Education, invention of orthodoxy, and the construction of modern Buddhism on Dharma Drum Mountain

Submitted by James Miller on Mon, 12/24/2012 - 18:03
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TitleEducation, invention of orthodoxy, and the construction of modern Buddhism on Dharma Drum Mountain
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsTuzzeo, D. R.
Corporate AuthorsYu, Jimmy
Academic DepartmentProQuest Dissertations and Theses
Date Published2012
PublisherThe Florida State University
Place PublishedUnited States -- Florida
ISBN Number9781267523365
Keywords0318:Religion, 0326:Cultural anthropology, 0527:Religious education, Buddhism, China, Education, Modernization, Philosophy, religion and theology, Shengyan, SOCIAL sciences, Taiwan

My research involves an ethno-historical study of Dharma Drum Mountain, founded in 1989 by Venerable Shengyan (1930-2009). Dharma Drum is currently one of the most powerful, international Buddhist organizations on Taiwan, and has incorporated the discourse of education with an aim to modernize Chinese Buddhism in response to a perceived crisis and need for revitalization. Dharma Drum's education campaign involves three types of what the organization broadly defines as education, but for the purposes of this research I focus solely on what the organization identifies as "education through academics," namely referring to educational and research projects such as those affiliated with Dharma Drum Buddhist College, the Chung-Hwa Institute for Buddhist Studies, and the organization's monastic seminary, Dharma Drum San gha University. The goal of this educational system is to engage socially and transform the world by first transforming the self. On one hand, the effect of this is to "uplift the character of humanity and build a pure land on earth." On the other hand, this practice-oriented approach of world-transformation is a modern technique used for promoting DDM's brand of orthodox Chinese Buddhism. My research provides historical context around the conditions that led Dharma Drum Mountain's founder, Venerable Shengyan, to perceive of a crisis of survival for Chinese Buddhism in the twentieth century and to determine education to be the solution to this problem; translations of Ven. Shengyan's written discourse on the need for education in order to combat this perceived decline in Chinese Buddhism; and ethnographic examination of the current state of Dharma Drum's educational institutions, within which communities of practice and an environment of situated learning are established, and an assessment of the organization's success in implementing Shengyan's goals. My thesis is that Shengyan's establishment of Chinese Buddhist orthodoxy through modern education is transforming the way Buddhism is understood in contemporary Taiwan. While this transformation is still undergoing continual change as it is mediated between institutional goals and individual preferences, it is forming two different forms of modernity: institutional and personal. DDM's orthodoxy also mirrors the struggle that many contemporary religious institutions face when balancing traditional values with modern sensibilities. In the case of DDM, such a balancing act can also be witnessed in its formulation and integration of practice and study. This integration of practice and study is a tool for promoting and actualizing Shengyan's unique worldview, which recasts the self as interconnected with society and humanity as a means of transforming the world while simultaneously promoting DDM's brand of Chinese Buddhism through practice rather than discourse. Shengyan's design of the community of practice at DDM to train clerics, laity, and secular scholars was intentionally developed with an environment of situated learning that aims to close the practice-study divide. It is still too early to discern the ultimate successfulness of his design, but it is possible to assess its current state. While DDM's aim is to nurture capable people to revitalize, disseminate, and contribute to the greater appreciation of Chinese Buddhism, the individuals who are living on DDM are often experiencing difficulties living up to this expected goal.