LECTURE - Dr. Ester Bianchi: The Theravāda Model and Early Buddhist Meditation in the Republic of China
Time & Location
About the Event
Modern and Contemporary Buddhist Encounters in the South China Sea Contact Zone
Institute for the Study of Humanistic Buddhism (ISHB), University of the West
Dr. Ester Bianchi, University of Perugia, Italy
The Theravāda Model and Early Buddhist Meditation in the Republic of China
The origins of Theravāda meditation’s burgeoning popularity in contemporary Chinese Buddhism may be traced to the first half of the twentieth century, when a modern understanding of Buddhism started to seep into China. The arrival of these novel ideas prompted a reevaluation of early Buddhist scriptures and practices as well as greater appreciation of Asia’s alternative Buddhist traditions. Within this general trend, proponents of South and South-East Asian Theravāda insisted that this form of Buddhism most closely mirrored the “original” teaching of the Buddha himself. These claims generated a support for the “Theravāda model” in various areas, including the fields of vinaya and of Buddhist meditation. The talk will inquire into the rediscovery of early meditation techniques in modern China, in an attempt to evaluate the significance of the Theravāda model within this movement. In fact, for those who wanted to experiment with previously unknown Theravāda practices, the Visuddhimagga and other Pāli texts were translated into Chinese. However, the early meditation practices—such as fasting and breathing exercises, meditation on impurity, and the “four bases of mindfulness”—were mainly revived from canonical scriptures, following a modern text-based approach to Buddhism and unrelated to the Pāli scriptures.
Ester Bianchi holds a Ph.D. in ‘Indian and East-Asian Civilization’ from the University of Venice (co-tutorial Ph.D. received from the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Section des Sciences Religieuses of Paris).
She is currently Associate Professor of Chinese Religions and Philosophy and of Society and Culture of China, and Coordinator of the Double Degree in “World Religions and Philosophy” and in “Cultural Heritage, Religion and Society” (with the Department of Religious Studies of Fu-Jen University, Taipei) of the Department of Philosophy, Social Sciences and Education (Fissuf) of the University of Perugia.
Ester Bianchi is member of the research groups “Culture, Languages, Practices (CLIPRA) at the Philosophy Department of the University of Perugia (Italy), and “Modern and Contemporary Buddhist Encounters in the Southern Sinosphere” at the Institute for the Study of Humanistic Buddhism (ISHB) of the University of the West. She is external associated researcher of the Groupe Sociétés, Religions, Laïcités CNRS-EPHE (2012-), Research fellow of the Wutai International Institute of Buddhism and East Asian Cultures (since 2016), and a contributor of the Research project “Chinese Buddhism in Globalization: States, Communities, and Practices of Religion” (directed by Yoshiko Ashiwa and David Wank, Founded by the Henry Luce Foundation; 2020-).
Her research is centered on Sino-Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Buddhist monasticism, the revival of Buddhist monastic discipline and, more recently, the rediscovery of early meditation techniques and the spread of Theravāda Buddhist Model in modern Chinese Buddhism.
Ester Bianchi is the author of The Iron Statue Monastery, Tiexiangsi: A Buddhist Nunnery of Tibetan Tradition in Contemporary China (Firenze 2001), and of the first Italian translation of the Gaoseng Faxian zhuan (Faxian: un pellegrino cinese nell’India del V secolo, Perugia, 2012-13). Her publications include the following articles (last three years): “Revisiting Impurity in Republican China: An Evaluation of the Modern Rediscovery of Bujing guan 不淨觀”, in Religion 12, 903, 2021; “The Combined Practice of Vinaya and Tantra in Nenghai’s Path to Liberation” (in E. Bianchi and W. Shen eds., Sino-Tibetan Buddhism Across the Ages, Leiden, Brill, 2021, pp. 225-252); “Lama Nenghai’s Imprint on Mount Wutai: Sino-Tibetan Buddhism among the Five Plateaus since the 1930s” (in S. Andrews, J. Chen, and Guang Kuan eds., The Transnational Cult of Mount Wutai. Historical and Comparative Perspectives, Leiden, Brill, 2020, pp. 255–287). “The Puhuasi 普華寺: Longing for Trustworthiness and Recognition. Transformations in the Religious Identity and Institutional Affiliation of the Chinese Buddhist Temple in Prato” (Journal of Chinese Buddhist Studies, 2020, 33, pp. 171-202), “Understanding jielü 戒律: The Resurgence and Reconfiguration of Vinaya-Related Concepts in Modern China” (in G. Scott, S. Travagnin eds., Critical Concepts and Methods for the Study of Chinese Religions II: Intellectual History of Key Concepts, Berlin, De Gruyter, 2020, pp. 55-80), “‘Transmitting the Precepts in Conformity with the Dharma’: Restoration, Adaptation, and Standardization of Ordination Procedures” (in Zhe Ji, G. Fisher, A. Laliberté eds., Buddhism after Mao: Negotiations, Continuities, and Reinventions, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 2019, pp. 152-170).
Detailed scientific curriculum: http://www.unipg.it/pagina-personale?n=ester.bianchi