James Benn: Meditation in the Apocryphal Śūraṃgama sutra
Date and Time: Monday, March 1, 2021, 2:00pm to 3:30pm
In the later Chinese Buddhist tradition one text above all others has been extolled for the profundity of its ideas, the beauty of its language, and its insight into the practice of meditation—this is the scripture popularly known as the Lengyan jing or Śūraṃgama sutra (Scripture of the Heroic March). In this talk, I will look at the Śūraṃgama sutra’s general prescriptions for meditation. I will indicate some specific examples of methods of mental cultivation described by the scripture and taken up by later Buddhist practitioners. Finally, I will talk about how the scripture elucidates in detail some of the potential dangers of meditation for the practitioner.
James A. Benn (PhD UCLA 2001) is Professor of Buddhism and East Asian Religions at McMaster University and Director of the McMaster University Centre for Buddhist Studies. He studies Buddhism and Daoism in medieval China. He has published on self-immolation, spontaneous human combustion, Buddhist apocryphal scriptures, and tea and alcohol in medieval China. He is currently working on a translation and study of the Śūramgama sutra, a Chinese Buddhist apocryphon.
Trent Walker: The Scattering of the Thirty-Two Minds: A Southeast Asian Buddhist Doctrine of Rebirth
Date and Time: Monday, March 15, 2021, 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Is our consciousness singular or plural? If the mind is not unitary, but rather consists of multiple entities, what happens to those entities at death? One Southeast Asian Buddhist tradition asserts that our minds consist of thirty-two parts. If these thirty-two citta fail to exit the corpse from a single orifice, they can easily be scattered across samsara, mixed together with the minds of other living beings. Reunification is possible through a special cry emitted by the wandering citta, but this is rare. The diverse faculties and preferences of living beings, including their gender and sexual identities, are shaped through this dispersal and recombination of minds.
Such is the unusual theory of rebirth articulated in the Cetanābhedā, a Pali-vernacular sermon text found throughout mainland Southeast Asia, including in Khmer, Khün, Lanna, Lao, Lü, and Siamese manuscript cultures. No version solely in Pali has been found; this composition is a bilingual text or “bitext” for which both the Pali and vernacular portions were composed by Southeast Asian authors. The Cetanābhedā consists of an opening doctrinal portion, framed as a dialogue between the Buddha and his disciple Anuruddha on the workings of the thirty-two minds, and a subsequent narrative portion, which weaves together a wide range of stories from local vernacular traditions.
This talk situates the doctrine and composition of the Cetanābhedā in the Southeast Asian context, demonstrating how the bitextual format allowed for the dissemination of new Buddhist ideas in the region and the transformation of local tales into regional sermons. Though the earliest manuscript evidence dates from eighteenth-century Laos, the theories and narratives from the Cetanābhedā survived well into the modern era, inspiring several Cambodian and Thai verse novels and popular films.
Trent Walker (PhD in Buddhist Studies, UC Berkeley, 2018) is the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University. He specializes in Southeast Asian Buddhism; recent publications include articles on Cambodian Dharma songs, Thai literary history, and translation practices in southern Vietnam. He is working on his first book, Classical Reading, Vernacular Writing: A Bitextual History of Mainland Southeast Asian Letters, 1450–1850, which argues that a distinct mode of translation was the core intellectual and literary activity in early modern Theravada Buddhist cultures. www.trentwalker.org
Matthew King: Book talk: Ocean of Milk, Ocean of Blood: A Mongolian Monk in the Ruins of the Qing Empire.
Date and Time: Monday, April 5, 2021, 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Book talk with Matthew King (UC Riverside)
Ocean of Milk, Ocean of Blood. A Mongolian Monk in the Ruins of the Qing Empire
Columbia University Press 2019.
After the fall of the Qing empire, amid nationalist and socialist upheaval, Buddhist monks in the Mongolian frontiers of the Soviet Union and Republican China faced a chaotic and increasingly uncertain world. In this book, Matthew W. King tells the story of one Mongolian monk’s efforts to defend Buddhist monasticism in revolutionary times, revealing an unexplored landscape of countermodern Buddhisms beyond old imperial formations and the newly invented national subject.
Ocean of Milk, Ocean of Blood takes up the perspective of the polymath Zava Damdin (1867–1937): a historian, mystic, logician, and pilgrim whose life and works straddled the Qing and its socialist aftermath, between the monastery and the party scientific academy. Drawing on contacts with figures as diverse as the Dalai Lama, mystic monks in China, European scholars inventing the field of Buddhist studies, and a member of the Bakhtin Circle, Zava Damdin labored for thirty years to protect Buddhist tradition against what he called the “bloody tides” of science, social mobility, and socialist party antagonism. Through a rich reading of his works, King reveals that modernity in Asia was not always shaped by epochal contact with Europe and that new models of Buddhist life, neither imperial nor national, unfolded in the post-Qing ruins. The first book to explore countermodern Buddhist monastic thought and practice along the Inner Asian frontiers during these tumultuous years, Ocean of Milk, Ocean of Blood illuminates previously unknown religious and intellectual legacies of the Qing and offers an unparalleled view of Buddhist life in the revolutionary period.
Matthew King is Associate Professor of Transnational Buddhism and Director of the Asian Studies program at the University of California, Riverside. His recently published work appears in journals such as JAAR, History & Anthropology, Religions, and The Journal of Religion and Violence and in numerous collected volumes, including Sources of Mongolian Buddhism (Oxford University Press, 2020). His book Ocean of Milk, Ocean of Blood: A Mongolian Monk in the Ruins of the Qing (Columbia University Press, 2019) was recently awarded the American Academy of Religion’s 2020 Excellence in the Study of Religion: Textual Studies book award and the Central Eurasian Studies Society’s 2020 Best Book in History and Humanities.
Elizabeth Tinsley (UC Irvine)
Date and Time: Monday, April 19, 2021, 4:00pm to 5:30pm TBA
Elizabeth Angowski (Earlham)
Date and Time: Monday, May 10, 2021, 4:00pm to 5:30pm TBA
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