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Article

Perhaps the most significant contribution of Buddhism to the international stage in recent years has been the promotion and cultural acceptance of meditation. Historically central to many Buddhist traditions and once considered an activity for a dedicated few, meditation has become mainstream. Within Buddhism itself, it has now become more widely acknowledged as a lay as well as a monastic practice. Meditation has been reinstated in religious orthopraxy in many spiritual traditions, Buddhist and non-Buddhist, where its practice had previously fallen into abeyance. Meditation is now also normalized and often recommended in secular and clinical contexts: the modern mindfulness movements and various psychologically related disciplines, by adopting various forms of meditative practice as highly effective therapeutic techniques, have made meditations, often derived from Buddhist practice, internationally acceptable. It would be fair to say that the figure of the Buddha seated in deep calm has become an internationally recognized image for the tranquility and alertness thought possible for the human mind. But what exactly is meditation? The term applies to a range of activities that go beyond, but include, the simple seated activity suggested by images of the Buddha. Walking, sitting, and eating may include exercises regarded as central elements in meditative practice. Buddhist traditions throughout all regions have often been richly varied in their attitude to the praxis and the theory of the eightfold path; all path factors are considered interrelated. The isolation of any one activity from others that may support and enhance it does not present an authentic, or what would be regarded as an effective, picture of what is known as bhāvanā, literally “making to become,” the cultivation of the eightfold path and, specifically, meditation itself. The term bhāvanā is certainly applied to seated meditation. But it also includes exercises in other postures, devotional practices, offerings, prostrations, listening to teaching, debate about the teaching, and chanting. Some of these, in some traditions, assume a central role whereby they become the core meditation practice. Meditations and other activities are often considered interdependent: from early times, the absorption and investigation of theory, sitting meditation, walking practice, chanting, and rituals aimed at stilling and clearing the mind were designed to support and complement one another. Meditation and its associated exercises are often selected and taught with careful consideration of individual needs. Many require continued guidance by more experienced practitioners: mixes of practices are often suggested to individuals according to their temperament and stage of practice. Forms of Buddhism are quite distinct; but practices are usually seen as graduated, requiring patient training before the next stage of teaching is reached, and mutually supportive. Historically, Buddhism has also often tended to adapt in a creative and flexible manner according to local customs, variations, and belief systems. These features can be seen in the great diversity of Buddhist meditative practice.

Article

“Naikan” 内観 is a self-reflective form of meditation founded by Yoshimoto Ishin 吉本伊信 (1916–1988), who developed it from a lay Shin Buddhist practice called mishirabe身調べ. After Yoshimoto used it to help prisoners in the 1950s, psychiatrists in the 1960s started to use it as a psychotherapy. Today in Japan it is the most popular psychotherapeutic method that originated in Buddhism. Naikan involves self-reflection on three questions: What have I received from a significant other? What have I given back to that person? What troubles and difficulties did I cause that person? People doing Naikan ask themselves these questions in relation to a family member or some other person during particular times in their lives. There are two types of the practice: intensive Naikan (shūchū naikan集中内観) and daily Naikan (nichijō naikan日常内観 or bunsan naikan分散内観). The former is done continually for a week at a Naikan training center, of which there are about twenty-five in Japan and several outside Japan in Austria, Germany, and the United States. During intensive Naikan, those doing Naikan report individually eight or so times a day their answers to the three questions to an “interviewer” (mensetsusha面接者). Daily Naikan is done as part of a person’s everyday normal routine for as short as a few minutes or as long as two hours a day. Intensive or daily Naikan is offered as a therapy at about twenty medical institutions in Japan and another fifteen in China. Intensive Naikan is commonly done for one of four reasons. First, it is done to solve a specific problem, such as alcoholism, gambling addiction, a psychosomatic disorder, or a bad relationship with a family member. Second, it is used to train employees so they can interact better with customers and colleagues. The Toyoko Inn, for example, which has over 230 hotels throughout Japan, requires all its full-time employees to do intensive Naikan. Third, it cultivates greater self-awareness with regard to, for example, how our minds work. Finally, it is done to discover the true nature of our lives through a spiritual awakening, which commonly entails the realization of how we live due to the care of others and how we suffer because of our own self-centeredness. This final purpose is in accordance with Yoshimoto’s view of Naikan as a method for learning how to live happily regardless of one’s life circumstances. Those who do Naikan for non-psychotherapeutic purposes sometimes use the term “Naikanhō” 内観法 (Naikan method) to distinguish their aims from Naikan therapy (Naikan ryōhō) 内観療法, which is used to solve a particular problem. But regardless of whether Naikan is done for self-developmental, spiritual, or for therapeutic reasons, the Naikan method of reflecting on the three Naikan questions is the same.

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

Sam van Schaik

Dzogchen, often translated as “the great perfection,” is a tradition of meditation practice and poetic literary expression in Tibetan Buddhism. Though its origins lie in Indic Buddhism, Dzogchen developed a distinct form of practice and literary expression only in Tibet. In general, Dzogchen texts evoke and discuss a state of awareness present in all living beings that transcends dualities and conceptual elaboration. Common terms for this state of awareness are “mind itself” (sems nyid) and “awareness” (rig pa). Dzogchen literature often states that in the presence of this awareness, religious practice oriented toward enlightenment is dualistic and, therefore, not only unnecessary, but also obstructive. Nevertheless, Dzogchen is usually integrated with other forms of Buddhist practice. The Dzogchen tradition encompasses a variety of literature and practice; the most common way of categorizing this is a division into three classes, the mind series, the space series, and the instruction series. The mind series contains most of the early Dzogchen literature, and more recent material in the same style. The space series enjoyed only limited popularity, and little is known of it today. The instruction series, by contrast, increased in popularity from its appearance in the 11th century and in time supplanted the mind series and the space series, ultimately becoming the predominant form of Dzogchen. The practice of Dzogchen requires an authorized teacher and the ritual transmission of key texts, as well as an “introduction” to the nature of the mind given by the teacher to the student. The main scriptural sources of Dzogchen practice are texts held to be translations collected in semicanonical compendia, treatises by Tibetan scholars, and revealed texts known as terma, usually said to have been concealed in the 8th century by the tantric master Padmasambhava. Dzogchen is a living tradition, taught within all of the main Tibetan Buddhist schools, though it remains closely associated with the Nyingma school. Within the latter, Dzogchen is considered to be the most advanced of Buddhist meditation practices, placed at the top of a ninefold categorization of Buddhist practice, the “nine vehicles.” Known in this context as atiyoga, “the utmost yoga,” it is the highest of the three “inner yogas,” the other two being mahāyoga and anuyoga. Dzogchen is also at the pinnacle of the teachings of Tibet’s Bonpo religion, which shares much of its doctrine with the Nyingma school and has in recent years been formally identified as one of the Buddhist schools of Tibet.

Article

The title “Scientific Approaches to Mysticism” reveals half the task and belies the other half—namely, which of the sciences and whose mysticism are to be considered. Is it Capra’s tao of physics, Bohm’s holomovement of undivided wholeness, or Saver/Rabin’s limbic correlates of mystical ecstasy? Is it Freud’s psychoanalytic oneness of nursing at the breast, or Goodall’s evolutionary biology of mystical wonder? Numerous mystics have presented us with a cornucopia of mystical experiences, and many sciences have been employed to analyze mysticism. Any effort to create a singular scientific approach to an “imagined singular mysticism” is doomed to vagueness. Specifics matter, and they matter in the scientific approaches to mysticism. A scientific study of mysticism must first clarify what mysticism means—namely, a conscious experience in which one feels that the normal subject-object boundaries manifest in waking consciousness are altered, presenting a state of unity, union, or interrelationship. This definition of mysticism is broad enough to encompass nature mysticism, theistic I–Thou mysticism, and various forms of non-dualistic mysticisms ranging from experiences of the oneness of Being to the awareness of the emptiness of becoming. Each of these broad categories of mysticism must be refined by examining the particular tradition in which it manifests. As such, the scientific study of mysticism cannot assume, for example, that all Christian mystics, proclaiming the ultimacy of a personal communion with the Trinitarian god, are uttering the same thing, nor that non-dualistic mystics from different traditions, such as Christianity and Hinduism, are saying different things. The scientific study of mysticism must immediately confront the threat of reductionism, in which “mystical experience” is reduced to some elemental explanation such as, “it is only one’s brain.” This threat of scientific reductionism has long been elicited by the knowledge, for example, that the intake of drugs is correlated with mystical experience; more recently, this threat of reductionism has been intensified by the knowledge that we have machines that measure the neural patterns associated with individuals having mystical experiences, and we have machines that can allegedly induce mystical experiences. Stepping beyond the psychological, cognitive, and neuropsychological approaches to mysticism, the connections between mystical experience and physics have also been drawn. Relativity and quantum theories have become the hermeneutical tools to analyze and interpret the declarations of all sorts of mystical experiences. These studies of mysticism tend to present parallel explanations of the world. Evolutionary theory and biology also offer different angles of approach to the study of mysticism proposing explanations, for example, which relate mystical experience to the evolutionary chain of being or to techniques for transcending present limitations.

Article

Sharon A. Suh

Film serves as one of the most recent contributions to the variety of Buddhist visual forms that can offer a perspectival shift in interpretation for its viewers akin to other meditative devices such as mandalas. As a relatively recent subject of study, Buddhist films present innovative opportunities to visualize the Buddha, Buddhism, and the self in nuanced ways. Buddhist film can be understood as a spiritual technology that reshapes vision, and the act of viewing becomes a ritual process and contemplative practice. Ranging from films with an explicitly Buddhist theme and content to more abstract films without obvious Buddhist references, Buddhist films have become the subject of scholarly studies of Buddhism as well as occasions to reimagine Buddhism on and off screen. Buddhist films found in Asia and the West have proliferated globally through the rise of international Buddhist film festivals over the past fifteen years that have increased both the interest in Buddhism and the field of Buddhism and film itself. Most studies of Buddhism in film indicate that what constitutes a Buddhist film continually evolves and, as such, can be seen as a contemporary instantiation of the skillful means of the Buddha.

Article

John Powers

Buddhist discussions of the body, particularly in South Asia, encode a number of ambiguities and conceptual tensions. A pervasive trope in this literature characterizes bodies as foul, oozing fluids, prone to offensive smells, decaying and causing pain, and as containing a range of disgusting substances within a bag of skin, including urine, feces, mucus, and bile. People are warned of the dangers of emotional investment in their bodies because this leads to inevitable suffering and loss. On the other hand, beautiful bodies are proof of past or present moral cultivation and of success in religious practice. The most exalted bodies—surpassing those of all other beings, even gods—are those of buddhas, and their perfect physiques proclaim their supreme attainments.

Article

The “visualization/contemplation sutras” (Ch. guan jing觀經) refers to six scriptures in the modern Sino-Japanese Buddhist canon Taishō shinshū daizōkyō大正新脩大藏經 (“T”). The six scriptures are each devoted to particular buddhas and bodhisattvas, and in some cases, the pure lands or heavens linked to them. They include: (a) Sutra on the Sea of Samādhi Attained through Contemplation of the Buddha (Guan fo sanmei hai jing觀佛三昧海經; T 643); (b) Sutra on the Contemplation of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (Guan Wuliangshoufo jing觀無量壽佛經; T 365); (c) Sutra on the Contemplation of the Two Bodhisattvas Bhaiṣajyarāja and Bhaiṣajyasamudgata (Guan Yaowang Yaoshang erpusa jing觀藥王藥上二菩薩經; T 1161); (d) Sutra on the Contemplation of Maitreya Bodhisattva’s Ascent to Rebirth in Tuṣita Heaven (Guan Mile Pusa shangsheng doushuaitian jing觀彌勒菩薩上生兜率天經; T 452); (e) Sutra on the Contemplation of the Cultivation Methods of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra (Guan Puxian Pusa xingfa jing觀普賢菩薩行法經; T 277); and (f) Sutra on the Contemplation of the Bodhisattva Ākāśagarbha (Guan Xukongzang Pusa jing觀虛空藏菩薩經; T 409). All six scriptures use the Chinese term guan觀 (or kuan) in their titles. All also feature instructions on contemplative techniques, which include fantastic visual imagery and other visionary phenomena. Due largely to these visual qualities, in English-language scholarship since the late 1950s, the most common translation for guan in their titles has been “visualization.” There is, however, no scholarly consensus for an Indic-language equivalent to guan in these scriptures, and the “visualization” designation has been increasingly questioned since the 2000s. Thus many scholars prefer the translation “contemplation,” while some opt for “discernment.” Further complicating study of the visualization/contemplation sutras are persistent questions of their provenance. The traditional translator attributions preserved in the Taishō canon all credit Indian or Central Asian monks for the “translations.” However, all six scriptures are extant only in Chinese or in translations based on the Chinese, and those translator attributions have been widely contested. Scholars thus variously posit Indian, Central Asian, or Chinese origins for the individual scriptures. The consensus as of 2020 is that, as Chinese texts, they all date to around the first half of the 5th century ce, and many scholars do accept the influence of Indian or Central Asian meditation masters active in China then. Such influence receives support in the near-contemporary emergence in China of meditation manuals that share distinctive terminology with the visualization/contemplation sutras and are often grouped with them in modern studies. Further research into the sutras should thus enrich the understanding of scriptural translation processes, the emergence of specific deity cults in East Asian Buddhism, and interlinked developments in the devotional, visionary, and contemplative practices associated with those cults.

Article

Xuyun  

Daniela Campo

Xuyun 虛雲 (?–1959), also known in the West as Empty Cloud, was a famous Chan master and one of the principal monastic leaders of modern Chinese Buddhism. From the end of the Chinese empire to the first decade of the Maoist regime, Xuyun engaged in the physical reconstruction and institutional reform of six large monasteries of the Chan tradition. In his monasteries, he reintroduced disciplinary rules, meditation practice, and precept transmission and trained new generations of monastics. A former ascetic and an expert Chan practitioner, Xuyun led extended meditation retreats and instructed both monastic and lay Buddhists in the kan huatou method of meditation. Known as a miracle worker, he directed religious ceremonies and public rituals all over the country, attracting huge numbers of followers. Relying on his charisma and on his great authority at both a religious and an institutional level, this master actively worked for the transmission of Chinese Buddhism and helped shape its transition to the new social and political conditions: his long-term engagement in the preservation of the rules of Chinese monasticism and systematic effort to ensure the reproduction of Chinese Buddhism in general and of the Chan school in particular through Dharma transmissions can also be singled out among his most important contributions to modern Chinese Buddhism. Xuyun also was, and still is, one of the most revered Buddhist masters of the 20th century across China and the West. He acquired the reputation of a modern eminent monk during his lifetime, particularly after the 1953 publication of his autobiography—a work that fits neatly into the hagiographical tradition of the biographies of eminent monks, in terms of not only its themes, aims, and target audience but also its sources and its editorial method.

Article

The notion of the vidyādhara, “bearer of wisdom/practical knowledge/ritual lore,” was a common figure in various Indian traditions and appeared in Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain texts, as well as in Indian narrative literature. Originally, these beings were depicted as semi-divine, youthful figures flying about in the atmosphere between heaven and earth, endowed with supernormal powers. Later, this figure came to be viewed as a soteriological state that a human being could attain in his/her present life through religious practice, thereby becoming a kind of superhuman, god-like being. This interpretation was mainly encountered in Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain tantric traditions. In Indian Buddhism, the ideal of becoming a vidyādhara came to be linked to a variety of practices, including alchemy, meditation, and the recitation of mantras, by which supernormal powers could be acquired. Such practices were also performed to achieve spiritual success by a bodhisattva on the long path to buddhahood. The concept of a vidyādhara as a soteriological ideal for humans to realize in their present lives has been emphasized not merely in Indian but also in Tibetan and Burmese traditions, where it became localized and adapted to the local culture and society. Although the nature and origin of the premodern notions of vidyādhara (Pāli vijjādhara) and related practices in Burma/Myanmar have yet to be investigated, these notions and practices came to be rather widespread there during the colonial period from about the end of 19th century, and their popularity culminated during the postindependence period starting in 1948. Since these periods, a weizzā or a weizzādhour (Pāli vijjādhara) has been understood to be a human being who achieves a superhuman state. This is a two-stage process. First, as a human being, he (it is always a man) achieves a lower-state of weizzāhood by engaging in a variety of practices such as Buddhist meditation and morality in combination with alchemy, magical squares (yantras), or indigenous medicine, or reciting mantras through which he acquires supernormal powers (Pāli iddhi, abhiññā; Burmese dago; Sanskrit siddhi), such as being able to predict the future, to materialize objects, to be able to levitate, to be present at two places at the same time, etc. Second, he achieves an ontological transformation (htwek-yap-pauk) through which he acquires a semi-immortal life that enables him to transcend saṃsāra and to attain nirvana and awakening (Pāli bodhi) in a remote future as a Buddhist saint (Pāli arahant) or as a buddha in one extended life. In the meantime, the accomplished weizzā leaves the human realm and enters a hidden world, and from there he seeks to promote and defend the Buddha’s dispensation (Pāli sāsana) and to save the suffering sentient beings. From his hidden abode, a weizzā can communicate with and give instructions to his human devotees through telepathic messages or omens, by apparitions, or by possessing them. In this way, a weizzā is perceived as an intrinsically Buddhist figure that is linked to Buddhist meditation, morality, soteriology, cosmology, and eschatology.

Article

The period from the 3rd to the late 6th century, variously known as the period of the Northern and Southern States (Nanbeichao) and the Six Dynasties period (Liuchao) signals a formative period in Chinese history when Buddhism established itself in China. Virtually all its major scriptures, doctrines, and practices were introduced in some form during this period, which in many ways can be considered a defining development in the religion’s history in East Asia. During this time Buddhism, which entered China from both the Central Asian Silk Road and from the southern sea route, was at the beginning accompanying merchants from abroad, and during its early time mainly served foreign communities. The Nanbeichao period is the time when Buddhism not only established itself but also became the dominant religious power in China, far outdistancing the native Daoist and Confucian traditions in terms of influence, economic power, and number of adherents. Even so, Buddhism in China was not a monolithic tradition with a centralized hierarchy or power structure. Buddhism in China, as in its native India, was divided into numerous independent communities each with its own leaders and support units, many reflecting specific local tendencies and geo-political conditions. As in many other religions, Buddhism was greatly dependent on royal and upper-class patronage for support in order to sustain its growing monastic populations and the costly building and construction projects its practices required. This meant land donations and the building of temples and monuments, including large-scale excavation of cave complexes for worship and habitation, which dot the Chinese landscape to this day.

Article

Katja Triplett

Buddhist institutions were first established in the Japanese archipelago in the 6th century ce. In the same period, the ruling families incorporated Chinese-style medicine and Daoist ritual healing techniques into Japanese culture and society. By the 8th century, Buddhism had become a dominant cultural force in Japan. The Japanese Buddhist textual tradition was shaped by translations from Sanskrit into classical Chinese, and Chinese texts remained paramount for all branches of scholarship. In the ensuing centuries, a rich and hybrid ritual, material, and intellectual culture emerged from combining these various religious and scholarly traditions, as well as elements of the local tradition of kami神 (gods) worship. This also resulted in a distinct tradition of Buddhist medicine, which blossomed in the Kamakura period (1185–1333). The esoteric (or tantric) tradition of Mahāyāna Buddhism with its idea of mutual empowerment (kaji加持) and unification of the ritualist and a buddha, bodhisattva, or other Buddhist deity, directing their power to heal, protect, etc., was the prevailing paradigm. Other traditions developed over the course of the centuries, too, notably Pure Land, Nichiren, and Zen Buddhism, and the vinaya restoration movement (Shingon Ritsu). These also had an impact on the ideas and practices of healing and medical care. All shared the aim of providing the means for salvation and ultimate liberation from sickness and suffering. Lay patrons in early and medieval Japan funded the construction of hospitals and other care facilities as well as medicinal gardens. The Japanese monastics who studied the classical Chinese medical texts and treated their patients following the ideal of the compassionate bodhisattva were also familiar with basic ideas from Indian Āyurveda from translated sutras and commentaries. As such, etiology and diagnosis in the Japanese Buddhist context included epistemic and cosmological thought from both China and India. In the Buddhist context, rituals such as elaborate fire-offering ceremonies (goma護摩) were commonly used to take care of patients of all ages. Buddhist treatments also included empowered medicines, acupuncture, and moxibustion. Buddhist priests provided palliative care, and deathbed rituals were conducted to protect the dying from evil forces and prepare them spiritually for a good death and future birth. Buddhist medical practitioners not only included monastic doctors, usually called sōi僧医 in modern literature, but also various kinds of exorcists and healers. These groups produced talismans and amulets, and offered protective rituals within the paradigmatic framework of Japanese Buddhism. Pilgrimage to sacred sites at Buddhist temples provided a way for monastics and lay people to find healing and support. The external treatment of afflictions often went hand in hand with internal, mental, or cognitive methods such as various forms of meditation. These methods were primarily practiced by the monastically trained, but some, such as naikan内観, “internal observation,” were practiced by a wider circle of practitioners. Buddhistic methods were also used to treat animals.

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.