03 February 2008

The Transformation and Revival of Buddhism

The transformation of Buddhism was undoubtedly closely related to the revival of Buddhism. In a sense, it can be also regarded as a reflection and mirror of general social transformations in modern times in the realm of Buddhism. As far as the revival of Buddhism is concerned, it is not peculiar to China, but part of a world-wide movement that arose with the cultural ethnical awakening among Asian ethnicities in modern times. However, in the light of the history of general evolution of Buddhism in China, its transformations have indeed left behind many visible traces with regard to its rise and fall in modern times.

With Yang Wenhui generally known as “ Father of the revival of Buddhism in modern China” as an example, this paper not only takes an in-depth look into the criticism, syncretism, inheritance and transformation of Buddhism by such great figures as Yang Wenhui, but also studies the role Western science and technology played in the great transformation of modern Buddhism in China. In theory, the general trend of the evolution of modern Buddhism was a gradual shift from “ sectarian Buddhism” to “syncretic Buddhism”,which mingled with a motion of separation and synthesis between “Buddhism of philosophy”and “Buddhism of practice”. This, to a certain extent, could be viewed both as a continuity of the transformation of Post-Tang Buddhism in a new historical context and as a major breakthrough in Buddhism since the Tang Dynasty. In short, the transformation of modern Buddhism was on the one hand influenced by outside factors, on the other hand, it was also a logical evolution of its own thoughts in modern times. In other words, though ecumenical Buddhism took the place of sectarian Buddhism in modern times with great transformations and innovations, it did in no sense discard the traditional Buddhism body and soul.

Yang Wenhui was, on the one hand, a great pious Buddhist, and on the other, a serious Buddhism scholar whose thinking in Buddhism had exerted a great influence upon the cultural, academic and thinking circles of his times. As a traditional scholar living in an age of great transformations, he happened to play the role of a great transformer of Buddhism in modern China. On the one hand, he inherited the great tradition of syncretizing of modern Buddhism in China; on the other hand, he led the transformation movement of Buddhism in modern China which greatly influenced the ensuing Buddhism in China. Through the joint efforts of Yang Wenhui and his disciples, modern Buddhism in China was eventually pushed to the outside world. The history of the transformation of Buddhism in modern China was also a history of seeking piety, equality, peace and freedom on the part of Chinese Buddhists as represented by Yang Wenhui and his disciples as well.
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