Pure Land Buddhism and Tantra in China: two lectures

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This afternoon with two lectures and discussion is coordinated by Prof. Jonathan Silk,  Professor of Buddhist Studies at the Leiden University Institute of Area Studies.   






14:00-14:45 Lecture by Dr Charles Jones

14:45-15:00 Discussion

15:00-15:15 Tea & coffee break

15:15-16:00 Lecture by Cody Bahir

16:00-16:15 Discussion

16:15-16:45 General discussion

16:45-18:00 Drinks


“Reorienting the Study of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism”

By Dr Charles Jones

The academic study of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism has long been hampered in the past by the lack of an overall framework within which to work. At the most basic level, scholars have not been able to agree on the nature of this tradition; we have been told that it does not exist as an independent part of Chinese Buddhism, that it pervades all of Chinese Buddhism, and that it is not even Buddhist at all. Despite this, Chinese Buddhist texts have no difficulty in naming and describing something called “Pure Land,” and so this lecture will try to characterize the object of study through three lenses. First, its common designation within Buddhist texts as a “dharma-gate” (fǎmén 法門); second, through its insistence on the possibility of non-elite attainment, i.e., the achievement of undeserved rewards by practitioners; and third, its construction of a list of thirteen “patriarchs” ( 祖). The speaker will conclude that Chinese Pure Land is best seen as a “tradition of practice,” explain what that characterization entails, and how it may benefit future scholarship.

Dr. Charles B. Jones earned a B.A. in music from Morehead State University in 1980, a Master of Theological Studies degree from Duke University Divinity School in 1988, and a Ph.D. in History of Religions from the University of Virginia in 1996 with the dissertation “Buddhism in Taiwan: a Historical Survey.” He presently teaches at the School of Theology and Religious Studies of The Catholic University of America in Washington DC, where he has been the director for the graduate program in Religion and Culture and the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. He is currently completing a book manuscript on Chinese Pure Land Buddhism, and his past research interests have included the history of Buddhism in Taiwan, late Ming Dynasty gentry Buddhism, and the Jesuit missions in China as seen from the Chinese side.

“The Return of Chinese Tantra: Neo-Zhenyan and its Evolving Polemic”

By Cody Bahir

Neo-Zhenyan is a Buddhist movement that comprises lineages recently founded in the Chinese-speaking world that have sought to revive Zhenyan, a form of esoteric Buddhism popularly believed to have flourished in China during the Tang dynasty. Unlike earlier Zhenyan resurrections that floundered during the nineteenth-twentieth century Tantric Revival, Neo-Zhenyan continues to grow, with communities throughout Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the P.R.C. and even the U.S.A. Despite its incresing importance, Neo-Zhenyan has largely been ignored by the scholarly community. This presentation will begin with an overview of the history and demographics of the various Neo-Zhenyan communities. From there, we will explore the similarities and differences between the interpretive tropes that the movement’s architects have employed. I argue that each community represents an intentionally—and polemically—reenchanted form of Buddhist modernism, and that there are two generations of Neo-Zhenyan. As I will demonstrate, the generational differences in interpretive strategies directly mirror the evolution of more well known forms of Chinese Buddhist modernism.

Cody Bahir received his B.A. in Classical Judaic Studies from American Jewish University in 2003. He later completed an M.A. in Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2005, and another in Philosophy and Religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies in 2013. On June 1st, he will defend his Ph.D. thesis, “Reenchanting Buddhism via Modernizing Magic: Guru Wuguang of Taiwan’s Philosophy and Science of ‘Superstition’” at Leiden University Institute for Area Studies. Mr. Bahir has held faculty positions at American Jewish University, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Skyline College and Fooyin University of Science and Technology. In July 2017, he will begin working as a Sheng Yen Postdoctoral Fellow in Chinese Buddhism at the Center for Buddhist Studies, Institute of East Asian Studies at University of California, Berkeley.