Toward a Modern Chinese Buddhism

Toward a Modern Chinese Buddhism: Taixu's Reforms

Don A. Pittman
Copyright Date: 2001
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wqt85
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  • Book Info
    Toward a Modern Chinese Buddhism
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6526-9
    Subjects: History, Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
    D. A. P.
  4. A NOTE ON ROMANIZATION
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: IN SEARCH OF A NEW BUDDHISM
    (pp. 1-12)

    The chaotic Republican period in China (1912–1949) was one of intense self-criticism, ideological polarization, military conflict, and change. The corrupt Manchu dynasty had been overthrown, yet the forging of a new social order proved far more difficult than anyone had imagined. It was a time of grand utopian dreams and of harsh, unyielding realities. Foreign intrusions, famine, civil war, and constant struggle in social, political, and religious spheres among conservatives, progressives, and radical modernists characterized the period.

    Striving to recover from the anti-Buddhist paroxysms of the violent Taiping Rebellion (1851–1864) and deeply concerned with spiritual revitalization, the Buddhist...

  6. CHAPTER 1 DEFENDING THE DHARMA IN A REVOLUTIONARY AGE
    (pp. 13-60)

    In the late nineteenth century, long before the 1911 revolution that forced the abdication of Puyi (1906–1967), the last emperor of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), Chinese intellectuals were engaged in a reevaluation on an unprecedented scale of the very foundations of their ancient culture. The primary reasons for this intense introspection, and the sometimes polarizing, divisive debate that it occasioned, were serious dynastic decline and the growing influence in China of western civilization.¹ Local revolts and regional rebellions against Manchu rule caused significant upheaval and dislocation. Many issues that contributed to the general unrest and sense of insecurity,...

  7. CHAPTER 2 THE SOUND OF THE TIDE FOR A NEW CHINA
    (pp. 61-104)

    To understand the mental universe of many religious leaders, it is important to know something about the fabric of their lives. In such cases, interpretation requires a sense not only of the person’s historical context but of how he or she experienced and engaged it. Thus biographical accounts and auto-biographical reflections are crucial to appreciating the diverse forms of piety represented by spiritual guides such as Augustine (396–430), Nichiren (1222–1282), Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786), Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), and the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902–1989). The modern Buddhist reformer Taixu was also such a...

  8. CHAPTER 3 AN ECUMENICAL VISION FOR GLOBAL MISSION
    (pp. 105-152)

    During the last thirty years of his life, in addition to his efforts in the field of monastic education, Taixu devoted considerable energy to the establishment of regional and world Buddhist organizations. Xuming asserts that the reformer’s growing interest in the 1920s in the global organization of Buddhists reflected a definite strategic decision on his part. At first, Taixu believed that the reorganization and reform of the monastic and lay communities within the Chinese Buddhist household would lead, rather naturally and directly, to the spiritual transformation of the nation and, eventually, of the entire world. However, given the failures and...

  9. CHAPTER 4 MAHĀYĀNA AND THE MODERN WORLD
    (pp. 153-195)

    Yu-yue Tsu has asserted that the first phase of the revival of Chinese Buddhism that began during the final years of the Manchu dynasty was primarily political rather than spiritual in nature. That is, the most important attempts to reform and reenliven the Chinese Buddhist community during the waning years of the Qing and the initial years of the Republican period were predominantly organizational in character.¹ Deeply troubled about Buddhism’s precarious position within Chinese society, members of the sangha as well as laity pondered how to reorganize their religious community in order to respond more effectively to changing circumstances. They...

  10. CHAPTER 5 A CREATIVE RECOVERY OF TRADITION
    (pp. 196-254)

    The central spiritual paradigms of any religious tradition can be understood to address the existential situation of the majority of individual people who are perceived to form its holy community. The Confucian scholars of classical China, for example, understood their community, in the midst of disorder, to be on the way—via the rectification of names and the extension of virtue—to an all-embracing experience of the unity of heaven, earth, and humankind. This was the attainment of the rare yet paradigmaticjunzi—the “superior man” (James Legge), the “gentleman” (Arthur Waley), or the “profound person” (Tu Wei-ming).¹ According to...

  11. CHAPTER 6 TAIXU’S LEGACY
    (pp. 255-298)

    None of Taixu’s twenty-four tonsure disciples and grandson-disciples proved capable enough in the continuation of his master’s work to be widely recognized. In fact, six of them left the order to return to lay life, and two renounced Buddhism altogether.¹ Yet after the reformer’s death in 1947, there were prominent members of the sangha in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan who were appreciative of his legacy and sought to advance his progressive agenda. That was not, however, always an easy or popular endeavor.

    Classic Marxist theories about the origin, value, and end of religion provided the basic rubric for the...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 299-352)
  13. GLOSSARY OF CHINESE CHARACTERS
    (pp. 353-362)
  14. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 363-378)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 379-390)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 391-391)