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Asian American religions have dramatically increased their presence in the United States. Partly, this is a function of the increasing population of Asian Americans since 1965.
Asian American is a name given to the United States residents who trace their ancestry back to the area of Asia from Pakistan in the west to the Pacific islands east of the Asian landmass. There are over 18 million Asian Americans in the United States (about 6 percent of the national population), and Asians are immigrating to the country at rates that far exceed those for any other group.
Other names have been taken, given, or forced upon Asian Americans. Such terms as “Chinese or Japanese imperial subjects” heightened a unity of political and religious obedience to a divine emperor. “Oriental” started as a French idealization of the Confucian state before descending to the level of being an epithet for backwardness.
Immigrants come with nationalities like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, and so forth that often intervene into religious discourses (see an example of this process in the Chinese American experience as described by Fenggang Yang (Chinese Christians in America. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999). In the 1970s the name Asian American was popularized by West Coast intellectuals in order to gather forces at the barricades of political and racial movements. Some scholars like Michael Omi and Howard Winant (Racial Formation in the United States. From the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge, 1994) claimed “Asian American” as a racialized reality, which was the result of racial conflicts innate to American society. Others saw the identity as an ethnic claim to assimilation into American cultural reality.
Asian immigrants and their progeny find ways to balance out the religious, national, ethnic, racial, and other identities from their homeland, new nation, and religion. “Asian American” has also become a common-sense meaning that was institutionalized by the U.S. census. But one should remember that many layers of names sit upon Asian American houses of worship as so many barnacles telling tales of ancestral honors, woes, and self-reflections.
Over three-quarters of Asian Americans profess a religious faith. About a quarter say that they are “religious nones,” that is, either having no particular religious faith or identifying as agnostic or atheist. About half of the “nones” actually have religious beliefs and ethics and practice them as an intrinsic part of Asian American culture, not as something that is “religious.”
Two-thirds of religious Asian Americans are Christians. This is not surprising when we take into account the rapid growth of Christianity in the non-European world. Asian Americans are contributing to the “de-Europeanization” of American Christianity and signal the increasingly religious direction of the 21st century.
Other Asian American religions include Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Zoroasterism, new Japanese religions, and many more.
The history of Asian American religions involves a dynamic interplay of the United States and Asia, global politics, democratic revolutions, persecution in Asia, racism in the United States, Supreme Court cases, and religious innovation.
The largest Asian American groups, those with 1–4 million people each, trace their ancestry back to Japan, China, Philippines, Vietnam, India, and Korea. Seven smaller groups have over 100,000 people each: Bangladeshis, Burmese, Cambodians, Hmong, Laotians, Pakistanis, and Thais. And there are many more smaller groups.
The diverse ethnic and national origins of Asian Americans means that their religions have a kaleidoscope of religious styles and cultures.
Astrotheology is that branch of theology that provides a critical analysis of the contemporary space sciences combined with an explication of classic doctrines such as creation and Christology for the purpose of constructing a comprehensive and meaningful understanding of our human situation within an astonishingly immense cosmos. Within the growing field of Religion and Science, astrotheology and its sister subject, astroethics, represent critical responses to the excitement permeating the space sciences, especially astrobiology. The excitement arises because of new searches for microbial life within the solar system and the discovery of exoplanets elsewhere in the Milky Way, some of which may be homes for extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations.
Atheism refers to the conviction of the nonexistence of God. In the United States, atheism is diffuse, individualistic, and heavily reliant on the media for the cultivation of a sense of community. Intellectually and socially, American Atheism has its roots in a number of prior movements, including in particular the Deism of Thomas Paine and other American Revolutionaries and the broad free-thought movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. These disparate strands of religious criticism coalesced into an atheist political movement predominantly during the course of the 20th century, through the deliberate efforts of individuals like Charles Lee Smith and Madalyn Murray O’Hair to capitalize on the exposure afforded by new media formats. Following the popularity of the Intelligent Design movement toward the end of the 1990s and the September 11th attacks, New Atheism emerged in the mid-2000s as a form of atheism reliant on new media, especially critical of fundamentalist interpretations of Christianity and Islam, and particularly devoted to scientific empiricism and rationality. In the early 21st century, atheism in the United States continues to be organized largely through the media, with official organizations operating primarily through annual conventions and local chapters. Atheism has constituted and continues to constitute an important form of identification for many Americans dissatisfied with a dominant religious culture.
John D. Barbour
Autobiography and biography (which together will be called “life writing”) raise theological questions in ways different from systematic or constructive theology. These forms of life writing tell a story that may or may not be correlated with traditional doctrines. They integrate the first order discourse of symbol and narrative with secondary hermeneutical reflections that interpret and analyze the meaning and truth of religious language. The probing and disturbing questioning in a profound autobiography such as Augustine’s contrasts with the assurances and settled answers expected of theology by religious institutions and communities. Particular religious questions shape specific genres of life writing such as Puritan discourses, nature writing, or African American autobiographies. The theology in autobiography may be either explicit or implicit and involves both questioning and affirmation, as may be seen in works as different as Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua and Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son. Conversion has been a central theme and shaping influence on Christian texts, even when authors challenge this focus and create alternative forms. A central theological question posed by autobiography concerns the authority of individual experience when it contrasts or conflicts with traditional norms asserted by orthodox believers and ecclesiastical hierarchy. In spiritual autobiographies by contemporary writers, we see serious attention given to communal norms for life stories and a search for a distinctive personal apprehension of what is sacred. Autobiographical writing has been stronger in the history of some religious traditions than in others. Yet in the modern world, almost every culture has produced life writing that questions or challenges established patterns of thought and practice. In contrast with autobiography, sacred biography has been an important part of every religious tradition, usually describing an exemplar to be revered and imitated. Its strong didactic interests often curb theological questioning of established norms. While modern scholarly biographies often mute theological questions, some writers raise normative issues and argue for why the subject’s life should be valued. As well as the theology explored within life writing, many works reveal a theology of life writing, that is, beliefs about how this kind of writing may bring the author or readers better understanding of God or deeper faith.
Avalokiteśvara is one of the most famous bodhisattvas in Buddhism. The worship of bodhisattvas (beings of enlightenment) is one of the most distinctive features of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Whereas early or mainstream Buddhism recognizes only two bodhisattvas—the Buddha in his previous lives and Maitreya, the future Buddha—there are a number of bodhisattvas in Mahāyāna to whom one can appeal for help and guidance. Of the many bodhisattvas, Avalokiteśvara is identified specifically as the embodiment of compassion and as such has been worshipped throughout Buddhist Asia.
Baptism opens a window to the heart of Martin Luther’s 16th-century theology. It offers a perspective for how Luther understands the impact of grace and its channels, as well as the nature of justification in an individual’s life. In his teaching about baptism, Luther demonstrates the vital working of the Word and lays a foundation for a Word-centered and faith-oriented spirituality. With baptism, Luther articulates his vision for the purpose of the Church and the rationale for sacraments. Baptism reveals different sides of the theologian: one who argues with a zeal on the “necessity” of baptism and its meaningful God-mandated practice in Christian communities and another who imagines God’s saving grace too expansive to be limited to any ritual. The apparent tensions in Luther’s articulation can be understood from his overlapping agendas and different audiences: in his baptismal talk, Luther is both processing his own Angst about salvation and negotiating his developing position in relation to the medieval sacramental theology and other emerging reform solutions. While feistily refuting his opponents, he is also speaking from his personal religious experience of being as if reborn with the encounter of the Word of grace and passionately extrapolating his most foundational conviction: God’s unconditional promise of grace as the ground of being for human life, given to humanity in the Word. The matter of baptism leads to the roots of different Christian “confessional” traditions. The format of the ritual has generated less anxiety than differing theological opinions on (1) the role of faith in the validity of baptism, and (2) the effects of baptism in one’s life. Whether infant or adult baptism is favored depends on whether baptism is primarily understood as a sign of faith, a cause of forgiveness and transformation, or an initiation into the Christian community—or all of the above. Baptism is at the center of Luther’s theological nervous system; it connects with every other vital thread in the theological map. Baptism is a mystery and a matter of faith; it calls for a philosophical imagination and mystical willingness to grasp the questions of reality beyond what meets the eye. “I study it daily,” Luther admits in his “Large Catechism.” “In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life. Christians always have enough to do to believe firmly what baptism promises and brings.”
Christopher J. Ellis
Baptists stand within the Free Church and Evangelical traditions. They baptize only those who profess personal faith, and they also give a high priority to evangelism. Although there is some variety around the world in this the fifth-largest Christian denomination, the main features of Baptist worship developed in Britain, where the Baptist story began. Emerging from the Radical Reformation at the beginning of the 17th century, British Baptists formed two main groups, each holding Calvinistic or Arminian theology, respectively. Both emphasized an ecclesiology in which the church was perceived to be a fellowship of believers and each rejected the baptism of infants. By the 19th century, most British Baptists held a common, though varied, evangelical theology, and this continues to characterize this denomination. The importance of scriptural preaching, extempore prayer, and the emergence of congregational hymn singing are all continuing features of Baptist worship.
The core aspects of Baptist spirituality can be seen in their worship, including giving due attention to scripture and its relevant application for the life and witness of the church; the importance of the devotional life and an openness to the Holy Spirit, as seen in extempore prayer; emphasis on the church as a fellowship of believers, as expressed in the communal nature of the Eucharist celebrated as the Lord’s Supper; and the importance of personal faith and the mission of the church, embodied in the baptism of believers and evangelistic preaching.
Lincoln A. Mullen
Since the first printing presses were established in Britain’s North American colonies, print was a ubiquitous feature of American religion. Print was a powerful means of communicating religious ideas, both to the faithful and to people whom religious groups wished to persuade. One common form of religious communication was the pamphlet or, by the 19th century, the tract. These tracts were a way of catechizing people who were already a member of different denominational groups, and tracts provided them with inexpensive collections of religious reading material, such as hymns or psalms. Tracts become a primary feature of evangelism in the United States, as did Bible distribution. In the 19th century the American Tract Society and the American Bible Society managed to exert a long reach into the interior of the United States, with distribution channels that were more far flung than those of any other institution except perhaps the postal service.
Print also functioned as a means of creating institutional loyalties. The American Tract Society created a network of tract distribution and funding which linked together large numbers of affiliate societies. While the American Bible Society preferred a different organizational structure, it brought together a wide array of denominations to make common cause for Bible distribution. In the 20th century, trans-denominational periodical publishers managed to unite various wings of Protestantism, as periodicals staked out positions in debates between fundamentalists and modernists, or later between evangelicals and liberal or mainline denominations. Yet smaller publications also functioned to establish denominational loyalties.
The Bible was by far the most important printed text in American Christianity. One of the earliest imprints in North America was a translation of the Bible into the Algonquian language, and later missionary groups sometimes made it a priority to translate the Bible into Indian languages. Printing of the English Bible proliferated for a number of reasons. One was the repeated efforts of the American Bible Society to supply the United States with a Bible for every household. Another was the development of various editions of the Bible, containing different qualities of paper and typography, or distinguishing themselves by the purpose of the text, such as study Bibles rich in notes, maps, and other explanatory features. A third reason was the proliferation of Bible translations, beginning with the late-19th-century Revised Version. These Bible versions were aimed at improving the scholarly reliability of the text, but they were matters of intense interest and debate among Christians more generally. Bible translations came to be a key marker of group identity and a contested source of religious authority, even as they were sponsored by trans-denominational groups like the National Association of Evangelicals or the National Council of Churches.
In short, print culture was a primary means of establishing group loyalty, for various Protestant groups as well as for Jews and Catholics, yet it also represented a key attempt at Christian unity and ecumenism. Print culture was both a proxy for many other ways of being religious and a powerful religious force in its own right.
Contemporary issues in biology and Christian theology are still dominated by the legacy of 19th-century biologist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Debates in evolutionary biology in relation to religious belief have been reinforced by historical myths that stress conflict over integration. More conservative branches of Christianity, often allied to particular Protestant traditions, argue for a form of popular theology that attempts to compete with science, namely, creationism. More sophisticated versions of this position may appear under the guise of intelligent design, though creationism and intelligent design are not synonymous. The mirror image of this position has developed among biologists who identify themselves as new atheists, adding further fuel to the fire of an existing controversy. Methodologically speaking, the engagement of biology and theology will depend on different philosophical presuppositions according to basic models of (a) conflict, (b) independence, (c) dialogue, and (d) integration. The biological sciences also have broader relevance to allied subject domains including, for example: (a) ecological, agricultural, animal, and environmental sciences; (b) anthropological, social, and political sciences; (c) medical sciences, including genetic science and embryo development; and (d) new technologies that include bioengineering. Theological engagement with the biological component of each of these domains is particularly intense where there are controversial ethical issues at stake that seem to challenge specific Christian beliefs about human nature or divine purpose. A more positive approach to the biological sciences that draws on research in the constructive systematic theological task, while avoiding historically naïve forms of natural theology, is starting to emerge in the literature. Within Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christian traditions, there is a spectrum of possible positions, such that the field of science and theology as a whole tends to be ecumenical in orientation rather than divided along denominational boundaries. The Catholic and Orthodox churches, however, give greater precedence to official statements by their respective churches that then influence public reception of controversial issues in biology and theology in particular ways.
Walter C. Rucker
The Black Atlantic and the African Diaspora refer to overlapping geographic and historical concepts each representing a complex series of dispersals, connections and reconnections, interactions, engagements and disengagements, and conflicts. As a geographic, spatial, and historical subset of the African Diaspora, the Black Atlantic refers to the sustained contacts and connections among the peoples of Atlantic Africa, Europe, and the Americas beginning with the “Age of Reconnaissance” (1306–1484) and the “Age of Contact” (1482–1621) and extending into the present. One of the first acts in the creation of the Black Atlantic can be located within the story of Mansa Qu, Islamic emperor and explorer from the western Sudanic empire of Mali, who commissioned two oceanic voyages to discover the western extent of the Atlantic between 1307 and 1311. Reconnaissance expeditions of this sort, launched by both Atlantic Africans and later by Iberians in the 14th and 15th centuries, helped create knowledge networks and webs of interconnections that would become critical to the later formation of the Black Atlantic.
At the core of many of these earlier efforts to explore the world around them were the religious pursuits and goals—both Christian and Islamic—on the part of Atlantic Africans and Iberians. Delegations of Christian monks and pilgrims from Ethiopia visited the Italian peninsula, Iberia, and other parts of Europe beginning in 1306 seeking pan-Christian alliances against common Muslim foes. These early delegations fueled later Iberian imaginations about the existence of Prester John—an eastern defender of Christendom believed by the early 15th century to preside over an East African kingdom. In part, the protracted search for the mythical Prester John in Africa by the Portuguese after 1415 set in motion sustained contacts between Iberia and Atlantic Africa highlighted by the creation of Iberian-African settlements along the Atlantic African coast and in the Atlantic Islands, the transfer of enslaved labor to the Americas via the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the beginnings of sugar plantations and slave societies in the Caribbean and Brazil by the mid-16th century. Centuries of sustained contact of this nature spawned a range of cultural formations, the processes of ethnogenesis, and the creation of new transnational identities in the littoral regions and beyond of the four continents that frame the Atlantic Ocean.
Creolization, the unique confluence of Atlantic cultures, served as the foundation for reinvented peoples across the Western Hemisphere who remembered, activated, and re-created “Africa” while attending to New World realities of racial slavery and hierarchy. This process of creolization created a range of ethnocultural permutations, from Atlantic Creoles to a wide array of neo-African ethnic groups in the Americas (e.g., Eboes, Coromantees, Congos, Nâgos, and Lucumís). Within this diverse cultural matrix and the processes of cultural mixing, religious and spiritual worldviews were among the most significant articulations of Black Atlantic and creole cultures. Indeed, there is no other way to decode the intricacies of Cuban Santería, Brazilian Candomblé, Haitian Voudou, New Orleans Hoodoo, Jamaican Myalism, or Obeah without framing them in the context of the cultural negotiations among many Atlantic African peoples made necessary by the suffocating confines of racial slavery and more recent socio-racial hierarchies embedded within Western Hemisphere colonialism, Jim Crow in the United States, and other manifestations of white supremacy
J. Blake Couey
The book of Isaiah is a compilation of prophetic poetry and narratives, named for an 8th-century
Isaiah is a sophisticated work of biblical Hebrew poetry, characterized by intricate combinations of imagery and wordplay. It features a high view of divine sovereignty, emphasizing Yhwh’s control over world nations and superiority over all human and divine powers; these ideas contributed to the emergence of monotheism in ancient Judah. The book also articulates diverse responses to imperial domination, even as it chronicles the ebb and flow of Judah’s own imperial aspirations. Striking portrayals of women and gender appear throughout Isaiah, including the extensive personification of Jerusalem as a woman and the comparison of Yhwh to a mother. Isaiah is also notable for its discourse about disability, which serves a variety of rhetorical functions in the book.
The impact of Isaiah was felt immediately, as evidenced by the number of copies of the book among the Dead Sea scrolls and citations of it in the New Testament. It greatly impacted the development of important religious ideas, including apocalypticism and belief in resurrection. In Christianity, Isaiah played an important role in reflection upon the nature of Jesus and the inclusion of Gentiles, even as it informed Christian anti-Judaism. The book has had a more complicated reception in Judaism, where it significantly influenced the growth of Zionism. Scholarly study of Isaiah continues to clarify the shape of its final form and history of composition. Current research on the book is increasingly interdisciplinary, engaging metaphor theory, disability studies, and postcolonial thought. The history of the book’s interpretation and reception is another area of growing interest.
Scott A. Mitchell
Many approaches to the study of Buddhism and media overlap with traditional Buddhist studies methods such as textual analysis, art theory, ethnography, and ritual studies, as well as studies of material culture. Media studies may concern itself with contemporary media messages and forms, but it need not be limited to the realms of mass media and popular culture. In foregrounding media and material cultural, scholars can trace the development and flow of Buddhism as a global religion and cultural phenomenon. Such studies also invariably draw attention to the lived aspects of the religion: How do Buddhists enact or perform Buddhism? How do Buddhists communicate ideas about Buddhism both to other Buddhists as well as to outsiders? And how do these communicative acts change one’s understanding of Buddhism? Such questions go beyond the merely textual, historical, or philosophical and call us to answer deeper questions about the nature of Buddhism in the contemporary, global age.
T. H. Barrett
In premodern China all written materials were to be treated with respect, but Buddhist materials containing the words of the Buddha in particular embodied his surviving presence in the world just as much as an image, and so any means of multiplying them increased that presence, thus casting printing in a role far more significant than the mere provision of reading matter. Unfortunately, the study of Buddhism and print culture in China has been hindered by cultural factors that have so far resulted in an uneven coverage by existing research. The contributions of Buddhism to the early history of printing have been acknowledged by modern scholarship, and the importance of Buddhist doctrines and practices to the emergence of the technology continue to be explored. More recently the immense achievement of Chinese Buddhists in printing the Buddhist Canon in its entirety from woodblock in a dozen successive editions has also been recognized. But the investigation of extracanonical printing has not blossomed in the same way. Only in the case of the Chan school, whose writings as a result of their incorporation of vernacular elements present a somewhat anomalous case, has modern research been carried out to the degree that one might have expected, largely as the result of the work of Japanese scholars such as Ishii Shūdō 石井修道 and Shiina Kōyū 椎名宏雄. This leaves much of the printed output of Chinese Buddhists over more than a millennium almost completely unaccounted for, which has very serious implications for any estimation of China as a book culture in past history. Simple counting of the number of editions published in China and Europe ignores the reluctance of our sources to record Buddhist works. Under the circumstances the picture given can only be described as provisional. China for its part was not a stable concept throughout history. Historically printing in languages other than Chinese occurred in the territorial area that forms the contemporary nation-state, and printing in Chinese also took place in locations that fall within other territories.
Buddhism in Japan has long coexisted with native cults and beliefs, commonly known as Shinto. According to received understanding, Shinto (literally, in modern Japanese interpretation, “the way of the [Japanese] gods”) is the autochthonous religious tradition of Japan, whose origins date back to the beginning of the Japanese civilization. Its main features are an animistic belief in the sanctity of nature, shamanic practices, ancestor cults, respect for authority and communal value, and a strong capacity to integrate and homogenize foreign elements. This received understanding sees the history of Japanese Buddhism as a gradual process of “Japanization,” that is, of integration within Shinto beliefs and attitudes. This understanding, however, still broadly circulating in Japan and abroad in textbooks and popular media, has been questioned radically by scholarship in the past few decades.
In fact, until approximately 150 years ago, Shinto (and local cults in general) was deeply connected to Japanese Buddhism: Buddhist authors were the first to write doctrines and tales about the Japanese local gods or Kami, and most shrines dedicated to the Kami used to belong to Buddhist temples or were in fact Buddhist temples themselves dedicated to the kami. Kami were normally understood as avatars (Japanese, gongen) of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other Buddhist divinities; some very popular kami even today, include Hachiman, who was evoked or discovered (if not created) by Buddhist monks, and Daikokuten and Benzaiten, two Buddhist deities from India (their Sanskrit names are, respectively, Mahākāla, the male counterpart of the goddess Kālī, and Sarasvatī, a water goddess). This situation of symbiosis, in which the Buddhist component was always at the top of the religious institutions’ hierarchy, also generated a number of conflicts that erupted in 1868, when the government decided to “separate” Shinto from Buddhism (shinbutsu bunri), an operation that resulted in the destruction of thousands of Buddhist temples and countless texts, images, and other artifacts, and, ultimately, in the creation of two separate religions. Any historical study of Shinto must therefore attempt to reconstruct this premodern situation of symbiosis and conflict.
Sharon A. Suh
Film serves as one of the most recent contributions to the variety of Buddhist visual forms that can offer a perspectival shift in interpretation for its viewers akin to other meditative devices such as mandalas. As a relatively recent subject of study, Buddhist films present innovative opportunities to visualize the Buddha, Buddhism, and the self in nuanced ways. Buddhist film can be understood as a spiritual technology that reshapes vision, and the act of viewing becomes a ritual process and contemplative practice. Ranging from films with an explicitly Buddhist theme and content to more abstract films without obvious Buddhist references, Buddhist films have become the subject of scholarly studies of Buddhism as well as occasions to reimagine Buddhism on and off screen. Buddhist films found in Asia and the West have proliferated globally through the rise of international Buddhist film festivals over the past fifteen years that have increased both the interest in Buddhism and the field of Buddhism and film itself. Most studies of Buddhism in film indicate that what constitutes a Buddhist film continually evolves and, as such, can be seen as a contemporary instantiation of the skillful means of the Buddha.
Erberto Lo Bue
Tibetan Buddhists view images primarily as religious supports and secondarily as works of art. Buddhist images are aimed at improving one’s karma by earning merit in view of future existences, at removing obstacles, and at creating wellbeing. Their commissioning may be occasioned by various circumstances, including illness and death, besides the need for a specific religious practice. Since they are primarily expressions of faith, their age has a limited importance and their originality hardly any: a religious image is valued less for its rarity and aesthetic value than for its apotropaic virtues and for its particular connection with a holy place or master. Hence the application of Western post-Medieval aesthetic criteria to the appreciation of Tibetan art ought to be complemented by an appreciation of the specific religious meaning of an image, the interpretation of its particular symbolism, and the aim of its client within the specific cultural and historical context in which it was produced.
This article is preceded by a historical introduction sketching the development of Buddhist art and architecture in Tibet from the 7th to the present century, mentioning the role played by foreign artists, mostly Newars from the Nepal Valley, and dwelling on particularly significant monuments, such as the monastery of Sàmye (8th century) and the Great Stupa of Gyantsé (15th century), representing the two highest moments in the history of Tibetan religious art and architecture, the Pòtala being basically a fortified palace.
The first section, on Tibetan Buddhist art, deals with iconography and iconometry as well as materials and techniques, contrasting the prevalent approach to the subject by collectors, and even art historians, with that of Buddhist masters and devotees, pointing out the importance of the consecration of images, without which the latter remain worthless from a religious point of view.
The second section, on Tibetan Buddhist architecture, deals with the construction of religious buildings, their materials, their religious functions and their symbolism. Although stupas are referred to throughout the article, they are dealt especially in this section.
Sanskrit terms, whether in phonetic transcription or in transliteration, prevail in the first section because the relevant terminology is largely the Tibetan translation of Indian Buddhist terms, Tibetan terms in phonetic transcription and transliteration prevail in the second section, except in the part dealing with the stupa.
Monica Sanford and Nathan Jishin Michon
Buddhist chaplaincy is a profession in which Buddhists with specialized training care for the spiritual needs of suffering individuals (careseekers), typically within non-religious settings such as hospitals, hospices, military, workplaces, or universities. Although the roots of spiritual care date back to the beginning of the Buddhist traditions, professionalized Buddhist chaplaincy is a very recent phenomenon. Despite some beginnings in the mid-20th century, most developments have occurred rapidly only within the 21st century. This contemporary movement is occurring in numerous places around the world, including North America, Europe, and Asia, covering a wide range of countries, cultures, and Buddhist traditions.
The profession of chaplaincy was originally a Christian vocation but began expanding to serve the needs of multireligious careseekers and train caregivers of various religious backgrounds in the 20th century. Thus, while chaplaincy is now a profession open to all comers, including Buddhists, humanists, and atheists, many of the educational, training, and professional standards for certification or licensing are still normed against Christian expectations and legacy organizational structures, particularly in North America, Europe, and the British Commonwealth. In the countries where Buddhist chaplaincy is flourishing in the early 21st century, different groups are developing degree programs, training opportunities, and professional expectations that accord with their local regulatory bodies and other forms of existing chaplaincy certification. In Asian nations, Buddhists are stepping forward to build standards for providing spiritual care in the context of cultural institutions that are not typically religious (e.g., hospitals and schools).
Diverse settings and differing requirements lead to distinctions between Buddhist chaplaincy in different countries. However, some of the core competencies for spiritual care are very consistent: compassion, listening, ritual proficiency, cultural understanding, and reflection. Buddhist and non-Buddhist chaplains alike agree to a fundamental skill set to care for people who are suffering in the various institutions where they work and volunteer. Distinctions between Buddhist and other forms of spiritual care are based on the care model employed, whether strictly co-religionist (i.e., Buddhists caring for Buddhists) or interfaith (i.e., Buddhists caring for all). In the latter case, professional chaplains (of any religion) are trained to provide spiritual care from the spiritual or religious worldview of the careseeker. As such, most Buddhist chaplains must possess basic knowledge and competency in many world religions. Nevertheless, Buddhist spiritual care may be distinct in its theory (Dharma based) and place more emphasis on mindfulness, meditation, and other contemplative techniques to benefit both careseekers and chaplains. Spiritual care that is “Dharma-based” means based on the teachings of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, and/or the Buddhist traditions and teacher who followed after him. This includes a broad range of texts and teachings across the Buddhist world. As an emerging field, there is little literature on Buddhist chaplaincy, so it is currently somewhat difficult to say what theories and practices will come to dominate the profession.
Since its birth in India about 2,500 years ago, Buddhism has spread throughout the globe. As Buddhism reached new areas, its followers developed their own regional identities and understandings of Buddhist geography. South Asia, and specifically the sites associated with the historical Buddha’s life, remained a conceptual center for many Buddhists, but the near disappearance of Buddhism from the subcontinent in the 13th century allowed Buddhists in other regions to overcome their “borderland complexes” and identify sacred Buddhist sites in their own lands. This involved both the metaphorical transfer of sacred sites from South Asia to new places and the creation of new sacred sites, such as reliquaries for the remains of local saints and mountains seen as the abodes of buddhas or bodhisattvas. By the 19th and 20th centuries, colonial encounters introduced Buddhism to the West and created categories of national Buddhisms, which led to new visions of Buddhist geography and regionalism.
In addition to national Buddhisms, regional distinctions commonly applied to the Buddhist world include the mapping of Theravāda in Southeast Asia, Mahāyāna in East Asia, and Vajrayāna in the Himalayas, or the mapping of Northern Buddhism as Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna in East Asia and the Himalayas, and Southern Buddhism as Theravāda in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. These models have some salience, but the history of Buddhist geography and regionalism reveals that the locations and interactions of different Buddhist traditions are more complex. New models for Buddhist regionalism have moved away from static, bounded spaces to foreground processes of interaction, such as network analyses of trade and transmission routes or areas such as “Maritime Asia” or the “East Asian Mediterranean.”
Vesna A. Wallace
The Pāli Tripiṭaka demonstrates that Indian Buddhists were familiar not only with the classical Āyurveda of the late Vedic period but also with the Atharvaveda and with the oldest passages that precede the redaction of the Āyurvedic Saṃhitās. The Nikāyas, Pāli Vinaya, and certain noncanonical Pāli sources contain the earliest accounts of Buddhist knowledge of diseases, medicinal substances, dietary guidelines, herbal and surgical treatments, and illnesses specific to the life and practices of a bhikkhu, the most common of which were gastrointestinal ailments, digestive problems, piles, and skin-related diseases. These sources also offer the information on medical training, infirmaries, and caregivers. Knowledge of medicine in Pāli literature is a combination of popular and folk medicine and classical Āyurveda. In all of Indian Buddhist traditions, the knowledge of preventing illnesses, preserving good health, and securing longevity is closely related to the Buddhist conception of the preciousness and rarity of human life, and the importance of health for Buddhist practice is emphasized. The ultimate medicine is said to be the Buddha Dharma and the ultimate physician the Buddha. In the Pāli Vinaya Piṭaka, the Buddha himself acts as a physician, making a diagnosis and prescribing a treatment, although he himself at times succumbed to illness and physical pain. The Indian Mahāyana and Vajrayāna traditions also recognized the Medicine Buddha (Bhaiṣajyaguru), Amitābha, Āyurbuddha, and various Bodhisattvas as healers and designed the devotional, ritual, and meditational practices related to these celestial physicians. Another healer who is given attention in many Buddhist sources as early as the Pāli Vinaya is Jīvaka, “the king of physicians,” known for his superb diagnostic and surgical skills.
Different classifications of diseases, ranging from 35 and 49 to 404, are given in various Pāli and Sanskrit sources. While certain Pāli noncanonical sources contain mutually differing lists of the eight causes of illness, including karma, some Sanskrit sources, like Garbhāvakrānti Sūtra, speak of 80,000 bodily worms as causes of human illnesses. All major Indian Buddhist traditions equally recognized various malicious entities as external causes of illness and offer diverse methods of healing the afflictions caused by these entities.
In the Indian Buddhist tantric tradition, according to which only embodied human beings can practice tantra, the importance of maintaining health and ensuring a long life become of paramount importance. Since various yogic tantric practices are most intimately related to subtle physiological and prāṇic systems, the physiological aspects of illness are examined as well as, medicinal formulas, and medical treatments that accord with Āyurveda. But tantras and tantric-medical treatises also pay great attention to the preparations and usages of alchemical substances, knowledge of the drawings of yantras and maṇḍalas, ritual performances, astrological divinations, and applications of protective and healing mantras and dhāraṇīs as regular therapeutic methods. In this regard, the medical training of a tantric healer covered multifaceted aspects of tantric knowledge.
Supernatural wizards with magical powers to heal the sick and who inhabit the minds and bodies of men, women, and children, as well as defend religion from the forces of evil: this is not the popular vision of Buddhism. But this is exactly what one finds in the Buddhist country of Myanmar, where the majority of people abide by Theravāda Buddhism—a form of Buddhism generally perceived as staid, lacking religious devotion and elements of the supernatural. Known as “weizzā,” the beliefs and practices associated with this religion have received little scholarly attention, especially when compared with research done on other aspects of Buddhism in Myanmar. Reasons for this are varied, but two stand out. Firstly, because such phenomena have been labeled by scholars and Buddhists alike as “popular” and “syncretic” forms of religion, scholars of Buddhism in Myanmar have tended to focus their research on aspects of Buddhism considered orthodox and normative, such as vipassana and abhidhamma. Secondly, the academic study of religion has been slow to develop new interpretive strategies for studying religious phenomena that do not readily fit existing categories of what constitutes “religion.”
These two dilemmas will be confronted by introducing and employing the framework of “lived religion” to examine the religious lives of those who engage the world of Buddhist wizards, as well as the experiences these individuals consider central to their lives—along with the varied rituals that make up their personal religious expressions. The reader is invited to think of religion dynamically, reconsidering the landscape of Myanmar religion in terms of practices linked to specific social contexts. After delineating a genealogy of scholarly approaches to the study of Buddhism-as-lived and the ways in which scholars have constituted the subject of their studies, the article will examine aspects of Myanmar religious life from the perspectives of those whose experiences are often misrepresented or ignored entirely, not only in Western academic works on religion but also in Myanmar historical monographs and other written, oral, and pictorial sources. In addition to increasing our understanding of the lived religious experiences and practices of the weizzā and their devotees, this approach to religious studies also enriches our investigation of the complex interrelationship between these experiences and practices and the wider social world they are enacted in. Acknowledging that any lens we study religion through offers only a partial truth, an improved religious studies approach to the weizzā and similar phenomena can get closer to the truths that people make in their own lives: thus, moving further from the contested boundaries that scholars and practitioners of religion place on religious worlds.