2009 Seminars

2009 Seminar Series







John Powers, ANU

Tortured Logic: Defining Tibetan Buddhist Belief and Practice

In March and April of 2008, the Tibetan plateau erupted in the largest and most widespread demonstrations in the history of the region. This prompted a massive military crackdown and a propaganda campaign by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that attempted to explain the unrest and focus attention away from the PRC’s human rights record and on to foreign “anti-China forces,” most prominently the Dalai Lama. This represented a significant shift in PRC propaganda, which has characterized him as a “political corpse” with no influence in the region, a remnant of the past that has been largely forgotten by Tibetans.

The main focus of the monastic demonstrators was the PRC’s “patriotic re-education” (爱国主义教育) campaign, which subjects monks and nuns all across the Tibetan plateau to intensive programs of propaganda indoctrination. The focus in this talk will be “patriotic re-education” within the larger context of Chinese propaganda relating to Tibet. This is part of a nationwide program of patriotic education, but the Tibetan version has particularly interesting features. The talk will look at how PRC propaganda characterizes Tibetan Buddhist belief and practice and how these relate to the PRC’s version of Tibetan history. This is a critical period for both sides, and the last part of the talk will look at the current situation and why both see this as an endgame time.



Peter Skilling, USYD

Tracing the History of Nuns in South Asia

The history of Buddhist nuns (bhiksuni) in South Asia is complex and difficult to chart. From a very early period, the Buddhist monastic order (samgha) developed into several different ordination lineages – lines of transmission of both bhiksu and bhiksuni status – all claiming to descend from Sakyamuni Buddha himself. With the passage of time these lineages became more and more distinct, and as a result there were several orders or communities of monks and nuns, spread over a vast and diverse area, from Nepal to Sri Lanka, from Gandhara to Eastern India. At least some of the nuns’ lineages were active in South Asia for nearly 1500 years. But there is no written narrative history of even one of the lineages; nor indeed are there any histories of their male counterparts, the orders of monks.

How, then can we attempt to trace the history of nuns in South Asia? The oldest and most enduring sources are epigraphic records, inscriptions on stone or on metal. The earliest written records of ancient India – the inscriptions of King Asoka – contain the earliest historical mention of nuns. Asoka believed that for the Buddha’s teachings to flourish, all four ‘assemblies’ of Buddhism – monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen – should live in harmony. It is clear that he saw nuns as an important religious and social body.

After the time of Asoka, we find inscriptions throughout South Asia which record donations to or by nuns, whether as individuals or as communities. The inscriptions give us some idea of the social and even economic status of nuns, of their religious roles and their aspirations. Inscriptions are social and often legal documents, and we must always bear in mind their specific historical contexts. Inscriptions attest to the presence of bhiksunis at certain times or certain places, but they do not furnish a continuous narrative history. The absence of inscriptions does not mean, ipso facto, an absence of nuns. This must be taken into account when we ask one of the most difficult questions: when did the orders of nuns die out in India?

Other sources for the study of nuns’ orders in South Asia include the accounts of foreign travellers, most famously the monk-pilgrims who travelled from China to India in quest of the Dharma and of scriptures and relics. Buddhist monastic and narrative literature, and Indian literature in general, are both valuable sources, as codifications and expressions of norms, ideals, and mentalities related to nuns and monasticism. The paper focus on inscriptions as primary sources for the history of Buddhist nuns.



Pankaj Mohan, USYD

Rahul Sankrityayan: An Intellectual Biography

Rahul Sankrityayan (1892-1962) is arguably the most influential exponent of Buddhism in Hindi literature. To provide a unifying narrative of the life and achievements of this complex, courageous and fascinating intellectual of modern India is indeed a formidable task. Rahul left home at an early age, and although he embraced Arya samaj in his adolescent years, he was soon disillusioned with this movement based on restorationist nationalism. He was attracted to Buddhism for its ‘rationalism’, repudiation of Brahmanical orthodoxy and broader social consciousness. Commencing from the late 1920’s he travelled to different countries in order to deepen his understanding of Buddhism and expand the horizon of his experiences of the contemporary world. He lived for a year in Sri Lanka in 1927-28, in Tibet in 1929-30, in Europe 1932-33 and in USSR as a colleague of Stcherbatsky at the University of Leningrad. In his subsequent visits to Tibet in 1934 and 1936 he was successful in bringing back a large number of Sanskrit texts, either the original manuscripts or their copies, which lay concealed in the dark dungeons of Tibetan monasteries.

Rahul wrote “Buddhacarya”, the first authoritative account of the life and philosophy of the Buddha in Hindi , followed by “Baudha Sanskriti (Buddhist Civilization) and “Darsana-digdarsana” a interpretive text on the Eastern and Western philosophy. He also edited and produced Hindi translations of the Majjhima Nikaya, Diggha Nikaya and Vinay Pitaka,. His historical novels based on Buddhist themes include “From Volga to Ganga” “ General Sinha” and “Forgotten traveller”. Another notable contribution of Rahul is the creation of a team of young Buddhist reformers such as Bhadant Ananda Kausalyayan and Bhiksu Jagdish Kasyap in India and Gedun Chopel in Tibet who were exposed under his radiating influence to the modern ideas of socialism and democracy.

The organization of the proposed book is as follows;
1. Childhood
2. Life of self-imposed exile:
a) Student of Sanskrit in Various Indian monasteries,
b). Studies in Sri Lanka
c). Travel in disguise to Tibet and Discovery of Sanskrit manuscripts
3. Translator and interpreter of Buddhism
4. Fiction interwoven with Buddhist themes
5. Voyage to the Orient as an advocate of Buddhist pan-Asianism
6. Rahul’s influence in the Contemporary Buddhist World

This intellectual biography of Rahul represents the first major step in our understanding of Rahul’s intellectual development and his contribution to the revival of interest in Buddhism in north India., and is based on his personal writings such as diaries, travelogues, autobiographies and letters, memoirs of his contemporaries and archival sources. ’ None of these material have been previously translated and made available to Western readers.



Various, USYD

USYD School of Languages and Cultures Research Day

The Buddhist Studies panel will comprise the following:
1) Mark Allon, Indian Sub-continental Studies, “On the rise of Mahayana Buddhism in ancient Gandhara”
2) Andrew McGarrity, Indian Sub-continental Studies, “Theories of the Self as Doctrine and Methodological Strategy in Buddhist Thought”
3) Blair Silverlock, Indian Sub-Continental Studies, “The Bodha Sūtra, a discourse of the Buddha in Sanskrit, from the new Gilgit Dīrghāgama manuscript”
4) Paul Fuller, Asian Studies, “Buddhism, Blasphemy and Sexual Tension”
5) Meena Srinivasan, Indian Sub-Continental Studies, “Subhashitams based on Sundarakandam”



Scott Pacey, ANU

Making the Dharma Modern: Chinese Buddhism in the Twentieth Century and Today

During the twentieth century, China’s intellectual landscape posed unprecedented challenges for Buddhists. The intelligentsia, influenced by science and Western religious categories, maintained a complex and critical relationship with the Dharma. Often, it was considered to be a superstitious relic of the ancient world, unsuited to a modernising China. In the Republican era, monastics such as Taixu and Yinshun set out to challenge this view. Later, Yinshun, and figures such as Xingyun, Zhengyan, and Shengyan, continued to align Buddhism with the philosophical and social environment of post-1949 Taiwan.

Their presentations of the Buddha’s teachings were aimed at showing how they were compatible with “modern” thought, unlike other religious views. However, they were also intended to demonstrate the Dharma’s superiority over the non-Buddhist ideas that were also competing for intellectual attention. They instead argued that if intellectuals were interested in science, Western ideologies, and the worldly approach of Confucianism, they should investigate the teachings of Śākyamuni, which completed and surpassed each of them.

This paper will examine the responses of monastics to the conditions of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In particular, it will focus on their efforts to present Buddhism as anthropocentric, scientific, rational, and able to contribute to social progress through the provision of models for the ideal society and individual. After analysing various attempts to align Buddhism with these trends, the presentation will conclude with some thoughts on present discussions in Buddhist China, how these relate to the prominent themes of the last century, and ultimately, what they mean for the continued evolution of the Dharma in the Sinitic world.