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Daily Perspectives and Stories on Buddhist Trends, People, and Ideas

Tag: Chinese Buddhism

Postcard from Raymond: Holy Chamber

Mogao Cave 254. From e-dunhuang.com

The darkness inspires awe, even as the divine faces around me are illuminated for my mortal eyes.

The cavern’s patterns, the motifs, the mosaics, the chapels, the shrines. Mortal channels of traceless wisdom and compassion. Tangible expressions of immaterial insight.

Within this cool shroud of black, with only a streak of warm illumination from the hot star outside the cave, I am immersed in the ineffable infinity, among the stars and the pantheon of the “beyond beings.”

This is the enlightened holy of holies, crafted by inspired hands.

A bell rings.

The summons has been made. The call, echoing to all sentient beings. To return to the Buddha, to their true nature.

All are one in the Dharma. This is what has been revealed to us in this grotto.

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The Buddha’s Guiding Hand in the Chinese Dream

 

The Leshan Giant Buddha.

Buddhism should not be peripheral to the Chinese Dream, that great and multi-dimensional project of national rejuvenation. The religion should be front and center in informing it.

This is not simply my wild theocratic fantasy, but an idea actively encouraged by the Chinese government. It is also being propagated by Buddhist temples, media, and events (such as the World Buddhist Forum series, the most recent of which was held in Wuxi in 2015, and Hong Kong’s own Belt and Road symposium, which I hope is only the first of many more to follow). For Buddhism to exert satisfactory influence, the entire sangha (by this I mean the overall organism of Buddhist activity in China) needs to be engaged, from monastics to academics to householders; from influential monasteries to lay publishers to Buddhist Studies departments at universities.

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An Introduction

Justin Whitaker

Hello. I’m Justin Whitaker, a new North America Correspondent for Buddhistdoor Global. I thought I’d use my first contribution here to tell you a bit about myself. Like so many of us these days, especially in North America, my background and resulting practice of Buddhism is deeply eclectic. Unlike many, my passion for Buddhism drew me in to a lengthy academic career, seeking ways to understand it both very broadly and in as much depth many thousands of hours in libraries can offer.

I am a recently “minted” Ph.D., with a degree from Goldsmiths college of the University of London. Prior to that, I earned an M.A. in Buddhist Studies from Bristol University (also in England), and a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Montana. In my period as a Ph.D. candidate – a very long nine years – I took time out to work and live in Bodhgaya, India for a semester study-abroad program in the falls of 2010 and 2014. I also traveled twice to China with the Taiwanese nun, Ven. Yifa, to experience Buddhism there and am currently a core faculty member for her Woodenfish program.

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Postcard from Raymond: The Phoenix and the Lion

Medieval China. The Tang dynasty has been toppled and from the chaos rises an incredible woman with a monastic courtier helping to pull the strings. The brilliant, tenacious, and fearless Wu Zetian (624-705) was China’s first and only empress and her alliance with one of the most powerful monks of the day, Huayan preceptor Fazang (643-712), was a theocratic marriage unlike any other. Mindful of Confucian bias against her and in search of religious legitimation, she styled herself as a “chakravartin,” a Buddhist monarch, and Fazang helped sanction her sovereignty, promote her reputation as a bodhisattva, and undermine and suppress her enemies both in and beyond China.

Fazang personally taught to Wu Zetian a performative metaphor using a lion made of gold. The lion was the cosmos and its various parts the phenomena of reality. The gold represented emptiness. The lion clearly had a mane, teeth, claws and eyes, but the essential “what” of the lion, gold, was the same. Differences are all superficial in the integrated, interconnected universe of Buddhism.

This alliance ended unhappily when Fazang threw his lot in with his patron’s conspirators. In 705 he forced her to relinquish the Dragon Throne. For a while, this throne had been straddled by a true phoenix. On her deathbed, the former empress felt hurt and betrayed by Fazang, whom she had trusted for so long. Yet Fazang saw himself as saving Buddhism from being identified by the upcoming emperors as a rogue religion for a woman who would be seen by Confucians, however justly or unjustly, as an illegitimate usurper.

Their tragic story is a classic and emotional tale of Buddhism’s pressure under Confucianism, the “damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t” status of women, and how an ex-concubine and a monk tried to navigate the hypocrisies and fickleness of imperial power… even if it cost them each other.

Explore more with us at Buddhistdoor Global, your doorway to the Buddhist world and your source for Dharma journalism. Join our BDG Group on Facebook and follow our blog to brighten up your week with more postcards and light snippets of spiritual reflections!

Water’s Moon, Mirror’s Flower

Short Stories About the Dharma in China

Invoking the timeless and poetic themes of illusions, heartache, and dreams, Water’s Moon, Mirror’s Flower is a series of tales about Chinese Buddhist landscapes, characters, and events with a dash of magic and eeriness. Featuring diverse themes from over two millennia of Chinese history, some of the stories feel historical, while others do not, and some blend fantasy with history.

Buddhism’s story in China is one of emperors and monks, brave nuns, ambitious queens, prime celestials, and deep folk memories and archetypes. It’s not so much a story about good versus evil, but about insight and illusion. But, as we all know, the best tales aren’t so clear-cut about what’s true… and what’s unreal.

The stories will be posted on this blog and at the same time, our postcards will continue their usual format and highlight even more nuggets of historical and contemporary subjects. Please visit our main website for high quality and inspiring Buddhist news, features, and commentary.

STORY LIST

Festival of Star Spirits: Or, a Visitation on Qixi

Moonscape Riders

My Dear Master

Raymond Lam

Big-dark-pink-Lotus-Flower-photo1Recently I got a call from my Dharma sister: my preceptor is bedridden in hospital after suffering a stroke. His health had been deteriorating rapidly for the past half a year thanks to having suffered several physical accidents. The Venerable is also 93 years old, about a decade older than Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who also had a stroke in November 2014. While he was able to speak and even crack a gentle joke with the nurse, the overall picture looks pretty grim.

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