Academic Seminar - Chan 'syncretism' and Chan 'separatism': posting a trend in late Ming Buddhism
Wednesday 2nd May 2012 1:00pm-2:00pm
Where: Room 321, Level 3, Asia Institute
The school of Buddhism known as Chan ('Zen' in Japanese) is well-known for its rhetoric of a 'separate transmission' (biechun) of the Buddhist teachings from master to disciple, unmediated by scriptural study or devotional expedients. Buddhism of the Late Ming dynasty, however, has been described as 'syncretic' in that its leading proponents advocated a combined practice of Chan with the devotional practice of 'Buddha-invocation' (nianfo), associated with the Pure Land school. The writings of famous Chan syncretists (such as the reformist monks Deqing and Zhuhong) contain criticisms of those whom they perceived as unduly preferencing Chan rhetoric to the exclusion of more pious pursuits such as scripture study and Buddha-invocation. Scholarly accounts of Buddhism in the Late Ming period (16th and 17th centuries) since Sung-peng Hsu (1979) and Chün-fang Yü (1981) have tended to emphasise the perspective of these syncretist reformers. I shall be analysing selected passages from the Luohan zhuan, a little-known 17th century book of illustrated Chan biographies. In contrast to the writings of the reformers, references to Buddha-invocation in these passages range in tone from ambivalence to outright irreverance, suggesting a conscious opposition towards syncretism, an attitude which (in allusion to the 'separate transmission') I have termed Chan 'separatism'.