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Sheng Yen Buddhist Studies Lecture Series

The 4th Annual Lecture

Dr. James Benn : "Buddhism and the Invention of Tea Culture in Medieval China"

Friday, March 3, 2017
4:30pm to 5:30pm
103 Dodd Hall Auditorium


The dramatic change in Chinese drinking habits that occurred in the eighth century CE cannot be understood without considering the crucial role of Buddhist ideas, institutions, and individuals in creating a new culture around the consumption of tea. This lecture looks closely at the surviving artistic, material, and literary evidence for Buddhist involvement in the invention of a Chinese tea culture during the Tang and Song dynasties, roughly seventh through thirteenth centuries.

James A. Benn, Professor, Buddhism and East Asian Religions, Department of Religious Studies, McMaster University

Past Lectures

The 3rd Annual Lecture, Jan. 28, 2016

Dr. Stephen Teiser
Curing with Karma: Healing Liturgies in Chinese Buddhism


The unprecedented corpus of medieval manuscripts unearthed in the northwestern Chinese desert town of Dunhuang in the early twentieth century divulged a trove of secrets about the practice of Chinese Buddhism. Among the thousands of liturgical texts created by local monks for the performance of rituals, almost two hundred separate manuscripts contain liturgies that were spoken aloud during healing rituals. This lecture introduces Dunhuang and its manuscripts, surveys cultures of healing in medieval Chinese Buddhism, explores how illness can be cured through karmic means, discusses the role of confession in curing, and reflects on the process of healing in Chinese Buddhism.

Stephen F. Teiser is D.T. Suzuki Professor in Buddhist Studies and Professor of Religion at Princeton University, where he also serves as Director of the interdepartmental Program in East Asian Studies. He is interested in the interaction between Buddhism and indigenous Chinese traditions, brought into focus through the wealth of sūtras, non-canonical texts, and artistic evidence unearthed on the Silk Road.

The 2nd Annual Lecture, September 30, 2015

Dr. Robert Sharf
Taking Critical Buddhism Seriously

>>Lecture MP3
>>Photo Slideshow

In the 730s, the Chan Master Heze Shenhui 菏泽神會 (670-762) gave a series of public lectures in the Chinese capital in which he boldly attacked many of the most prominent meditation masters of his day. Shenhui vilified them for lying about their teaching credentials, for their lack of spiritual insight, and for their misguided approach to practice. He promoted his alternative under the banner of Southern Chan; he claimed that only his lineage was capable of transmitting Śākyamuni's essential insight. In the mid 1980s, Hakamaya Noriaki 袴谷憲昭 and Matsumoto Shirō 松本史朗, both Buddhist scholars as well as Sōtō Zen priests at Komazawa University in Tokyo, made waves by attacking Japanese Buddhism in general, and the Sōtō school in particular. The focus of their attack was the theory of original enlightenment (hongaku 本覺), which they believed was an appalling distortion of the Buddha's teachings. In its place they championed "Critical Buddhism" (hihan Bukkyō 批判仏教), a more conceptually rigorous practice that gave pride of place to the doctrine of dependent origination Scholars tend to view both these attempts at reform with some skepticism—the sense is that the reformer's positions are historically naïve and philosophically shallow, that their rhetoric is unnecessarily hyperbolic, and that their motivations are suspect. I will argue that, while separated by over 1,200 years, these critiques have much in common and deserve to be taken more seriously than they have been to date. The philosophical and ethical issues they raise are not only germane to our understanding of the history of East Asian Zen, but also to our understanding of "Buddhist modernism" and the Buddhist inspired meditation practices popular in the West today.

Robert Sharf is D. H. Chen Distinguished Professor of Buddhist Studies in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also Chair of the Center for Buddhist Studies at UCB and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, the Journal for the Study of Chinese Religions, the Journal of Religion in Japan, and the Kuroda Institute Series published in conjunction with University of Hawai'i Press.

The 1st Annual Lecture, Feb. 11, 2014

Dr. Daniel B. Stevenson
Remapping Buddhism as a World Religion
Gyonen’s (1240-1321) Essentials of the Eight Sects (Hasshu koyo, 八宗綱要) and Modernist East Asian Agendas.


>>MP3 No.1     >>MP3 No.2
>>Movie No.1   >>Movie No.2
>>Movie (MOD file)

Prior to the late-nineteenth century, the Hasshū kōyō 八宗綱要 (Essentials of the Eight Sects) by the Japanese monk Gyōnen 凝然 (1240-1321) was a largely neglected text. Brought out of obscurity and popularized by Meiji-era Japanese Buddhist reformers, it was picked up by their modernist Chinese Buddhist counterparts and introduced to European scholars intent on the nascent study of Buddhism as a "religion." The narrative grid of the Essentials of the Eight Sects in this way became foundational to a contemporary meta-discourse of Buddhism, modernity, the nation state, and "world religions" that continues to play out—often contestedly—on the global and regional stage to this very day. In a word, this talk will explore the curious tale of how Gyōnen’s inconspicuous little text came to shape the very way in which we imagine, teach, and talk about Buddhism as a religion today, East and West.

Daniel Stevenson, The University of Kansas. Ph.D., Columbia University, 1987. His primary research interests include Buddhist ritual, literary/exegetical, and institutional practice in China, particularly as exercised in Tiantai and Pure Land circles; the construction of Buddhist values and identities in relation to the larger field of Chinese religious options, and the role that ritual plays therein.