UBC’s Tzu-chi Buddhist Studies Forum
“India in the Chinese Buddhist Imagination”
Professor Stuart Young, Bucknell University
March 28, 2013, 4:30 – 6:00pm
Buddhist cultures across Asia have always idealized Buddhist India. Often viewed as the land where Buddhism began, and yearned for as the fount of Truth, India has carried in the imaginations of Asian Buddhists the mystique of pure and hallowed origins. These origins were frequently invoked, or manufactured, to authorize developments in Buddhist doctrine, programs of ritual practice, ordination platforms, visual arts, and so on, as Buddhist adepts across cultures sought to revise the teachings and practices of Buddhism according to their own priorities. In this talk I discuss the ways in which Indian Buddhism was adduced and deployed in the context of medieval China. In particular, I examine medieval Chinese hagiographies of the ancient Indian Buddhist patriarchs, which show how Chinese Buddhists constructed paradigms of Buddhist sainthood for a world without a Buddha. Chinese adepts in different times and places sought to advance specific models of Buddhist practice as the most effective means of achieving liberation, and they did so through narratives illustrating the trials and triumphs of their greatest Indian forebears. These narratives showed how the Indian patriarchs had saved the world by perfecting certain Buddhist practices, thus demonstrating how these practices were the guarantors of Buddhist sainthood across the Sino-Indian divide.
Stuart Young (Ph.D., Princeton University) is Assistant Professor of East Asian religions at the Bucknell University. His teaching and research interests include the intersections between Buddhism and indigenous traditions, religious biography, and Buddhist material culture. He has currently completed a book manuscript titled Conceiving the Indian Buddhist Patriarchs in China, which examines how medieval Chinese Buddhists understood their ancient Indian forebears as models of Buddhist practice for a world without a Buddha. He is also researching strategies devised by Chinese Buddhists and Daoists to reconcile their moral, doctrinal, and ritual systems – and commercial interests – with the all-important silk industry.