China and Inner Asia
Corey L. Bell
Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies, Taiwan
During the Ming-Qing transition period, Buddhist monastics’ ideas regarding politics and emotions shifted in ways that brought them closer to their gentry brethren yet challenged the boundaries of monastic prescriptions for behavioral discipline (jielü 戒律, Skt. śīla). Scholarship associates this phenomenon with a trend towards secularization inspired by monasteries’ economic reliance on gentry patrons. This paper considers how other significant factors, including monks’ exposure to political violence, the nascent development of Buddhist humanism, and a growing accommodation of pragmatism and eclecticism might explain later Buddhist discourses on feeling. This recontextualization also clarifies how ostensibly “secular” themes such as indignation over political injustice may have been reconciled with, and perhaps even inspired by, monks’ religious faith.
This paper discusses the intellectual and sociohistorical backdrop of an underexplored strand of thought on emotionality advanced by eminent seventeenth-century southern Chinese monks including Hanshan Deqing 憨山德清 (1546–1623) and Jishan Chengjiu 跡刪成鷲 (1637–1722). A core tenet of these monks’ discourses on emotionality is that the Buddhist middle way or principle of non-duality could be realized by aligning the cathartic release of agitated emotions with moral ideals. While their ideas drew liberally from Neo-Confucian Doctrine of the Mean theory, they were also informed by the Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa-sūtra, Tiantai thought, and other Buddhist doctrines. These findings evince a more liberal approach to emotionality in the Chan school and prompt further discussion regarding how historical and personal crises may have catalyzed doctrinal innovations that resituated the peripheries of Chan orthodoxy.