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Opportunities and Challenges in Chinese Buddhist Education Today

2009年04月01日 14:15:00 佛教在线 点击:0

Mrs. Sudarat Bantaokul
General Executive Official of International Programme of Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, Bangkok, Thailand

Abstract: Because of globalization, Chinese Buddhism needs to work hand in hand with Buddhists throughout the world, there can be no doubt why studying abroad has a strong attraction for the younger generation of ordained Buddhists in China.  Besides the limitations in Buddhist educational opportunities, there are also the universal challenges of modernity and internationalization. Buddhism in China today faces the challenges of modernity. The challenge of modernity is universal to all, including the new generations of Chinese, both lay and ordained, and points must be found where tradition meets modernity. Would it better to establish international standards of Buddhist education in China? That is, should there be Buddhist universities in China?

Key words: Chinese Buddhist education, opportunities, challenges, modernity, and Buddhist universities

China’s ordained Buddhists have always exerted great effort in the pursuit of the genuine teachings of the Buddha, including going abroad to seek greater knowledge. This fact is evident in Chinese history from the time that Master Xuan Zang of the Tang Dynasty went to India around 630 CE searching for Buddhist scriptures, down to the early 20th century and Yang Wenhui and Master Tai Xu.1 The strong and enduring motivation to pursue Buddhist scriptures and to study abroad indicates that from the beginning Chinese Buddhism has turned its face to the world with a liberal and challenging mind.

In the first half of the 20th century, there were about 100 Buddhist academies in China,2  including several Buddhist schools for the laity.3 In mid-century, China’s political situation changed significantly after the People’s Republic of China was formed. The number of academies declined and the number of qualified monks remained small.  Following the Great Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, Chinese Buddhism was in turmoil with no clear direction how to adapt to the new environment. However, in the 1980s, the Chinese government implemented Deng Xiaoping’s theories with liberal policies including economic reform and freedom of religion. Later on, under President Hu Jintao, the government provided excellent opportunities for Chinese Buddhism to communicate with the world by hosting the World Buddhist Forum in 2006 and again in 2009. These are significant events in the history of Chinese Buddhism. It is also significant that, in recent years, high-ranking members of the Chinese Sangha associated with the Buddhist Association of China have been invited to participate in international conferences in many countries. In 2007, the Buddhist Association of China was offered a Vice-Presidency of the International Association of Buddhist Universities (IABU), whose first conference was held in September of 2008. With its international secretariat based at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, Thailand, IABU’s aim is to exchange students and instructors among member institutions. It is evident, then, that Chinese Buddhism is in a period of dramatic development. This development has inevitably brought it into contact with international Buddhist leaders and scholars in the field of Buddhist education.

In the 1980s the reformation of Chinese Buddhism led to the ideal of Buddhism as a cultural leader, educating society, and rescuing humanity. In the period leading up to liberation, the New Period, Master Tai Xu had already insisted that Chinese Buddhism should join with Theravada, Tibetan, and Japanese traditions in a universal Buddhism emphasizing adaptation to modern times, and that Buddhist affairs should be conducted so as to benefit human beings.4  Chinese Buddhism has thus been challenged to address the concerns of this world and human life rather than only hopes and fears for the next world and of life after death. Specific programs for reforming Buddhist education have led to modernization of the curriculum and of educational methodology. However, the number of Buddhist academies remains low. As of 2003 there were, on record, only 34 Buddhist academies serving all the three “Families”. Chinese Family Buddhism operated one high-level academy, 18 mid-level, and seven elementary-level academies, for a total of 26. There were six Tibetan Family academies, one at the high-level and five at the mid-level and two Pali Family academies.5 Informal counts suggests that in the past few years, Buddhism in China has experienced an increasing growth rate, and that there were about 40 Buddhist academies by 20076 increasing to 50 by 2008.7


1、Since the time that Yang Wenhui travelled to Japan in search of lost Chinese Buddhist scriptures, Chinese Buddhists favoured this kind of activity, whether it was bringing Tang dynasty scriptures back from Japan, studying Theravada Buddhism in India, Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand and bringing back translated Theravada scriptures,  or studying Buddhist doctrines in Tibet.
2、Huang Xianian, “Jindai zhongguo fojiao jiaoyu” (Chinese) [“Buddhist Education in the Modern China”]), The Voice of Dharma  Magazine, vol. 4, 2007 (total  vol. 272), p. 31
3、Ibid.
5、Zhongguo fojiao xiehui wushi nian (Chinese), [The 50th Anniversary of Buddhist Association of China], editor, Buddhist Association of China, vol. II, 2005, p. 238.
6、The Most Ven. Xue Cheng, “Contemporary China’s Mahayana Buddhist Sangha Education”, in Buddhism & Ethics, Symposium Volume,  (no.pl.: Mahachulalongkorrajavidyalaya University Press), 2008, p.112.
7、Dao Shuren, Speech at the Opening Ceremony of The First IABU Summit & International Buddhist Academic Conference, held by Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, Wang Noi, Ayutthaya, Thailand, September 13-15, 2008, in Program, (no place: Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, 2008), p. 22. Dao Suren is the Vice-president of the Buddhist Association of China, President of the Buddhist Association of Yunnan Province, PRC, and President of Yunnan Provincial Buddhist Academy.







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