Passing the Light

Passing the Light: The Incense Light Community and Buddhist Nuns in Contemporary Taiwan

Copyright Date: 2013
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    Passing the Light
    Book Description:

    The term "revival" has been used to describe the resurgent vitality of Buddhism in Taiwan. Particularly impressive is the quality and size of the nun's order: Taiwanese nuns today are highly educated and greatly outnumber monks. Both characteristics are unprecedented in the history of Chinese Buddhism and are evident in the Incense Light community (Xiangguang).Passing the Lightis the first in-depth case study of the community, which was founded in 1974 and remains a small but influential order of highly educated nuns who dedicate themselves to teaching Buddhism to lay adults.The work begins with a historical survey of Buddhist nuns in China, based primarily on the sixth-century biographical collection Lives of the Nuns and stories of nuns in subsequent centuries. This is followed by discussions on the early history of the Incense Light community; the life of Wuyin, one of its most prominent leaders; and the crucial role played by Buddhist studies societies on college campuses, where many nuns were first introduced to Incense Light. Later chapters look at the curriculum and innovative teaching methods at the Incense Light seminary and the nuns' efforts to teach Buddhism to adults. The work ends with portraits of individual nuns, providing details on their backgrounds, motivations for becoming nuns, and the problems or setbacks they have encountered both within and without the Incense Light community.This engaging study enriches the literature on the history of Buddhist nuns, seminaries, and education, and will find an appreciative audience among scholars and students of Chinese religion, especially Buddhism, as well as those interested in questions of religion and modernity and women and religion.12 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3798-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction: Why Study Nuns?
    (pp. 1-29)

    In recent years there has been a general surge of interest in Taiwanese Buddhism. Books on Ciji (Compassionate Relief) (Huang 2009), Foguang (Buddha Light) (Chandler 2004), the history of Taiwanese Buddhism (Jones 1999), and Buddhism in Taiwanese society (Laliberté 2004, Madsen 2007) are representative. Scholars have also been impressed by the quality and size of nuns’ orders: Taiwanese nuns today are highly educated and greatly outnumber monks, characteristics unprecedented in the history of Chinese Buddhism. I am interested in knowing how and why does a young woman become attracted to Buddhism and decide to become a nun? After joining the...

  6. 2 The Beginning of the Incense Light Community
    (pp. 30-48)

    The home temple of the Incense Light Bhik.u.i. Sangha is Incense Light Temple (Xiangguang Si), located in the village of Neipu in Zhuji County, Chiayi District, in central Taiwan. This is where the community got its start. Although subtemples came to be established in different cities as the community grew, Incense Light Temple has remained the spiritual home and administrative center. When I first visited in 1995, I was immediately struck by the incongruity of the site. In the center of the courtyard, a traditional ornately decorated local temple had pride of place (fig. 2.1). To either side stood imposing...

  7. 3 Wuyin, the Guiding Light of the Community
    (pp. 49-70)

    Taiwanese nuns have had to contend with a misunderstanding that nuns on the mainland have not. In colonial Taiwan nuns were derisively referred to aszhaigu(vegetarian hall auntie) orcaigu(vegetarian auntie) by the common people. Although these two were seen as essentially the same, there is emically a distinction: only thecaigulived at a Buddhist temple, though without taking tonsure or receiving precepts (Shi Jianye 2003). There was no difference in the eyes of the common people. Buddhist nuns in Taiwan today consider these names unacceptable and insist on being calledbiqiuni(bhikşuņī).

    The origin of the...

  8. 4 College Buddhist Studies Societies
    (pp. 71-104)

    The Incense Light community experienced its most rapid growth in the 1980s. This reflected broader changes on the Taiwanese religious scene. Scholars have spoken of a “religious renaissance” in Taiwan since the 1980s (Madsen 2007). New Buddhist organizations sprang up such as Foguang, Ciji, Fagu, and Zhongtai, and the activities of folk religions such as the Unity Sect (Yiguan Dao) and the cult of Lord Guan at the Xingtian Gong (Enacting Heaven Temple) flourished as well. Temple complexes were built by increasing numbers of wealthy middle-class believers. These high-profile Buddhist institutions attracted in turn more support by the faithful. Academia...

  9. 5 Incense Light Buddhist Seminary for Nuns
    (pp. 105-149)

    Wuyin was installed as the abbess of Incense Light Temple on January 5, 1980, and in less than two months, on March 3, the Incense Light Bhikşuņī Sangha Buddhist Seminary admitted its first class. Among the other Buddhist leaders, Baisheng, Shengyan, and Weijue, founder of the Zhongtai Shan, attended the opening ceremony as honored guests. Years later, Wuyin recalled those earliest days:

    Including both teachers and students, there were only eleven people in the seminary at that time. My ideal was to keep the seminary in operation no matter how many students we had. I wanted to create an environment...

  10. 6 Buddhist Adult Classes
    (pp. 150-185)

    The Incense Light nuns, like their leader Wuyin, identify themselves as religious teachers. Although they publish the magazineXiangguan zhuangyan, manage a publishing outfit, offer a Buddhist information service, and do other socially engaged activities, their main mission is running a program of Buddhist adult classes, which constitutes the economic base of the community. These programs were offered in the five subtemples in the order of the temples’ establishment: Classes opened earliest at the Anhui Academy located in downtown Chiayi and the Purple Bamboo Retreat in Kaohsiung, both established in 1985; then followed the Dinghui Academy in Miaoli, established in...

  11. 7 Profiles of Individual Nuns
    (pp. 186-208)

    The Incense Light community is distinguished by its members’ high level of education. The rapid rise and success of the community was due in large part to the sudden influx of fifty-three young nuns in the 1980s, many of whom had graduated from either a four-year liberal arts college or a two-year technical college, which is similar to junior college in the United States. In my interviews with Xinzhi, Wuyin, and Mingjia as well as the cohorts of nuns who joined Incense Light in this period, I was constantly told that four nuns in particular contributed to its formation and...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 209-214)

    Incense Light, like Taiwanese Buddhism in general, is undergoing constant changes. The rise of this community was intimately connected with the social and economic conditions of Taiwan in the 1980s. Similarly, its present situation and its future prospects cannot be separated from what is happening in society at large. Economic prosperity led to both the flourishing of new Buddhist organizations and the mushrooming of new colleges and universities. As more women had the opportunity to receive higher education, some of them chose to remain single and pursue a professional career. As the stigma associated with remaining single faded, becoming a...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 215-220)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 221-224)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-236)
  16. Index
    (pp. 237-244)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-253)