Jisi Fu & Jing Le | Fudan University, East China Normal University: “Reimagining East Asian Buddhism Wuyue Foundations of Song Dynasty Buddhism and Beyond” A Talk by Professor Albert Welter

Figure 1. Photo by Jing Le. Reprinted with permission

On September 20, 2018, Professor Albert Welter from the University of Arizona delivered a talk Reimagining East Asian Buddhism: Wuyue Founda- tions of Song Dynasty Buddhism and Beyond to students and faculty mem- bers at the University of British Columbia. Professor Welter specializes in Chinese Buddhism. His research interests include the study of Buddhist texts in the transition from the late Tang (ninth century) to the Song dynasty (tenth to thirteenth century), Buddhist interactions with Neo- Confucianism and literati culture, and Chinese administrative policies towards religion.

Professor Welter began his talk by recounting how almost every- thing he has written about is related to people from Hangzhou, and how the idea of the Hangzhou Buddhist Culture project was developed in con- ferences and related projects hosted in the city. While much has been said about Dunhuang’s contribution to Buddhist studies, little has been discussed regarding the role of Hangzhou in the development of Bud- dhism. As such, Hangzhou deserves more scholarly attention.

Professor Welter continued to review the modern academic ori- gins of Buddhist studies. He explained that although ideas of Buddhism reached the West since antiquity, they had relatively little influence. Even explorers like Marco Polo and Catholic missionaries, who brought back information, had slight influence on Buddhism in the West. Bud- dhism was discovered in the West in the first half of the nineteenth cen- tury and began to have greater impact in that century. As Edwin Ar- nold’s The Light of Asia was translated in multiple languages around the world, including Hindi, the life of Buddha was reintroduced to India, its land of origin. And Professor Welter also introduced Max Müller’s Sacred Books of the East series, which has an impact on the scholarly side.

The Western intellectual history of Buddhist studies is heavily in- fluenced by Western religious worldviews, particularly by Protestantism. The term “Protestant Buddhism” was used to articulate a form of Bud- dhism that is compatible with science and Western values. Professor Welter introduced Gregory Schopen who developed and expanded the notion of “Protestant Buddhism.” In his article, “Archaeology and Protestant Presupposition in the Study of Indian Buddhism,” Schopen traced how our characterization of the history of Indian Buddhism was conditioned by and, thus, reflected Protestant history and values rather than Indian Buddhist history and values. Professor Welter also intro- duced David L. Snellgrove’s critique and response to a famous nine- teenth-century German Indologist, Hermann Oldenberg, who produced a widely read work Buddha: His Life, His Doctrine, His Order (published in German edition in 1881 and English translation in 1882). Professor Wel- ter then discussed the relationship between Buddhism and Christianity, indicating how the quest for the authentic teachings of the historical Buddha was framed against the background of the Protestant quest for the historical Jesus. The “true” Christianity of Protestantism became the model for the “true” Buddhism of Śākyamuni’s teachings.

Professor Welter then moved on to the spread of Buddhism. He regarded the transmission of Buddhism across Asia, which was finished by the eighth century, as part one. After that, East Asian Buddhism came into its own. He stressed that what comes after is actually more im- portant to the story of East Asian Buddhism. The Song dynasty (960- 1279) signaled the end of Indian influence and the beginning of indige- nous forms of East Asian Buddhism.

Professor Welter then shifted his focus to Hangzhou, the capital of the Wu Yue kingdom (907-978). He argued that Hangzhou represented a region that not only initiated important developments for Chinese Buddhism, but also formed a triangular network with Japan and Korea to create the nexus of East Asian Buddhism. Hangzhou was a peaceful and prosperous place that fostered a cultural revival and attracted Buddhists from the rest of China and throughout East Asia.

Professor Welter also explained the four different parts of the Wu Yue foundations of Song dynasty in Chinese and East Asian Buddhism: he regarded Wuyue monarchs as cakracartin (real turning dharma kings) and discussed three figures and their texts, including Yongming Yans- hou 永明延壽 and the Zongjing lu (宗鏡錄 Records of the Source Mirror), Daoyuan 道原 and the Jingde Chuandeng lu (景德傳燈錄 The Jingde Record of the Transmission of the Lamp),Zanning 贊寧 and the Da Song Sengshilue (大宋僧史略 Topical Compendium of the Buddhist Clergy in Song Dynasty). Professor Welter further suggested that these three texts reformulated

the three pillars of classical Buddhist teaching: Prajñā as wisdom in Yongming Yanshou’s teaching in the Zongjing lu; Samādhi as meditation in Daoyuan’s Jingde Chuandeng lu; and Śila as vinaya or sangha administra- tion in Zanning’s Da Song Sengshilue. Together, they functioned as sup- plemental pillars in a reconstructed model of East Asian Buddhism. Af- terwards, Professor Welter detailed the strong connection between Buddhism and the state in the Yue and Song dynasties. For instance, the rul- er of Wu Yue wrote a preface for Yongming Yanshou’s text, emphasizing the harmony of the three teachings. It confirmed Yanshou’s position as the spiritual leader of the Wu Yue kingdom. At the Song court, Zanning was asked by the emperor to compile an introductory guide book for administering Buddhism, and Zanning used this occasion to suggest a new role for Buddhism that is integrated into the administrative struc- ture of the imperial bureaucracy. He even suggested forming five ranks for Buddhist Junzi which let monks gain official rank through clergy se- lection. Daoyuan’s Jingde Chuandeng Lu was the first imperial-authorized Chan text admitted into Buddhist canon. In addition, the following Denglu text, the Tiansheng Guangdeng lu (天聖廣燈錄 Tiansheng-era Records of the Extensive Transmission), furthered the idea of a special transmission outside the teaching that the Jingde Chuandeng Lu pioneered.

Professor Welter then shifted focus to the two transmissions of Buddhist teaching to Ānanda and Mahākāśyapa, one representing the textual transmission and the other representing secret mind-to-mind transmission. The latter one was considered superior according to Chan Buddhism, which supposedly encapsulated the essence of enlighten- ment, usurping the Indian textual tradition. It had a profound effect on the formation of an authentic Buddhist tradition in East Asian. This im- portant transformation was effected in the Song dynasty, especially in the Hangzhou region.

Professor Welter then discussed the transmission of Chan Bud- dhism from China to Japan by the monk Eisai 明菴栄西(1141-1215). Eisai was the First Patriarch of Rinzai Zen in Japan. When his plan of going to India failed, he discovered the reimagined Buddhism of  the Hangzhou region. He travelled to Wan’nian si 萬年寺, a Chan center on Mt. Tiantai, visited sacred sites in the region, and received Dharma transmission from Xu’an Huaichang 虛庵懷敞 (c.1125-1195) at Jingde si 景德寺. In other words, the Hangzhou region had created a new Buddhist homeland that inspired Eisai. Professor Welter pointed out the importance of Hangzhou region as the new centre of East Asian Buddhism. There were countless examples of Japanese monks who came after Eisai and com- muted back and forth between China and Japan. For example, Myōzen 明全 (1184-1225) and Dōgen 道 元 (1200-1253) received transmission from Rujing 如淨 (1163-1228) of Tiantong si 天童寺. Enni Ben’en 圓爾辨圓 (1202-1280), who founded Tōfuku ji 東福寺, received transmission from Wuzhun Shifan 無準師範(1179-1249) of Jingshan si 徑山寺.


Figure 2. Photo by Jing Le. Reprinted with permission

Professor Welter concluded his talk by discussing the narrative discours- es and battles over ideas. He emphasized the need to create a new narra- tive which articulates the agency of East Asian Buddhism as intrinsic and dynamic onto itself, and not as subsidiary to the nineteenth-century master narrative that emphasizes Indian Buddhism. Moreover, to resist the temptation to view archaeological and non-canonical sources as “original truth,” it is important to recognize that they may subvert ca- nonical and received narratives and are therefore useful correctives, but archaeological and non-canonical sources are also products of their own narrative. The people who created the archaeological evidence or the non-canonical sources were also operating within a narrative frame- work.

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Source: CJBS | Special Issue No. 15 (2020) | BUDDHISM AND SOCIAL CHANGE

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