2017 Seminars

2017 Seminar Series







Judith Snodgrass, UWS

Interwar networks of Modern Global Buddhism: The Eastern Buddhist, the Young East, and the International Buddhist Society, Tokyo, 1934

The Kokusai Bukkyō Kyōkai (International Buddhist Society, IBS) was formed in Tokyo in December 1934. In 1937, it listed 93 separate branches across 71 cities in 41 countries, including Australia and New Zealand. Prominent on its board of counselors were D. T. Suzuki and his wife Beatrice Lane Suzuki, founding editors of the Eastern Buddhist and Takakusu Junjirō, founding editor of the Young East. Both these English language journals were, by this time, well established. The Eastern Buddhist first appeared in 1921, the Young East in 1925. Although different in content, both were dedicated to the international promotion of a determinedly modern Buddhism—Buddhism in the world and for the world—and by the end of the 1920s, both had established global networks. By taking over the Young East as its official organ and installing Takakusu and the Suzukis as its international face, the IBS built upon the achievements of the previous decade.

This paper considers the international diplomatic impetus for the promotion of Buddhism by Japanese in the turbulent decades between the first and second world wars. It then examines international participation in the Young East, both in its founding period and under IBS auspices, to map global networks of modern Buddhism in the early twentieth century and identify the engines of globalization. Though some of the names of IBS members will be familiar, much of the excellent work on pioneering Buddhists to date has been nationally focused. The Young East and the IBS expands the list of pioneer Buddhists and offers an international framework in which to view them. An offshoot of the study is an early history of the 1960’s ‘Zen boom’ which had its origins in these much earlier writings of D. T. Suzuki which were reprinted in the 1950s.



Malcolm Voyce, Macquarie

Michel Foucault Approach to the Vinaya

While some studies have used Foucault’s ideas to understand western monasticism, no postmodern or post structuralist scholars have used Foucault’s ideas to understand the Vinaya. This presentation will demonstrate it has been problematic to call the Vinaya ‘a system of law’, or a ‘system of codes’ as this approach has been based on western understandings of law.

Firstly, rules should be seen as more than prohibitions. Rules also imply ‘transgressions’. In other words, if we examine the relationship between the taboo (for example the Vinaya rule against sexual intercourse) and the transgression of the rule on the prohibition of sex, I suggest we may find that the taboo is not an absolute phenomenon. In fact, ‘prohibition’ and ‘transgression’ form an ensemble that defines social life.

Secondly, the Vinaya ‘rules’ were one of the techniques where subjects were obliged to ‘produce truth and oblige individuals to give an account of themselves’. The effect of ‘telling all’, Foucault tells us, was ‘displacement, intensification, reorientation and the modification of desire itself’.

Lastly, this paper considers the recent debate over the nature of Buddhist ethics largely conducted by scholars who have argued in different ways that Buddhist ethics may be assimilated or may correspond with different forms of western ethical theory. What I call ‘Buddhist aesthetics-ethics’ link with a range of ‘Buddhist hermeneutical issues’, include the testing of personal experience, the degree that ethics or rules should be followed, the role of transgressions and the way that moral acts assume a form of inner and outer beauty in the process of development.



Geoffrey Samuel, Cardiff

Relaxation, Arousal, Mindfulness, and Tantric Practice: How Different is Vajrayana Meditation?

Much Western writing on Buddhist meditation, going back to Herbert Benson’s early work on Tibetan gtum-mo practice, has focussed on relaxation as a central component. For Benson and his associates, the ‘relaxation response’ contrasted with the ‘stress response’ with its pathological effects. The opposition between stress and relaxation however arguably provides an inadequate basis for understanding the physiology of meditation. Recently, Amihai and Kozhevnikov have contrasted Vajrayana meditation with modes of Theravadin and Mahayana practice, arguing that the former involves arousal and phasic alertness, the latter calm and tonic alertness. Britton and Lindahl have suggested that the development of phasic and tonic alertness can be mutually reinforcing, and may associate with neuroplastic changes. Other recent authors, such as Antonova, Ruff and Lidke have also argued for more complex physiological models. This paper asks how far these arguments can assist us in sorting out the complexity and variety of Vajrayana and other Tibetan meditational practices. I discuss some of the main and accessory Vajrayana practices, including various types of yidam practice, trulkor yoga, Tantric dance (cham), and other physical disciplines, and the so-called completion stage practices of Anuttara Yoga Tantra, which includes the tummo (‘psychic heat’) practices studied by both Benson and Kozhevnikov. Along what organismic pathways might such practices guide the transformations of physiology and consciousness?

Co-hosted with the Department of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney.



Greg Bailey, La Trobe

The Lalitavistara in its Devotional and Intertextual Context

This paper advances the proposition that the Lalitavistara, a partial biography of the Buddha composed in the early centuries CE, is a text responding in part to devotional elements in the narrative of the Mahābhārata. The Lalitavistara includes one specific mention of the five Pāṇḍavas and Draupadī, and also reflects some of the technical language used of the avatāra in the few times this doctrine occurs on the Mahābhārata. It also mentions the name Nārāyana in particularly interesting ways, and uses derivatives of the verb pūj in the sense of “to worship/act of worship” many times. Alf Hiltebeitel has already shown that the Buddhacarita makes reference to the Śānti– and Anuśāsanaparvans of the Mahābhārata, and it would be surely significant if another Buddhist text composed early in the Common Era also refers to the Mahābhārata in a manner that shows the author knew its narrative quite well.

In an earlier paper Tracey Coleman has suggested the need to compare the Buddha with Kṛṣṇa in the sense that both are regarded as exemplary measures of dharma within their own traditions. It is this connection with the rising popularity of Kṛṣṇa in the early centuries of the Common Era that may have contributed to the highly devotional nature of a text like the Lalitavistara. This may be so notwithstanding traces of Buddhist devotionalism already in the Pāli Canon.



Royce Wiles, Nan Tien

Remains of Buddhism in Afghanistan: an overview and an update on more recent archaeological projects

The presence of Buddhism in Afghanistan is well-documented from the accounts of Chinese Buddhist pilgrims from the seventh century onwards; however, the archaeology of Afghanistan has long been perilous and problematic. After major discoveries by French, German, British and Japanese teams in the early to mid-twentieth century, conflict, war and political upheaval shut down exploration for many decades. Apart from the issues of systematic looting during times of civil conflict, open cast mining beneath the Mes Aynak hill in the dangerous Logar Province in the last decade has prompted a concerted international effort to rescue and preserve a little-known regional Buddhist hill site. This illustrated talk will focus on the Mes Aynak discoveries after a presentation of the more general context of Buddhist traces in Afghanistan.