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Article

Laura Harrington

Mañjuśrī (“Gentle Glory”) is one of the oldest and most significant bodhisattvas of the Indian Mahāyāna Buddhist pantheon. Mañjuśrī is the personification of the Mahāyāna notion of prajñā (wisdom): discriminating insight into the nature of reality, and the hallmark philosophical insight that distinguished the Mahāyāna movement from earlier Buddhist schools (Nikāya) of thought. Like discriminating insight, Mañjuśrī is ever new. He is typically portrayed as a golden-complexioned, sixteen-year-old crown prince holding in one hand a flaming sword that cuts through ignorance, and a Perfection of Prajñā book (Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra) in the other. In Mahāyāna sutras, Mañjuśrī is often cast as the interlocutor whose pointed questions to the buddha elicit the teachings their audience needs to finally understand the subtlest points of doctrine. His earliest known appearance is in the corpus of early Mahāyāna works translated into Chinese by the Indo-Scythian monk Lokakṣema (b. 147 ce). In these, the vivid contrast between Mañjuśrī as wonder-working bodhisattva and the slower-witted Nikāya monks implicitly legitimates the early emerging Mahāyāna movement; clearly, Mañjuśrī’s insight into reality is superior even to that of the disciples who sat at Śākyamuni Buddha’s feet and heard him teach. This rhetorical strategy was developed in subsequent Indian Buddhist sūtras and commentaries, especially those that promulgated new or controversial teachings. Scholars from all of its schools claimed direct visions of the bodhisattva of wisdom; “to see Mañjuśrī” denoted the subject’s unmistaken insight into the buddha’s teaching. Mañjuśrī worship entered esoteric Buddhism (Tantra) in the 7th-century Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa—one of the earliest extant Indian Tantras—and reached its zenith in the early 8th-century Mañjuśrīnāmasaṃgīti, a liturgical text praising Mañjuśrī in all his forms. Its close association with the 10th-century Kālacakra Tantra, perhaps the last Tantric text to be composed in India, underscores how thoroughly Mañjuśrī pervaded esoteric Buddhism in South Asia. As a figure of cult worship, Mañjuśrī was most prominent outside of India. By the 5th century, the Chinese Wutai shan (“Five Terrace Mountain”) was understood to be his earthly residence, and a magnet for pilgrims who sought a vision of the crown prince. Mañjuśrī became identified as the patron deity of China during the Tang dynasty, thereby setting a pattern for subsequent rulers of China, who often linked their own legitimacy to Mañjuśrī, and visibly promoted his worship at Wutai shan. This practice crystallized during the long reign of the Manchus (1611–1912), who not only portrayed their rulers as emanations of the crown prince, but fostered the folk etymology of their ethnonym as deriving from Mañjuśrī. Tibetan Buddhism was at its apex there, and Mañjuśrī and his mountain home become important to Tibetans, Nepalese, Khotanese, and Mongols.

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

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.

Article

The Abhisamayālaṃkāra (Ornament for clear realization) is an instructional treatise on the Prajñāpāramitā, or Perfect Wisdom, whose authorship is traditionally attributed to Maitreyanātha (c. 350 ce). As a technical treatise, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra outlines within its 273 verses the instructions, practices, paths, and stages of realization to omniscient buddhahood mentioned in Prajñāpāramitā scriptures. In its abridged description, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra furnishes a detailed summary of the path that is regarded as bringing out the “concealed meaning” (sbas don, garbhyārtha) of Prajñāpāramitā. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra contains eight chapters of subject matter, with a summary of them as the ninth chapter. The eight subjects (padārtha) of the eight chapters (adhikāra) correspond to eight clear realizations (abhisamaya) that represent the knowledges, practices, and result of Prajñāpāramitā. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra’s eight clear realizations are types of knowledge and practices for bodhisattvas (“buddhas-in-training”) to achieve buddhahood set forth within the system of the five paths (lam lnga, *pañcamārga) common to Indian abhidharma and Yogācāra literature. The first three clear realizations are types of knowledge that comprise Perfect Wisdom. Total Omniscience, or the wisdom of all aspects (sarvākārajñatā, rnam pa thams cad mkhyen pa nyid), is regarded as the fundamental wisdom and the central concept of Prajñāpāramitā. Total Omniscience is direct, unmediated knowledge that exactly understands the manner of reality to its fullest possible extent in all its aspects. Path-omniscience (mārgajñatā, lam shes nyid) comprises the Buddhist path systems of śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas mastered by bodhisattvas. Empirical Omniscience (vastujñāna, gzhi shes) cognizes empirical objects in conditioned existence that are to be abandoned. It correlates to knowledge that is comprehended by śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas. The path to buddhahood itself and the detailed means of its application are covered in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra by the fourth through seventh clear realizations. The fourth chapter is devoted to the realization of wisdom of all aspects (sarvākārābhisaṃbodha, rnam rdzogs sbyor ba), a yogic practice that enables a bodhisattva to gain a cognition of all the aspects of the three types of omniscience. The fifth realization is the summit of full understanding (mūrdhābhisamaya, rtse sbyor), whereby yogic practices reach the culmination of cognizing emptiness. The sixth chapter defines the gradual full understanding (anupūrvābhisamaya, mthar gyis sbyor ba) of the three forms of omniscience. The seventh abhisamaya clarifies the “instantaneous realization” (ekakṣaṇābhisamaya) that occurs at the final moment right before buddhahood. Abhisamayas four through seven are known as “the four methods of realization” of the three types of knowledge. The eighth realization, and last subject in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, is the realization of the dharma body (dharmakāyābhisamaya). In this way, the first three realizations describe the cognitive attainments of buddhas, the middle four realizations discuss the methods that take the cognitive attainments as their object, and the eighth realization describes the qualities and attainments of the dharma body, the resultant body of buddhas. The treatise was extensively commented upon in Indian Buddhism and has been widely studied in Tibetan forms of Buddhism up to the present day.

Article

Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia have historically been nations with large Buddhist populations. While Mahāyāna Buddhism predominates in Vietnam, most people in Cambodia and Laos have been dedicated to Theravāda Buddhism. In 1975, these three countries came under the domination of Communist governments, which had earlier been in conflict with factions militarily supported by the United States. This led to the beginnings of the massive movement of refugees from Southeast Asia to North America. An especially radical regime had taken power in Cambodia, and after war broke out between Cambodia and Vietnam the flow of refugees became a flood. All of the new governments of these countries were hostile to independent religious organizations and practices. The Khmer Rouge in power in Cambodia took its antagonism to religion to an extreme, attempting to violently eradicate traditional Buddhist practices and institutions. As refugees settled in ever-greater numbers in North America and other locations, they established Buddhist temples and other organizations in the new homelands. In consequence, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Lao communities in the United States and Canada have also become sites for the rapid growth of North American Buddhism. Southeast Asian Buddhism has become a part of a pluralistic religious environment, adding new rites, celebrations, and cultural activities to American society. Buddhism has also played a central part in maintaining ethnic identity among refugee populations and their descendants, as well as in helping Buddhists adapt to life under changing circumstances.

Article

The Introduction to the Practices of Awakening (Bodhicaryāvatāra; hereafter, BCA) is a short verse text presenting the training practices for developing the virtuous character of the bodhisattva, the Mahayana Buddhist exemplar who commits to remaining in samsara to save all beings from suffering. The text was written by the monk scholar Śāntideva, a Mahayana Buddhist of the Madhyamaka school who resided in India, at the monastic university of Nālandā c. 8th century ce. The text had significant influence in India and Tibet and continues to be an influential source for contemporary Buddhist practice. It interweaves ritual, meditation, and philosophical argumentation as mutually supportive aspects of bodhisattva practice. The text takes as its themes the development of bodhicitta, the wish to become a fully enlightened buddha, and the development of the perfections of virtue that constitute the bodhisattva’s character. Śāntideva presents four chapters dedicated to specific perfections: patience (chapter 6), effort (chapter 7), concentration (chapter 8), and wisdom (chapter 9). The text also emphasizes the development of compassion, introspection, and mindfulness. A significant feature of the text is its incorporation of philosophical argumentation into contemplations designed to develop virtuous character. Passages often function simultaneously as arguments meant to convince an interlocutor (or oneself) of their claims, as well as meditations to develop the virtue in question. This repeated use of reasoning as a means of developing virtue largely accounts for the text’s philosophically important status. This has resulted in the BCA becoming an important source for the developing academic field of Buddhist ethics. Two of Śāntideva’s arguments in particular have received considerable scholarly interest: his argument that accepting the tenet of dependent origination entails the irrationality of anger, which he gives in chapter 6; and his argument that accepting the nonexistence of the self rationally entails a commitment to altruism, which occurs in chapter 8. Śāntideva’s sequence of meditations on exchanging self and others, in which the bodhisattva imaginatively takes up the position of other persons as a way of developing compassion, has also generated great interest, both in the Tibetan tradition and in contemporary scholarship.

Article

Paul B. Donnelly

Along with Yogācāra, Madhyamaka (Middle Way) is one of the two foundational doctrinal systems of Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism, which flourished from the 3rd century ce to the final disappearance of Buddhism from the subcontinent in the 12th–13th centuries. Beginning in the 4th century, it spread to East Asia, where it became the foundation of an independent school of thought and influenced the other major Chinese Buddhist schools. It took root in Tibet beginning in the 7th century, where it served as the cornerstone of all the scholastically inclined Buddhist sects. Throughout the Mahāyāna Buddhist world, Madhyamaka has occupied a foundational position in doctrinal formulations and practices. Madhyamaka has tended to be regarded as either the supreme formulation of Mahāyāna thought, as was often the case in Tibet, or as complementary to Yogācāra, which was more commonly held in China and Japan. The name “Middle Way” references a fundamental assumption in Buddhism that stakes a middle position between the idea that the self is an irreducible, enduring entity and one in which it is wholly reducible to the physical body and perishes after death. Though central Madhyamaka ideas, such as the doctrine of the Two Truths, Dependent Origination, and Emptiness, can be found in Nikāya Buddhism and in Mahāyāna sutras, it is in the treatises of Nāgārjuna (2nd–3rd centuries ce) that we have a fully formed and distinct system of thought that can be called Madhyamaka. In earlier canonical works, and more explicitly in the Abhidharma, this notion of middle way applied exclusively to the self (Skt ātman/Pali atta) and conceptually constructed phenomena. In Mahāyāna sutras and in Nāgārjuna works, the assertion is extended to the fundamental component parts of all existents, which are declared to be empty of intrinsic nature. In Abhidharma works, the self and other composite phenomena are said to be reducible to their fundamental parts, the dharmas (Pali dhamma), which, being irreducible, must have their own identifiable intrinsic mode of existence even if they exist dependently. According to Madhyamaka, a dharma cannot possess an intrinsic nature precisely because it exists dependently. Denying any intrinsic nature, Madhyamaka asserts that things exist only dependently, and this only in terms of conventional truth, and that ultimately, emptiness of intrinsic nature is the truth and reality of all things. Not surprisingly, such a position was contentious, and numerous interpreters attempted to elucidate this rather radical position. The question of which commentator or commentators are definitive has occupied many generations of Indian, East Asian, and Tibetan Buddhists, and the issue remains very much alive in modern scholarship on Madhyamaka. Though much of this scholarship has come from a philosophical perspective, the intent of Madhyamaka, like all Buddhist thought, is primarily soteriological in nature.

Article

Sven Bretfeld

Theravāda Buddhism is a neologism denoting a variety of historically connected religious traditions. Today these traditions are predominantly spread in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and parts of Vietnam. More recent communities in other parts of the world (e. g., Europe, the United States, India, Nepal, Australia) are directly or indirectly connected to the traditions of these countries by migration or adaptation processes. These local varieties do not constitute a homogeneous entity. Nevertheless, the use of a common denominator is justified by their interconnected religious histories and a common stock of liturgical, ritual, exegetical, and narrative traditions. Prior to the 20th century theravāda (or theriya, theravaṃsa) was understood as a nikāya, an institutionalized monastic lineage primarily defined by a specific system of ritual and legal regulations for monks and nuns (the vinaya). This specific lineage became increasingly associated with Sri Lanka during the first millennium ce, while its Indian origins became obscure. Like many other nikāyas, the Theravādins were not uniform in their doctrinal, ethical, and liturgical orientations. The dynamics of local acculturation and active participation in the translocal networks of the ancient “Buddhist World” produced multiple religious expressions and attitudes within the Theravāda monastic lineage through the centuries. Doctrinally, these could range from an exclusive Pāli-based Śrāvakayāna (“Hīnayāna”) approach to the promotion of so-called Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna texts and practices. A series of royally enforced monastic reforms in the 11th and 12th centuries in Sri Lanka strengthened a certain “conservative” camp of the saṅgha and enforced an exclusivist vision of a Theravāda “orthodoxy,” purified from what this group deemed to be inauthentic adulterations of the Buddha’s teaching. This impulse yielded a powerful—though not unchallenged—impact on the further development of Buddhist monasticism in Sri Lanka and, somewhat later, in Southeast Asia. Ultimately they shaped much of the modern ideas about the characteristics of Theravāda Buddhism. During the first half of the 20th century the nikāya name Theravāda was detached from its technical monastic meaning and became reinterpreted as a type of Buddhism, idealizing the doctrinal content of the canonical scriptures of this lineage—the so-called Pāli Canon—as a binding belief system for all “Theravāda Buddhists,” monastic or lay. In anachronistic extension of this typology, the compound “Theravāda Buddhism” was further understood as the most ancient, or even “original,” form of the Buddhist “creed.” The adjective form of Theravāda is Theravādin, which can also be used as a noun to denote a follower of Theravāda.

Article

D. T. Suzuki (1870–1966) was a scholar who published extensively in Japanese and English and achieved international recognition as an authority and proponent of Buddhism in the 20th century. He was one of a generation of young progressive Buddhists in Japan seeking to rehabilitate the religion and ensure its survival by interpreting it in a modern idiom. Suzuki grew up in humble circumstances but managed to attend Tokyo Imperial University for several years. At the same time, he received Zen training as a lay practitioner at Engakuji monastery in Kamakura. Through an introduction by his Zen master, who had international connections, Suzuki was able to travel to America in 1897 to assist in English translation projects on Asian religions. There he lived for eleven years working for Open Court Publishing in Illinois, all the while absorbing Western scholarship on religion and philosophy. During this time, Suzuki began to publish his own works on Buddhism and Asian religions. He returned to Japan in 1909 and took a position as an English professor in the preparatory school of Gakushūin in Tokyo. In 1921 Suzuki moved to Ōtani University in Kyoto as a professor of English and Buddhist studies. Over the next twenty years, he published some of his most influential works in English, many of which introduced Europeans and Americans to Zen. After living in semi-retirement in Kamakura during the war years, Suzuki again had the opportunity to travel overseas in 1949. He spent almost a decade in America, affiliated first with the University of Hawai‘i, then with Claremont Graduate School in California, and, finally, most prominently, with Columbia University in New York. During this period Buddhism, particularly Zen, became wildly popular in America and Europe, and Suzuki quickly rose to the status of a celebrity intellectual. After retiring to Japan in 1958, he continued to write and make appearances. When he died in 1966 at the age of ninety-five, Suzuki was renowned worldwide for his advancement of Zen and Buddhism generally. Suzuki’s scholarship on Buddhism focused particularly on Zen, Mahayana, and Pure Land. In Zen, he singled out satori, or Zen enlightenment, as the pivotal element in its religious life and practice. In Mahayana, he emphasized the ideas of nonduality and the interpenetration of all things and sought to spread knowledge of Mahayana in Western circles to counterbalance the better-known Theravada tradition. In Pure Land, he shifted the focus from enlightenment after death in Amida Buddha’s paradise to religious fulfillment in the present world and present life. In all these forms of Buddhism, Suzuki applied the concepts of religious experience and mysticism, which were widely recognized in Western scholarship. His success in presenting Buddhism to Western readers resulted in the widespread adoption of his interpretations by mainstream thinkers and counterculture movements alike in America and Europe. His ideas also commanded great respect in mid-20th-century Japan as part of Buddhism’s modern revitalization.

Article

Andrea Acri

The spread of Buddhism across Asia has been studied mainly from a perspective focusing on the transmission through the overland routes popularly known as “Silk Roads” and emphasizing Central Asia as an important transit corridor and contact zone between South and East Asia. However, recent scholarship has increasingly recognized the significant role played by the sea routes or maritime “Silk Roads” in shaping premodern intra-Asian connectivity. This has paved the way for an appreciation of the important contribution of the southern rim of Asia—especially South India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia—to the genesis, transformation, and circulation of various forms of Buddhism. Evidence of the long-distance transfer of Buddhism from its northeastern Indian cradle to the outlying regions of South India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and China via the maritime routes goes back to the early centuries of the Current Era. From the 5th century onward, written and material vestiges from the southern rim of Asia became more substantial, testifying to an efflorescence of long-distance maritime contacts that were to last several centuries. As is shown by textual, epigraphic, and art historical materials—including icons, ritual accoutrements, dhāraṇīs, manuscripts, and monuments—Buddhist cults, imaginaries, and ritual technologies flourished across the vast swathe of littoral, island, and hinterland territory that can be conceptualized as the sociospatial grouping of “Maritime Asia.” Buddhist vestiges recovered from the Indian Subcontinent littorals, Sri Lanka, the Maldives Islands, peninsular and coastal mainland Southeast Asia, and what are now called the Indonesian Archipelago and the Philippine islands, speak in favor of the existence of pervasive and sustained multidirectional Buddhist exchanges among interconnected nodes linking South Asia and the Western Indian Ocean to China, Korea, and Japan through the maritime routes. A polycentric, geographically wide, and maritime-based approach is necessary to fully appreciate how religious, mercantile, and diplomatic networks acted as catalysts for transmission of Buddhism far and wide across Asia over nearly two millennia.

Article

Eric Huntington

Buddhist cosmology addresses the contents, structures, and processes of the world, especially with a view toward how these relate to the experiences of living beings. Some ideas occur broadly across various traditions, including that the world is disk-shaped, centers on the enormous mountain Sumeru, contains a human-inhabited continent called Jambudvīpa, and carries numerous layers of heavens above and hells below. At the same time, differing cosmological interpretations have been key to the development of many of the diverse philosophies and practices seen across Buddhist history. Over time, scholars, artists, and practitioners have reinterpreted cosmological features and frameworks to express new ideas about the personhood of the buddha, the nature of enlightenment, the techniques by which followers progress along the Buddhist path, and more. Some major innovations of Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism were cast in explicitly cosmological terms. Such important cosmological statements appear not only in scriptures and treatises but also in other aspects of Buddhist culture, such as ritual performances, visual artworks, and material objects. The cosmology of Buddhism is deeply intertwined with everything from its most profound intellectual developments to the lives and activities of everyday individuals.