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Luminous Bliss

A Religious History of Pure Land Literature in Tibet

Georgios T. Halkias

With an annotated English translation and critical analysis of the Orgyan-gling gold manuscript of the short Sukhāvativyūha-sūtra

Pure Land Buddhism as a whole has received comparatively little attention in Western studies on Buddhism despite the importance of “buddha-fields” (pure lands) for the growth and expression of Mahāyāna Buddhism. In this first religious history of Tibetan Pure Land literature, Georgios Halkias delves into a rich collection of literary, historical, and archaeological sources to highlight important aspects of this neglected pan-Asian Buddhist tradition. He clarifies many of the misconceptions concerning the interpretation of “other-world” soteriology in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and provides translations of original Tibetan sources from the ninth century to the present that represent exoteric and esoteric doctrines that continue to be cherished by Tibetan Buddhists for their joyful descriptions of the Buddhist path. The book is informed by interviews with Tibetan scholars and Buddhist practitioners and by Halkias’ own participant-observation in Tibetan Pure Land rituals and teachings conducted in Europe and the Indian subcontinent.

Divided into three sections, Luminous Bliss shows that Tibetan Pure Land literature exemplifies a synthesis of Mahāyāna sutra-based conceptions with a Vajrayana world-view that fits progressive and sudden approaches to the realization of Pure Land teachings. Part I covers the origins and development of Pure Land in India and the historical circumstances of its adaptation in Tibet and Central Asia. Part II offers an English translation of the short Sukhāvatīvyūha-sūtra (imported from India during the Tibetan Empire) and contains a survey of original Tibetan Pure Land scriptures and meditative techniques from the dGe-lugs-pa, bKa’-brgyud, rNying-ma, and Sa-skya schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Part III introduces some of the most innovative and popular mortuary cycles and practices related to the Tantric cult of Buddha Amitābha and his Pure Land from the Treasure traditions in the bKa’-brgyud and rNying-ma schools.

Luminous Bliss locates Pure Land Buddhism at the core of Tibet’s religious heritage and demonstrates how this tradition constitutes an integral part of both Tibetan and East Asian Buddhism.

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Makers of Modern Korean Buddhism

An overview of Korean Buddhism and its major figures in the modern period. The first book in English devoted exclusively to modern Korean Buddhism, this work provides a comprehensive exploration for scholars, students, and serious readers. Makers of Modern Korean Buddhism focuses on three key areas: Buddhist reform, Zen revival, and the interrelationship of religion, history, and politics. In Korea, the modern period in Buddhism begins in earnest in the late nineteenth century, during the closing years of the Chosoûn dynasty, which was characterized by a repressive brand of neo-Confucianism. Buddhist reformers arose to seek change in both Buddhism and Korean society at large. The work begins with a look at five of these reformers and their thought and work. The Zen revival that began at the end of the nineteenth century is covered from that period to contemporary times through an exploration of the life and thought of important Zen masters. The influence of Japanese Buddhist missionaries, the emergence of Korean engaged Buddhism, known as Minjung Buddhism, and the formation of modern Buddhist scholarship in Korea are discussed as well.

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The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva

Zhiru

In modern Chinese Buddhism, Dizang is especially popular as the sovereign of the underworld. Often represented as a monk wearing a royal crown, Dizang helps the deceased faithful navigate the complex underworld bureaucracy, avert the punitive terrors of hell, and arrive at the happy realm of rebirth. The author is concerned with the formative period of this important Buddhist deity, before his underworldly aspect eclipses his connections to other religious expressions and at a time when the art, mythology, practices, and texts of his cult were still replete with possibilities. She begins by problematizing the reigning model of Dizang, one that proposes an evolution of gradual sinicization and increasing vulgarization of a relatively unknown Indian bodhisattva, Ksitigarbha, into a Chinese deity of the underworld. Such a model, the author argues, obscures the many-faceted personality and iconography of Dizang. Rejecting it, she deploys a broad array of materials (art, epigraphy, ritual texts, scripture, and narrative literature) to recomplexify Dizang and restore (as much as possible from the fragmented historical sources) what this figure meant to Chinese Buddhists from the sixth to tenth centuries. Rather than privilege any one genre of evidence, the author treats both material artifacts and literary works, canonical and noncanonical sources. Adopting an archaeological approach, she excavates motifs from and finds resonances across disparate genres to paint a vibrant, detailed picture of the medieval Dizang cult. Through her analysis, the cult, far from being an isolated phenomenon, is revealed as integrally woven into the entire fabric of Chinese Buddhism, functioning as a kaleidoscopic lens encompassing a multivalent religio-cultural assimilation that resists the usual bifurcation of doctrine and practice or "elite" and "popular" religion. The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva presents a fascinating wealth of material on the personality, iconography, and lore associated with the medieval Dizang. It elucidates the complex cultural, religious, and social forces shaping the florescence of this savior cult in Tang China while simultaneously addressing several broader theoretical issues that have preoccupied the field. Zhiru not only questions the use of sinicization as a lens through which to view Chinese Buddhist history, she also brings both canonical and noncanonical literature into dialogue with a body of archaeological remains that has been ignored in the study of East Asian Buddhism.

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The Material Culture of Death in Medieval Japan

Karen M. Gerhart

This study is the first in the English language to explore the ways medieval Japanese sought to overcome their sense of powerlessness over death. By attending to both religious practice and ritual objects used in funerals in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, it seeks to provide a new understanding of the relationship between the two. Karen Gerhart looks at how these special objects and rituals functioned by analyzing case studies culled from written records, diaries, and illustrated handscrolls, and by examining surviving funerary structures and painted and sculpted images.

The work is divided into two parts, beginning with compelling depictions of funerary and memorial rites of several members of the aristocracy and military elite. The second part addresses the material culture of death and analyzes objects meant to sequester the dead from the living: screens, shrouds, coffins, carriages, wooden fences. This is followed by an examination of implements (banners, canopies, censers, musical instruments, offering vessels) used in memorial rituals. The final chapter discusses the various types of and uses for portraits of the deceased, focusing on the manner of their display, the patrons who commissioned them, and the types of rituals performed in front of them. Gerhart delineates the distinction between objects created for a single funeral—and meant for use in close proximity to the body, such as coffins—and those, such as banners, intended for use in multiple funerals and other Buddhist services.

Richly detailed and generously illustrated, Gerhart introduces a new perspective on objects typically either overlooked by scholars or valued primarily for their artistic qualities. By placing them in the context of ritual, visual, and material culture, she reveals how rituals and ritual objects together helped to comfort the living and improve the deceased’s situation in the afterlife as well as to guide and cement societal norms of class and gender. Not only does her book make a significant contribution in the impressive amount of new information that it introduces, it also makes an important theoretical contribution as well in its interweaving of the interests and approaches of the art historian and the historian of religion. By directly engaging and challenging methodologies relevant to ritual studies, material culture, and art history, it changes once and for all our way of thinking about the visual and religious culture of premodern Japan.

45 illus., 11 in color

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Miracles of Book and Body

Buddhist Textual Culture and Medieval Japan

Charlotte Eubanks

Miracles of Book and Body is the first book to explore the intersection of two key genres of sacred literature in medieval Japan: sutras, or sacred Buddhist texts, and setsuwa, or "explanatory tales," used in sermons and collected in written compilations. For most of East Asia, Buddhist sutras were written in classical Chinese and inaccessible to many devotees. How, then, did such devotees access these texts? Charlotte D. Eubanks argues that the medieval genre of "explanatory tales" illuminates the link between human body (devotee) and sacred text (sutra). Her highly original approach to understanding Buddhist textuality focuses on the sensual aspects of religious experience and also looks beyond Japan to explore pre-modern book history, practices of preaching, miracles of reading, and the Mahayana Buddhist "cult of the book."

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The Moon in the Water

Reflections on an Aging Parent

Kathy J. Phillips

Named a Best Book of 2008 by Library Journal

In a series of moving vignettes, the author begins by describing a particular representation of Water-Moon Kuan Yin, a Buddhist teacher and goddess associated with compassion, who often sits on a precarious overhang or floats on a flimsy petal. Then Kuan Yin steps out of the frame to join the author in the mundane challenges of caring for her father-transferring his health insurance, struggling with a wheelchair van, managing adult diapers, or playing in the fictions of dementia. From perplexed to poignant to funny, the vignettes record the working-class English of a fading but still wise dad, and they find other human versions of Kuan Yin in a doctor who will still make house calls or kind strangers in the street.

The book includes ten illustrations: both classical representations of Kuan Yin and also the author's own drawings, which adapt Kuan Yin in an act of practical spirituality, reading art through life and life through art. Each vignette invites the harried caregiver to take a deep breath and meditate on the trials and joys of caring for an aging parent.

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Neither Monk nor Layman

Clerical Marriage in Modern Japanese Buddhism

by Richard M. Jaffe

Buddhism comes in many forms, but in Japan it stands apart from all the rest in one most striking way—the monks get married. In Neither Monk nor Layman, the most comprehensive study of this topic in any language, Richard Jaffe addresses the emergence of an openly married clergy as a momentous change in the history of modern Japanese Buddhism. He demonstrates, in clear and engaging prose, that this shift was not an easy one for Japanese Buddhists. Yet the transformation that began in the early Meiji period (1868–1912)—when monks were ordered by government authorities to marry, to have children, and to eat meat—today extends to all the country’s Buddhist denominations. Jaffe traces the gradual acceptance of clerical marriage by Japanese Buddhists from the premodern emergence of the "clerical marriage problem" in the Edo period to its widespread practice by the start of World War II. In doing so he considers related issues such as the dissolution of clerical status and the growing domestication of Japanese temple life. This book reveals the deep contradictions between sectarian teachings that continue to idealize renunciation and a clergy whose lives closely resemble those of their parishioners in modern Japanese society. It will attract not only scholars of religion and of Japanese history, but all those interested in the encounter-conflict between regimes of modernization and religious institutions and the fate of celibate religious practices in the twentieth century.

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Oedipal God

The Chinese Nezha and His Indian Origins

Meir Shahar

Oedipal God offers the most comprehensive account in any language of the prodigal deity Nezha. Celebrated for over a millennium, Nezha is among the most formidable and enigmatic of all Chinese gods. In this theoretically informed study Meir Shahar recounts Nezha’s riveting tale—which culminates in suicide and attempted patricide—and uncovers hidden tensions in the Chinese family system. In deploying the Freudian hypothesis, Shahar does not imply the Chinese legend’s identity with the Greek story of Oedipus. For one, in Nezha’s story the erotic attraction to the mother is not explicitly acknowledged. More generally, Chinese oedipal tales differ from Freud’s Greek prototype by the high degree of repression that is applied to them. Shahar argues that, despite a disastrous father-son relationship, Confucian ethics require that the oedipal drive masquerade as filial piety in Nezha’s story, dictating that the child-god kill himself before trying to avenge himself upon his father.

Combining impeccable scholarship with an eminently readable style, the book covers a vast terrain: It surveys the image of the endearing child-god across varied genres from oral and written fiction, through theater, cinema, and television serials, to Japanese manga cartoons. It combines literary analysis with Shahar’s own anthropological field work, providing a thorough ethnography of Nezha’s flourishing cult. Crossing the boundaries between China’s diverse religious traditions, it tracks the rebellious infant in the many ways he has been venerated by Buddhist monks, Daoist priests, and possessed spirit mediums, whose dramatic performances have served to negotiate individual, familial, and collective tensions. Finally, the book offers a detailed history of the legend and the cult reaching back over two thousand years to its origins in India, where Nezha began as a mythological being named Nalakūbara, whose sexual misadventures were celebrated in the Sanskrit epics as early as the first centuries BCE. Here Shahar reveals the long-term impact that Indian mythology has exerted—through the medium of esoteric Buddhism—upon the Chinese imagination of divinity.

A tour de force of literary analysis, ethnographic research, psychological insight, and cross-cultural investigation, Oedipal God is a must read for anyone interested in Chinese studies and the historical connection between India and China. Shahar’s broad reach and engaging approach will appeal to specialists and students in a variety of disciplines including Chinese religion, Chinese literature, anthropology, Buddhist studies, psychology, Indian studies, and cross-cultural history.

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Of Beggars and Buddhas

The Politics of Humor in the Vessantara Jataka in Thailand

Katherine A. Bowie

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Ordination of a Tree, The

The Thai Buddhist Environmental Movement

A firsthand look at the Thai Buddhist environmental movement and its activist monks. Thai Buddhist monks wrap orange clerical robes around trees to protect forests. “Ordaining” a tree is a provocative ritual that has become the symbol of a small but influential monastic movement aimed at reversing environmental degradation and the unsustainable economic development and consumerism that fuel it. This book examines the evolution of this movement from the late 1980s to the present, exploring the tree ordination and other rituals used to resist destructive national projects. Susan M. Darlington explores monks’ motivations, showing how they interpret their lived religion as the basis of their actions, and provides an in-depth portrait of activist monk Phrakhru Pitak Nanthakhun. The obstacles monks face, including damage to their reputations, arrest, and even assassination, reveal the difficulty of enacting social justice. Even the tree ordination itself must now withstand its appropriation for state projects. Despite this, monks have gone from individual action to a loosely allied movement that now works with nongovernmental organizations. This is a fascinating, firsthand account of engaged Buddhism.

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