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Matthew Orsborn - Monastic Training & Education in Contemporary Taiwanese Buddhism

Our readers might be interested in an upcoming lecture hosted by our friends at the Ghent Center for Buddhist Studies as part of their Spring Lecture Series. Matthew Orsborn, professor of Oriental Studies at Oxford University, will be giving a lecture on the topic of monastic training and education in contemporary Taiwanese Buddhism. The event is scheduled for March 16, 2021 at 7pm CET (Belgian time) and will take place remotely over Zoom. Register to receive the Zoom link by writing to

Here is a brief synopsis of the lection, provided by the Ghent Center for Buddhist Studies:

Monastic training and education in contemporary Taiwanese Buddhism

Matthew Orsborn Faculty of Oriental Studies, Oxford University

Since the middle of the 20th century, Buddhism in the Republic of China has been led by the reformist ‘Humanistic Buddhism’ (Renjian fojiao 人間佛教) movement. One key area of Taixü’s 太虛 program of modernization was that of monastic education and training, centered on Buddhist colleges (Fo xüe yüan 佛學院). However, this proposed ideal system was unable to be actualized during his lifetime in mainland China. His successors in Taiwan, such as Yin Shun 印順, Hsing Yun 星雲 and Sheng Yen 聖嚴, encountered the challenge of a new social, cultural and political climate. Numerous Buddhist colleges were established by various monastic leaders and monasteries, promoting a flourishing of modern Buddhist education. Such institutions were able to maintain a full range of traditional Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhist models of education, drawing from numerous lineages (zōng 宗). Political forces, however, restricted the Ministry of Education from accrediting these colleges and recognizing the degrees and qualifications offered by such institutions. Meanwhile, ‘Buddhist studies’ (Fo xüe 佛學) as an academic discipline began to emerge in recognized Taiwanese universities, influenced first by Japanese and later Western models of scholarship. Many Humanistic Buddhism monastic orders then set up departments and institutes within their own privately-run universities. But they still face a critical dilemma in educating and training their future generations of monastics: Continuation of training monastics in non-recognized Buddhist colleges under their own control, or adoption of degree-granting university Buddhist studies education which must conform to Ministry of Education secular requirements. This paper seeks to examine the responses of the leading educators of Humanistic Buddhism to this quandary at the start of the 21st century.

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