Forum on Chinese Buddhism in Recent and Contemporary History: starting from Buddhist education

Promoting Chinese Buddhism had always been a mission of the founder of Dharma Drum Mountain, Master Sheng Yen, who considered Buddhist education as being essential to the future development of Chinese Buddhism. The second Forum on Chinese Buddhism in Recent and Contemporary History, organized by the Sheng Yen Education Foundation, took place at Baoyun Monastery in Taichung from December 18 to 20, 2016, drawing around 20 scholars from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, France, and the US, who dealt with the problems and challenges of modern Chinese Buddhism in terms of Buddhism education, as well as its future opportunities and direction.

Regarding how to establish the features of Buddhist education, given the many existing universities, Lin Zhenguo, professor of the Philosophy Department at National Chengchi University and host of this round-table forum, talked about how democracy in politics has fostered the development of religious education in Taiwan since 1990. In recent years, fast changes in society have also facilitated different aspects of Buddhist education. While Ven. Hui Min, president of Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts (DILA), shared that the Institute uses “protecting the spiritual environment” as its guideline, to nurture talent well-rounded in liberal arts with its school motto: Compassion, Wisdom, Harmony, and Respect. And the direction of its research efforts is to incorporate Chan practice into everyday life of modern society.

Prof. Wan Jinchuan, director of the College of Buddhist Studies at Fo Guang University, explained that their courses include programs on sutras, cultural applications, and vegetarian cooking, and stress morning and evening services, as well as daily life experiences, such as preparing food in the central kitchen. Ven. Zhao Hui of the Hsuan Chuang University pointed out that low birth rate, among other social issues, has seriously challenged Buddhist education, which could use more thoughts and would require changes.

On Chinese Buddhist research, Xuan Fang, associate professor of the Institute of Buddhism and Religious Theories at Renmin University of China, held that Buddhist education should “first establish the bigger picture” by identifying the talents to be nurtured: those with a bodhisattva’s personality, who possess compassion and wisdom, and who are able to inherit and pass down the Buddhist values. While Prof. Gong Jun of the Sun Yat Sen University Institute of Logic and Comparative Religion, Guangzhou, mentioned that contemporary Buddhist education in China needs more fundamental training on language skills, text interpretation, and history, in addition to exploring the traditions of Chinese Buddhist thoughts in terms of the history of spirituality, a subject worthy of our attention.

For presentation on the second and third days, Deng Weiren of the DILA, Ji Zhe of the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales, Dr. Gu Lide of the Florida State University, Ven. Rong Dao of the University of Southern California, and Lai Yueshan of Guangzhou’s Sun Yat Sen University, explored the process of modernization of Buddhist education in the east during the 20th century in terms of the development of Buddhist studies in the west. They investigated the historical background of the rise of Buddhist seminaries in early Republic of China, especially the Wuchang Buddhist Seminary, where Master Tai Xu was engaged. During that time the meeting of the old and new inspired a group of Buddhist monks who were concerned about public issues and called for reform that influenced the formation of today’s monastic education.

“In face of challenges, the most relevant is the issue of inheritance, which relies on education for its advancement,” said Tsai Chingyan, president of the Sheng Yen Education Foundation, during the general discussion session, who also urged participants to turn external pressure into a driving force. Finally, Yang Bei, chief-executive-director of the Foundation, expressed thanks to the scholars for their open and passionate discussion during the two-and-half days of interaction and exchange, exploring potential research subjects and opening up new horizons for the audience. The participating scholars all affirmed the commitment of this forum to education, inspiring people to reconsider the role and development of Buddhist education.

Report: Chen Meijuan(陳玫娟), Lin Hezhen (林何臻)
Photography: Baoyun Monastery (寶雲寺)
Translation: Frances Liu (劉珮如)
Edit: Chang Chiacheng (張家誠)

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