Photo: Master Taixu, the leader of China’s New Buddhism (source: Wikipedia)
by Zhuo Wang
This Mitacs project studied Master Taixu’s lay education thoughts, and took place at UBC from September to December 2023. Master Taixu is a pioneer of modern Buddhist reform and a Buddhist educator. The academic research on Master Taixu’s thoughts on Buddhist education was mainly focused on the study of Master Taixu’s thoughts on monk education and monk system reform, while there are few studies related to Master Taixu’s thoughts on layman education.
The project revolved around several issues in Master Taixu’s lay education thoughts, which have been resolved:
1. How did Taixu guide lay people to learn Buddhism conceptually, and what is his attitude towards lay people promoting Buddhism?
2. In terms of lay practice, what were the characteristics of Taixu’s thought compared with tradition?
3. What was Taixu’s attitude towards lay organizations, and how did he view the relationship between monks and laity?
I found that Master Taixu’s lay education was deeply rooted in the context of his time. The internal and external challenges faced by Buddhism during the Republican era directly prompted Taixu to propose monastic reforms and the establishment of lay Buddhist organizations. Taixu reflected on the shortcomings of the development of Buddhism in China and believed that the limitation of Buddhism to monasteries led to the decline of Buddhism. Observing the rise and organizational development of lay Buddhists as a societal trend, he emphasized the importance of lay education. Taixu guided lay Buddhists to establish a proper understanding of the Buddha’s teachings, free from superstitions and beliefs in ghosts and deities, and to adopt a rational and worldly-oriented mindset. Against the background of the decline of the Sangha at that time, Taixu had high expectations for the role of lay people in promoting Buddhism. However, he also stressed the need to maintain the ethical relationship between the monastic and lay communities, with the monastic community retaining its leadership role in Buddhism.
With regards to lay practice, Taixu proposed a shift towards the Mahayana progressive method, in response to the shortcomings of traditional Chan and Pure Land sects. He emphasized the importance of practicing human vehicle Buddhism and bodhisattva conduct. Additionally, he introduced the concepts of creating a Pure Land and rebirth in the Pure Land. Although these ideas may seem contradictory, they fundamentally complement each other. In terms of lay organizations, Taixu envisioned the establishment of the Buddhist Zhengxinhui to protect and propagate Buddhism. He regarded the mutually supportive relationship between monks and laypeople as the model for the Zhengxinhui（正信会）. Taixu’s lay education transcended the individual center and was motivated by a strong sense of crisis within Buddhism. He sought to develop a new social framework that would redefine the relationship between Buddhism and society.