To view this PAPER PRESENTATION, search for the session title in the Browse by Titlelisting. (See the session title located immediately below ["In Session:"])
China and Inner Asia
In Session: Rethinking “Sinicization” of Religions: New Perspectives from Late-Imperial to Contemporary China
1: Transmission and Transformation: Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism in Early Twentieth-Century China
Monday, March 22, 2021
12:30pm – 2:00pm EDT
Emory University, United States
The paper investigates Chinese Buddhists’ translation and interpretation of Tibetan esoteric Buddhism from the 1910s to the 1940s. In 1915, the Buddhist reformer Taixu proposed to introduce esoteric teachings to restore Chinese esotericism. The ninth Panchen Lama and other Tibetan lamas also transmitted esoteric teachings in Chinese cities from the mid-1920s to the 1940s. Embedded in certain socio-historical settings, a number of Tibetan doctrines and practices were susceptible to scrutiny in the Chinese cultural context. A variety of Tibetan practices—such as meat-eating, ritualized sexuality, and institutionalized reincarnation—also raised the question about the authenticity and compatibility of the traditions. The Chinese discussion of Tibetan esoteric Buddhism provided a pronounced example for us to explore the “sinicization” of Tibetan Buddhism. The debates involved Taixu, Dayong, Fazun, Nenghai and other important Buddhist thinkers, who tried to compare esoteric Buddhism with the prevalent Chinese traditions such as Huayan, Tiantai, Zen and Pure Land. Through debates in which Chinese Buddhists reasoned, evaluated, and created new understandings, competing discourses were developed in parallel. The Chinese Buddhists keenly disputed the Tibetan Buddhist knowledge, which greatly galvanized intellectual developments. The paper argues that these debates reflected Chinese Buddhists’ effort in redefining esoteric teachings in connection to the pre-existing Chinese Buddhist structures of knowledge. An analysis of the debates helps to reveal the tensions in the cross-cultural religious communications, and provides an example to evaluate the usefulness of the framework of “sinicization” in analyzing the interaction between Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist traditions in the early twentieth century.