Prof. Chappell and Tendai in the West

Prof. Chappell and Tendai in the West

Postby BuddhaSoup » Sun Dec 09, 2012 4:03 pm

"Although Tendai has the reputation of being a major denomination in Japanese history, and the most comprehensive and diversified school of Chinese Buddhism, it is almost unknown in the West. This meagre presence is in marked contrast to the vision of the founder of the movement in China, T'ien-t'ai Chih-i (538-597), who provided a religious framework which seemed suited to adapt to other cultures, to evolve new practices, and to universalize Buddhism."

I couldn't resist posting today, as the Tendai category has gone a while without a new posting. Here's my question: What was David Chappell getting at in discussing Chih-i's approach to a democratic or universal practice of Buddhism through Tendai? Chappell adds: "There are innumerable claims for the universal validity of Buddhism, but these claims can easily be used as a kind of "religious imperialism" which demands that everyone should join Buddhism and its institutions. In contrast to this, Chih-i is arguing that the Buddha adapted his message to the particularities of his listeners, which makes all the teachings and practices culturally conditioned and relative. "

My sense is that Tendai seems uniquely capable of thriving in the West, and while Zen gained an early foothold, had Tendai been part of the first wave on the western shores, following Chih-i's lead, wouldn't Tendai might be among the most widely practiced schools of Asian Buddhism in the West?
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Re: Prof. Chappell and Tendai in the West

Postby Jikan » Sun Dec 09, 2012 4:33 pm

It's a bit more complicated than that. Actually, some of the first American convert Buddhists were Tendai Buddhists. For instance:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Fenollosa

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Sturgis_Bigelow

It's true that the postwar wave of convert Buddhism was led by an interest in Zen, and Tendai (among others) was largely unknown. This likely has to do with historical factors that have little to do with the doctrinal issues Chappell emphasizes, and more to do with which teachers and texts are available in English at the time. Zen Buddhism flourished in North America in no small part because Zen materials and institutions were present in North America.

We should be careful, too, because Chappell is talking about the TienTai teachings of Chih-i, not the teachings and practices of the Tendai school per se. (Chih-i was never a leader of the Tendai school, which the OP seems to imply.)

That said, I agree with Chappell's point and the OP's, that the TienTai teachings are indeed compelling and very relevant to contemporary life in North America. I find them compelling and interesting, and I know others who do too. Now that we have Tendai institutions developing and growing here, there is an opportunity for this tradition to flourish here. I hope it does, along with many other compelling and relevant traditions. Let a hundred flowers bloom...
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Re: Prof. Chappell and Tendai in the West

Postby BuddhaSoup » Sun Dec 09, 2012 4:52 pm

Yes, I didn't mean to confuse Tian Tai with Japanese Tendai, and glad for the correction, Jikan. The Chappell article that I was citing from discussed Tendai, however, with attention on Chih-i in the article. In fact, the article that discusses Tendai does not mention Ven. Saicho, at all, that I could find.

Still, I'm glad that Chappell wrote on Tian Tai/Tendai. Here is how he concludes his article:

"As a consequence, Tendai practitioners should feel comfortable to move beyond their ancient cultural and religious forms in order to "dialogue" with the new circumstances of the modern world. Based on its vision of compassion and wisdom, the universality and freedom of a bodhisattva, Tendai can extend itself and be "responsive' to the modern world and thereby help create a new and better future for all."
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Re: Prof. Chappell and Tendai in the West

Postby Jikan » Sun Dec 09, 2012 5:23 pm

I like that idea very much!
Thanks to the help of generous sponsors (most of them from DharmaWheel), I'm doing a Vajra Armor (Dorje Kotrab) self-retreat this summer. May the merit be yours!
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Re: Prof. Chappell and Tendai in the West

Postby BuddhaSoup » Sun Dec 09, 2012 7:04 pm

I liked what Prof. Chappell wrote so much that I subscribed this morning to "Society of Buddhist-Christian Studies" and its journal, which he founded before his passing.

While I am not fond of the dominant neo-Christian influence in the US (its politics, its military etc) and in my somewhat conservative and Christian county where I live, I do feel that it's important for Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Jains, Sikhs, Hindus et al that have an interest in peacemaking, justice, and other global issues of concern join together. Much akin to your idea of thousands of flowers blooming, Jikan, there's no such thing as Christian kindness or Buddhist kindness, Jewish peacemaking or Jain... to me, it's all Boddhisattva work, no matter the religion or school that inspires it. So, I look forward to seeing what Dr. Chappell's journal and society has to offer in this area of concern.
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