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Networks and Religious Difference in Asian Buddhist Traditions


Susan Andrews, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Mount Allison University
“Creating Continental Counterparts for the Fujiwara no Kamatari Cult in Kamakura Japan,

The cult of Fujiwara (Nakatomi 中臣) no Kamatari 藤原鎌⾜足 (614-­‐669) centered at Japan’s Tōnomine 多武峰 and Kōfukuji 興福寺 developed in new and interesting ways in the Kamakura period (1185-­‐1333). Examining a pair of closely related Japanese miracle tales, this paper highlights the manner in which early Chinese precedents were fashioned for Fujiwara no Kamatari’s veneration as Vimalakīrti during this period. The first of these narratives appears in sources such as Seiin’s 静 胤 (c. 1197) twelfth-­‐century Tōnomine ryakki 多武峰略記 (A Brief History of Mount Tōnomine) and Kokan Shiren’s 虎關師練 (1278-­‐1346) early fourteenth-­‐ century Genkō Shakusho 元亨釈書 (Buddhist Chronicle of the Genkō Era). It recounts the miraculous events that purportedly accompanied the seventh-­‐century cleric Jōe’s 定慧 (643?-­‐665, 714?) journey to China’s Mount Wutai 五臺⼭山and his post-­‐pilgrimage building career at Mount Tōnomine. Jōe was a son of Fujiwara no Kamatari and, though surely the stuff of legend and not historical fact, this account nevertheless provides a window into the ways in which a Chinese site’s supple history was used to explain the emergence of novel practices and a network of sacred sites recreating Mount Wutai’s landscapes in Japan. Redactions of the second record are preserved in the nō Ama 海⼥女 (Diver Woman) and the Sanshū Shiru Dōjō engi 讚州志度道場縁起 (The Origin History of Shido Temple in Sanuki Province) among other sources. While detail and emphasis differentiate them one from the next, this second set of stories describe the extraordinary means through which a wish-­‐fulfilling jewel (nyoi hōshu 如意宝珠, cintāmaṇi) from the Tang court came to be enshrined at the Fujiwara family temple in Japan. Studied together, these materials should help us to appreciate how objects of translocal significance, such as Mount Wutai and the wish-­‐fulfilling jewel, were used in the fashioning of local identities and landscapes in China and Japan. The analysis should, further, highlight the critical role that the writing and rewriting of the past played in the creation and maintenance of networks—real and imagined—across East Asia.

Anne Blackburn, Professor, Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University
“Lankan Royal Landscapes in Trans-regional Perspective”

This paper reads 13th- and 14th-century Pāli-language Buddhist materials from Laṅkā in relation to Indian Ocean maritime trading history, discussing the rise of Sri Pada (Adam's Peak) as one of the island's major pilgrimage sites. During the 13th and 14th centuries, new polities emerged in the Lankan southwest concomitant with shifting royal ritual geographies, as Muslim and Hindu traders became increasingly central to the island's economy and political life. The case of Sri Pada offers a case study from which to think about the historical processes that shape and reshape sites of Buddhist pilgrimage, and how local Buddhist networks intersect with trans-regional Buddhist and multi-religious networks in such processes.

Megan Bryson, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of Tennessee-Knoxville
“Networks and Identity in Dali-Kingdom Buddhism”

Networks and Identity in Dali-Kingdom Buddhism From the tenth to thirteenth centuries the Dali kingdom governed a large area centered in what is now southwest China’s Yunnan province. It bordered Song China as well as Tibetan, Indian, and Southeast Asian regions, making it a potential hub in crosscultural Buddhist networks of this period. Dali rulers acquired Buddhist scriptures at horse markets in Song-dynasty China and adopted iconographies from the Indian Pala empire, but their representation of Buddhist networks does not completely conform to this material record. It is the disjuncture between these networks that sheds light on both the dynamic aspects of Buddhism that cross regional boundaries and the distinctive forms of Buddhism associated with particular states. The twelfth-century painting Fanxiang juan (Roll of Buddhist Images) shows how the Dali court claimed Indian origins for its Buddhist mandate, but also allowed that the Chan lineage entered Yunnan from Tang China. It presents Dali as a node with direct connections to India and China, but foregrounds the Indian transmission as primary, especially for Dali rulers’ political legitimacy. Conversely, the textual record strongly suggests that the Dali court primarily relied on Tang translations and commentaries, even in the ritual manuals that have only been found in Dali. This paper uses the Fanxiang juan and the ritual manual Tongyong qiqing yigui (Invitation Rituals for General Use) to show how the Dali court used representations of Buddhist networks to establish a distinctive identity that masks the transregional material networks operating in this period.

Jon Keune, Sushila & Durga Agrawal Postdoctoral Fellow in India Studies, Department of Comparative Cultural Studies, University of Houston
“Emerging Networks between Ambedkarite and East Asian Buddhists: Prospects and Challenges for Inter-sectarian Collaboration”

In research on the millions of Dalits (Untouchables) who followed B. R. Ambedkar in converting to Buddhism to combat their stigmatization in India, scholars have tended to focus on the local political and social dimensions of Ambedkar’s understanding of Buddhism. My paper would analyze what is happening as Ambedkarites increasingly come into contact with radically different forms of Buddhism as they expand and develop. In the past decade, the main Buddhist group in central India (the Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha, which has close ties to the UK-based Western Buddhist Order) has cooperated increasingly on institution-building and educational projects with Zen and Nichiren Buddhists from Taiwan and Japan. Everyone involved has a keen interest in reviving Buddhism in India, although with different reasons for doing so. More crucially, they all have very different ideas of what Buddhism in the modern world is and how it ought to function in society. By considering three major examples of utterly contemporary South-and-East Asia networking (the Dragon Palace Temple and Ogawa Society near Nagpur, the projects of the Nagpur-based Japanese monk Shurei Sasai, and the educational partnership between the Nagaloka Buddhist Training Centre in Nagpur and a the Che Kuang Zen School in Taichung), I will highlight ways in these groups look to their shared Buddhist identity to legitimatize their new collaborations but sometimes underestimate the philosophical and cultural differences between them, which have led to misunderstandings and misalignments of goals that undercut the projects’ effectiveness.

Christina Kilby,  Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
“Religious Difference in Tibetan Buddhist Letter-writing Networks: An Analysis of Strong and
Weak Ties”

I study Tibetan Buddhist epistolary theory, especially as it developed in a series of letterwriting manuals composed by Géluk (dge lugs) scholars in the Qing period. As Géluk Buddhism spread from Lhasa to Mongolia to the Qing Court, correspondence networks linked its supporters across vast distances and also across ethno-linguistic divides. We are well aware, for example, of the participation of Mongolian, Monguor, and Manchu agents within the Géluk network and their employment of literary Tibetan in kavya style as an interethnic lingua franca for communication about Buddhist affairs.

Closer to home, other modalities of difference challenged early modern Géluk Buddhism. The great Géluk monasteries of Amdo were embedded in communities of sectarian diversity and in economies of skilled professionals outside the Géluk clerical establishment. In letter-writing manuals composed by Sumpa Khenpo Yeshé Peljor (sum pa mkhan po ye shes dpal 'byor, 1704-1788) and Bipa Mipam Dawa (bis pa mi pham zla ba, 1767-1807), we see a network spelled out in the various forms of address used for each kind and rank of Buddhist practitioner imagined as possible recipients of Géluk letters. In this glimpse into the epistolary theater of the time, we find several unexpected "others" beyond the Géluk scholar-monk: artisans, doctors, "black" or divinatory astrologers, scribes, generals, Nyingmapa, Bönpo, and local deities. This vivid portrait of an epistolary network reveals that, through communication across difference, Géluks sought to assert their presence, articulate their authority, and amass support among a variety of stakeholders in their imagined community.

Sujung Kim, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, DePauw University
“Shinra Myōjin in the ‘East Asian Mediterranean’ Network”

Shinra Myōjin 新羅明神 is a non-canonical Japanese deity whose origins remain unknown. In spite of its seemingly peripheral nature, it played a central role in the formation, in the late ninth century, of a new Japanese Tendai 天台 Buddhist center, called the Jimon 寺門 School. To understand the emergence of this deity, nodal points in China and Japan associated with Korean immigrants become crucial. In particular, after the severance of diplomatic relations between Silla and the Yamato court in the eighth century, Japanese Buddhist monks’ use of commercial networks ensured the exchange of religious ideas and practices along trade routes. In my paper, I argue that the emergence of Shinra Myōjin’s cult can only be fully understood when viewed in the context of maritime trade across what Angela Schottenhammer has dubbed the “East Asian Mediterranean,” in which Silla merchants, Silla immigrants, and Japanese Buddhist monks played an important role. This paper, therefore, examines how this commercial network helped create and sustain the diversity and density of a cultic network that spread across different nodes in China, Korea, and Japan (e.g., the Shandong peninsula, Silla, and northern Kyushu). I believe that this approach encourages a much-needed research in the area of East Asian maritime culture and further helps us understand that throughout East Asian history the sea was not a barrier but a contact zone.


Youn-mi Kim, Assistant Professor, Department of the History of Art, Yale University
“Flexibility of Architectural Language: Twin Pagodas from China to Korea”

Twin pagodas suddenly mushroomed in East Asia in the seventh century. Because a pagoda enshrining Buddha relics had served as the most sacred monument in a monastery precinct, doubling the pagoda meant a drastic change in the spatial concept of the Buddhist monastery in East Asia. Nevertheless, previous scholarship on twin pagodas has largely focused on determining their origin. This focus on understanding their origin has left the impression that all twin pagodas serve one fixed purpose. As a result, the rich ritual function and meaning of twin pagodas still remain mostly unexplored. This paper takes a different approach, tracing the ever-­‐changing meaning and function of twin pagodas from China’s capital to local cities and further to the Korean peninsula. As twin pagoda spread to diverse regions, they were appropriated for different functions that included commemoration, ordination, and state-­‐protection. This paper shows that Buddhist art and practices were closely interconnected in East Asia, but at the same time newly transmitted Buddhist art and architecture were quickly modified and reconfigured, more radically than we might assume, in order to respond to local demands.


Jason Neelis, Associate Professor, Department of Religion and Culture, Wilfrid Laurier University
“Overland and Maritime Networks of Early Buddhist Transmission: Case Studies of Transregional Interaction and Exchange from the Northwest and Southeast Asia”

I seek to extend models for long-distance transmission of Buddhism by comparing and contrasting networks of overland and maritime mobility. Rather than accepting commonplace assumptions of gradual diffusion by contact expansion which do not adequately account for regional innovations and transformations of Buddhist literary and material cultures, I will test the extent to which alternative models of long-distance transmission can help to clarify early establishments of Buddhist institutions in contexts of transregional exchange interaction and exchange in the northwestern borderlands of South Asia and in coastal areas of the Bay of Bengal in periods before ca. 1000 CE. I have previously investigated overland networks or routes connecting ancient Gandhāra, Swat, and the Upper Indus Region of modern-day northern Pakistan to Central Asian transit zones in the Tarim Basin, focusing especially on inscriptions, manuscripts, petroglyphs, and material artifacts, and literary references from the early first millennium CE. I wish to test the extent to which models for cross-cultural and inter-religious exchange along arteries and capillaries between South Asia and Central Asia can be applied to a fresh examination of early Buddhist transmission between South Asia and Southeast Asia. By presenting selected case studies, I hope to address the following questions: what roles did human agents, commodities, rituals, images, and texts play in processes of Buddhist exchange? Why were some networks ostensibly Buddhist, while many if not most others were religiously non-exclusive? What can uneven patterns of transmission in the Northwest reveal about inter-religious dynamics and economic, social, and political transformations in South and Southeast Asia?

Daniel Stevenson, Professor, Religious Studies, The University of Kansas
“The ‘Tiantai Four Books’ (天台四書): Protocols of Buddhist Learning in Late-Song and Yuan China”

This presentation will focus on the development of curricula and protocols for Buddhist monastic learning particular to the Tiantai tradition in late-­‐Song and Yuan China, the regimes of religious knowledge and authority they sought to produce, and the institutional distribution of those programs through the Tiantai ‘public monastery’ system (十方住持院). Given the hierarchized and regimented character of the public monastery as an institution, ‘network’ could be said to bear on every aspect of learning and sanctioned knowledge that operated within its orbit. ‘Network’ governed not only the collective regimens of the individual monastery, but extended also to pan-­‐regional networks of institution through which aspiring students, seasoned monastic officers, and abbots rotated over the course of their careers. From novice student to credentialed Dharma-­‐heir, their residents were ‘systems men.’

My specific focus in this paper is a curriculum for beginning students (新學) that is referred to – not coincidentally-­‐-­‐in late-­‐Song and Yuan sources as ‘the Tiantai four books.’ The constitution of that curriculum, its pedagogical resources and practices, the ideals of knowledge that it sought to inculcate and the collateral concerns to which they rhetorically played: all of these points are of keen interest to me. However, for this workshop on networking, the question of institutional setting, diffusion, and mediation would seem to be especially relevant, both methodologically and for the ways in which religious learning, institution, and authority/power complexly intersected with one another to create religious commonality and difference. How and to what extent, for example, was this curriculum actually implemented in specific networks of Tiantai institutions? How and to what degree were monastics who moved through these institutions responsible for diffusing that curriculum, and to what extent did subsequent exposure to such curricula generate filiations between Buddhist monastics who came up through these institutional networks? What were the specific agencies involved? To map out these relationships and trace their constituent networks–textual, institutional, human—I draw on a range of contemporaneous Song and Yuan literary sources that were both products of the institutional setting in question and agents of that very culture: monastery inscriptions, epitaphs and hagiographies of eminent instructors and abbots, prefaces/postscripts to imprints of core Tiantai canonical texts, and exemplars of core texts preserved in Chinese and Japanese archives.

As a parting reflection, I will suggest ways in which priorities articulated in the curriculum of the ‘Tiantai four books’ resonated with larger trends evident in controversies concerning Confucian (daoxue) learning and civil service education, as well as polemics of Buddhist orthodoxy that played out among Chinese Chan, Teachings (Tiantai, Huayan, Ci’en), and Tibetan/Tangut (largely Saskya) monastic leaders at the Yuan court. Networking of a different order becomes the take-­‐ home message here: that in the religiously pluralistic world of Song and Yuan China it becomes exceedingly difficult to identify an isomorphic regime of ‘Buddhist’ learning and knowledge that stands apart from the field of educational discourse and practice at large.

Stacey Van Vleet, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Chinese Studies, University of California-Berkeley
“The Medicine Buddha Across Borders: Negotiating Ritual Frameworks of Medical Knowledge in Tibetan Buddhist Medical Colleges, 17th-early 20th Centuries”

Between the seventeenth and the early twentieth century, a network of medical colleges (gso rig or sman pa grwa tshang) proliferated within Tibetan Buddhist monasteries across the borderlands of Tibet, Mongolia, and China. These monastic medical colleges spread a framework for ordering bodies, cosmologies, and technologies, and played a crucial role in the propagation of Tibetan Buddhism within the Qing Empire (1644-­‐1911). At the same time, they encouraged the circulation of new ideas and practices between Buddhist and non-­‐Buddhist contexts. How were the dual imperatives of system and innovation negotiated within this medical network? To answer this question, I examine a selection of Tibetan Buddhist medical colleges’ “monastic regulations” (bca' yig), which demonstrate common institutional structures, a shared textual basis for medical curriculum, and rhetorical affiliation with the Gelukpa order of Tibetan Buddhism. The regulations also reveal an ongoing debate amongst the colleges, however, over the proper form and content of ritual practices venerating the Medicine Buddha.

Past scholarship has characterized the Medicine Buddha debate as historical in nature and concerned with upholding Buddhist authority over both the worldly and transcendent realms. By emphasizing how narratives of medical history provided templates for daily ritual practice, however, I demonstrate previously unrecognized links between scholarly medical debate and Tibetan Buddhist sectarian-­‐doctrinal debates, as well as negotiations over ethical frameworks and uses of material substances. I argue that medical colleges’ ritual practices served as technologies for policing physicians and substances, and for negotiating the boundaries of medical system and appropriate Buddhist knowledge.