What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Jun 16, 2013 4:04 pm

Elsewhere we were discussing the merits of studying Chinese Buddhism in greater China (Hong Kong, PRC, Taiwan) versus Japan and I made the statement that the true heirs to Tang and Song dynasty Buddhism are to be found in Japan.

viewtopic.php?f=102&t=13098&start=20#p171411

It got me thinking of how much ancient Chinese Buddhism has been preserved in Japan. Both China and even Taiwan have either lost or simply dropped what has been preserved in Japan, especially with the 20th century reforms and development of Humanistic Buddhism in Taiwan.

There are a lot of things that the Japanese preserved. A lot of the older schools like Tendai and Shingon have preserved ancient liturgy, art traditions (especially sculpture), practices (Tang Vajrayāna which was lost in China is one prominent example), architecture (the old wooden temples, which are well researched, restored and reconstructed where necessary), clothing and maybe even some deities.

I mean, you don't see figures like this (Brahma) any longer around Taiwan, and to my knowledge the PRC as well except maybe in museums:

Image

This is a famous specimen, but it is well preserved along with the artistic tradition. Even the religious traditions behind it has been maintained strongly. Japanese Buddhists have generally felt preserving such things to be more important. That's why in a lot of old temples around Japan you only see old things. They try to keep things as they were before with minor modifications (like fire extinguishers).

One thing I noticed around Taiwan was that the ones identifying themselves with Humanistic Buddhism have effectively dropped the old deities. You don't see much if any of Indra, Brahma or even the Four Mahārāja, to say nothing of the traditional local deities and guardians that you see in more traditional Chinese temples. The famous bodhisattvas and maybe arhat images are around along with the buddhas, but judging from the modern literature there was a strong will to purge all the "externalist" 外道 elements and return a perceived purer form of Buddhism.

The reforms instigated by figures like Taixu, Yinshun, Sheng Yen, Xingyun and so forth heavily modified everything to the point that you'd be hard pressed to say the new forms of Buddhist traditions in Taiwan don't really reflect even pre-WWII Taiwanese Buddhism (which isn't surprising because the leadership was mostly from the mainland), let alone what existed in the Qing Dynasty. There was also an intentional process of "de-Japanization" in Taiwan after WWII by the KMT, which helps to explain why mainland teachers and their institutions could be so successful there.

Even outside of Humanistic Buddhism, you see a lot of cement temples, plastic buddhas, western style wedding ceremonies, emphasis on modern teachers and widespread disregard for past artistic and ritual traditions. So much heritage was either neglected or simply dropped. Understandably, Taiwan wasn't a big Buddhist hub until after WWII, but still they could have restored or relearned the old artistic and architectural traditions.

This leads me of course to think the true heirs to Tang and Song Buddhism are the Japanese and maybe the Koreans (I don't know much about Korean Buddhism, so please clarify this). I know this is a potentially provocative statement, but it isn't baseless. A lot of teachers in Taiwan go on about "Chinese Buddhism" and this influences how even academic projects are constructed (CBETA for example doesn't include Japanese works written in classical Chinese), yet so much of what was Chinese Buddhism is found in Japan now, not Taiwan or the PRC.

But then it begs the question: does it matter? I think there's a lot of value to archaic traditions and practices because of the distilled wisdom, but some might argue scraping a lot of the the old to suit newly constructed paradigms deemed better suited to modernity is a better idea.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Astus » Sun Jun 16, 2013 9:13 pm

What you have listed as lost in China are art forms/objects and rituals. Chinese Buddhism didn't stop after the Song dynasty. And although this is a biased statement, I don't think that the Dharma lies in sculptures and ceremonies. Humanistic Buddhism is a newer trend, but it is just one of the many other schools. For instance, Chung Tai Shan doesn't seem to be strongly Humanistic (although they have their own modernisations to some extent). Besides the four big churches, Taiwan has others, and there is also mainland China where many ancient articles have been destroyed but some are still there. Have you seen the documentary "Amongst White Clouds"? I doubt that those hermits were influenced by new trends.

Similarly to the Japanese, Koreans like to say that they have preserved the original Tang era Buddhism. The Taisho canon itself was based on the Tripitaka Koreana. Nevertheless, saying that any school or country has the "original" and "ancient" is no different from "returning to the original". You can't have what existed thousand years ago. Religions change too. This is the fundamental doctrine of Buddhism, every compounded thing changes. Only the Dharma is eternal.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby rory » Mon Jun 17, 2013 12:31 am

So Astus, art forms, rituals dont' convey the Dharma? I agree with Ven. Indrajala, I visited a humanistic Buddhism temple and was really shocked, just a statue of the Buddha and one of Jizo, that's it. No artwork, no incense, it felt very monotheistic to me & consequently I personally felt uneasy. I really adore the rituals, the incense, the artwork that helps me get my head out of false busyness of daily life and into practice.

Not appreciating the rich cultural heritage just seems sad to me, I remember visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and seeing a Lotus Sutra written on indigo paper, beautiful and pious...I worry that expunging deities gives a false idea of the world, a kind of faux human-centered monotheism that denies all the variety and plurality. But then I believe in the various gods, nagas, etc.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Zhen Li » Mon Jun 17, 2013 2:42 am

At some new Taiwanese temples, though not in the main shrines, you can find the four Maharajas, and plenty of apsaras and heavenly beings. Though that Brahma is really quite beautiful and I've never seen a modern rendering (outside a Hindu temple).

I think in the modern world we have a tendency to default to making things tidy, but a lot of the clutter in highly adorned temples is part of their beauty.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jun 17, 2013 3:11 am

Astus wrote: And although this is a biased statement, I don't think that the Dharma lies in sculptures and ceremonies.


Right, but we're talking about distilled wisdom, aesthetics and practice. The formative period of Chinese Buddhism was really the Sui-Tang period, many elements of which have been better preserved in Japan.

Now of course architecture and sculpture are not Dharma directly, but they are part of the package called Buddhism. You ultimately don't need them, sure, but that kind of sanitization policy leads to utilitarian cement monstrosities that lack the atmosphere that comes with proper aesthetics.

There is a big difference in the interior atmosphere between a Tang style temple in Japan and a cheap looking cement hall in Taiwan.


Only the Dharma is eternal.


Sure, but some things are worth preserving. Art inspires people. Aesthetics provides an agreeable environment. Practices formulated by past celebrated masters can foster faith in people.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jun 17, 2013 3:24 am

Ben Yuan wrote:At some new Taiwanese temples, though not in the main shrines, you can find the four Maharajas, and plenty of apsaras and heavenly beings.


Sure, but sometimes they make them out of cement or plaster. It just looks cheap, like they didn't want to pay for a real artist to craft it out of stone, wood or bronze.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jun 17, 2013 3:27 am

rory wrote:Not appreciating the rich cultural heritage just seems sad to me...


There's a lot of reactionary thinking amongst Chinese Buddhists these days. They felt understandably threatened by Christians, so they drew clear lines around their religion and sought to establish well-defined identities. That's why in traditional temples in Taiwan where nobody really cares much you find local gods in the same shrine hall as the buddhas and bodhisattva, whereas in the new organizations they strictly define what is Buddhist and non-Buddhist. The local gods are unwelcome.

Interestingly, Chinese Buddhists also adopted Christian models and reformated them for their own use, like seminary programs which often look strangely like what the Jesuits run their novices through. The old model of having a master and disciples (and thereafter the personal autonomy to go off and do your own thing) has been lost in favour of centralized administration and decision making. Monks and nuns in such institutions are assigned their places rather than personally deciding on their own where they'll be going. It is very Catholic in many ways, and I believe this is where they got the idea from.

There are a lot of other very deep Catholic influences in Taiwanese Buddhism, though they're unlikely to be widely acknowledged.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Zhen Li » Mon Jun 17, 2013 3:36 am

Well at Fo Guang Shan they had a ceremony including Taoist deities for Vesak Puja at the Buddha Memorial Center. Though if you mean in shrines, of course you are right. I'd like to visit some Japanese temples one day to see if I can really identify the same thing you are talking about myself.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby plwk » Mon Jun 17, 2013 3:57 am

Venerable, I guess it's something like what the Catholics went through from my experience.

Once upon a time, they had churches which are awesome in content and spirit: statues and iconography of patron, major & minor saints and angels with and some different forms of the Virgin Mary, altar railings, the Tridentine Latin Mass, endless petition novenas and all that mega votive stuff of high tradition. These days, after Vatican II, it's simplified and the order of content in a local parish are to be kept to a minimal where necessary so as not to 'confuse or distract' the faithful from what is the essential, hence the opportunistic modernists took it upon themselves to interpret and act upon that as 'spring cleaning' or to rid themselves of centuries old clutter and ushering in an age of more Christ centric communities, perhaps with a token Virgin Mary at the side or a patron saint and that's about it, that too, it's all post modern art forms or as in some whispered circles, subtle attempts to import in Protestantism.

Personally, I like all of that high tradition because that's inspiring to me because I have a working understanding of both theology and true devotion but I can understand how if one is not educated to a certain level to understand the actual point in all of that, then it may quickly slide into a degeneration of superstition and loss of focus on the essential where the moon gets eclipsed by the finger.

Similarly, I love places like the mountainside mother monastery of Dharma Drum Mountain where when I first visited it in Jinshan District, I was like WHOA! did I just walk into a post modern Zen spa & retreat where everything was so minimalist, sparse and spartan yet elegant but this is what some would prefer and how they interpret, reflect and practice Ch'an as a Chinese Mahayana organisation. So they kept the focus on what is deemed as essential yet one knows that in their studies and practice, they would mention stuff that is not reflected in their visible temple, so I doubt if there's anything lost other than traditional high art. On the flip side, when I visited the mother monastery of Fo Guang Shan in Gaoxiong, it was nearly everything what modern traditionalists would expect from the Chinese Mahayana Tradition, although I would say that the not so common deva dharma protectors are not in sight. But what the heck? We may not have anymore visible traces of Vinayaka, Sarasvati, Indra and others like the Five Wisdom Kings (try visiting the Singaporean Tooth Relic Temple, I haven't seen any other temple in my region that is more Tang Dynasty/Shingon-ish than this one) unlike Japan (and perhaps Korea as well) and so forth but in the daily morning office, the last chant is to Skanda Dharmapala Bodhisattva & we still recite the Sri Devi Dharani, both as part of the Ten Small Dharanis and part of the Skanda chants. And in the evening, there is the Jie Lan Bodhisattva (Guan Di) and the Sangharama Bodhisattvas praise as well. And the mid morning meal offering chants also honours certain deva protectors.

When I visited Mt Putuo, Jiuhua, Hangzhou's Lingyin Monastery plus some ancient temple monasteries in Shanghai recently, I still see remnants of the past lamented as lost, I still see in their dining halls the protector statues of the Great Sagely Kinnara King Bodhisattva and during the 9th Day/1st Month, some wealthy temples would parade the various statues of devas of the Triple Realms for the grand Golden Light Jewelled Repentance and I recall watching one Taiwanese Buddhist org on Youtube (best kept anonymous), where the local devas from the Taoist pantheon and Chinese folk religion are also included even in other ceremonies. The famed Long Shan Monastery in Taipei immediately comes to mind where many of these worldly devas are given a back area space of their own for the people to propitiate. I can still see the visuals of the smoke fumes and joss paper burning in my mind. This is also happening in older Chinese Buddhist temples in my country where some even place worldly deities side by side or on the same altar as the Buddha & Bodhisattvas and the more discerning ones would build an external shrine near the outside entrance gate for them. I can bet that all this will be scoffed at by the modernists but my only main concern is that the future of the Buddha Dharma, in what direction is it heading? I know of the old stigma where because of these practices, Chinese Mahayana was regarded as a Taoist/Chinese folk religion copycat or just degenerated into deva propitiation, hence most English speaking ethnic Chinese especially would prefer Theravada for instance, as these would remind them of what their granny's generation was all about, hence the usefulness of the 'Humanistic' temples to hook back these people who seem to have the idea that. Of course, these same people should make a trip to Thailand, Sri Lanka and Myanmar to see what's really going on or just the local Wat or Vihara as well LOL

I wonder if what was attribute to Mao is true when he said, 'Let the past serve the present' has any truth and to what extent...

Note: I forgot to mention how I saw that awesome Medicine Buddha Hall in Lingyin Monastery where they have not only the two Bodhisattvas next to Him but on the left and right sides, 12 life size statues of the Yaksa Generals Protectors. The last time I ever saw any temple that paraded a full retinue of them was one in my country but they was just a few inches tall figurines
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Dodatsu » Mon Jun 17, 2013 4:05 am

About CBETA, I once enquired about why the Japanese works were not included and they told me that it was because of copyright problems. They were allowed to have the Indian and Chinese works from the Taisho Tripitaka but not the Japanese works.

Having been involved with both Chinese (Taiwanese) and Japanese Buddhism, i would say i was very attracted to Japanese Buddhism (i'm ethnically Chinese btw) due to the same observations that Indrajala made. We've lost too much of what we had. But in recent years there are two temples in Singapore that tried to copy Tang style Buddhist architecture, but they can't get the liturgy anymore. Even the robes used in Japan are what were used in Tang (this i was told by a Taiwanese monk residing in Japan).

Also, it's a pity many of the Japanese style temples in Taiwan were demolished, the latest i think was Shandao Temple. When i first went to Taiwan in 1997 it was still the structure that Jodo-shu built, but a few years later it was torn down and a new multi-storey structure built in its place. They could and should have preserved it by moving it somewhere instead of tearing it down 100%.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby tingdzin » Mon Jun 17, 2013 4:16 am

This is a very interesting thread to me, even though my primary practice is Tibetan Buddhism. I think Indrajala has made an importantr contribution in introducing this subject, and I confess that I am sympathetic to this point of view. Buddhism is not necessarily found in fine art, but if one is not going to pursue the ascetic path, it seems one can gain much by appreciating the efforts of the ancestors, and keeping their vision alive.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Zhen Li » Mon Jun 17, 2013 4:17 am

The reason I was initially interested in Buddhism actually started with an admiration of Buddhist art. The art particularly of the Tibetan tradition and Japanese tradition. I can't say I would have been as drawn in the same way if my first exposure was to Taiwanese temples - but by the point I got involved with them I was already a Buddhist.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jun 17, 2013 4:18 am

Dodatsu wrote:About CBETA, I once enquired about why the Japanese works were not included and they told me that it was because of copyright problems. They were allowed to have the Indian and Chinese works from the Taisho Tripitaka but not the Japanese works.


That's not what I heard. I heard the Taisho publisher was pretty upset about CBETA digitalizing the canon and making it freely available. They were in a huff about it, but it seems they couldn't do much to stop them. The Taisho itself was published so long ago that reprinting pirate copies now also shouldn't be a copyright issue.

SAT has the whole Taisho, but the interface is terrible:

http://21dzk.l.u-tokyo.ac.jp/SAT/database.html

In any case, the Japanese works wouldn't be covered by Japanese copyright laws because they're ancient. :smile:


Having been involved with both Chinese (Taiwanese) and Japanese Buddhism, i would say i was very attracted to Japanese Buddhism (i'm ethnically Chinese btw) due to the same observations that Indrajala made.


Incidentally, there are some Taiwanese who go to Japan to study Buddhism, like Shingon. Some of the noteworthy Shingon teachers in Taiwan and even earlier in China had their roots in Japan, like Xianyin:

http://buddhistinformatics.ddbc.edu.tw/ ... F%E8%94%AD

Image


Also, it's a pity many of the Japanese style temples in Taiwan were demolished, the latest i think was Shandao Temple. When i first went to Taiwan in 1997 it was still the structure that Jodo-shu built, but a few years later it was torn down and a new multi-storey structure built in its place. They could and should have preserved it by moving it somewhere instead of tearing it down 100%.


In Taipei near Yuanshan there's a Linji temple built by the Japanese, but around it is this cement horror painted yellow. The Chinese shrine is drab looking with the typical mismatched furniture and dusty pile of old sutras for public use. This is illustrative of what I'm saying.

Image
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jun 17, 2013 4:24 am

tingdzin wrote:Buddhism is not necessarily found in fine art, but if one is not going to pursue the ascetic path, it seems one can gain much by appreciating the efforts of the ancestors, and keeping their vision alive.


I very much agree with this. This is why it is so disappointing to see Chinese Buddhists knowingly chuck away so much of their heritage (in reality it isn't just the Buddhists as a lot of Chinese culture has been largely emptied into the dumpster to make way for a cheap carbon copy of western consumer culture).

In the 20th century all these Chinese monks and nuns could have went to Japan to collect a lot of their own lost heritage and restore in a place like Taiwan (and a few Shingon teachers did this), but I imagine pride and nationalism prevented this. There are a lot of nationalistic sentiments to be seen in modern Chinese Buddhism, especially in Taiwan.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jun 17, 2013 4:43 am

plwk wrote:When I visited Mt Putuo, Jiuhua, Hangzhou's Lingyin Monastery plus some ancient temple monasteries in Shanghai recently, I still see remnants of the past lamented as lost, I still see in their dining halls the protector statues of the Great Sagely Kinnara King Bodhisattva and during the 9th Day/1st Month, some wealthy temples would parade the various statues of devas of the Triple Realms for the grand Golden Light Jewelled Repentance and I recall watching one Taiwanese Buddhist org on Youtube (best kept anonymous), where the local devas from the Taoist pantheon and Chinese folk religion are also included even in other ceremonies.


I don't mind having local gods around. Best be a good neighbour and treat such figures with respect.

However, reading the works of 20th century Buddhist monks, you see them thinking they need to be custodians of "true Buddhism". They indirectly position themselves in a position of authority if the people buy what they're saying, too, because the masses will defer to them rather than doing their own thing.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Dodatsu » Mon Jun 17, 2013 7:33 am

Indrajala wrote:
Dodatsu wrote:About CBETA, I once enquired about why the Japanese works were not included and they told me that it was because of copyright problems. They were allowed to have the Indian and Chinese works from the Taisho Tripitaka but not the Japanese works.


That's not what I heard. I heard the Taisho publisher was pretty upset about CBETA digitalizing the canon and making it freely available. They were in a huff about it, but it seems they couldn't do much to stop them. The Taisho itself was published so long ago that reprinting pirate copies now also shouldn't be a copyright issue.

SAT has the whole Taisho, but the interface is terrible:

http://21dzk.l.u-tokyo.ac.jp/SAT/database.html

In any case, the Japanese works wouldn't be covered by Japanese copyright laws because they're ancient. :smile:


Having been involved with both Chinese (Taiwanese) and Japanese Buddhism, i would say i was very attracted to Japanese Buddhism (i'm ethnically Chinese btw) due to the same observations that Indrajala made.


Incidentally, there are some Taiwanese who go to Japan to study Buddhism, like Shingon. Some of the noteworthy Shingon teachers in Taiwan and even earlier in China had their roots in Japan, like Xianyin:

http://buddhistinformatics.ddbc.edu.tw/ ... F%E8%94%AD

Image


Also, it's a pity many of the Japanese style temples in Taiwan were demolished, the latest i think was Shandao Temple. When i first went to Taiwan in 1997 it was still the structure that Jodo-shu built, but a few years later it was torn down and a new multi-storey structure built in its place. They could and should have preserved it by moving it somewhere instead of tearing it down 100%.


In Taipei near Yuanshan there's a Linji temple built by the Japanese, but around it is this cement horror painted yellow. The Chinese shrine is drab looking with the typical mismatched furniture and dusty pile of old sutras for public use. This is illustrative of what I'm saying.

Image


Of course they'd be in a huff about it, although the manuscripts wouldn't be under copyright, the entire Taisho Tripitaka is. I think they probably came to a compromise that the Japanese works would not be included in CBeta to be fair to the Taisho publishers.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Dodatsu » Mon Jun 17, 2013 7:43 am

Indrajala wrote:
tingdzin wrote:Buddhism is not necessarily found in fine art, but if one is not going to pursue the ascetic path, it seems one can gain much by appreciating the efforts of the ancestors, and keeping their vision alive.


I very much agree with this. This is why it is so disappointing to see Chinese Buddhists knowingly chuck away so much of their heritage (in reality it isn't just the Buddhists as a lot of Chinese culture has been largely emptied into the dumpster to make way for a cheap carbon copy of western consumer culture).

In the 20th century all these Chinese monks and nuns could have went to Japan to collect a lot of their own lost heritage and restore in a place like Taiwan (and a few Shingon teachers did this), but I imagine pride and nationalism prevented this. There are a lot of nationalistic sentiments to be seen in modern Chinese Buddhism, especially in Taiwan.


This I'd have to agree with you, but I would think the Taiwanese are more receptive to Japanese Buddhist culture than those in China or HK. Quite a number of Taiwanese monks and nuns come to study in Japan (personally know a few) but the common idea is that Chinese Buddhism in the epoch, but you also get Korean and Japanese Buddhists claiming the same thing. Come to think of it, there's very few books in the Chinese language on Japanese Budhism save for Ven Sheng Yan's "History of Buddhism in Japan and Korea 日韓佛教史" and "Introducing Japanese Buddhism 認識日本佛教" and two other books published by Dharma Drum monastery, one on the lives and teachings of eminent Japanese Buddhist Masters and one on Kyoto Buddhist temples.
Contemplating the power of Tathagata's Primal Vow,
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It brings quickly to fullness and perfection [in that person] the great treasure ocean of true and real virtues.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Dodatsu » Mon Jun 17, 2013 7:46 am

"Introducing Japanese Buddhism" is not by Ven Sheng Yan. It was a book published by Quan Fo 全佛 publishing company.
Contemplating the power of Tathagata's Primal Vow,
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It brings quickly to fullness and perfection [in that person] the great treasure ocean of true and real virtues.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jun 17, 2013 8:02 am

Dodatsu wrote:This I'd have to agree with you, but I would think the Taiwanese are more receptive to Japanese Buddhist culture than those in China or HK.


To some degree, but there's still a heavy bias against their married clergy, which is understandable.

I also would surmise that the elites of Taiwan have largely discouraged Japanese Buddhism, but also Tibetan Buddhism to some extent as well. In the earlier decades the KMT had a policy of "de-Japanizing" Taiwan, which helps to explain the success of mainland teachers around Taiwan after the KMT setup shop.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Huifeng » Mon Jun 17, 2013 8:16 am

It is very wonderful that the Japanese have preserved so much of the classical forms of Chinese Buddhism, from the Tang and Song. It is wonderful too that modern Japanese scholarship has also provided much depth of insight on these classical forms. I rejoice in their merit! :twothumbsup:

I also rejoice in the great efforts to make Buddhism alive and vibrant in the 20th and 21st centuries in China, be it the PRoC, Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macau, or even among the forms of Chinese Buddhism in Malaysia and elsewhere. Adaption in the face of perhaps one the greatest anti-Buddhist purges ever seen. Sure, it has changed, but the whole world changes, and the forms the Dharma takes respond, but does the core remain unchanged?

Why take the Tang as the standard? Why not central Asian Mahayana? or Indian Mahayana? or so-called early Buddhism? Why not some other standard? Why not ask whether or not the Dharma is able to reach into the hearts of people, and provide them with the wisdom and compassion to live without duhkha? How does one measure that, to ask of gain or loss?

~~ Huifeng
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