Academic journal article Journal of Global Buddhism

Revisioning Buddhism as a Science of the Mind in a Secularized China: A Tibetan Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Global Buddhism

Revisioning Buddhism as a Science of the Mind in a Secularized China: A Tibetan Perspective

Article excerpt

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The revivals of different Buddhist traditions in China over the last three decades have now become an integral part of the unprecedented social forces that catalyze the growing religious population of contemporary China. The discourse of the "Religious Question" is no longer exclusively a policy and regulation oriented affair of state, but has inevitably become pluralized, involving religious practitioners, scholars, and popular opinions (Goossaert & Palmer, 2011; Smyer Yü, 2011; Li Xiangping, 2013). Since the 1980s, Buddhist traditions have gone through different "post-" phases of China, e.g. post-Mao, post-Deng, post-socialist, and post-modern. All these "posts" are indicative of the multifarious social changes occurring in China. As Ji Zhe and Goossaert write, '[t]his Buddhist revival plays a formative role in the current reconstruction of social relations, and ushers in a reinvention of religion' (2011: 492). This observation accords with the present social condition of Buddhism in China.

While the religious populace continues to demand greater materialization of the constitution-sanctioned religious freedom, the state has taken further measures to administer the religious affairs of its citizens. In 2014, the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) announced the establishment of its think tank by appointing twenty-nine senior scholars respectively from the Academy of Social Sciences, Peking University; Renmin University; and Minzu University of China. SARA is apparently pressured to 'legalize religious affairs' and to acknowledge that '[rjeligion not only has its own history, but is also an active social element' (SARA, 2014). Regarding Buddhism, it has issued an additional statement to 'support the establishment of Tibetan Buddhist academies and encourage the exchange between Han Chinese, Theravada, and Tibetan Buddhist traditions' (SARA 2014). Such acknowledgement of the policy implications of the plural presence of Buddhism in China is unprecedented based on our observation. The atheistic state ideology is not undergoing a structural reform; however it is obviously admitting to its learning curve the diversity and social importance of religion. Thus, building 'a broad image of tolerance' (Potter, 2003: 318) is a part of the Chinese state's fresh approach to the religious affairs of its citizens.

We, a Buddhist monastic scholar and a social scientist, collaboratively write this article as a social experiment intended to be informative of and theoretically engaging with a formation of the relationship between religion and society. This collaboration is based on our mutually established rapport. Dan Smyer Yü hosted and organized Khenpo Sodargye's public lectures in several leading academic institutions in China, Europe, and North America. Likewise, Khenpo Sodargye invited him to give talks at Larung-gar Buddhist Academy and opened doors for his social scientific study of Sino-Tibetan Buddhist interactions. We recognize the fact that monastic and university-based scholars frequently enter each other's institutional spaces for thought exchanges and mutual curiosity of each other's lifeways and worldviews. This social experiment is thus meant to highlight the interlocution between scholars respectively situated in Buddhism as a world religion and Buddhist studies as an endeavor of many disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. We hope this cross-institutional and crossintellectual interlocution will produce comparative implications for both monastic and academic worlds.

This article is based on our interviews with each other, the contents of our lectures delivered at Larung Gar Buddhist Academy and universities in China, Europe, and North America, and our thought-exchanges during our travels to Germany and the United States between 2012 and 2014. We had three formal occasions dedicated to determining the theme of this article and the division of our labor. …

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