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Review of “Envisioning a Modern Chinese Buddhist Education” presented by Ven. Rongdao April 12, 2015.

In China, the Twentieth Century opened with a renewed optimism and vitality that China’s social-ethical problems could be resolved with philosophical and educational reforms. Political leaders felt that education could save the nation.

In the early 1900’s, there were many societal issues in China. Buddhist education was waning. Some Buddhist leaders gave greater importance to sangha education as a result. Those leaders and student-monks who received education in new systems felt it would save the nation and give them a strong moral mandate.

In the Twentieth Century to the present day, there are basically two types of Buddhist education – a traditional, orthodox education, and a new, more liberal education. Prior to 1920’s, Buddhist education’s main priority was to train Buddhist monks and some lay individuals who were waiting to be ordained. They usually had a narrow education, typically taught by one monk, and became knowledgeable about one or a few sutras in addition to Buddhist precepts. Their study of other disciplines was quite limited. As the demand for Buddhist education grew, many more Buddhist academies were opened. The first graduating class from a Buddhist academy occurred in 1924. Although these graduates and the few classes after them did not receive comprehensive education with a well-structured curriculum, they inevitably brought forth new energy and had an impact on the development of contemporary Chinese Buddhism.

In the latter part of the Twentieth Century there was a new paradigm. The teacher-student relationship became less rigid. Students could study what they liked, could choose academies of their choice, and study with many teachers. There was a more open approach to education and a greater dialogue between students and teachers. Students could also study diverse disciplines – language, philosophy, computers, and other subjects.

Today, in China and Taiwan, there are vast changes in Buddhist education. With a more liberal education and the availability of computers and social media, the graduating monks have introduced new ideas in Buddhist education, opened more academies, and graduating students throughout the world. A prime example of a modern Buddhist university is the Dharma Drum Universities created by Master Sheng Yen. Buddhist education has had a profound effect on the social intellectual spheres within China and Taiwan and throughout the world.

(By Ken Johnson, DDM Vancouver)

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