’s final unification under the Tokugawa shoguns. Takuan was arguably the most famous Zen priest of his time, and as a pivotal figure, bridging the Zen of the late medieval and early modern periods, his story (presented in the book’s biographical section) offers a rare picture of Japanese Zen in transition.
For modern readers, whether practitioners of Zen or the martial arts, Takuan’s emphasis on freedom of mind as the crux of his teaching resonates as powerfully as it did with the samurai and swordsmen of Tokugawa Japan. Scholars will welcome this new, annotated translation of Takuan’s sword-related works as well as the host of detail it provides, illuminating an obscure period in Zen’s history in Japan.
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.
Japan’s monastic warriors have fared poorly in comparison to the samurai, both in terms of historical reputation and representations in popular culture. Often maligned and criticized for their involvement in politics and other secular matters, they have been seen as figures separate from the larger military class. However, as Mikael Adolphson reveals in his comprehensive and authoritative examination of the social origins of the monastic forces, political conditions, and warfare practices of the Heian (794–1185) and Kamakura (1185–1333) eras, these "monk-warriors"(sôhei) were in reality inseparable from the warrior class. Their negative image, Adolphson argues, is a construct that grew out of artistic sources critical of the established temples from the fourteenth century on. In deconstructing the sôhei image and looking for clues as to the characteristics, role, and meaning of the monastic forces, The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha highlights the importance of historical circumstances; it also points to the fallacies of allowing later, especially modern, notions of religion to exert undue influence on interpretations of the past. It further suggests that, rather than constituting a separate category of violence, religious violence needs to be understood in its political, social, military, and ideological contexts.
Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature
This beautifully written work sheds new light on the origins and nature of Mahayana Buddhism with close readings of four well-known texts—the Lotus Sutra, Diamond Sutra, Tathagatagarbha Sutra, and Vimalakirtinirdesa. Treating these sutras as literary works rather than as straightforward philosophic or doctrinal treatises, Alan Cole argues that these writings were carefully sculpted to undermine traditional monastic Buddhism and to gain legitimacy and authority for Mahayana Buddhism as it was veering away from Buddhism’s older oral and institutional forms. His sophisticated and sustained analysis of the narrative structures and seductive literary strategies used in these sutras suggests that they were specifically written to encourage devotion to the written word instead of other forms of authority, be they human, institutional, or iconic.
The View of the Elders
This book brings to life the age-old religious tradition of Theravada (literally, “view of the elders”) Buddhism as it is found in ancient texts and understood and practiced today in South and Southeast Asia. Following a brief introduction to the life of the historical Buddha and the beginning of his mission, the book examines the Triple Gem (the Buddha, his teachings, and the community of monastic followers) and the basic teachings of the Buddha in the earliest available Pali sources. Basic Buddhist concepts such as dependent co-origination, the four noble truths, the three trainings, and karma and its result are discussed in non-technical language, along with the Buddha’s message on social wellbeing.
The author goes on to chronicle his own involvement as an observer-participant in “the Theravada world,” where he was born and raised. His is a rare first-hand account of living Theravada Buddhism not only in its traditional habitats, but also in the world at large at the dawn of the twenty-first century. He concludes with a discussion on what is happening to Theravada today across the globe, covering issues such as diaspora Buddhism, women’s Buddhism, and engaged Buddhism. The book’s accessible language and clear explication of Theravada doctrine and texts make this an ideal introduction for the student and general reader.
A Buddhist-Feminist Social Ethic for Peacemaking in the Global Community
A Buddhist feminist social ethics for contemporary times. Offering a feminist analysis of foundational Buddhist texts, along with a Buddhist approach to social issues in a globalized world, Hsiao-Lan Hu revitalizes Buddhist social ethics for contemporary times. Hu’s feminist exegesis references the Nikaµya-s from the “Discourse Basket” of the Paµli Canon. These texts, among the earliest in the Buddhist canon, are considered to contain the sayings of the Buddha and his disciples and are recognized by all Buddhist schools. At the heart of the ethics that emerges is the Buddhist notion of interdependent co-arising, which addresses the sexism, classism, and frequent overemphasis on individual liberation, as opposed to communal well-being, for which Buddhism has been criticized. Hu notes the Buddha’s challenge to social hierarchies during his life and compares the notion of “non-Self” to the poststructuralist feminist rejection of the autonomous subject, maintaining that neither dissolves moral responsibility or agency. Notions of kamma, nibbaµna, and dukkha (suffering) are discussed within the communal context offered by insights from interdependent co-arising and the Noble Eightfold Path. This work uniquely bridges the worlds of Buddhism, feminism, social ethics, and activism and will be of interest to scholars, students, and readers in all of these areas.
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.