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  • The Huayan University Network: The Teaching and Practice of Avataṃsaka Buddhism in Twentieth-Century China by Erik J. Hammerstrom
  • Nicholaos Jones
Erik J. Hammerstrom, The Huayan University Network: The Teaching and Practice of Avataṃsaka Buddhism in Twentieth-Century China. New York: Columbia University Press, 2020. xii, 274 pp. US$65.00 (hb). ISBN 978-0-231-19430-3

The history of Buddhism in China during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is a history of struggling to reform Buddhist institutions for the sake of both sustaining the monastic community and regaining social relevance. Some sought reform by focusing attention upon a relatively narrow range of fundamental texts and practices. Others recommended embracing modernity, transforming Buddhist institutions by adopting strategies which had proven effective in sustaining and empowering Western (Christian) religious traditions.1 The Huayan University Network meticulously reconstructs the history of early twentieth-century modernizing efforts that prioritized texts and practices associated with the Huayan tradition.

Hammerstrom’s reconstruction proceeds in two parts. Part 1, spanning four chapters, examines a diffuse network of affiliations responsible for reviving Huayan-oriented educational institutions in China. Part 2, spanning two chapters, examines the content taught at these institutions. The result is a welcome addition to our understanding of Buddhism in modern China that simultaneously corrects various misconceptions about the Huayan tradition and offers new directions for studying insights available in that tradition.

Chapter 1 examines the propriety of conceptualizing Huayan as a school of Buddhism. Hammerstrom provides a brief history of the Huayan Sutra 華嚴經 and the Chinese founders of the Huayan tradition from the Tang era. (Notably absent from this history are the Silla monks Wonhyo 元曉 [617–686] and Ŭisang 義湘 [625–702], both of whom exerted significant influence upon Fazang 法藏 [643–712].) He argues that although the early Huayan tradition lacks a continuous lineage, it qualifies as a school because a common set of beliefs and practices unify its successive patriarchs. Hammerstrom also examines modern receptions of Huayan doctrines, noting that Chinese Buddhists who propagate these doctrines in the modern era typically endorse an ecumenical and [End Page 151] non-sectarian attitude according to which Huayan doctrines are worthy of study but are not considered inherently superior to doctrines from other Buddhist traditions.

Chapter 2 begins the project of tracing the rise of Huayan-oriented educational initiatives in early twentieth-century China. The history in this chapter begins with Yuexia 月霞 (1858–1917) and Yingci 應慈 (1873–1965), Chan-ordained monks who are responsible for establishing the first two Huayan universities in modern China. It ends with a first generation of monks whose education gives special attention to Huayan doctrines, and who are responsible for establishing several further Huayan universities. A key insight in the chapter is that monks responsible for establishing Huayan-oriented universities gained authority to do so by first securing positions of leadership at more traditional Buddhist monasteries.

This chapter most earns Hammerstrom’s book its title. Hammerstrom’s masterful insight is that the relations among these monks constitute a network of reciprocal dependence that retrospectively elevates Yuexia to a position as a Huayan master and prospectively authorizes his students as qualified to teach Huayan doctrine. Yuexia himself had no special authority as a teacher of Huayan. His training by Chan masters Faren 法忍 (1844–1905) and Yekai 冶開 (1852–1922) qualified him to lead the Jiangsu Monastic Normal School (Jiangsu Seng Shifan Xuetang 江蘇僧師範學堂) and Baotong Temple 寶通寺. A partnership with his younger colleague Yingci and subsequent association with another of Yekai’s students, Di Chuqing 狄楚青 (1873–1941), led to the first Huayan University—first in Shanghai (1912–1914) and later relocated to Hangzhou (1914–1916). This university educated many students who would go on to establish or teach at other Huayan universities. But Yuexia himself gave only one lecture on the Huayan Sutra.

Chapter 3 continues the project begun in chapter 2 by reviewing the history of various institutions for teaching Huayan from the 1920s and 1930s. These institutions provided fixed terms, intensive instruction on the Huayan Sutra, and exegesis thereof. Hammerstrom devotes a long section to Yingci’s role in influencing curricula with respect to selecting texts, organizing retreats, and arranging lecture series. He also briefly reviews a...


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