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Buddhist literature in India and Tibet abounds with literal and allegorical references to terrestrial, celestial, and transcendent realms. Of all celestial dwellings cast along Buddhist lines, the pure land Sukhāvatī holds a prominent place in the religious, cultural, and national imagination of the Tibetans. Many centuries before the first imperially sponsored Sanskrit to Tibetan translations of the long and short Sukhāvatīvyūha sutras, Buddha Amitābha and his western abode Sukhāvatī made headway in the cosmopolitan region of greater Gandhāra. Active in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent he emerged as an influential solar deity with his own paradise in Buddhist monastic circles and enjoyed unprecedented success in his subsequent transmigration to East and Central Asia and across the Tibetan plateau. Notwithstanding a Mahāyāna theological reading of Amitābha and his Pure Land, heliocentric metaphors and symbols informed Mahāyāna Buddhism in its encounters with Eurasian solar cults celebrating the vital force of the sun and its metaphorical transition into a spiritual life triumphing over darkness and death. Ritual invocations and creative visualizations of Amitābha-Amitāyus are noticeable in Indian Vajrayāna scriptures imported to Tibet during the postimperial transmission of Buddhism. This second wave of religious assimilation coincides with Amitābha rising to a position of retroactive primacy and exclusivity in narratives concerning Tibet’s conversion to Buddhism and in ancestral myths of the Tibetan race rescued, through his divine emissary Avalokiteśvara, from indigenous forces of malignancy. His overstated presence in Tibetan mythopoiesis bears witness to various soteriological instantiations and expressions of worship in religious art and esoteric registers. In his dual function as the lord of infinite light (Amitābha) and infinite life (Amitāyus), this Mahāyāna deity absorbed functions that had previously been attributed to a range of divinities. Over time, Amitābha and his celestial field inspired a distinct genre of Tibetan pure land literature, the demön, comprising for the most part aspirational prayers for rebirth in Sukhāvatī and tributes to his extraordinary salvific powers. Under the guise of attaining rebirth in the pure land, these popular supplications of devotional nature were supplemented by substantive commentaries elaborating on Mahāyāna practices and doctrines. Hence, the demön came to encompass a wide range of exoteric and esoteric scriptures including funereal rites, tantric rituals for extending life, and meditation manuals derived from visionary kratophanies of the deity. Sukhāvatī inspired a number of ontological possibilities, corporeal, incorporeal, and subtle interpretations derived from the pure land sutras, the tantras, and the revealed scriptures of the Nyingma school. The fusion of devotional praises, faith-based aspirations, and esoteric subtle-body practices had a profound effect in the soteriological formulation of the pure land in Tibet conceptualized simultaneously as an external after-death destination, an interiorized place of the subtle-body infrastructure culminating in the Vajrayāna practice of mind transference to the pure land, and as a sublimated state representing the immutable nature of the awakened mind.

Article

Jens Reinke

The notion of a global Buddhism refers to the many ways in which Buddhism in its plurality plays out under, as well as is taking part in, the conditions of globalization. The relationship between Buddhism and globalization is complex and multifaceted. The English terms religion and Buddhism as generic categories are in fact themselves a product of globalization, particularly in its earlier, colonial phase. But colonialism has not only produced increased transnational exchanges and connections between the colonized countries of Asia and the West, it has also facilitated enhanced connectivity and mutual awareness among the different Buddhist traditions within Asia. Modernist Asian Buddhists actively negotiated the global flows of colonial modernity and applied them to their own agenda, thereby shaping the emergence of modern national Buddhist traditions. In the second half of the 20th century, the economic and political restructuring of the globe and the resulting liberalization of migration laws in countries such as the United States, Canada, and Australia facilitated the global expansion of nationalized Asian Buddhist traditions. The growing tourism industry, but also the emergence of counterculture movements in the West, led at the same time to the increased popularization of Buddhism in non-Asian cultural contexts. From the late 20th century on, ongoing global and inner-Asian exchange and integration, together with the development of the Internet and the diversification of mass media, further continue to shape the globalization of Buddhism. Buddhism, as it is practiced in the 21st century, is a producer of globalization, while it is at the same time a product of globalization.

Article

William Edelglass

Buddhism is a vast and heterogeneous set of traditions embedded in many different environments over more than two millennia. Still, there have been some similar practices across Buddhist cultures that contributed to the construction of local Buddhist environments. These practices included innumerable stories placing prominent Buddhist figures, including the historical Buddha, in particular places. Many of these stories concerned the conversion of local serpent spirits, dragons, and other beings associated with a local place who then themselves became Buddhist and were said to protect Buddhism in their locales. Events in the stories as well as relics and landscape features were marked by pillars, reliquary shrines (stupas), caves, temples, or monasteries that often became the focus of pilgrimage or considered particularly auspicious places for Buddhist practice, where one could encounter buddhas and bodhisattvas. Through ritual practices such as pilgrimage, circumambulation, and offerings, Buddhists engaged environments and their local spirits. Landscapes were transformed into Buddhist sites that were mapped and made meaningful according to Buddhist stories and cosmology. Farmers, herders, traders, and others in Buddhist cultures whose livelihood depended on their environments engaged the spirits of the land, whose blessings they needed for their own good. Just as they transformed the meaning of local environments, Buddhists also transformed the material environment. In addition to building monasteries, stupas, and other religious structures, Buddhist monastics developed administrative and engineering expertise that enabled large-scale irrigation systems. As Buddhism spread through Asia, it brought agricultural technologies that created the watery landscapes enabling rice production and increasing the agricultural surplus that made possible large monasteries and urbanization. In the last decades of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st, eco-Buddhist scholars and practitioners have found resources in Buddhist traditions to construct a Buddhist environmental ethic. Some have argued that concepts such as dependent origination, the ethics of loving-kindness and compassion, and other ideas from classical Buddhist traditions suggest that Buddhism has always been particularly attuned to the environment. Critics have charged that eco-Buddhists are distorting Buddhist traditions by claiming that premodern traditions were responding to contemporary environmental concerns. Moreover, they argue, Buddhist ideas such as dependent origination, or its more environmentally resonant interpretation as “interdependence,” do not in fact provide a satisfying grounding for an environmental ethic. Partly in response to such critics, much scholarly work on Buddhism and the environment became more focused on concrete phenomena, informed by a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, archaeology, place studies, art history, pilgrimage studies, and the study of activism. Instead of focusing primarily on universal concepts found in ancient texts, scholars are just as likely to look at how local communities have drawn on Buddhist ontology, ethics, cosmology, symbolism, and rituals to develop Buddhist responses to local environmental needs, developing contemporary Buddhist environmentalisms.

Article

Taixu  

Eric Goodell

The Chinese Buddhist monk Taixu 太虛 (1890–1947) has been called a reformer, missionary, modernizer, mystic, failure, visionary, ethical pietist, public intellectual, great religious leader, and media personality. He is best known as the modernizer of Chinese Buddhism and the creator of Humanistic Buddhism, which emphasizes rational knowledge and ethical behavior. Taixu devoted his life to two activities: spreading Buddhism throughout society and reforming Buddhist monastic and lay institutions. A dynamic between reform and propagation is evident in all of his projects, including Humanistic Buddhism, establishing a pure land in the human realm, his Maitreya School, and his Buddhist academies. Although these projects are all “modern” in important ways, they represent Taixu’s vision for the continuity of Buddhism’s rich heritage as China moved beyond its imperial past.

Article

Ben Van Overmeire

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.

Article

Elizabeth Williams-Oerberg

The economics of Buddhism brings to the fore a conundrum with which Buddhists have had to contend since the time of the Buddha: how should Buddhists engage in economic activity in order to provide for their individual lifestyles and the Buddhist monasteries that support Buddhism? The widespread image of a monk or nun sitting deep in meditation in a cave may exemplify a religion that values nonattachment to materiality and disengagement with economic action. However, when looking more closely at how Buddhist monastics maintain these austere lifestyles, one sees a complex Buddhist economic engagement throughout the history of Buddhism. The economics of Buddhism examines how Buddhists must necessarily engage in economic relations not only to support their lifestyles, but also to establish and expand Buddhist institutions across the world. A large part of Buddhist economic engagement involves an economy of merit. Buddhists have been dependent on dāna, a system of donation and sponsorship, that has aided the building and expansion of Buddhism since the time of the Buddha. This merit-based economy involves a system of exchange in which virtuous actions such as generosity are rewarded with an accumulation of merit (puñña), leading to beneficial circumstances in this life or the next life to come. Based on this system of exchange, monks and nuns receive remuneration from the lay community for their services. It is due to this merit economy that monks and nuns have been able to pursue a monastic lifestyle and monasteries have been built, some of which have become economic epicenters for the surrounding community. Historically, large monasteries across Asia have acquired large plots of land, accumulated large storehouses of grains and goods, and engaged in various other economic endeavors, such as lending money, running businesses, hiring laborers, and so forth. In order to maintain these at times very large Buddhist institutions that have supported monks and nuns, and in essence the survival of Buddhism, this system of exchange—money for merit—has been a crucial aspect of Buddhism. Since the time of the Buddha, the spread and survival of Buddhism has been reliant on economic exchanges and the economic environment of the time. This is very much the case in the early 21st century, with the spread of global capitalism affecting how Buddhist images, goods, and services have been adopted and altered in new environments. For example, with changing economic conditions and the rise of the consumer society, Buddhist monasteries have found new sources of income, such as through tourism. Global sentiments regarding Buddhism as primarily positive, furthermore, have led to the proliferation of Buddhist-inspired objects for sale in the mass consumer society. Instead of seeing Buddhist economic engagement as a paradox, or hypocrisy even, when looking closely at how Buddhism and economic relations are necessarily entwined, one sees a complex relationship that provides the basis for the survival and spread of Buddhism worldwide.

Article

Natalie Köhle

The history of Buddhism in China is deeply connected with healing. Some of the scriptures that were translated into Chinese discuss Indic conceptions of the body as an amalgamation of elements, and causes of illness in the tridoṣa, that is pathogenic body fluids and internal winds. Others discuss materia medica, and monastic rules on healing and hygiene in the monastery. Yet others set forth the ritual worship of the Medicine Buddha (Skt. Bhaiṣajyaguru; Ch. Yaoshi fo 藥師佛), the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin pusa 觀音菩薩), and other deities that promise healing. Apart from the translated scriptures, there is a huge body of indigenous works that synthesized the wealth of information on Indic healing which arrived in China between the 2nd and 10th centuries ce. Foremost among those are Yijing’s 義淨 (635–713) account of Indian monastic practices, Daoxuan’s 道宣 (596–667) vinaya commentary, and Daoshi’s 道世 (?–683) encyclopedia chapter on illness. Chinese compositions, such as Zhiyi’s 智顗 (538–597) treatises on meditation, and Huizhao’s 慧皎 (497–554) hagiographies bear witness to the hybridity to which the reception of Indic ideas in China gave rise. With the widening reach of Buddhism into every layer of Chinese society during the Sui and Tang dynasties, eminent Chinese physicians, such as Tao Hongjing 陶弘景 (452–536), Chao Yuanfang 巢元方 (550–630), Wang Tao 王焘 (670–755), and Sun Simiao 孫思邈 (581–682) also began to incorporate Buddhist ideas into their medical treatises. Chinese Buddhist monasteries introduced hospital services to China, and certain lineages of monks continued to provide medical care to the laity in late imperial China. Their healing was based on Chinese medical theories, however, and there is no evidence that they persisted in applying Indic medical ideas.

Article

From the early 9th century a new orientation emerged in Japanese Buddhism that emphasized specific Tantric, or Vajrayāna characteristics of both doctrine and practice. While elements of the Vajrayāna (vehicle of the diamond/thunderbolt) Buddhist traditions of mature Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism were present in Japan in the 8th century, it was only in the new Buddhist schools of Tendai and Shingon that related practices recently imported from China were specifically identified as “esoteric” in nature and as different from the other schools of Buddhism that were newly designated as “exoteric” by these schools. The first to promote this distinction was the monk Kūkai, founder of the Shingon school. His contemporary Saichō, who founded the Tendai school, placed himself and several of his disciples under Kūkai’s tutelage to learn what the latter had brought back from an intensive study period in China. Yet Saichō’s approach was to place the esoteric teachings and practices on a par with his Tendai teachings, derived primarily from the Chinese Tiantai school. His difference from Kūkai on this matter drove both an eventual end to their cooperative relationship and, after Saichō’s death, innovations by Tendai school exegetes that aimed to reconcile the differences. The combined force of Tendai esotericism (Taimitsu) and Shingon esotericism (Tōmitsu) impacted greatly the development of subsequent centuries of Japanese Buddhism. The three major schools of Buddhism that dominated during the Nara period (710–794)—Sanron, Hossō, and Kegon—all incorporated esoteric elements into their practice during the Heian period (794–1185). By the time of the Kamakura period (1185–1333), when the new forms of Zen, pure land, and Nichiren Buddhism emerged, the esoteric paradigm was so ingrained in Japanese Buddhist thought that even though esoteric practice was at times explicitly criticized by the new schools, much of its worldview was implicitly affirmed. Central to Japanese esoteric Buddhism is the understanding that through engaging in the ritual practices of reciting mantra, practicing symbolic hand gestures known as mudra, and imagining one’s self and all beings as being intrinsically awakened (one meaning of the term mandala), one can achieve the enlightened stage of buddhahood within one lifetime. These three are called the “practices of the three mysteries” (sanmitsu gyō三密業), through which a practitioner is able to unite with the enlightened energy of the cosmic buddha’s body, speech, and mind. More than anything else, it was this cosmological framework that influenced the development of many later Buddhist practices. Fundamental to this model was the affirmation that every living being is intrinsically endowed with the latent qualities of buddhahood. This concept of “original enlightenment” (hongaku本覚) framed an immanental, holistic vision that recognized the real presence of nirvāṇa (freedom, liberation) in the midst of one’s experience of saṃsāra (the cyclic world of ignorant suffering). The unfolding of various doctrinal and ritual means of articulating and verifying a practitioner’s intrinsic state of enlightenment spurred novel theological systems, artistic creativity of many forms, as well as sociopolitical opportunities for aristocrats who sought to invoke the buddha’s power for various mundane needs. Tendai and Shingon monks alike contributed to this growth in a myriad of ways.

Article

Thích Nhất Hạnh is one of the most internationally recognized Buddhist leaders and has a large and devoted following. Despite this, there is a lack of critical scholarship on his life. The biographical sketches of Thích Nhất Hạnh are hagiographical in nature, portraying him as a peace activist, as an engaged Buddhist, and as a Zen master, and disassociating him from the continued development and transnationalization of Vietnamese Buddhism throughout the 20th century. Understanding the early influences in Thích Nhất Hạnh’s life, before he was exiled to the West in 1967, is critical to contextualizing his later framing as an engaged Buddhist leader and Zen master. As a novice, Thích Nhất Hạnh attended a school in Hue that had been set up by Buddhist reformers. When he moved to Saigon as a young monk, he became involved in writing and publishing. During the 1950s his writing reflected the discourses that were central to the Buddhist reform movement in Vietnam, which had been heavily influenced by the reforms that had started earlier in China. The main foci in Thích Nhất Hạnh’s writings at this time included making Buddhism more relevant to contemporary society and unifying Buddhists in Vietnam. He also wrote essays on Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist literature in the history of Vietnamese Buddhism. Many of the central themes of his writings, and of the main journals that he edited, reflected the views of the Chinese Buddhist reformer Taixu on humanistic Buddhism, which had been translated and popularized in Vietnam in the 1930s. Thích Nhất Hạnh was recognized by international peace activists after founding the School of Youth for Social Services, which provided relief to victims of the war and poverty in the 1960s. He became increasingly active as an opponent to the war, advocating for American withdrawal from Vietnam so that the North and South could find a way to bring peace without American involvement. This work cemented him in Buddhist literature as the main proponent of an “engaged Buddhist” movement. However, while he became internationally famous for his efforts, they should be seen in light of his embeddedness in discourses of Buddhist reform that were mobilizing many monks and lay Buddhists to make Buddhism more active in the contemporaneous issues of Vietnamese society. Similarly, Thích Nhất Hạnh is also popularly described as a “Zen master,” and while there is good reason to give him this appellation, it should be understood within the context of modernist Buddhist discourses. Part of the construction of Thích Nhất Hạnh as a Zen master has been achieved by placing him in a Zen lineage. However, this idea of a Zen lineage in Vietnam is incongruous with the way Buddhism was practiced there. While Zen has had a presence in Vietnam for centuries, it was primarily as an elite aesthetic curiosity. There were no sizeable Zen communities or Zen monasteries in Vietnam as there were in Korea or Japan. Thích Nhất Hạnh’s interest in Zen is more reasonably attributable to an emerging fascination with Zen in southern Vietnam in the 1960s, when D. T. Suzuki’s works were translated to Vietnamese and young Buddhists became attracted by the legitimizing role that it could have for a reconstructed Vietnamese Buddhism. Thích Nhất Hạnh was taken up by this wave of popularization in Zen, but he did not start to be constructed as a Zen monk or master until after he was exiled from Vietnam and needed to establish himself in the West at a time when Zen had become interesting to young Westerners.

Article

Elisabetta Porcu

Buddhism has been a missionary religion from its beginning. Japan was among the countries where this “foreign” religion arrived and was assimilated, adapted, and reshaped into new forms specifically connected to the new geographical and cultural environment. Buddhism traveled long distances from India through China and Korea, bringing with it flows of people, ideas, technologies, material cultures, and economies. More than ten centuries after its arrival in Japan, the first phase of propagation of Japanese Buddhism started and was linked to the history of Japanese migrants to Hawaii, North America, and Brazil since the 19th century. This was a history of diaspora, a term that implies not only the physical—and often traumatic—dispersion of people who left their homes for unknown places, but also a reconfiguration of their identities through the adaptation to these new places and their cultures. The main role of Buddhist priests sent from Japan was to assist and provide comfort to the newly formed communities of migrant laborers, who very often experienced racial discrimination and lived under harsh conditions. Temples became important loci of Japanese community life, as well as centers for the preservation of Japanese culture. Diasporic communities felt the urge to keep a bond with the homeland and a reconnection with some past traditions, while, at the same time, striving toward integration in the new society. Japanese Buddhist denominations in diasporic communities had therefore to accommodate different needs and adjust their teachings and practices to better suit their host cultures. Some of them underwent substantial changes, while others placed more emphasis on some practices instead of others. Moreover, Japanese Buddhist schools had to find a way to balance between their traditional role in Japan, which was—and still is—closely related to funerary rituals and memorials, and the new stimuli and requests coming from the new generations of Japanese migrants (nisei and sansei) and the non-Japanese spiritual seekers, the latter mostly interested in meditative practices and not in funeral Buddhism. In short, what needed to be done was to overcome a status of “ethnic” religion without, however, losing its own identity.

Article

Education is a central component of Buddhism and has been since the start of the religion. The forms of Buddhist education are diverse, including the education and training of monastics and laypeople, men, women, and children from early ages through university and continuing and adult education. The training of monastics is simply one, albeit, important subset of wider systems and practices of Buddhist education. Monastic education exists in multiple forms, including those associated with apprentice or situated forms of learning, and curricular forms in schools, primarily secondary and postsecondary institutions. Contemporary forms of monastic education are entangled with and shaped by discourses and practices of modernization, dynamics of gender in Buddhist societies, and debates about the role of religion within given societies across Asia. These debates become visible in attending to the goals of education, the multiple motivations of monastics for their education, as well as those of other educational stakeholders. Although it may be tempting to see monastic education as a distinct phenomenon, it should be viewed within a wider pedagogical ecosystem within the nation-states of Asia.

Article

Chöd (gcod), “severance” or “cutting,” is a Tibetan term referring to a cycle of Tibetan Buddhist practice and to the lineage initiated by the Tibetan woman Machik Lapdrön sometime in the 11th or 12th century. It is primarily based on the teachings of the perfection of wisdom (prajñāpāramitā) that represent the second phase of Buddhist texts that developed in India. In Tibet itself, Chöd was one of the many new sects that flourished in the second dissemination of Buddhism from India from 950 to 1350ce. Chöd has been classified as a branch of Zhijé (zhi byed) or “Pacification,” one of the eight great practice lineages that trace back to India, though no actual text on Chöd has been discovered in the early texts of Zhijé. Despite this quandary, its classification has afforded a kind of validation in being connected with the sources of Buddhism through the Indian master Dampa Sangyé. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Machik Lapdrön herself is the sole progenitor for the teachings and the lineage. This woman from the area of Lap in central Tibet was known as Lapkyi Drönma, “the Light of Lap.” The respectful title of Machik, “One Mother,” was added later and is shared with several other important women of the time, often leading to confusion. Lapdrön showed remarkable abilities from an early age, and later gained mastery of speed reading. This led to a job as a chaplain in a patron’s house, where she met her future partner, providing her biographers with a fascinating narrative revealing the problematic status of female masters in Tibet. The recitation of prajñāpāramitā sūtras also led to her epiphany around the parts on māra, “devil,” “demon,” or (spiritual) “death.” This, along with her visions of the bodhisattva Tārā and the important connection with the Indian master Dampa Sangyé, were the inspiration for what became one of the most widespread practices in Tibet. The early Chöd teachings represent aspects derived from both sūtra and tantra sources. The focus is on the understanding of emptiness that severs fixation on the reification of the self and the resultant conduct based on compassion for others. The impediments that prevent such realization, called māras in Sanskrit, were a point of departure. As time went on, specific techniques and methods of practice (sādhana) accrued to this philosophy. While the main practice has remained the cultivation of insight and the enactment of separating the consciousness from the body, the post-meditation practice known as lü jin (lus byin) “giving the body” developed elaborate visualizations and ritual accouterments that came to dominate popular practice. Renowned as a charnel ground practice due to the visualized offering of one’s corpse as food for demons and other beings in situations that are intended to provoke fear, it is this that has become known far and wide as Chöd. The sources for this aspect are obscure and may well come from the surrounding culture of the Tibetan plateau, harking back to Bön and other pre-Buddhist practices. Some elements associated with shamanic practices are enacted in the Chöd rituals, despite its Buddhist soteriological assertions. With its beautiful melodies and lurid visualizations, Chöd quickly became popular in Tibet for exorcism, healing, and other practical usages. Its followers did not establish monasteries, as the lifestyle of roaming mendicants was emphasized, but Chöd was incorporated into most other schools in Tibet. Their liturgies are drawn from the works of Lapdrön’s descendants, or from visionary experiences, or found as treasure texts (terma). As of the early 21st century, Chöd has gained popularity worldwide, with many iterations in 21st-century practice.

Article

Jonathan Samuels

“Debate” (Tibetan: rtsod pa), in the present context, refers to a uniquely Tibetan method of structured analysis and discourse conducted between two (or more) parties on matters pertaining to religion. The practice is extremely technical and has traditionally been the province of monks. It has medieval roots, and it references logical principles derived from the Indian Buddhist pramāṇa system. Debate is also closely aligned with the tradition of commentarial writing, in which the evaluation and critiquing of earlier interpretations of Indian-origin Buddhist works has long been standard. A custom among Tibetan religious writers has been to deal with “rival” interpretations in a truculent fashion, redolent of an actual confrontation. There is also much in the dialectical approach, analytical process, and language that can best be described as shared between the literary and oral spheres (with frequent crossover and borrowing). But debate is primarily to be understood as a face-to-face practice, distinct from what is represented in the written medium, and only truly comprehensible in terms of the institutional context of its performance. Furthermore, while inspired by Indian scholastic traditions, this kind of argumentation is peculiarly Tibetan in its formulation. The practice of debate is especially associated with the largest school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Geluk (dGe lugs). In the school’s major scholastic centers, which were, for a number of centuries, the largest monasteries in the world, debate was employed as the primary tool of education, with those trained in the scholastic tradition, including its most prominent figures, such as various Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas, having been required to master it. Academic understanding of debate relies heavily on analysis of the so-called Collected Topics (bsDus grwa) works, primer materials, chiefly composed of sample debates, from which students (and academics) learn about the logical principles, basic taxonomies, and informal “rules” that structure debate.

Article

James Duncan Gentry

As Tibetans began to import Buddhist scriptures and translate them into the Tibetan language in the 8th and 9th centuries, they also imported items like relics, reliquaries, statues, paintings, amulets, and other material objects believed to embody and transmit power through their physical connections with buddhas, bodhisattvas, and saints of the past. Guided by scriptural pronouncements, as these resonated with indigenous sensibilities Tibetans came to hold that sensory interactions with Buddhist power objects would enable unmediated access to the powerful sources of the Buddhist tradition for a range of pragmatic and transcendent goals. Such encounters were held to be so efficacious that they were sometimes promoted as viable complements or substitutes for the study and cultivation of Buddhist doctrine. As Tibetans integrated Buddhism into Tibetan culture they began crafting their own Buddhist power objects. These became so ubiquitous and diverse in Tibetan Buddhist societies that there is no single Tibetan term that directly corresponds with the category of “power objects” to encapsulate their full range. Patterned after Indian prototypes, Tibetans developed their own terms and rubrics for these kinds of objects. They also adapted them to include a wider spectrum of items and advanced theories of their power and efficacy that extend beyond their Indian Buddhist counterparts. On this account, controversies sometimes erupted among Tibetan ecclesiastical scholars over the purported nature and potency of such things. The prominent role given to Buddhist power objects in Tibet entailed they would serve as touchstones for the formation of Tibetan Buddhist communities, institutions, and states. Yet, sustained discussion of these kinds of objects has only been sporadic among traditional Tibetan exegetes and modern academic scholars of Tibetan Buddhism.

Article

Brooke Schedneck

Buddhists missionize in distinct ways by building on historical models, such as a concern with bringing knowledge and spreading teachings, as opposed to formal conversion and renunciation of previous religious beliefs. Academic scholarship tends to treat Buddhist missionization as a historical phenomenon. Yet it continues to be an important component of the tradition for Buddhists in the 21st century, motivating them to travel to spread the Buddha’s teachings to those who demonstrate curiosity. Because of Buddhists’ interest in conveying the dharma, they have often aligned the teachings with modern discourses, resulting in what scholars have called modern Buddhism. Buddhist missionaries have also argued that the dharma fits within contexts of social justice, which has been labeled engaged Buddhism. Examples of missionaries from East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the West, and world-famous monks such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, demonstrate spreading the teachings is a major motivation. These figures formulate their message in modern or socially engaged frameworks, but the root of their activity is missionizing. The main message of contemporary Buddhist missionaries is that Buddhism is open and welcoming to everyone, one does not have to convert to practice within Buddhism, and the Buddhist teachings apply to everyone.

Article

Dharma protectors are a critical and indispensable aspect of Tibetan Buddhism, but the full theological, psychological, political, and literary significance of this special class of deity and their cults is still relatively poorly understood and understudied in Western scholarship. Dharma protectors, who in their typically distinctively wrathful appearances embody and transmute negative emotion and terrifying existential realities, constitute a kind of spiritual or daemonic sangha that in their most immediate function is meant to act as an apotropic ward against any and all threats to the human Buddhist community. Further, these beings are often invoked and employed as something like “familiar” or servitor spirits for a range of purposes by Buddhist religious specialists. While there are hundreds if not thousands of different protector deities in the shifting, kaleidoscopic “polytheon” of Tibetan Buddhism, there are a relative few main deities around which Tibetans have historically and continually produced a large body of art, ritual, and narrative literature. The most soteriologically and cosmologically significant protector deities, and consequently often the most popular, are usually figures directly borrowed from Indian Buddhism, such as Mahākāla, a wrathful Buddhist form of the Hindu god Śiva, or they are adaptations of Indian deities, such as the great goddess Śrī Devī and the astrological demon Rāhula. These more “Indian” deities tend to be regarded in Tibetan Buddhism as fully enlightened and are distinguished from native Tibetan deities who are more typically seen as unenlightened or more recently enlightened protectors. The Tibetan mythology of these deities usually takes the form of a conversion narrative, describing how they were born and the events leading up to their becoming (under often quite violent circumstances) guardians of the Buddhist teachings. These Tibetan Buddhist myths, which have largely been neglected by Western scholars, imitate the structures and themes of Indian Buddhist and non-Buddhist Jātaka, Purāṇic, Māravijaya, and Avadāna literary genres, but also often transvalue and subvert them. Thus the “biographies” of these protector deities represent the dark tantric inversions of normative Buddhist hagiography.

Article

Mipam  

Douglas S. Duckworth

Mipam (or “Mipham”; ’Ju mi pham rgya mtsho, 1846–1912) was one of the most influential figures in the Tibetan Buddhist world in the last 500 years. In his writings, he integrates aspects of the Buddhist epistemological tradition with a view of tantra and associates the view of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen) with Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka. The Great Perfection is for the Nyingma (rnying ma) tradition its highest esoteric teachings, and Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka is the philosophy commonly accepted in Tibet as the highest exoteric view. Buddhist epistemology, as a system that delineates the means of reliable knowledge, in particular plays an important role in both esoteric (e.g., sutra) and exoteric (e.g., tantra) domains by outlining the authentic means of knowing reality. By integrating the esoteric teachings of Nyingma tantra with Buddhist epistemology and Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka, Mipam affirms the Nyingma not only as a tradition of tantric exegesis and ritual practice, but also as grounded within the rigorous intellectual traditions of Buddhist exoteric philosophy. Mipam systematized the Nyingma tradition’s view of the Great Perfection within his writings on the Buddhist literature that had become the predominant topic of study in the curriculum of monastic education. Central to Mipam’s writing is the prominent place of reasoned inquiry as a means to arrive at the view of the Great Perfection. This is a feature that distinguishes the character of his works and is a significant contribution to Nyingma philosophy. Indeed, the interplay of reason and the transcendence of reason is a central theme in his writings. His skill in engaging the Great Perfection within a rational, dialectical exchange underscores that the Great Perfection is not naive anti-intellectualism, but involves a subtly profound view that, at least in Mipam’s presentation, incorporates reason and transcends it. In his writings on Madhyamaka and other works, Mipam developed a platform for Nyingma monastic education by formulating a systematic presentation drawn from an interpretative framework based on the Great Perfection. This was his unique contribution to the Nyingma, but not all in the Nyingma tradition were ready or willing to adopt his interpretation. It did not take long, however, for this interpretative framework, forged for the Nyingma monastic colleges, to dominate the curriculum in these colleges in Tibet, India, and Nepal. His works continue to be widely studied in such institutions up to the present day.

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The Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (Treasury of Metaphysics with Self-Commentary) is a pivotal treatise on early Buddhist thought composed around the 4th or 5th century by the Indian Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu. This work elucidates the buddha’s teachings as synthesized and interpreted by the early Buddhist Sarvāstivāda school (“the theory that all [factors] exist”), while recording the major doctrinal polemics that developed around them, primarily those points of contention with the Sautrāntika system of thought (“followers of the scriptures”). Employing the methodology and terminology of the Buddhist Abhidharma system, the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya offers a detailed analysis of fundamental doctrines, such as early Buddhist theories of mind, cosmology, the workings of karman, meditative states and practices, and the metaphysics of the self. One of its unique features is the way it presents the opinions of a variety of Buddhist and Brahminical schools that were active in classical India in Vasubandhu’s time. The work contains nine chapters (the last of which is considered to have been appended to the first eight), which proceed from a description of the unawakened world via the path and practices that are conducive to awakening and ultimately to the final spiritual attainments which constitute the state of awakening. In its analysis of the unawakened situation, it thus covers the elements which make up the material and mental world of sentient beings, the wholesome and unwholesome mental states that arise in their minds, the structure of the cosmos, the metaphysics of action (karman) and the way it comes into being, and the nature of dispositional attitudes and dormant mental afflictions. In its treatment of the path and practices that lead to awakening, the treatise outlines the Sarvāstivāda understanding of the methods of removing defilements through the realization of the four noble truths and the stages of spiritual cultivation. With respect to the awakened state, the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya gives a detailed description of the different types of knowledge and meditational states attained by practitioners who reach the highest stages of the path.

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Courtney Bruntz

Pilgrims in China have historically traveled to locations considered to be ling—holding spiritual power. Such locations became known as sites where the sacred becomes manifest. A resident bodhisattva (enlightened being) might appear to travelers, or pilgrims might receive miraculous healing after having visited a mountain. Often through stories of such extraordinary events, sites became popular for their efficacious power, and pilgrims journeyed to them hoping to receive a vision, a healing, and/or a blessing in return. Ling differentiates a site as sacred, and in many Chinese religious traditions, ling is associated with mountains.

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American Buddhism during World War II imprisonment refers to the Japanese American Buddhist experience between 1942 and 1945 when persons of Japanese ancestry, commonly known as Nikkei Amerikajin, were imprisoned. A discussion of the Nikkei Buddhist experience includes the experiences of Euro-American convert Buddhists who supported them during the imprisonment period. Immediately after the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested and interned Japanese Buddhist priests and other leaders of Japanese communities in the United States. In March 1942, the Western Defense Command designated the three West Coast states (Washington, Oregon, and California) and Arizona as Military Area No. 1, from which all persons of Japanese descent, and alien Germans and Italians, were forcefully removed. Following Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the US government removed approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans from the aforementioned military zone and incarcerated them in relocation centers built throughout the continental United States. During that time, the Nikkei community consisted primarily of the Issei, the first generation of Japanese immigrants, and the Nisei, their American-born children. As Tetsuden Kashima defines, the word “internment” refers to the imprisonment of enemy aliens, such as the Issei Japanese nationals, by the Department of Justice and the US Army, while the term “incarceration” refers to the confinement of the Nikkei, including a great number of the Nisei American citizens, by the War Relocation Authority. The word “imprisonment” designates the entire process consisting of internment and incarceration. The study of American Buddhism during World War II is still in its early stages. Finding records and documents related to this subject from the large collections on Japanese American imprisonment is not an easy task. While the National Archives in Washington, DC, maintains the majority of primary sources dealing with Japanese American relocation and incarceration, other institutions, such as the Japanese American National Museum, the University of California-Los Angeles, and museums built around the sites of internment camps, also preserve records. Some of the primary sources are written in Japanese and are located in Japan, which is another stumbling block for researchers who do not read Japanese. Duncan R. Williams’s forthcoming book, American Sutra: Buddhism and the World War II Japanese American Experience, however, will change the current state of scholarship on Japanese American Buddhism during World War II. The forceful relocation of Japanese American Buddhists served to weaken their long-standing efforts to make their ethno-religious practices accepted by America’s general public. Mass incarceration, however, forced the Japanese American Buddhists to further Americanize their religion, generated a set of new Buddhist practices, and gave them opportunities to reflect on their national identities. Buddhist faith and cultural practices associated with Japanese Buddhism contributed to ethnic solidarity, even though the Japanese American community was divided over the issue of US patriotism. During the postwar period, Japanese American Buddhists initiated a campaign to improve their image in the United States and to honor the Nisei Buddhist soldiers who fought during World War II. The formation of American Buddhism was closely connected to the development of US political ideology.