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DepositZen and Esoteric Buddhism Papers

Two papers on the Jungian psychology of Asian religions from M.A. coursework at the University of Hawaii in 1978. “Equations of Freedom with Enlightenment” analyzes Chinese Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen as to the meaning of liberation. Then “This World as a Symbolic Body of the Buddha” analyzes the Shingon Buddhist cosmology of Kukai and its Tantric predecessors in India, culminating in the notion of Buddhahood in this body.

MemberScott Mitchell


Buddhism in America: Global Religion, Local Contexts, Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.
Buddhism Beyond Borders: New Perspectives on Buddhism in the United States, co-edited with Natalie E.F. Quli, SUNY Press, 2015.
“The Ritual Use of Music in US Jōdo Shinshū Buddhist Communities,” Contemporary Buddhism, 201…

Scott Mitchell is the Dean of Students and Faculty Affairs and holds the Yoshitaka Tamai Professorial Chair at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Berkeley, CA, and co-host of the DharmaRealm podcast. He teaches and writes about Buddhism in the West, Buddhist modernism, Pure Land Buddhism, and Buddhism and media.

MemberErik Hammerstrom

…Monograph2015  The Science of Chinese Buddhism: Early Twentieth-Century Engagements. Columbia University Press, Sheng Yen Series in Chinese Buddhist Studies.Peer-reviewed Journal Articles2016  “Avataṃsaka 華嚴 Transnationalism in Modern Sinitic Buddhism.” Journal of Global Buddhism, vol. 17: 65-84 <http://…

I teach about religion in China and East Asia, with a focus on Buddhism. In my research I specialize in the intellectual and institutional history of Chinese Buddhism during the modern period. I have studied Buddhist responses to elements of modernity, such as the discourses surrounding both religion and modern science; and I am currently writing a “biography” of Huáyán 華嚴 school of Chinese Buddhism in the early twentieth century. As an extension of my work on Chinese Buddhism, I helped establish the Database of Modern Chinese Buddhism.

DepositThe Revival of Tantrism: Tibetan Buddhism and Modern China

This dissertation considers how Tantrism, a ritual tradition vanished in India and in China, but preserved in modern Japan and Tibet, became a component of the revival of Chinese Buddhism between the two World Wars. Tantrism became appealing to revivalists who, in China’s time of internal war and foreign invasion, sought to recover this lost tradition, writing about its rituals, initiations, and teachings in a nostalgic mode. In Republican China (1912-1949), Tantrism would generate an interest in Tibetan Buddhism, which would be described as the form of Tantrism of the Tibetan nation. In the wake of the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, as the Republican government fled the occupied areas, Buddhist scholars and monks gave up their quest to retrieve Tantrism in its Japanese form. Having turned to Tibetan Buddhism, they began to translate the Buddhist scriptures of Tibet. A central figure is the monk and translator Fazun (1902-1980), who translated into Chinese works of Tibetan Buddhism, compiled biographies of Tibetan masters, and wrote histories of Tibetan religious and political institutions. This dissertation shows how Fazun created in China a new and compelling image of Tibetan Buddhism and employed it to urge his contemporaries to reflect on modern Tibet in ways that would both inspire and challenge scholars after the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. After the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), intellectuals of the PRC have claimed that Tibetan Buddhism is a form of Chinese Buddhism, disregarding previous studies of the Republican era. Drawing upon early-modern to contemporary historical works, periodicals, and memoirs in several languages, this genealogy offers a new perspective on China-Tibet relations.

DepositBuddhism, Philosophy, History. On Eugène Burnouf’s Simple Sūtras

Philosophy has long become a key term in the study of Buddhism, defining the moral and rational essence of the Buddha’s teaching, emblematic of its Indian origins. In this essay, I suggest that the relation of Buddhism and philosophy, which prior to the mid-nineteenth century was framed as the relation of the Religion of Fo to the cult of voidness, was reformulated in the self-styled language of science in the wake of the study of Buddhism from Sanskrit sources. Specifically, I suggest that the philosophical dimension of Eugène Burnouf’s reading of the Divyāvadāna and his idea of “simple sūtra” played a crucial role in defining Buddhism as a philosophy for the late nineteenth and into the twentieth century. The idea of a “simple moral philosophy” emerged in Burnouf’s particular reading of the story of the Buddha’s last days in the Divyāvadāna and the Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta, as the play of magic and death unfolds in the theme of the master’s denial of the will to live. Burnouf’s philosophical reading rests on the purification, in the theme of the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa, of the foundations of magical power (catvāra ṛddhipāda) that articulate knowledge of this world and beyond in the Buddha’s discourses. In the conclusion, I reformulate Burnouf’s question about the Buddha’s moral philosophy in his study of the simple sūtras vis-à-vis the historically self-conscious question about the Buddha’s ability to defer death by magic that traces back to the early debate of Buddhist exegetical traditions.

DepositScientific empathy, American buddhism, and the ethnography of religion

The expansion of the use of ethnography in the study of religion has led to substantial methodological confusion. The reflexive ethnographic efforts that exist commonly appeal to the need for ethnographer empathy for field subjects, although the nature and ethical ramifications of this empathy remain poorly explored. This essay offers a model of ethnographic empathy in terms of the methodological observations of Weber, Homans, and Kohut. Using a model of empathy in terms of a reflexive ‘evenly hovering attention’ for data collection, possible gains in the field from this model are explored. These gains include overcoming obstacles to data collection posed by Buddhist research subjects as well as from the psychological idiosyncrasies that any researcher brings to the field situation. Ethical dilemmas resulting from this methodology are also discussed.

DepositStates of “State Buddhism”: History, Religion, and Politics in Late Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century Scholarship

The most commonly employed framework for assessing the religion of the Nara period (710-784) remains the state Buddhism model (kokka Bukkyo ron 国家仏教論) advanced by Inoue Mitsusada 井上光貞 (1917-1983). While Inoue provided the most systematic and influential version of this thesis, this article traces its origins at least as far back as the Meiji period (1868-1912). It argues that there has been not one state Buddhism model but severaL Different versions emerged at particular historical moments in specific institutional settings in response to contemporary challenges. This article does not assess these frameworks in terms of their historical accuracy, but instead treats scholarship on Nara Buddhism as a lens that magnifies problems facing diverse modern actors ranging from Buddhist reformers to National Historians. In revealing the historical conditions that gave birth to the state Buddhism model, I hope to encourage twenty-first-century scholars to reflect on some of the assumptions behind narratives frequently employed for understanding premodern Japanese religions, as well as better understand the connection between politics and scholarship in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Japan.