Tung Lin Kok Yuen International Conference
Buddhist Canons: In Search of a Theoretical Foundation for a Wisdom-oriented Education
27 & 28 November, 2021 (HKT) | Online & On-site at HKU
Department of East Asian Studies
The University of Arizona
Albert Welter’s research focuses on the study of Chinese Buddhism, particularly on the transition from the late Tang (9th century) to the Song dynasty (10th-13th centuries). Professor Welter also encompasses a broader interest in Chinese administrative policies toward Buddhism, including Chinese notions of secularism and their impact on religious beliefs and practices. His work also covers Buddhist interactions with Neo-Confucianism and literati culture. His publications include: Monks, Rulers, and Literati: The Political Ascendancy of Chan Buddhism (Oxford, 2006), The Linji lu and the Creation of Chan Orthodoxy (Oxford, 2008), and Yongming Yanshou’s Conception of Chan in the Zongjing lu (Oxford, 2011), The Administration of Buddhism in China: A Study and Translation of Zanning and his Topical Compendium of the Buddhist Order in China (Cambria, 2018), and a co-edited volume titled Religion, Culture and the Public Sphere in China and Japan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). His is currently involved in the Hangzhou Region Buddhist Culture Project, supported by the Khyentse Foundation, in conjunction with Zhejiang University, the Hangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, and the Hangzhou Buddhist Academy. His monograph, A Tale of Two Stūpas: Histories of Hangzhou relic veneration through two of its most enduring monuments, is currently in press (Oxford). Another volume, The Future of China’s Past: Reflections on the Meaning of China’s Rise is under review.
Retrieving the Dharma Wheel: Searching for Meaning in the Sino-East Asian Buddhist Canon
How should we understand the Buddhist canon? How do we access the wisdom contained in it? The contemporary need addressed in the theme of this conference, Buddhist Canons: In Search of a Theoretical Foundation for a Wisdom-oriented Education, underscores an ongoing struggle to come to terms with the density and complexity of the Buddhist canon. For those with sufficient means, printing the canon resulted in a welcome display of merit, a gift of unequal value. But what of the value of its contents to “end users,” those who actually read and apply its varied messages? For most practitioners, the Buddhist canon represents a massive corpus, impressive in size, but otherwise unwieldy for practical application. Because of its enormity, the Buddhist faithful looked to creative ways to manage and use the canon’s contents in keeping with their own religious and spiritual aspirations. My presentation consists of two parts. The first part explores ways in which Sino-East Asian Buddhist communities strove to make sense of the massive corpus the Buddhist canon represented, to review the strategies used to reduce the density and complexity of the canon to a manageable form. These attempts to form “windows into wisdom” that the canon contain may serve two purposes: (1) they act as repositories for how the canon is currently approached, as the legacies of past attempts are still very much with us, and (2) they help inform contemporary attempts to formulate new approaches––previous examples on how to access Buddhist wisdom may help us devise new approaches suitable to our present circumstances. The second part of my presentation contextualizes the attempt to formulate Buddhist orientations toward wisdom in the global present, the modern and contemporary world. Here, again, I review the historical record of intellectual developments in the Sino-East Asian Buddhist world to explore how Buddhist transmissions and innovations kept Buddhist wisdom traditions alive and prospering. What lessons does this record reveal on how to nurture and articulate a Buddhist wisdom in the global present that seems to have settled on a Protestant Buddhist fundamentalism privileging the historical Buddha and Pali canon.