The Buddhist religion has a long and rich tradition of biographical literature. This literature has functioned to unify distinct and often contradictory elements of Buddhist ritual, practice, and doctrine, adjusting these elements to specific historical situations. Scholarship on the function of literary characters in making narrative worlds coherent supports this argument: when readers engage characters, they draw together textual and non-textual data to construct beings that are similar to themselves. This connection of a specific situation with a larger whole, a connection that is at the same time an organization, can be observed in how Buddhist biographies are built. Biographies of Shakyamuni, for example, contain many traces of changes motivated by local conditions. The body of Shakyamuni is used to authorize these changes: the local is situated at the heart of Buddhism. Biographies of Chinese Buddhist saints attest to the same process, as can be seen in the shifting representation of Indian saints in China or the literary transformations of the Patriarchs of the Chan school. While these changing representations reflect changes in historical Buddhist communities, they can also produce attitudes and regulate behaviors. The debate on the portrayal and effects of women and animals in Indian Buddhist texts provides an illustration of this, as does scholarship on how saintly ideals regulate behavior. The case of Buddhist autobiography, a genre at times so closely connected to biography that it is nearly indistinguishable from it, provides a final example of how identity is structured in Buddhist biography.
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Ben Van Overmeire
“Global Buddhism” can be broadly understood as the transnational and transcultural network of circulating Buddhists and dynamic flows of Buddhist ideas and practices. It is characterized by ideals of universally applicable values and individually accessible experiences transgressing historical and cultural particularities. Global Buddhism is one kind of globalized religion, being itself a specific domain within the general context of globalization. Globalization encompasses transnational processes of interchanging values, services, and products, typically related to the modern, capitalist world. However, globalization has also been understood as a framework constituting cultural and religious dynamics and centripetal forces involving circulating ideas, practices, and institutions in an open and interacting world. A broader spatial and temporal perspective on globalization situates it in broader historical contexts, but typically linking it to an affinity with postmodernity and with a historical focus on the time since the breakdown of the communist world. Proto-global elements of religion can likewise be found throughout history, especially in axial religions and in contexts of accelerated circulation and hybridization. Throughout Buddhist history, such elements have been characteristic of the religion’s evolution and dissemination. Mission and trade along the Silk Route and in southeast Asia created proto-global ramifications just like the advent of Western colonialism co-created reform movements and networks of people with international scope and impact on “Buddhist modernity.” Global aspects are thus inherently part of much of Buddhist history, but a more restricted use of the concept would place global Buddhism in the aftermath of modernity, typically pronounced in urban centres and de-territorialized (online) social networks. Resistance and relativization are potentially always part of global transfigurations has also been influential in Buddhist contexts. One specific kind of “glocal” Buddhism, (yet) mainly restricted to a North American context, concentrates on reactions towards the transfigurations of globalization. What constitutes this kind of “post-global Buddhism” is twofold: an unveiling of universalized, global Buddhism as basically particularized “white” Buddhism, and an ideological shift beyond such disguised hegemony envisioning itself with new practices, values, identities, and communities based on (gender and) ethnic/racial differentiation.
The study of religion and new media explores how the contemporary proliferation of technological devices and digital culture impacts religious traditions. The progressive mediation of religion through websites, social networks, apps, and digital devices has created new conditions for religious experiences, practices, and beliefs. From the diffusion of internet technologies in the mid-1990s, scholars have individuated four waves to describe the evolution of religion and new media: (a) The first wave (mid-1990s–beginning 2000s) is characterized by enthusiasm for the potential of the Internet and the establishment of the first websites dedicated to religion, such as the Vatican official webpage and chatrooms where Neo-Pagans celebrated online rituals. These may be considered examples of “cyber-religion,” a term that indicates religious activities in the virtual space of the Internet, usually called in this period “cyberspace.” (b) The second wave (the mid-late 2000s) involves the growth of religious online presences, and is characterized by more realistic attitudes on the potentials and consequences of internet use. For example, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish virtual sacred buildings have been created on the platform Second Life. At the same time, the virtual congregation Church of Fools attracted both positive reactions and criticism. In this period, scholars often talk about “religion online,” which is the online transposition of activities and narratives of religious groups, and “online religion,” a type of religion that exists mainly because of the increased interconnectivity and visual enhancements of the Internet. (c) The third wave (late 2000–mid-2010s) saw the creation of social network platforms and the proliferation of smartphones. Religious leaders such as the Dalai Lama and the Pope established social network accounts, and smartphone developed apps for reading sacred texts, praying, and performing confessions. This type of religion is usually called “digital religion,” a concept that indicates the progressive blurring of the line between online and offline religiosity. (d) The fourth wave (the late 2010s) includes online religious groups circulating narratives beyond religious institutions, and greater academic attention to elements such as gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, politics. This is the case of veiled Muslim influencers who talk about religion in fashion tutorials, and Russian Orthodox women (Matushki) who use blogs to diffuse patriarchal values. The notion of “digital religion” is employed in this period to explore how religious identities, communities, and authorities change in the internet age. Scholars have approached these four waves through the lens of existing media theoretical frameworks, especially mediation, mediatization, and social shaping of technology, and adapted them to the field of religion and new media. While existing scholarship has often focused on Europe and North America, the study of religion and new media is expected to become increasingly global in scope.
Richard S. Hess
Emerging from the academic study of the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures during the Enlightenment and Reformation, Israelite religion became a topic of study in terms of the presentation in the Bible of Israel’s worship of its God. Gradually this separated into a synthesis of biblical teachings on worship and its prescribed practices, on the one hand, and a study of the history of biblical Israel in terms of beliefs and practices toward one or more deities, on the other. The former branch evolved into biblical theology, while the latter developed into the topic of Israelite religion. Beginning in the nineteenth century, archaeological excavations and the interpretation of ancient Near Eastern texts preceding and contemporaneous with the period of the Bible broadened the picture. Comparing and contrasting archaeological and textual sources with the application of anthropological models derived from comparative religious studies led to modern syntheses of the subject. Initially these were heavily based upon the biblical text, often with the application of theories of literary and historical criticism. Since the 1980s, however, a focus on texts from the same time and region, as well as interpretation of artifacts with religious significance, has challenged older models of Israelite religion. Influences and the interactions of believers and their deities appear increasingly complex. No longer is there an understanding of a mere one or two religions in Israel (e.g., worshippers of Yahweh and worshippers of Baal). It now seems clear that various religious practices and texts attest to the presence of multiple religions followed by people in the region of ancient Israel, sometimes reflecting differences in gender, culture, ethnicity, and other factors. While a form of worship as described in biblical accounts may have been followed, there were other forms which, in various ways, syncretized Yahweh with other goddesses and gods. This has led scholars to question the factors that led to, and the time of emergence of, belief in a single deity in Israel, as well as to question the nature of that deity. Answers and models remain in a state of flux; evidence remains to be reviewed and interpretations demand critical interpretation.
The Japanese Buddhist leader Nichiren 日蓮 (1222–1282) taught exclusive devotion to the Lotus Sūtra, a scripture widely revered as the Buddha’s highest teaching. Nichiren asserted that in the present, degenerate age, other teachings, being provisional, have lost their efficacy; only the Lotus Sūtra is profound and powerful enough to lead all men and women to liberation. The form of Lotus practice that he taught—chanting the sūtra’s title or daimoku題目 in the phrase Namu Myōhō-renge-kyō南無妙法蓮華経—was available to all, whether monastics or laity, and regardless of education, ability, or social level. Often celebrated as a man of action, Nichiren was also an innovative thinker who welded some of the subtlest Mahāyāna doctrines to a universally accessible form of practice. Nichiren held that faith in the Lotus Sūtra would enable practitioners to realize buddhahood with this very body (J. sokushin jōbutsu即身成仏) and that spreading that faith would transform the current world into an ideal buddha land. Nichiren’s harsh criticisms of other Buddhist forms drew hostile responses from both government officials and leading prelates; he was twice exiled and attacked repeatedly, while some of his followers were imprisoned, had their lands confiscated, or were even killed. In his lifetime, he could claim at most a few hundred followers. But after his death, Nichiren’s following—known first as the Lotus sect (Hokkeshū 法華宗) and later as Nichirenshū 日蓮宗—would grow to become one of Japan’s major Buddhist traditions. Today, more than forty officially registered religious bodies, both traditional temple organizations and lay Buddhist movements, claim derivation from Nichiren. Some have a significant international presence. Modern critics have often labeled Nichiren intolerant on account of his Lotus exclusivism; at the same time, he set an example of principled resistance to worldly authority that continues to encourage dissenters. Nichiren’s ideal of actualizing the buddha land in this world has also inspired multiple forms of Buddhist social activism.
Ancient Greek religion was a polytheistic religion without a book, church, creed, or a professional priestly class. Due to the extraordinarily rich regional varieties in cult, fragmentary evidence and conjectural interpretations of it, conflicting mythological accounts, and the span of time treated, not a single absolute statement can be made about any aspect of Greek religion and exceptions exist for every general rule stated here. Since Ancient Greeks perceived all aspects of nature as either divine or divinely controlled, and all aspects of individual and social life were thought to be subject to supernatural influence, paying proper respect to the gods and heroes was understood to be a fundamental necessity of life. Since no aspect of individual or social life was separate from “religion,” scholars refer to Ancient Greek religion as “embedded.”1 The closest Ancient Greek comes to the English word “religion” are the noun thrēskeia (“acts of religious worship, ritual, service of gods”) and the verb thrēskeuō (“to perform religious observances”). Basic components of religious worship were the construction and upkeep of divine precincts, statues, altars, and temples, the observance of festivals, performance of sacrifices, bloodless offerings and libations, prayer, hymning, and observance of ritual abstinences and purifications. The closest Greek equivalents to “belief” were eusebeia (“reverent piety,” “respect”) and pistis (“trust in others” or “faith”).2 Both words could qualify a relationship between humans, as well as a relationship between humans and a supernatural entity. Since the Ancient Greeks did not have authoritative or divinely sent books of revelation, there was no script telling them what or whom to believe in and outlining the reasons why. The Greeks did not have professional priests who preserved, interpreted, and disseminated religious norms.3 However, Greek literature is brimming with gods, and the stories about the gods, which they (and we) call “myths,” were not only in all their texts, but everywhere around them: depicted on their pottery, painted on their walls, chiseled on the stones of their buildings.4 In the public space, there were countless divine statues, and the temples, altars, sacred groves, and divine precincts were everywhere around them. Ancient Greeks learned about the gods by hearing, watching, and doing: by seeing their parents perform a sacrifice, by observing them as they prayed, swore an oath, or performed libations, by participating in processions, singing and dancing in the chorus, eating the sacrificial meat in the sanctuaries, and by drinking wine, the gift of Dionysus. Ancient Greeks had no immediate need for theodicy, for the gods could be either benevolent, or angry, and their benevolence was perceived as a sign that the worship the community offered was appropriate, whereas natural catastrophes, crippling defeats in wars, or epidemics were interpreted as manifestations of divine anger, provoked by some human error or misstep.5 Ancestral gods and heroes and the traditional way of worshipping them formed the cornerstone of Greek religiosity.
Since the end of the 19th century, pagan ideas have inspired some representatives of nationalist, conservative, and far right political ideologies. The idea of a native tradition connected to land and ancestry, as well as the image of organic, hierarchical societies with warrior values, has fascinated conservative thinkers. Paganism as the suppressed other has also served as a symbol for various subversive ideologies. However, the use of pagan symbols, mythology, and imagery in political movements is often superficial. Therefore, it is crucial to distinguish between different forms of paganism. While some appear more unambiguously religious, others can be better described as political, cultural, or philosophical paganism. Having said that, neither contemporary pagan religious movements nor pagan-inspired politics can be understood separately from each other. Ideas, concepts, and individuals move between the two, and they are both shaped by changes in the surrounding society. In the early 21st century, the mainstream pagan religious organizations of many European countries have adopted a generally apolitical and anti-racist stance. However, the rise of xenophobia and far right parties provides fertile ground for the rise of illiberal and exclusivist forms of paganism as well.
Abhidharma had its origin in certain systematizing, analytical, and exegetical features found in the Sūtra, particularly, mātṛikā (summary list), abhidharma-kathā (discussion about the doctrine), vibhaṅga (“analytical exposition”), and upadeśa (exegetical elaboration). Buddhist philosophies may have been primarily initiated and vigorously elevated in the Abhidharma tradition. However, while the Abhidharma treatises undoubtedly exhibit highly developed scholastic and hermeneutical components, Abhidharma is essentially a soteriology. The Sarvāstivāda Ābhidhārmikas consistently claim that Abhidharma is truly “Buddha-word,” being the sine quo non for ascertaining the true intents of the sutras—it constitutes the ultimate authority for discerning the definite and explicit discourses (nītārtha-sūtra) of the Buddha. Sarvāstivāda, the “All-exist School,” was undoubtedly one of the most important Buddhist schools in the period of Abhidharma Buddhism. Since its establishment around the 2nd century bce, it exerted tremendous impact, directly or indirectly, on the subsequent development of Indian Buddhism. This school possesses a complete set of seven canonical Abhidharma texts, nearly all of which are now preserved in Chinese translation, and one, the Prajñapti-śāstra, is preserved in a complete Tibetan translation. A huge compendia, The Great Abhidharma Commentary (Abhidharma-mahāvibhāṣā), whose gradual compilation must have spanned over more than half a century and was fully completed around 150 ce, is now extant only in Chinese. This compendia, encyclopedic in scope, defines the doctrinal positions of the orthodox Sarvāstivādins based in Kaśmīra, who subsequently came to be known as the Vaibhāṣikas. The central thesis of the school is sarvāstivāda or sarvāstitā (/sarvāstitva), which claims that all “dharmas”—fundamental realities or real entities of existence—sustain their unique intrinsic natures throughout the three periods of time. That is, whether future, past, or present, a dharma’s intrinsic nature remains the same, even though its mode of existence (bhāva) varies. This thesis was vehemently challenged by the Vibhajyavādins (Distinctionists) who denied the reality of the past and future dharmas. The reverberation of this “Sarvāstivāda-versus-Vibhajyavāda” controversy can be observed to have generated decisively significant doctrinal implications throughout the history of Buddhist thoughts. The Savāstivāda school was also known as Hetuvāda, a “school which expounds on causality.” Kātyāyanīputra (c. 150 bce), often regarded as the effective “founder” of the Sarvāstivāda school, was credited with the innovation of a theory of sixfold causes, of which the coexistent or simultaneous causality was the most important legacy. For the first time in human history, he systematically articulated a form of causality in which the cause and its effect coexist simultaneously. This theory contributed importantly to Buddhist doctrinal development, particularly its epistemology. Mahāyāna Yogācāra had embraced it from their very inception, finding it indispensable for the establishment of many of their fundamental doctrines, including “store consciousness” (ālaya-vijñāna) and “cognition-only” (vijñaptimātratā).
The philologists and cultural commentators who first introduced the word Buddhism into the English lexicon intended it to refer to a “world religion” that was eminently psychological in nature. Finding in Buddhist texts intricate treatises on the function of mentation or on classificatory systems of human cognition, early European and US translators such as Thomas Rhys Davids defined Buddhism as an “ethical psychology.” Through the 19th century, Asian Buddhist leaders from the Japanese monk Shaku Soen to the Sri Lankan/Ceylonese Anagārika Dharmapāla sought to legitimate Buddhist doctrine with appeals to the language of the psychological. Their interlocutors in Europe and the United States, including figures such as Paul Carus, explicitly attempted to align Buddhist doctrine not only with rationalist scientific truth but, in particular, with the then-nascent discipline of psychology. When psychologists and psychotherapists began to examine Buddhist teachings and practice, they thus presumed they would find a protopsychology. Early psychologists of religion such as James Bissett Pratt were predisposed to conclude that “Gotama Buddha was probably the greatest psychologist of his age.” The first psychoanalysts to take an interest in Buddhist traditions likewise assumed that Buddhist practices of a putative “self-absorption” were ancient esoteric means for what Carl Jung called a “penetration into the groundlayers of consciousness.” Jung further pronounced his analytical psychology to have revealed that Buddhist “enlightenment” was, in actuality, a form of psychotherapeutic self-actualization, an idea that frequently resurfaced in later psychological interpretations of Buddhist traditions. Into the early 1960s, Buddhist religious figures such as D. T. Suzuki worked directly with psychological interpreters, including the humanistic psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. In these conversations, Suzuki further advanced ideas such as that Zen Buddhist practices accessed otherwise unreachable depths of the unconscious. As Buddhist communities populated predominantly by so-called “converts” of European descent developed in the United States, they were often based on doctrine that interpreted concepts such as rebirth in psychological terms. Through the 1990s, Buddhist meditative states continued to be the object of psychological and neuropsychological research and experimentation, often with the participation of major Buddhist figures such as the Dalai Lama. And although earlier psychotherapists largely compared psychological and Buddhist frames as a theoretical matter, Buddhist elements began to be increasingly incorporated into actual clinical work. Such activities are perhaps most prominently represented by the ubiquitous use of therapeutic mindfulness practices, but psychotherapists have been influenced by a wide diversity of teachings and practices drawn from diverse contemporary Buddhist communities. Those communities have long been shaped by the idea that a Buddhist path is uniquely psychological, but, strikingly, some have also been founded and led by individuals such as Jack Kornfield or Barry Magid who hold dual roles as psychologists and psychotherapists.
Tibetans engage with a panoply of divinities and spirits in their daily lives and ritual activities. The word “demon” does not capture the sheer breadth and diversity of these beings because there is a rich assortment of distinct spirit types that cause illnesses, guard against calamities, or possess human mediums to provide clairvoyant advice. While comprehensiveness is impossible, a representative demonology is valuable by offering a foundation for further exploration. Most Tibetan spirits are capricious or overtly pernicious and require oracles, diviners, tantrikas, and other religious specialists to ward off or harness their power. The gods and spirits of Tibet also fit loosely into ontological categories along a larger spectrum that includes enlightened beings, transcendent deities, worldly gods, and fierce demons. The boundaries between these categories are often porous, especially when it comes to aligning certain spirits with buddhas, bodhisattvas, or wrathful deities of the land. For Buddhism and Bön, the two major religious traditions of Tibet, there are specific protector deities with robust mythologies and liturgical corpora that are frequently propitiated and revered in order to maintain these religions both materially and spiritually. Interacting with such divinities often takes the form of oracular ceremonies or image consecrations and offerings. The practices may vary dramatically between spiritual lineages and regions, but the overall concept is rooted in interacting with these powerful forces to effect social, communal, and individual change. In Tibet, spirits are potentially dangerous, but they also offer diverse opportunities for personal advancement and religious enrichment.