Seventh Asian Studies Conference Japan
    Saturday, June 21-Sunday 22, 2003
    Ichigaya Campus of Sophia University



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Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181


Session 13
From Text to Context and Back: the Appropriation and Reinterpretation of Scriptures, Doctrines, and Practices in the Study of East Asian Religions
Organizer/Chair: Scott Hurley, Luther College

Critical discourses such as post-colonialism and feminism have demonstrated that all scholarly endeavors including textual analysis, philology, historiography, and ethnography serve ideological agendas. Sometimes scholars make their agendas clear as in the case of feminist critiques of patriarchal institutions. In other circumstances, however, they may be unaware that their so-called "objective" research methods and interests are constructed according to an underlying paradigm. Nevertheless, in both situations, scholars appropriate texts, traditions, and historical contexts, explaining them on the basis of their ideological perspectives. These perspectives not only determine what scholars study and how they study it, but also influence the conclusions that they reach.

Scholars of East Asian religions have appropriated religious texts, doctrines, and practices to serve political, social, intellectual, and religious agendas. This panel brings together four papers that will discuss the formation, interpretation, and re-contextualization of religious ideology and practice by both secular and religious scholars active during the period from the mid-twentieth century to the present. By critically examining scholarly interpretations of Dharma transmission in the Zen tradition, the use of the Lotus Sutra as a textual basis for a feminist interpretation of Buddhism, the Chinese scholar-monk Yinshun's hermeneutical strategies for studying Buddhist texts and doctrines, and the academic explanation of how both secular and religious icons impact Japanese religiosity, this panel will elucidate the process of appropriation and subsequent re-interpretation of religious phenomena that occurs in the intellectual analysis of Chinese and Japanese religions.

1) Scott Hurley, Luther College. "Master Yinshun's Hermeneutics, the Tathagatagarbha, and the Doctrine of Emptiness: an Example of the Reformulation of Buddhist Doctrine in Mid-Twentieth Century China"

The social and political disorder of the early to mid-twentieth century in China gave rise to great intellectual ferment. In their struggle with Western imperialism, Chinese thinkers evaluated new social, political, and philosophical ideologies. Buddhist intellectuals were no exception. They too reflected on the important issues facing China, while at the same time responding to problems specific to Buddhist institutions, doctrine, and practice. The scholar-monk Master Yinshun (1906-) was at the forefront of efforts to reform Chinese Buddhism. He suggested that the problems faced by the Buddhist tradition in the twentieth century have their genesis in doctrinal interpretation. Thus, he argued that to revitalize the tradition, one must begin with a reassessment of its fundamental concepts, particularly the tathagatagarbha theory, which states that all beings possess within them the potential for becoming a Buddha. Yinshun critically explicated this theory, traditionally espoused as the highest expression of Buddhist truth, and subordinated it to another classical Buddhist teaching known as the doctrine of emptiness.

In this paper, I investigate the process of doctrinal transformation that occurred within Yinshun's thought. I focus particularly on the hermeneutical strategies that he used to establish emptiness as the definitive articulation of truth. Using Yinshun's thought as a case study, I intend to elucidate the ways by which Buddhist intellectuals in China appropriated and re-contextualized texts and doctrines to contend with the issues facing Chinese Buddhism during the first half of the twentieth century.

2) Hiroshi Aoyagi, Kokushikan University. "Idolatry and Consumerism in Protomodern Japan: An Ethnohistoric Approach"

This paper will explore stardom in protomodern Japan in order to uncover the mechanism by which a charismatic institution was manifested in a specific sociohistorical context. Concentrating on the production and popularization of kabuki actors, it observes how promoters and media agents developed the single, most important framework of consumer capitalism ­ symbolic competition ­ around popular personalities of the Tokugawa period (1600-1867). Although this form of idolatry is not religious in a strict sense, its mechanism is compatible with the way in which the new religious movements of contemporary Japan revolve around charismatic personalities. While kabuki idolatry conventionalizes consumerism, new religious movements ritualize conscientious ideologies that are specific to these movements. Both are shown to operate as a cultural apparatus that attempts to customize new ideas and practices as a part of cultural competence in Japanese society. Through a comparative analysis of contemporary and protomodern fetishisms, the paper aims to demonstrate the applied significance of ethnographic methods to the inferential reconstruction of past events on which information is limited.

3) Hoa Nguyen, Luther College. "Neither Scriptural nor Non-Scriptural: the Middle Way of Dharma Transmission in Ch'an Buddhism"

The idea of Dharma transmission has been the focus of many debates about its nature in relation to Buddhist scriptures. In Sung China, the ideology of Mind-to-Mind transmission of the Dharma was believed to define the unique identity of Ch'an Buddhism. This principle was highlighted by the slogan "A special transmission outside the scriptures" in the Pao-lin Lu and in the Flower Sermon in the Wu-men kuan, which are two Buddhist classics of the Sung. The Flower Sermon tells the story of Sakyamuni Buddha transmitting the teaching to Mahakasyapa who smiled when the Buddha held up a flower. D.T.Suzuki supported this view of direct transmission by stressing the importance of personal experience over intellectual means. On the other hand, contemporary scholars such as Bernaud Faure, Griffith Foulk and John McRae argue that lineage transmission was only a rhetoric device which earned Ch'an Buddhism legitimacy and prestige. After introducing an in-depth study of the historical development of Ch'an ideology, this paper will suggest a middle way of understanding Dharma transmission that includes both scriptural and non-scriptural means, similar to Steven Heine's idea of "an unspoken level framing the spoken." This research will contribute to the understanding of contemporary Ch'an religious practice yet will not devalue traditional teachings.

4) Erin Pineda, Luther College. "Female Bodies and the 'Buddha Way': Toward a Reinterpretation of Women in the Lotus Sutra"

At the basis of Buddhism is an unequivocal understanding that birth in human form is inherently precious because it affords access to the Buddhist path to enlightenment. Yet, when this birth is the birth of a female, the issue becomes far more convoluted. In Mahayana Buddhism, the prevailing belief is in the transience and impermanence that characterize all beings and phenomena, including the concept and physicality of gender. Despite this notion, the Lotus Sutra, one of the central texts of Mahayana Buddhism in East Asia, offers contradictory messages about the place of women within the world of birth, death, and rebirth, and their ability (or lack thereof) to attain Buddhahood ­ the final goal for Buddhists of this school. For centuries, scholars have attempted to explain and reinterpret the images of the female and the feminine in the Sutra, which range from egalitarian to blatantly misogynistic. A number of modern scholars have applied a feminist analysis of the text; however,the methodologies employed often fall short of offering modern Buddhist women a way to create an empowering place for themselves within the context of Buddhism. This paper will attempt to critically assess the way in which scholars have analyzed the Lotus Sutra, evaluating the particular claims they posit in regard to the implications that the Sutra's female images hold for Buddhist women, past and present. Without denying a patriarchal past, the basis of the paper lies in my belief that one can appropriate and reinterpret these images for the feminist goal of gender equality.


list of panels