Podcasts of lectures held at OSBF

Published June 11, 2012 1:58 PM

(Maître de Conférences with the École française d’Extrême-Orient, Bangkok and Paris)

Published Mar. 2, 2012 8:55 AM

This talk will discuss a form of meditation practice known in Chinese as hua- t’ou. It was popularized by the Chinese Zen master Ta-Hui (1089 – 1163) a member of the Lin-Chi sect of  Zen. Though Ta-Hui popularized this method of meditation, he did not invent it.

In particular, this talk will discuss what a hua-t’ou is, why Ta-Hui placed so much importance on it, why this practice could be of interest to at least some people today, give examples of well known hua-t’ou, offer one way to practice this method, describe some states of mind that may arise when doing the practice, offer some  personal experience from my own long years of  practicing the hua-t’ou, and discuss what it means to have a Zen awakening. In conclusion,  I offer cautions related to  having an awakening experience and the importance of continuing practice thereafter.

The talk was a condensed version of this paper (pdf).

Published Feb. 22, 2012 11:47 AM

Buddhist pilgrimage inventions, promotions and exhibitions in contemporary Japan

Pilgrimage as a practice has been widely used by Buddhist temples in Japan as a means of enhancing their popularity and in order to get people to engage in prayer activities at temples.  In the present day –when, as I discussed in a previous talk in the Buddhist Studies Forum (Sept 21 2010),  Japanese Buddhist temples are rapidly losing support -  pilgrimage remains a common way through which temples  try to bring people into their precincts.  In recent times,  Buddhist temples and organisations have used a variety of promotional activities to this end.  They have put on exhibitions about pilgrimage in museums,  established copies of their pilgrimages in secular settings such as department stores and airport malls,  invented new routes that incorporate not just Buddhist sites but also those associated with Shinto, offered new consumer items (along with special discount train tickets in conjunction) that might attract visitors, and campaigned to gain UNESCO World Heritage status for one prominent pilgrimage.  In my talk I will examine these activities and discuss the extent to which they represent a continuation of standard patterns of pilgrimage promotion that have long been used by Japanese Buddhist priests, or whether they can be seen as evidence of an increasing secularisation of the pilgrimage process – a secularising process made necessary because of the problems Buddhism faces in the modern day in Japan.

Published Nov. 1, 2011 4:49 PM

Reviving the Theravāda Bhikkhuni lineage

While an officially sanctioned lineage of fully ordained nuns has been missing in the Theravāda tradition for centuries, recent decades have seen several attempts at reviving it. The issue has been, and remains, highly controversial. 

Published June 15, 2011 11:24 AM

Between India, Rome and China: Buddhism in Gandhara

It is probable that Buddhism had already reached Gandhāra (an area in present- day northern Pakistan) during the time of king Aśoka in the 3rd century BCE. In the wake of Alexander's campaign to northwest India this region had absorbed a surge of Greek culture, which remained present for a surprisingly long time. Even centuries later, this culture still served as a matrix for creating visible representations of the Buddha and his followers. These representations proved extremely successful, spreading to India proper and, more importantly, traveling along the Silk Road, initiated the Buddhist art of local cultures and finally reached China and the Far East. So far, Gandhāra has mostly been understood as the name for this specific style of Buddhist art, but recent manuscript finds reveal that the region contributed much more to shaping Buddhism during a formative period than previously thought. It now appears that Gandhāra, earlier considered to be situated at the margin of the Indian Buddhist world, played a decisive role in the spread of Buddhism along the Silk Road towards the east.

Published June 14, 2011 4:38 PM

Religion and Religions in the Construction of Early Buddhism

It has been suggested that the concept 'religion' is a product of European intellectual history and that modern Western scholars imposed it on non-European cultures, which, in fact, lacked such a concept altogether. This talk revisits the Western application of the term 'religion' to early Buddhism and examines early Buddhist texts in view of the concept. It suggests that already ancient Indian texts identify a particular segment of culture in a similar way as we identify 'religion' today. 

Published Apr. 27, 2011 1:13 PM

The Significance of Buddhist Scriptures

In all of our careful philology, we often lose sight of what should be a fundamental question: What do Buddhist scriptures mean? This is not (here) a theologian’s question, but that of historian. To address this question as historians, we need to think about related questions, or sub-questions: To whom, and under what conditions, do these scriptures mean or signify in the first place? 

There is an ambiguity here which Prof. Silk would like to explore: what something ‘means’ refers to its ‘significance,’ which in turn refers to the manner in which it is understood. Scriptures are understood both to ‘mean’ and to ‘be,’ that is, to convey content and to have status, or to put it in other words, both to have import and to be important. Regarding the importance of these scriptures, rather than assuming a status, we must think about those for whom they possess(ed) some importance or significance.

Published Mar. 3, 2011 8:50 AM

The Problematisation of Translation in Chinese Buddhism: Some Early Medieval Sources

Christoph Harbsmeier provides a basic introduction to the early literature problematising the translation of Buddhist texts. The main source are the introductions to early translations down to the 8th century. In addition there is a small number of works dedicated to problems of translation that will be surveyed. Representative excerpts from these are examined in detail. The early Buddhist translations are seen against the background of later developments in translation into Chinese as described in the abundant recent specialised Chinese literature on the subject.

Published Jan. 27, 2011 8:06 PM

When the Saints Come Marching In: Modern Day Zen Hagiography.

Recently the popular Buddhist magazine Tricycle presented biographical articles about two modern day Zen teachers: the American Zen teacher Walter Nowick coming from the Japanese tradition and the recently deceased Taiwanese Chan Master Sheng Yen. Both are presented as iconic, fully enlightened Chan/Zen Masters, following the model of the classical ideal from the Sung dynasty (960-1279). In examining their actual lived lives, it can be shown how real people are sanitized and transformed into hagiographic figures. Mechanisms very similar to those that created iconic Chan Masters during the Sung dynasty continue to be at work today, creating modern day fully perfected Masters. This talk will only examine the Tricycle case of Master Sheng Yen.