The Department of Education of Henan Province announced the recipients of the 2022 Henan Provincial Philosophy and Social Science Research Achievement Awards of Higher Education Institutions in August 2023. Li Wei, a young scholar from Henan University, won third place for his paper, “Buddhist Practices and Esoteric Buddhist Rituals: A Study of East Asian Buddhism of Koichi Shinohara” (http://jyt.henan.gov.cn/2023/08-02/2789802.html).
Li’s article was first published in the authoritative journal Shijie zongjiao yanjiu 世界宗教研究 [Studies in World Religions] 8 (2022) as “Fojiao Shijian yu mijiao yishi: xiaoyuan hengyi de dongya fojiao yanjiu” 佛教實踐與密教儀式：篠原亨一的東亞佛教研究 [Buddhist Practices and Esoteric Buddhist Rituals: A Study of East Asian Buddhism of Koichi Shinohara]. It was then republished in traditional Chinese in Hualin guoji foxue xuekan 華林國際佛學學刊 [Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies] (October 2022, https://dx.doi.org/10.6939/HIJBS.202210_5(2).0011). The English version of Li’s article was subsequently selected as the preface for A Forest of Knowledge: A Collection of Essays on Texts and Images in Celebration of Professor Koichi Shinohara’s Eightieth Birthday, edited by Jinhua Chen (Singapore: World Scholastic, 2022).
Li’s article reviewed the latest Chinese translation of Koichi Shinohara’s Narratives of Buddhist Practice: Studies on Chinese-Language Canonical Compilations and Translations (volume two of the Hualin Translation Series on Buddhist Studies 華林佛學研究書系), Spells, Images and Maṇḍalas, and other important essays by Dr. Shinohara to discuss the many dimensions of his research. Dr. Shinohara began his career as a researcher by analyzing the sources of monastic biographies, and then extended his interests towards narratives of Chinese Buddhist literature in which he highlighted the importance of miracle stories and material culture. While researching monastic biographies he investigated the function of Buddhist images, after which he discussed early Esoteric Buddhist rituals, ritual manuals, and their development. As a result, he bridged many aspects of Chinese Buddhist studies, and with his exceptional skills in textual analysis, he opened up new possibilities for the study of Esoteric Buddhist rituals. Overall, Dr. Shinohara established a solid foundation in Buddhist literary analysis that lends strength to his academic arguments. His ability to spot inconsistencies and gaps in texts broadened our understanding of Buddhist materials. During his career, he was not only interested in analyzing similarities in monastic biographies throughout Chinese Buddhist history, such as their earlier textual sources and rhetorical structure, but he also concentrated on their individual variations and novel contributions. Despite their similarities, these subtle variances have significant implications and reflect the original compilers’ intentions—this is the crux of Dr. Shinohara’s discussions. The enigma behind his thought-provoking work is also the method of textual generation. Dr. Shinohara recovers the context and logic of Esoteric Buddhism’s internal rituals, which developed gradually by building on existing rituals, by looking at the textual generation based on Chinese translations of Esoteric Buddhist sūtras, notably those categorized as ‘miscellaneous’ Esoteric Buddhism. He paid close attention to the idea of visualization at various levels, such as the visualization of Buddha images, visualization by the practitioner, and visualization as described in complex ritual manuals, all of which are interrelated but reveal differences within the development of Esoteric ritual visualizations. Dr. Shinohara’s propensity for approaching particular topics with a wide lens is the reason for his command of these repeated and entangled concepts that established a pivotal path for academic discourse amidst a deluge of materials. When dealing with sources of monastic biographies, such a conscientious academic approach offers a profound understanding of the relationship between literary and Buddhist texts, as Dr. Shinohara goes beyond a simple examination of historical materials’ significance from the perspective of religious literature. These questions themselves led Shinohara to a deeper realm of East Asian Buddhist studies. He discussed image worship by questioning the two contradicting Buddhist explanations on images, their place in Buddhist stories, how they help monks defend Buddhism, and how their use varies across texts. These discussions of Esoteric Buddhist rituals aim to explore the interaction between the rituals’ material and spiritual components. As a result, Dr. Shinohara’s studies of monastic biographies and Esoteric Buddhist ritual manuals have expanded many areas of study for Chinese Buddhist texts in East Asia, providing a vast and untapped field for the study of Buddhism.
Li Wei received his Ph.D. from Peking University in 2020, and is now working at the College of Chinese Language and Literature of Henan University, where he teaches courses on topics like the history of Classical Chinese literature and Classical Chinese literary theory. He has long been interested in the complex relationship between Chinese literature and Buddhism. In recent years, he has published several articles in journals such as Religions, Shijie zongjiao yanjiu 世界宗教研究 [Studies in World Religions], Zhongguo zongjiao 中國宗教 [Chinese Religions], and Shaolin xue jikan 少林學輯刊 [Shaolin Studies]. He was also the main translator of the book Fojiao xiuxing de xushu: Hanchuan Fodian de bianji yu fanyi yanjiu (Xiaoyuan Hengyi zixuan ji) 佛教修行的敘述：漢傳佛典的 編輯與翻譯研究 (篠原亨一自選集) [The Narrative of Buddhist Practice: Studies on Chinese-Language Canonical Compilations and Translations (Selected Essays by Koichi Shinohara)] (Singapore: World Scholastic Publishers, 2021). He is leading a Social Science Project in Henan Province and a project in the International Chang’an Translation Series of Shaanxi Normal University. Li also benefited greatly by taking part in the From the Ground Up: Buddhism and East Asian Religions (Frogbear) project’s Summer Program twice. This rigorous and comprehensive curriculum presented the most recent, cutting-edge academic research and allowed young researchers from various backgrounds to exchange their work and inspire new academic directions. Li is also actively involved in Frogbear’s other academic activities.
One of Frogbear’s primary goals is to develop a global, interdisciplinary research platform. Another of its goals is to support young scholars and foster new talent. The project hopes to offer more diverse and high quality programs and to revitalize the study of East Asian religions internationally.