What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jun 17, 2013 8:23 am

Huifeng wrote:How does one measure that, to ask of gain or loss?

~~ Huifeng


We really should be more mindful and respectful of Indra and the Four Mahārāja as they guard the cosmos against evil forces.

To drop them to the wayside is just terrible. An indication of disrespect to the gods.
Last edited by Indrajala on Mon Jun 17, 2013 9:14 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Dodatsu » Mon Jun 17, 2013 8:48 am

Indrajala wrote:
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.


Well I wouldn't blame them, I did my Masters Degree thesis on the history of Jodo Shinshu in the greater China region before and after WW2, and a lot of Taiwanese individuals who were ordained as priests in many of the Japanese sects were persecuted after Taiwan was returned to the KMT government and during the White Terror years. Tibetan Buddhism is now very popular in Taiwan, especially the last decade although there is a group against them (I think you might know which one I'm referring to, they have their quarters near Yuanshan subway station).
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Dodatsu » Mon Jun 17, 2013 8:51 am

Indrajala wrote:
Huifeng wrote:How does one measure that, to ask of gain or loss?

~~ Huifeng


We really should be more mindful and respectful of Indra and the Four Mahārāja as they guard the cosmos against evil forces.

To drop them to the wayside is just terrible. A indication of disrespect to the gods.


Erm, in Jodo Shin temples we also don't have their images nor shrines dedicated to them... No liturgy for any deities (Indian, Chinese or Japanese) either...
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jun 17, 2013 9:08 am

Dodatsu wrote:Erm, in Jodo Shin temples we also don't have their images nor shrines dedicated to them... No liturgy for any deities (Indian, Chinese or Japanese) either...


Yeah, I haven't quite figured out Jodo Shin Shu. It honestly makes little sense to me.

In the context of this discussion, I'm really talking more about Nara and Heian Buddhism which preserved a lot of Tang Buddhism. Shinran and Nichiren are not representative.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Dodatsu » Mon Jun 17, 2013 10:03 am

Indrajala wrote:
Dodatsu wrote:Erm, in Jodo Shin temples we also don't have their images nor shrines dedicated to them... No liturgy for any deities (Indian, Chinese or Japanese) either...


Yeah, I haven't quite figured out Jodo Shin Shu. It honestly makes little sense to me.

In the context of this discussion, I'm really talking more about Nara and Heian Buddhism which preserved a lot of Tang Buddhism. Shinran and Nichiren are not representative.


Kamakura Sects, including both Shinshu and Nichiren, also took in a lot of Nara and Heian influences and popularized Buddhism for the common people as Buddhism in Japan up to then was mainly targeted at the imperial, nobles and aristocrats.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Astus » Mon Jun 17, 2013 10:43 am

Indrajala wrote:In the context of this discussion, I'm really talking more about Nara and Heian Buddhism which preserved a lot of Tang Buddhism. Shinran and Nichiren are not representative.


But it's quite obvious that Shinran and even Nichiren were in the end more successful in spreading the Dharma to a larger community than any Nara school, and Shinran beat even Heian schools. I think what is important is to find the right way to connect to the largest number of people and bring them the correct teachings.

From my perspective, old Buddhist art is more like curiosity than anything religious. I mean, I live in Europe, so the Buddhist temples I see are very recent or more likely a normal room or house decorated by some statues and pictures. True, they don't give the same impression as a Gothic church, but at the same time, old Christian churches are visited mostly by tourists rather than flocks of believers.

As I said before, religions change. Returning to "the original" is always an arbitrary choice. You could say that by simplifying the decoration in modern temples they are returning to an even earlier time of simple viharas uncontaminated by Hindu and Chinese popular beliefs.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby rory » Mon Jun 17, 2013 9:32 pm

Actually I think you could have statues of the entire Assembly at Vulture peak as an orthodox Nichiren altarpiece, which would have the 4 Maharajas, nagas, Kannon, Fudo Myo, Aizen, everyone. But you'd need a giant room and lots of money to commission it. Paper mandalas come from the Shingon influence and also are portable and cheap (to this day) so economics has some play. But I certainly visualize Fudo, Aizen and the 4 Maharajas and ask for their protection. I don't pray to them individually, but plenty of Nichiren sects have these statues as altars and people do.

I grew up in New York City where there were plenty of Chinese temples, Japanese temples and Euro-american temples usually Zen. I had plenty of visuals and aesthetics, even the Shin church which I visited and was rather run down at the time (since refurbished) with tatty linoleum, had a beautiful altar, inspiring aesthetic statue of Amida and Lotus hangings and flowers and incense. Compare that with the humanistic temple statue of maitreya that was huge white marble, gold robe with red lips..I know China has better to offer. I wish they'd embrace their fantastic rich legacy.

I've been to a Tendai temple and the Tendai priests' robes are T'ang, they're not kimono style at all. I love it,
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby kirtu » Mon Jun 17, 2013 10:38 pm

Astus wrote:What you have listed as lost in China are art forms/objects and rituals.
.....
From my perspective, old Buddhist art is more like curiosity than anything religious.


Indrajala wrote:Art inspires people. Aesthetics provides an agreeable environment. Practices formulated by past celebrated masters can foster faith in people.


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.



Art can foster faith but it's more than that. Buddhist art really carries blessings and can by itself reawaken buried propensities. Buddhist art is very important. Even without formal blessing by a teacher it carries this power for people who have the connection.

Dodatsu wrote:Erm, in Jodo Shin temples we also don't have their images nor shrines dedicated to them... No liturgy for any deities (Indian, Chinese or Japanese) either...


But you do have images of Amitabha, usually a central statue.

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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby rory » Tue Jun 18, 2013 2:02 am

Gosh I'd forgotten the famous taizokai and kongokai mandalas of Tendai and Shingon, they're not just aesthetic' but essential to esoteric practice, as well as a lot of esoteric equipment incense burners all kinds of stuff; material culture. Buddhism isn't just 'texts' though people in the West may feel so as that's how they were introduced to it. In days before literacy, story-telling scrolls, scrolls of the Pure Land and Lotus Sutra were essential in spreading the Dharma.

Rev. Dodatsu, it's so good to see you here :namaste:
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 18, 2013 3:18 am

Astus wrote:But it's quite obvious that Shinran and even Nichiren were in the end more successful in spreading the Dharma to a larger community than any Nara school, and Shinran beat even Heian schools. I think what is important is to find the right way to connect to the largest number of people and bring them the correct teachings.


That's partially because Nara and Heian Buddhism were state sponsored and part of the political arrangements. They didn't make much of an effort to be popular it seems. That is what characterizes Kamakura Buddhism: popularization.

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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby rory » Tue Jun 18, 2013 3:37 am

Indrajala wrote:
Astus wrote:But it's quite obvious that Shinran and even Nichiren were in the end more successful in spreading the Dharma to a larger community than any Nara school, and Shinran beat even Heian schools. I think what is important is to find the right way to connect to the largest number of people and bring them the correct teachings.


That's partially because Nara and Heian Buddhism were state sponsored and part of the political arrangements. They didn't make much of an effort to be popular it seems. That is what characterizes Kamakura Buddhism: popularization.

See the following:

https://sites.google.com/site/dharmadep ... -and-tibet


It's sad we hardly hear anything of the Nara schools today, though the head of the Hosso sect wrote an excellent book "Living Yogacarya" Wisdom 2009. Basically the popular practices for Kegon and Hosso are Kannon centered.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 18, 2013 4:59 am

rory wrote:It's sad we hardly hear anything of the Nara schools today, though the head of the Hosso sect wrote an excellent book "Living Yogacarya" Wisdom 2009. Basically the popular practices for Kegon and Hosso are Kannon centered.


They hardly exist any more as schools, though the texts are all still there. Nara schools were scholastic for the most part, which is why they were seldom if ever popular with the masses who couldn't read classical Chinese. :sage:

Nichiren and Shinran developed faith oriented traditions, so scholar and illiterate farmer alike could equally participate.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Jun 18, 2013 7:33 am

I remember from my time in Taiwan enjoying the mixed Taoist and Buddhist temples far more than the large Buddhist ones. There was a real energy associated with the places and the artwork was usually far richer, while some of the big Buddhist temples tended to be a little bit utilitarian (but not all). I remember one temple to Guan Yin that I often visited where people would throw some sort of wood sticks to tell fortunes.

The most impressive Chinese Buddhist artwork in my opinion is that connected with the Amitabha and Avatamsaka sutras. Since the assemblies connected with those teachings encompassed such a wide variety of being from Indo-Buddhist mythology, it is interesting to see how they were adapted to the Chinese aesthetic. Similarly, the Tibetan thangkha work that I appreciate the most incorporates elements from Chinese landscapes, such as the Karma Gadri style as it was expressed at Palpung monastery http://www.himalayanart.org/search/set.cfm?setID=251.

An interesting trend in Chinese Buddhist temples across the board seems to be a liking of white jade Burmese style figures of Buddha Shakyamuni.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Croweboat91 » Mon Sep 30, 2013 12:40 pm

Venerable Indrajala,

I appreciate your comments, especially as someone who is easily enamored with modern Taiwanese Buddhist institutions. I only have an undergraduate knowledge of Buddhist things, and know close to nothing about the art and history of the East Asian tradition. Your comments have produced some healthy disillusionment in me.

I first encountered institutionalized Buddhism through these modern organizations in Taiwan, and had nothing in my memory to compare them to. And maybe that's exactly why Taiwan's Buddhist organizations appear so different from what preceded them in the Chinese tradition -- this generation of Taiwanese Buddhists are for the most part unable to meet the tradition of the past, whether through its architecture, through the works of past authors, or through the stories that would place modern teachers within a broader context of practices, achievements, and goals. There's a disconnect.

However, as a historian, haven't you read about the different political and social upheavals that lead to the persecution of the Chinese Buddhist tradition in the past? Hasn't the Chinese tradition resurfaced again and again, despite repeated purges? I'm not asking rhetorically - I genuinely want to know.

Has the tradition become more fragmented and diluted with every upheaval? If so, doesn't that provide us with a good reason to study it, even within its modern contexts? Instead of lamenting about the chasm between the Buddhism of then and now, why not invigorate the present tradition with knowledge from the past? We can find much that is redeeming within the modern traditions, although they have departed in some fundamental ways with traditional forms.

While noticing the almost unrecognizable face of Chinese Buddhism in Taiwan, we can't forget the incredible odds that Chinese Buddhist escapees faced when they left empty-handed for the provincial island. As a result of this transplantation, and subsequent developments, there almost seems to be a new religion in Taiwan, which calls itself "Buddhism" and which refers back to the past for legitimization. But it is also possible to refer to the past in order to criticize the present, which seems to be what you are doing.

The potential for this type of critical reflection already exists in Taiwan -- masters like Yinshun and Sheng Yan both searched vigorously within fundamental texts and traditions to find out how to rebuild Chinese Buddhism (and sometimes they had no choice but to search for solutions to modern crises, which to me is both what allowed the tradition to survive and what allowed it to become diluted, for modern issues are indeed very different from the central issue which the Buddha defined: suffering). The form of Buddhism that is taking root in Taiwan could be helped along by people like you, who possess a broader historical perspective, who can refer the tradition back to its earlier days, when important founding precedents (in art, the pantheon, practices, architecture) had not been lost.

Imagine compiling information about Tang architecture, or Tang esoteric practices, from Japan, and then bringing them alive in Taiwan, where there is much faith, nostalgia, and funding.


As modern international Buddhists, we're able to "shop" for the tradition we prefer, and to pick up or drop certain practices here and there. We aren't necessarily affiliated with one nation, or one tradition, in this regard. This is good in some ways. But when the integrity of the Chinese Buddhist tradition is at stake, for example, we may feel that it's not our personal responsibility to resuscitate it. We can look for a Theravada meditation teacher, or a temple that contains a broader pantheon, or whatever we want, somewhere else.

This mentality of "shopping" for the dharma won't be helpful for those who are grounded in, say, the modern Taiwanese Buddhist environment, those who are bound to a tradition by language and habit. Such a tradition could benefit greatly from the suggestions of learned and devoted people who aren't limited by a commitment to one context. We should be aware of how our lack of strong national affiliations informs us -- we may feel somewhat immune to the political and ideological threats that endanger Buddhist traditions in their local contexts.

If that wasn't what you were expressing, then I've responded to a hypothetical speaker, but maybe my comments will still be useful. And I'd love to hear more about the persecutions the Chinese tradition faced in centuries past.

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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Sep 30, 2013 3:18 pm

Croweboat91 wrote:There's a disconnect.


Chinese Buddhism was effectively decapitated by the communist insurrection on the mainland. Refugees fled to frontier areas of the Chinese diaspora, such as Taiwan and elsewhere, but I believe a lot of the artistic traditions were not passed on to a new generation, so while you have intellectuals who read the classical texts as well as progressive thinkers, the rest of Chinese Buddhism was largely lost, which helps to explain the sheer lack of old aesthetics (or any aesthetics sometimes) in Chinese temples.

Now, granted, China is now reviving old architecture and art traditions, but from what I can tell it is more of getting the superficial gist of things rather than the real traditions of the past.

I think to some degree the intellectual traditions took a serious hit, too.

Humanistic Buddhism for example doesn't really focus on actual meditation or the horrid realities of saṃsāra. They talk more about being socially active, generating merit and benefiting beings. I think part of the reason for such shifts is because a lot of people don't really believe in saṃsāra any longer. They acknowledge it, sure, but it isn't regarded as a pressing concern any longer. What really matters is turning the world into a utopia one mind at a time (i.e., building a pure land on earth).


However, as a historian, haven't you read about the different political and social upheavals that lead to the persecution of the Chinese Buddhist tradition in the past? Hasn't the Chinese tradition resurfaced again and again, despite repeated purges? I'm not asking rhetorically - I genuinely want to know.


There's no single Chinese tradition really. That's why the frontier Buddhism that you find in Singapore from a century ago is rather different from what Hongyi or Taixu were promoting. There was a great deal of variance and there still arguably is, though more and more Chinese Buddhism is either Pure Land or Humanistic Buddhism.

In any case, Chinese traditions live on in Korea and Japan. Nationalistic sentiments aside, most forms of Japanese Buddhism are really archaic forms of Buddhism found on the mainland centuries ago.


Has the tradition become more fragmented and diluted with every upheaval?


No, it has just changed a lot. A lot of the reforms post-WWII often strike me as idealistic and even non-Buddhist.



Instead of lamenting about the chasm between the Buddhism of then and now, why not invigorate the present tradition with knowledge from the past?


I basically concluded I'd never survive in a Chinese Buddhist institution as a monk. I tend to be outspoken, critical, slothful and independent, all of which are qualities that are intolerable in most Chinese traditions.

In any case, I'm just an observer and not a serious participant. As a scholar of classical East Asian Buddhism, I can just look at these reformed models and acknowledge how detached they are from what used to exist.


The form of Buddhism that is taking root in Taiwan could be helped along by people like you, who possess a broader historical perspective, who can refer the tradition back to its earlier days, when important founding precedents (in art, the pantheon, practices, architecture) had not been lost.


To get enough influence to be taken seriously as a white monk would require many years of towing the party line and exercising absolute obedience to authorities.

According to my natal chart, that's the exact opposite of what I am likely to do in life. :?

Nope, no gilded cages for me.


But when the integrity of the Chinese Buddhist tradition is at stake, for example, we may feel that it's not our personal responsibility to resuscitate it.


I don't really like ethnic associations with Buddhism. The whole "Chinese Buddhism" movement of the modern times is a product of misguided nationalism at any rate, and I'm not part of that club and never will be.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Sep 30, 2013 6:08 pm

All the various forms of Buddhism have ethnocentric attitudes to some degree. But it was only in a Chinese monastery that I was told I should "Pray to be reborn Chinese, because then you'll finally understand."
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby dzogchungpa » Mon Sep 30, 2013 8:47 pm

Indrajala wrote:I tend to be outspoken, critical, slothful and independent, all of which are qualities that are intolerable in most Chinese traditions

:twothumbsup:

You must become a dzogchenpa.

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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Matylda » Wed Oct 16, 2013 11:43 am

Well, nenbutsu or whatever name we call it, sanskrit etc. of course is general method of the mahayana sutra, but in China and specially Japan it got very particular importance forming independent schools, studyies and practices. Generally it generated a tradition on its own, the source might be Indian or any other, but if we look at far east, as far as Japan it got extreme accomplishment and history.

As for the buildings, wood etc. they are probably of less importance, however carelessness is something we cannot call light matter... for exemple I have a friend, Chinese monk, who has completed his training in China proper, and in Japan in soto school... he is a scholar, and wrote great book on zen calligraphy. According to his testimony Chinese did not preserve anything from famous masters... like inka scrolls, shiho documents etc. all were simply lost in China... but those of Chinese origin were preserved with great care in Japan.. so he, being a Chinese monk, when does research on those priceless pieces of writings of enlightened masters has to do it in ... Japan.

I wonder why Chinese did not care.. I asked him and his only answer was - nobody cared. it gives a lot of thoughts - What has Chinese Buddhism lost?
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Oct 16, 2013 12:53 pm

Matylda wrote:I wonder why Chinese did not care.. I asked him and his only answer was - nobody cared. it gives a lot of thoughts - What has Chinese Buddhism lost?


There's also the architecture, sculpting, painting and so forth, most of which are only preserved in Japan and perhaps Korea.
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Re: What has Chinese Buddhism lost?

Postby TheSpirit » Wed Oct 16, 2013 2:37 pm

There is definitely something very sacred about Japanese's temple and shrine. The architecture, the design, the color, the neatness and order, the richness in culture, the respectable-aspect of it that really put you into a competely different realm as if you left the mundane world behind and enter a sacred holy land....... I had been to a few Vietnamese temple and Chinese and I just don't get the same motivation. So definitely your surrounding is important as it can shift the mentality of an individual and can be an inspiration.

Most Chinese and Vietnamese temple are just so brightly colored, it makes me feel anxious and busy being in it. Like the following:

Vietnamese
Image
Looks like it was made from plastic........

Chinese
Image

Having that said. I do like Chinese/Vietnamese older temple/shrine.
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