Claiming the Pure Land in Republican China

Claiming the Pure Land in Republican China

  • Saturday, June 1, 2013 | 1:15 – 2:45pm | Gage Residence, Isabel MacInnes Room

Stephanie Lin (Columbia University) “The Buddhist Deathbed and Pure Land Faith in Modern China (1928- 1949)”

Beginning in the late 1920s, Chinese lay Buddhists organized a widespread movement dedicated to the ritual and practical management of the deathbed environment. The goal, as boldly declared in the charters of newly formed deathbed groups, was to help people at the end of life attain rebirth in Amitābha Buddha’s Western Paradise. Members were bound to a set of standardized regulations which carefully structured and controlled the deathbed setting, as well as the behaviors of those within it. Clearly, despite the Pure Land tradition’s reputation of being the “easy path,” the task of rebirth was in fact deemed to be fraught with danger and obstacles. My paper focuses on the tensions between faith and doubt and “self-power” vs. “other-power” which animated all aspects of this modern Chinese lay movement.

Jakub Zamorski (National Chengchi University) “Debating Pure Land in Republican China: The Case of Yixin nianfo ji de wangsheng lun (一心念佛即得往生論)”

In 1925 Yixin nianfo ji de wangsheng lun (一心念佛即得往生論), an article by scholar monk Shoupei 守培 (1884-1955), provoked a doctrinal debate between the author, popular preacher Yinguang 印光 (1861-1940) and layman Wang Jinzghou 王鏡周 in the pages of influential Haichaoyin journal. Whereas the debate centred around the role of faith (信) and vows (願) in achieving Pure Land rebirth, it provides an excellent overview of Pure Land-related controversies among Chinese Buddhists in Republican period. Each of the participants held different assumptions about relation between Pure Land “Dharma Gate” and other Mahayanist teachings and about importance of logic and reasoning in interpreting this tradition.

Lei Ying (Harvard University) “Dying a Bodhisattva, Dying a Patriot: Monk Hongyi and his Death”

This paper examines the Pure Land beliefs and practices of the most revered Vinaya Master of twentieth-century China, Shi Hongyi (1880-1942), focusing especially on the last decade of his life. It traces the doctrinal connections between Hongyi’s scrupulous deathbed instructions and his grasp of the Vinaya. In striving to embody an ideal departure with impeccable mindfulness in the midst of World War II, Hongyi demonstrates an extraordinary Buddhist response to a nation in crisis and to a world in torment. With respect to the complex engagement between Buddhism and modernity, this study presents a case of the profound power of the Pure Land faith in mediating between the making of a nation and the concurrent remaking of the Buddhist institution. It further suggests that non-killing, hence a Buddhist’s refusal to take up arms, may not necessarily mean non-action; whilst the monastery is as likely a place to inspire altruism and martyrdom as the battlefield.