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- Sonja Arntzen (U Toronto): Ikkyū and the Crazy Cloud Anthology: Then and Now
My study and selected translations of the Kyōunshū 狂雲集, an anthology of poems in literary Chinese by medieval Rinzai monk Ikkyū Sōjun 休宗純 (1394-1481) was published in 1986. The revised and expanded edition of this work was published this year 2022 by Quirin Press. My talk will focus on the insights and shifts in perception that resulted from the opportunity to revisit the work of my youth at this late point in my life. To make a connection with the conference theme of the potential wisdom and solace in a Buddhist perspective when contemplating the end of existence on many planes, my readings from the Crazy Cloud Anthology will concentrate on the poems from Ikkyū’s later years spent during the catastrophic Ōnin War (1467-1477). Ikkyū’s experience as a refugee watching the world crumble around him are encapsulated in poems that are as poignant and instructive now as ever.
- T. H. Barrett (SOAS): A Sense of an Ending: Chinese Buddhist Eschatology Reconsidered
In the 1970s the Cold War was still in full swing, and many had already confronted its possible conclusion in global nuclear annihilation after experiencing the Cuban missile crisis of 1961. Yet in the Anglophone study of Asia no awareness seemed to exist as to the possibility of reactions to that future that might not be identical to those of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. In 1976 however Dan Overmyer published Folk Buddhist Religion, a volume that drew attention to the apocalyptic visions of some popular groups influenced by Buddhist conceptions, amongst others, of global disaster. Since then, more has been written in this vein, and a considerable literature has grown up, including a certain amount concerning reaction in East Asia to climate change. What have we learned over the past five decades?
- Geoff Barstow (Oregon State): The Dharma-Ending Age Through the Lens of Posthumanism
One of the characteristics of the dharma-ending age is the steady decline of human lifespan and capabilities. Our lifespans, it is sometimes said, will get shorter and we will be increasingly focussed only on obtaining food and basic needs, turning our attention away from religious themes. In some ways, this presentation of humans as brutish and incapable of spiritual advancement sounds a lot like how Buddhist texts have often presented animals. Life as an animals, after all, is usually said to be characterized by ignorance and an inability to do spiritual practice. It seems that the dharma-ending age is characterized, at least in part, by the erasure of the line between the human and animal spheres. This erasure of the human / animal distinction is itself reminiscent of some current discussions about the idea of posthumanism, in which humans are de-centered and seen as just one species of animal among many others. One difference between presentations of the dharma-ending age and this version of posthumanism, however, is that the dharma-ending age is usually presented as a negative, while the erasure of human / animals in posthumanism is often given a positive valence. In this paper I use the parallels between the dharma-ending age and posthumanism to suggest ways in which we might see the dharma ending age not as a wholly negative affair, but rather as a positive correction away from the selfish interests of humanity.
- James Benn (McMaster): Buddhist Self-immolation and Climate Change
On Friday April 22, 2022 (Earth Day), Wynn Bruce, a Buddhist practitioner and climate activist, died after setting fire to himself on the steps of the United States Supreme Court. In 2018, David Buckel, a lawyer and environmental advocate, auto-cremated in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York. In an email sent to the media before he died, Buckel wrote: “Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result—my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.” We will probably see more of these responses to climate change in the future. Although the actions of Bruce and Buckel seem to be inspired by Buddhist auto-cremators of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Buddhist self-immolation has a long history in East Asia. In this paper, I will explore some of the deeper historical connections between Buddhist self-immolation and climate change.
- Kalzang Bhutia (University of Southern California): Rituals to Make the Rain Fall on Time and Repair the Concrete Caves: Himalayan Terma Traditions as Repositories for Rehabilitating the Cosmos in Times of Transformation
The mountainous terrain of the eastern Himalayan state of Sikkim is considered sacred by multiple religious and ethnic communities. According to local Buddhist traditions, the mountains, caves, rivers, rocks, and forests are all home to deities, and rich forms of ritual communication developed to allow for human communities to propitiate the powerful unseen beings who reside with them in the state, which is conceived of as a “hidden land” (Classical Tibetan: sbas yul), replete with special properties for the practice of Buddhism. The wellbeing of these beings is interconnected with the wellbeing of humans both within and beyond Sikkim’s borders. Since Sikkim became a part of India in 1975, the landscape of the state has been fundamentally transformed by projects that are presented as forms of “state development.” Roads have been cut into cliffs to reach even the most remote villages; huge tunnels have been dug into mountains; and rivers have dried up, or stand stagnant as a bright turquoise green where they are contained by dams. These new interventions of the landscape can be interpreted as ruptures in Sikkim’s sacred landscape, and much of the powerful activism that has taken place in Sikkim has been inspired by traditional narratives from Indigenous and Buddhist worldviews that position these interventions as part of narratives of the damage, decline and loss of Sikkim’s spiritual wellbeing. This activism has successfully halted a number of large-scale projects; however, scars and gashes in the landscape have been left behind, in the forms of half-built dams, tunnels that are filled with water, and large abandoned pieces of construction machinery left to rust. These forms of disturbance have taken place at a time when climate-related disasters and disruption has become part of daily life in the mountains.Sikkim’s landscape is transforming on multiple scales. However, rather than posit that these are forms of corruption or tragedy or decline without hope of return, in this paper I will explore how these interventions and changes can be enfolded within Sikkim’s sacred geography in processes of prophetically-inspired remaking and reimagining of inter-dimensional relationships. In Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet (University of Minnesota Press, 2017), editors Anna Tsing, Heather Anne Swanson, Elaine Gan, and Nils Bubandt embark on quests to think about how, since this Anthropocene is already here, we can adapt to changing conditions, and perhaps in that adaptation a new re-vitalization of the world can take place. By engaging with Classical Tibetan prophetic histories that see histories as cyclical and landscape manuals, ritual traditions, and contemporary discussions among Sikkimese Buddhist communities and their neighbors, I will think about potential pathways for approaching the scarred landscape and retreating glaciers in alternative ways. This paper is not intended to normalize or valorize short-sighted destructive forms of development or the many forms of suffering wrought by climate change, but instead to suggest alternatives for how the sacred hidden land may be rehabilitated with care by engaging with Buddhist and Indigenous frameworks.
- Daniel Capper (University of Southern Missouri): American Buddhist Environmental Ethics and Aggravations of Climate Change from Space Debris
Although often overlooked, the ongoing ecological problem of space debris, or the garbage left behind from previous space missions, continues to impact the victims of climate change in at least three ways. First, studies have indicated that the rocket launches that spawn debris also emit greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases additionally increase with the vaporizing in Earth’s atmosphere of used spacecraft such as satellites. These two factors then combine with some negative knock-on outcomes of debris, such as the radioactivity that spilled over western Canada from the Cosmos 954 satellite that was not completely vaporized upon reentry, with these extra effects impacting diverse environmental entities that already are reeling from the challenges of global warming. Countering this unfortunate scenario, though, are the ethics of American Buddhists. According to data collected among 121 Buddhists in the United States as well as a 78-member general public control sample, field subjects provide some effective antidotes to the problem of space debris and hence climate change. Buddhists from the field supply a 21st century grassroots environmental ethic that intertwines the principle of dependent arising (pratītyasamutpāda) with the value of nonharm (ahiṃsā). As a result, Buddhists in this study support some solutions that appear visibly in space policy debates, such as a demand for immediate ameliorative action by the global community, a strategic limit to the number of space flights, and the creation of orbiting recycling centers. In significant supplement to these solutions, American Buddhists, in a manner that is distinctive within the space debris literature, also effectively express environmental justice concerns on behalf of otherwise-neglected nonhuman animals. In these ways Buddhist voices delineate robust and unique paths for solving the contemporary problem of space debris and, by extension, global warming.
- Chia-ju Chang 張嘉如 (Brooklyn College – CUNY): Baizhang’s Wild Fox: Gong’an as Eco-Therapy for the Anthropocene Crisis
Much of the way we respond to the climate change crisis today repeats our routinized old habits. For example, most people (including me) may respond to the crisis by repeating established consumption patterns, such as the use of reusable bags or paper straws. While these provide relief, our basic way of life and mindset as consumers, and indeed the entire economic structure, has not changed. In other words, we are still collectively responding to an unprecedented large-scale climate crisis in a manner that is familiar to us without radically altering our cognition and our lifestyle. This is an interesting but unfortunate problem that humanity faces over and over. That is: when humanity is met with uncertainties in time of crisis, the response strategy is regressive. Instead of taking a radical move to revamp our way of life, we instinctively shrink back into our familiar (techno-capitalist) comfort zone of inertia and convenience, and use the easiest, low-cost ways to “save the planet” by doing token changes.What this suggests is a gap between our knowledge and action: when our human civilization is aware of its own crisis and must make changes immediately, we are caught, conditioned, and constrained by habitual (inert) thinking and behavior. These “habit energies” include subconscious instincts (e.g., denial or repetitive obsessive-compulsive disorder), biological needs/imperatives (e.g., forces like species reproduction, expansion, and maximization of resources), and cultural doxa (e.g., the scapegoat mechanism), all recurrent patterns that originate in our deep unconscious or beginningless karmic imprints or xiqi. Such mental patterning or “upstream consciousness” is the source of the individual and social habitus, and when the source is polluted (e.g., in the form of self-centered or dualistic conceptions), it prevents us from taking innovative measures to respond to the current crisis.Since these deeply ingrained mental habits have seriously affected our ability to respond to crisis events, how then do we combat them? This paper proposes to turn to Zen kōan (Chanzong gong’an) practice. Though this soteriological practice aims at realizing one’s Buddha nature, the techniques employed in gong’an training such as contradiction, defamiliarization, and dissonance, can nonetheless help us break our toxic mental habits even if we do not formally meditate. As such, gong’an studies can also serve as a secular “eco-therapy” in time of the Anthropocene crisis. Here, I use “Baizhang’s Wild Fox” (baizhang yehu) to illustrate.To see gong’an narratives or studies as “eco-therapy,” we need to expand our conventional understanding of “ecology” to include “ecology of mind,” to borrow Gregory Bateson’s term. The former operates on an ontological assumption about the existence of external world, whereas the latter, likened to phenomenology, suspends the realist assumption about the world when the object appears in cognition. From the standpoint of the Yogācāric ecology of mind, the transformative changes in the “upstream,” which is our consciousness, can lead to changes in the “downstream” ecology, which is our environment. Here “Baizhang’s Wild Fox” serves as a paradigm of Yogācāric eco-gong’an, as it draws our attention to our hidden mental habits in the metaphoric form of “inner or past-life wild foxes” that become externalized in the anthropocentric behavioral patterns of destruction and exploitation. If we want to tackle the problem of, for example, anthropogenic species extinction (i.e., “outer fox”), the Yogācāric way is to “detoxify” the upstream consciousness: to tackle our individual and collective “inner fox.” To address the 21st century Anthropocene crisis, we need gong’an as eco-therapy to transform our ecology of mind.
- Melissa Curley (Ohio): Paying Attention to Nonlife in Buddhist Philosophy of Nature
Theorists writing on the anthropocene have drawn an eclectic set of ideas out of Buddhist repertoires, thinking with mandalas, webs of interdependence, and notions of co-constitutive becoming. This paper focuses on the mobilization of Japanese Buddhist notions of the buddhahood of non-sentient beings in the context of environmental philosophy, particularly within arguments for recognizing rocks and stones as living beings. It seeks to put these arguments in testy conversation with Elizabeth Povinelli’s (2016) critique of this disavowal of what she calls “original and radical Nonlife.” On the basis of Povinelli’s critique, the paper moves to consider the place nothingness might occupy in a Buddhist philosophy of nature, thinking especially about what we may learn from Buddhist traditions about how to care for rocks and stones as nonlife.
- Chris Goto-Jones (UVic): Smoke over Mt. Toribe:Ikkyū and the Dharma of not-turning-away from The End
This paper revolves around a kōan for our times: if these are the end-times, if everything is already lost, how do we live now? It suggests that the maverick monk Ikkyū attempted to resolve this kōan with his eccentric way of life.Most accounts of mappō-shisō (thought on/in the Last Age of Dharma) in Japan focus on the Kamakura jidai (1185–1333) and especially on the engagements of its major Buddhist thinkers and practitioners, such as Eisai, Hōnen, Shinran, Dōgen, and Nichiren. These figures are towering innovators and revisionists in the history of Japanese Buddhism, seeking to fashion a Buddhism that might still be effective for Japan in the midst of what was seen as the Last Age of the Dharma, as suggested by the historical tumult, disasters, and moral decline that apparently led up to that period. Many of these figures at the turn of the 13th century were influenced by the Mappō tōmyō-ki (Beacon of the Last Dharma Age), often (if controversially) attributed to the much earlier figure of Saichō (767-822), who lived in the time of the start of mappō according to some calculations. This suggests that concern for mappō had been in the air for at least 300 years before the Kamakura jidai, reflecting an ongoing and earnest concern about decadence, spiritual crisis, and existential threat in Japanese Buddhism.The eccentric figure of Ikkyū (1394–1481) is not often included in these mappō narratives, yet his life during the tumultuous Ashikaga bakufu (1336–1573) certainly turned this Rinzai monk towards an engagement with the problem of living in the End Times. In this paper, I will explore how this ostensibly irreverent ‘Crazy Cloud’ strove to model a Zen solution to mappō by rejecting office, credentials, and status, and thus rejecting institutionalised Buddhism altogether for most of his career. Far from representing a collapse of Buddhist morality and training, this iconoclastic vagabond monk emerges as one of the most disciplined and devout figures of his time. I suggest that his way of life was his resolution of a kōan: how do we live during mappō?Focussing on his illustrated manuscript, Gaikotsu (Skeletons, 1457), I consider how Ikkyū argued that the only way to escape the decadence and corruption of the time, including the concomitant decadence and decline of Buddhism itself, was to face fully the reality of the fact that we are all already dead. An implication of Ikkyū’s devastating critique is that looking away from the ruins (perhaps by distracting ourselves with wealth, prestige, power, or even hope) is not only failing to engage or serve, but is also a feature of the crisis itself; as a constituent of the problem, chasing fortune cannot be the solution.Ikkyū’s analysis provides a powerful perspective on the environmental, political, and cultural issues we are facing today. Not only does he write from a time of cultural and political chaos, but he also writes scathingly of those individuals and institutions that have made use of the chaos and suffering to become outrageously wealthy and influential. For Ikkyū, such agents are quite literally responsible for creating hell on earth.
- Ling Han (The Chinese University of Hong Kong) and Chengpang Lee (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University): Gender, Animal Welfare, and Environmentalism in Taiwanese Buddhism
Gender and Buddhism are two factors contributing positively to people’s environmentalist attitude and behavior in Taiwan. In this paper, drawing upon the discussion of three cases: Tzu-Chi, Hong Shi/Life Conservation Association (LCA), and Sheng Ming, we discuss the diverging practices toward the environment and animals among the new Buddhist organizations in Taiwan. We further use the case of Hong Shi/LCA to discuss Buddhists’ engagement in the animal protection movement in Taiwan and the internal conflict on the issue of animal euthanasia. We argue that female-founded new Buddhist organizations are at the forefront of various environmental and animal-related issues in Taiwan and East Asia, while male-founded new Buddhist organizations are prone to stick to traditional practices. We offer a preliminary explanation of this difference by looking at the leaders’ positionality within the field.
- Rey Sheng Her (Tzu Chi U): Cherishes Material Life to Reach the Economy of Goodness
Every material conveys life. This is the core philosophy of Buddhism. Dharma Master Cheng Yen expects volunteers to embrace and cherish material life through environmental recycling works. Volunteers learn to reuse materials, reduce consumption, and respect material life by recycling work.This essay intends to apply the concept of “material life” to see through the mass production in modern capitalism and its result of exploiting our mother earth. By encouraging mass consumption to boom economic development, we exhausted the natural resources and caused severe climate change and many other disasters that endanger human life and our planet.The fundamental philosophy and mechanism of the capitalist economy shall be reconsidered. Its rationality and efficiency in pursuing our happiness also need to reexamine. I propose the idea of material life that Buddha and Master Cheng Yen advocate for solving the problem of the current economic system in which unlimited consuming materials and our natural sources will eventually end the planet and humans.With the philosophy of interdependence arising, that Buddhism rooted, every being co-existed, and nothing could sustain itself alone. Therefore, cherishing and nourishing all beings—humans, animals, and materials- are alike; by this, we unite all things into one, loving other beings equal to love oneself.
- Kentaro Ide (Princeton): Transforming All into the Powerless: Hōnen’s Critical Use of the Buddhist Eschatology in Early Medieval Japan
Buddhist authors in early medieval Japan, from the tenth to thirteenth century, often invoked the eschatological discourse of the Final Dharma age (Jpn. mappō; Ch. mofa) to describe, reflect on, and respond to ongoing socio-religious changes. In history of East Asian Buddhist traditions, the discourse of the Final Dharma constituted a part of discursive repertoire of Buddhist authors who legitimized a particular teaching that corresponds to a certain “capacity” and a condition of “time.” With a general understanding of history of this discourse, historians of Japanese Buddhism have addressed the central significance of mappō in doctrinal, ritual, and institutional development of Buddhism from the tenth to thirteenth century. Early scholarship once argued that the growing presence of the term mappō in early medieval texts represents existential fear or overarching reality of the period, in which people faced socio-political upheavals, a “decline” of the Buddhist establishment, and a series of natural disasters. More recent studies, however, rejected the earlier accounts of mappō as historical reality of “decline” and proposed to deem people’s appeal to mappō as discursive strategy for promoting specific doctrines or cultic programs in the context of rapid socio-religious transformations. These studies emphasized there were at least two different uses of the mappō discourse in early medieval Japan: The first one invoked the discourse of mappō, the Final Dharma age, to call for practitioners’ devotion and effort to overcome a disadvantageous condition of the Buddhist establishment; Another less common one conceived the mappō to be the time when traditional disciplines are no longer viable and the current order of the Buddhist path is leading to its end, claiming that it is useless to be persistent in the existing doctrines and norms. And a Buddhist master Hōnen (1133-1212) is representative of the latter trend and took its salvific consequence to extremes.Based on this overview, this paper first examines how Hōnen appealed to the Buddhist eschatological discourse for the purpose of conceptualizing the powerless state of sentient beings who could do nothing but entrust one’s salivation to the Other Power of the Buddha. The paper first analyze Hōnen’s use of various hyperbolic expressions that illustrate the soteriological dynamics of the Final Dharma age, mappō. It argues that Hōnen expected the dynamics of mappō relativizes the conventional standards of wisdom, morality, and merit-accumulation, and thus transforms all into those equal to the worst evildoers. Hōnen thus modified the mappō discourse to emphasize one’s need to appreciate the infinitude of the Other Power of the Buddha that has been constantly working beyond the logic of karmic causality. The paper also compared Hōnen’s appeal to the Buddhist eschatology with his contemporaneous authors’, such as Kamo no Chōmei (1155-1216)’s portrayal of his time as a “degenerate age” as marked by a series of disasters. By juxtaposing their descriptions of the Dharma-ending age, I discuss how Hōnen invented a soteriological mindset for canceling anxieties about the uncertain future.
- Daryl Jamieson (Kyushu): Is nowhere free of bad tidings?: Artistic response to the climate crisis through Japanese mappō thought
Over a three-year period from 2014-17, as part of my artistic research into aspects of Japanese philosophy and aesthetics that could be usefully revived in response to the climate crisis, I wrote and produced three music-theatre works collectively titled the Vanitas series. The first, a monoopera called Matsumushi addressed Japanese conceptions of landscape through the Buddhist syncretic aesthetics of Zenchiku’s nō. The second, a wordless music-theatre ritual for shō (doubling u), viola, and ‘cello called fallings took as its focus the fugal nature of overlapping cyclical patterns of rising and falling (focussing, per the title, on the latter), with mappō as the central conceptual frame. The final part of the trilogy, Is nowhere free of bad tidings?, for shakuhachi, 2 kotos, biwa, and percussion, was a site-specific work for Ichijō Ekan Sansō garden in Kamakura structured around Kamo-no-Chōmei’s lament for the fallen age he was living through, Hōjōki. It included eschatological texts from both mediaeval Japan and mediaeval Latin sources, and was recognised as the winner of the 2018 Ichiyanagi Toshi Contemporary Prize, with Ichiyanagi saying that the work is ‘based on a deep consideration of the flux of Japanese history’ and that it ‘succeeds in theatrically expressing … the transient spirit of various times and societies, rendering a picture of the world darkly tinged by the harshness of reality’. In this paper I will delve into the aspects of Japanese mappō thought which inspired this series, showing how they can inform works (with narrative texts, collage texts, or no texts) which are explicitly about contemporary environmental degradation. The series title, Vanitas, refers back to a 16th-17th-century style of painting in the Netherlands (as well as to Salvatore Sciarrino’s 1983 opera of the same name), and there is an underlying theme of comparing the Christian and Japanese Buddhist eschatological artistic traditions through the pieces which I will also discuss. Through my explication of the Vanitas series and its mediaeval Japanese inspiration, as well as other examples of both mediaeval nō and contemporary artistic practice, I will show the practical contemporary uses of mediaeval Japanese Buddhist aesthetics for writers, interpreters, and audiences of music and theatre wishing to find alternative ways of addressing the climate crisis today.
- Songjoo Kim 金松柱 (University of Melbourne): Buddhist Literati Dispute Hierarchies of Life: Responding to Environmental Destruction in the Early Anthropocene
We live in an era directly threatened by climate change and global epidemics, both by-products of human activities. The deep-rooted afflictions of anthropocentrism and disregard for the planet’s environment are being returned upon us in the form of natural disasters. In recent years, floods and forest fires have increased to unprecedented levels and brought a stop to many forms of human activity, revealing the myopic nature of anthropocentrism in modern society and encouraging us to change our worldview. Global interest in sustainable and ecological paradigms accelerated in the late twentieth century as humans increasingly recognized the need to fundamentally reorganize society and solve existing environmental problems through a shift from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism. And the humanities must play a guiding role in this transformation.Returning to the era before the industrial revolution resulted in the privileged positions of science and capital, this article will shed light on the discourse of Buddhists who wanted to stop the destruction of nature in the Song dynasty, the era of early capitalism. I find that the accelerated use of land for agriculture and other purposes in the Song dynasty led to significant changes for the survival of plant and animal life. Therefore, I posit the Song dynasty as an early Anthropocene. The term “Anthropocene” is commonly applied to the epoch beginning with the industrial revolution in about 1800, and perhaps even more so for the industrial expansion that has accelerated since World War II. As an extension of ecocritical thought, this concept indicates that the productive powers of humankind have expanded to the point that they rival natural forces and play a significant role in determining the biological and geological contexts of the planet. The Song dynasty can be said to be a transitional period of reinterpreting nature in a human-centered manner as people began to commercialize nature in earnest. Therefore, positing this period as the early Anthropocene is useful as a means to pivot our perspective from the anthropocentric and to critique environmental change within the contexts of hundreds or thousands of years of human and civilizational development.During the Song dynasty, many elites attained a kind of consciousness of the need to restore the intrinsic value of nature through their writings. However, in the formation and inheritance of their consciousness, the Buddhist perspective on living beings – that all life is equal and all beings are interconnected – was particularly influential and remained at the heart of these debates.Through the study of Buddhist principles in Song dynasty writings on the relationship between humans and nature, this project examines an early reflection on anthropocentrism and the perspectives presented to overcome the crisis of the destruction of nature. Through this examination of past anthropocentrism, we can reflect upon the anthropocentrism of our own time and engage in a dialogue with these literati to consider the ideological changes needed to overcome ecological crisis in the Anthropocene.
- LIU Yi 劉屹 (Capital Normal University): “末法”之後的世界：存續還是毀滅？
- Livia Monnet (University of Montréal): “The World as a Koan” or the Art of Radical (Ecological) Insight: In-aesthetics, Performance, and Climate Change in the Animation Art of Miwa Matreyek and Lu Yang
This paper examines two recent animated works by award-winning artists Miwa Matreyek and Lu Yang: Infinitely Yours (2019) and DOKU: Digital Alaya (2021), respectively. Infinitely Yours, which won the Golden Nica for Computer Animation, Prix Ars Electronica in 2020, extends the artist’s long-time practice of live performance and animation projections into a haunting meditation on climate change, the Anthropocene, and the devastating environmental impact of global extractive capitalism’s practices. DOKU: Digital Alaya is part of the music video series DOKU whose protagonist is an asexual avatar closely resembling the artist. While Digital Alaya’s conception and aesthetic are quite different from those of Infinitely Yours, the two works nevertheless share several features: the prominent role of performance; the highlighting of some of the consequences of climate change such as widespread forest fires; the showcasing of factors contributing to climate change such as large-scale animal farming.Drawing on Victor Fan’s Buddhist-inspired media philosophy, on recent scholarship in performance theory, ecofeminism, animation philosophy, and Thich Nhat Hahn’s environmental philosophy, the presentation argues that the animated works of Matreyek and Lu Yang articulate a philosophy of awakened action that in turn emerges from a radical ecological insight. Mediated by a reflexive in-aesthetics (i.e. the observation of the image-consciousness’s progress toward insight) as well as by an equally reflexive series of symbolic enactments of deaths and rebirths, this radical ecological insight into or as an apocalyptic ultimate emptiness also suggests that consciousness’s awakening to or grasping of its own technicity – a technicity that both Infinitely Yours and Digital Alaya identify with the destructive karmic force of global capitalism – will have to be accompanied by radical, intersectional, mindful action. Such radical mindful action will enable a strengthening of our connection with the Earth and effect radical transformation by cutting through dualistic thinking.
- Brian Nichols (Mount Royal): Buddhist Uncertainty as Antidote to Colonialist Certainty and “Crisis Epistemology”
Indigenous scholar Kyle Whyte notes the limitations of embracing a “crisis epistemology” which seeks a clear, instrumentalist solution to a problem based on conceits of certainty rather than embracing an integrated view of ecological complexity with an eye toward genuine restoration, sustainability and justice. If crisis epistemologies lack creative and nuanced engagement with possible futures they easily perpetuate, if unintentionally, destructive colonial industrial-growth paradigms that have brought humans into conflict with the biosphere. This paper will explore the problem of certainty and the way that Buddhism offers an alternative to colonialist “crisis epistemology.” The value of uncertainty is manifest in Buddhism as a recognition of the nature of samsara as marked by impermanence, dukkha, and no-self (the trilakṣaṇa) and comes out explicitly with the “don’t know mind” (buzhi xin 不知心)of the Chan tradition. I will examine the application of these ideas within contemporary engaged Buddhist communities and explore how they have seized upon uncertainty as exemplified in “don’t know mind” to generate “wise hope” or “active hope” to move beyond despair and into effective activism. I argue that Buddhist comfort with uncertainty provides an antidote to the instrumentalist conceit of certainty and opens space for transformative activism.
- Rolf Scheuermann (University of Heidelberg): Countering Climate Change with Prayers? On Tibetan sMon lam Practice, EcoDharma and Extinction Rebellion
While some regions of the world are not yet strongly affected by climate change, it is getting more and more visible in others. Indeed, the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC shows that the impact of the climate crisis is unevenly distributed and that the consequences for India, where Buddhism evolved, could be drastic, as parts of the country may be rendered uninhabitable in the medium term. With the increase of heat waves, droughts, floods, and other natural catastrophes, climate change can no longer be neglected. It influences and impacts public discourse, film, literature, and art. Apocalyptic sentiments increasingly enter the associated narratives, even attributing to it the status of an ecological apocalypse that will eventually lead to the extinction of human life on Earth. The presence of apocalyptic sentiments may fall on fertile soil among religious people of various faiths if their doctrinal systems include apocalyptic phenomena such as the Christian apocalypse, the Old Norse Ragnarök, the Indian Kali Yuga, or the notion of the degeneration of the Dharma. Considering the individual religious beliefs of a community, it is important for decision makers who want to implement climate change actions to assess “which practices are acceptable within their religion”.This paper addresses the issue of climate change from the perspective of Tibetan Buddhism, with a particular focus on the relevance of the Tibetan practice of smon lam prayers (Skt. praṇidhāna) or “paths of aspirations” (in German: “Wege des Strebens”). While in some religious traditions the future is predetermined and therefore not subject to change, the future is not a given according to Buddhist beliefs but is grounded in the doctrine of dependent origination (Skt. pratītyasamūtpāda, Tib. rten ’brel), which lays out causality, i.e., how all things come into being in dependence upon causes and conditions. This becomes apparent when looking at divination manuals where unfavorable predictions are often given alongside their possible remedies. Divinatory methods can be understood as tools that allow us to examine the current state of affairs of causes and conditions, which enable us to not only predict but also alter future events on these grounds. This implies a certain degree of contingency regarding the realization of climate change forecasts, which derives from the possibility to apply countermeasures, both on a worldly and a religious level.At first glance, countering climate change with prayers appears futile in that it does not necessarily lead to corresponding actions. However, as suggested in an earlier paper, Buddhist dystopian narratives of the end of the Dharma have a pedagogical dimension, which may have “contributed to Buddhism’s extraordinary ability to maintain a restorative enthusiasm” throughout its history. In addition to that, I will argue here that smon lam practice is grounded in the understanding that practitioners can shape and effectively bring about utopian worlds through the power of their merit in combination with continuous aspirations. Therefore, I will lay out the positive influence that smon lam prayers, as well as the Buddhist dystopian and utopian narratives contained therein, may exert on an individual’s willingness to counter or adapt to climate change.
- Dagmar Schwerk (Leipzig University): “Times of Strife” as Didactics: Buddhist Ethics, Natural Disaster, and the Climate Crisis
In recent academic and public discourses, the impact of the concept of time on our understanding of the climate crisis has begun to be pointed out more frequently as an important variable. Kyle Powys Whyte, an Indigenous philosopher and environmental justice scholar, has demonstrated in his work, how, in fact, the Western notion of linear time is impeding effective climate policies and how marginalized non-Western indigenous concepts of cyclic time hold immense potential in tackling the climate crisis—emphasizing the importance of overcoming Anglo-Eurocentric perspectives. In fact, the mere terminology of “climate change” inherently presupposes a linear understanding of time and is usually taken for granted in public discourses.In this paper, I will therefore address how in the Tibetan Buddhist world, emic notions of time(s), concretely, the didactics of the “age of strife” (Sanskrit: kaliyuga) have influenced individual agency and ethical behavior in society in times of crises and became part of political and institutional settings. In the “age of strife,” wars, natural disasters, diseases, and epidemics are said to be the prevailing challenges. Up to the present day, this concept has been pervasively appropriated both in diverse Tibetan literary genres and Tibetan Buddhist communities. I will provide a multi-dimensional and diachronic snapshot of this important but ambivalent concept of the “age of strife” in the Tibetan Buddhist world based Tibetan language sources from Bhutan with an emphasis on developing new perspectives on the climate crisis today.Bhutan is a nation state with an alternative non-Western development path that was not colonized and links South and East Asia geographically, culturally, and linguistically; and is therefore a unique example of Tibetan Buddhist “(post)modernity.” In Bhutan, Buddhist cosmology and ethics are institutionalized in the constitutional framework of a twofold religious-political governmental structure and the policies of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which strongly focus on sustainable development and the protection of the environment.In sum, I will address how the rhetoric and didactics of the “age of strife” have been concretely utilized in the social and political sphere to enact Buddhist ethical behavior beyond a merely theoretical and doctrinal notion. This will contribute to a new understanding how the climate crisis, Tibetan Buddhist cosmology, individual agency, and Buddhist ethics intersect.
- SHENG Kai 聖凱 (TsinghuaU): 正法與末法：唐代禪宗的末法觀念
- Kurt Spellmeyer (Rutgers University): Buddhism after Eschatology
Because the dharma understands temporality as an illusion and not real, it has a special role to play as we approach a catastrophe greater than any humankind has faced. But Buddhism can play this liberating role only if it first liberates itself from the unexamined Western paradigms that control the discourse by supplying terms like “apocalypse,” “End Times,” and “eschatology.” These terms attest to the persistence of the West’s postcolonial hegemony, and by employing them uncritically, Buddhists help to perpetuate ways of thinking responsible for the very problem they are trying to address.The word “eschatology” refers to a specific event in the Christian schema of human history: the Eschaton (Gk.), literally “the last thing,” which will end not only life on earth but also time itself. Christian teaching holds that with arrival of the Eschaton, this world will be completely destroyed and Jesus will return, vanquishing evil forever. The Bible says that Jesus’ followers will then be reborn in deathless bodies, and they will live for eternity under his leadership as heaven’s king.From the standpoint of enlightened Mind, however, tropes like the Eschaton and the Apocalypse are nothing but fantasies created by clinging (upadana, 取). The division of the timeless “now” into a beginning, middle and end is inextricably linked to the illusion of the self, an “isolated individuality,” which is falsely imagined as undergoing birth, maturation, and death when no birth and no death actually take place. Not only do modern people in the East and West engage in clinging when they internalize the logic of temporality, but they make the same error when they announce that the planet is “dying” and they believe that they have to “do something” in order to “save” it. As the Diamond Sutra states, there has never been a world to save.
It is, in fact, the Western sense of temporality that has unleashed the world-destroying processes now underway. As Buddhists we should recognize the catastrophe we face as the necessary consequence of our collective karma, a product of what the sutras call “beginningless greed, anger and delusion.” Buddhist teaching also warns, however, that cosmic cycles of destruction and renewal will never stop and are merely “causes and conditions.” If we allow them to distract us from the pursuit of awakening, then the dharma-ending age 末法 will indeed arrive, but as the sutras also make clear, no external factors can bring this about—only our failure to practice cultivation (修行).“Buddhism after eschatology” means embracing the unfolding disaster as a precious opportunity to wake up—to free ourselves from the illusion of temporality into order to encounter face-to-face the timeless Dharmakaya (法身). To cultivate ourselves with fearlessness even if the world bursts into flames–this is nothing else but the lion’s roar. And by doing so, we will prepare the seeds for the future flourishing of wisdom, if not in this world then in another one that has yet to manifest itself in the unending triloka (三界).
- Barend ter Haar (Hamburg): Black wind for seven days and nights: a Chinese apocalyptic disaster
China has a long tradition of messianic or millenarian prophecies. Most attention usually goes to the saviours, of which there is a broad variety. But less attention is paid to the disasters that marked the end of times. This moment or period was marked by a variety of disasters, many rather predictable, such as famine, war, and floods. From time to time, prophecies circulated that a Black Wind (heifeng 黑風) would arrive and blow for seven days and seven nights (qiri qiye七日七夜), causing great destruction, but also initiating the advent of a saviour who would protect the chosen ones against these apocalyptic disasters. In this contribution I investigate this particular disaster, in an attempt to throw some light on how people might have experienced this particular prophecy.
- Hoai Khai Tran (VinUniversity): Punting through a Shallowed World: Master Buddha’s Watery Eschatology amidst the Rising Tides of Climate Change in the Mekong Delta
In the mid-nineteenth century, Đoàn Minh Huyên taught along the waterways of the lower Mekong Delta that as humankind’s morality shallowed during the receding of the Dharma, the waters of his homeland would rise in stormy deluge that would leave only the high ground of the Seven Mountains above the floodwaters to inaugurate a new era. Huyên’s fluid teaching organized around sacred geography and perpetuated through water imagery inspired the formation of traditions like Hòa Hảo and Tứ Ân Hiếu Nghĩa that continue to flourish today. However routinized Huyên’s millenarian message may have become over the last half century, his teachings bear new relevance vis-à-vis climate change. Not only does Huyên’s watery eschatology enjoy a significant following in Vietnam, but owing to online dissemination, it also circulates freely among Vietnamese diasporic communities. This global reach combined with the lay oriented, “this worldly” practice of traditions associated with Huyên’s teachings, their established organizations and networks, and the fact that much of the millenarian fervor of Huyên’s day has since been channeled towards charity and good works make these traditions well-poised to emerge as a movement dedicated to stemming the effects of climate change. However, should the lower Mekong Delta come increasingly to resemble the catastrophic vision of Huyên’s “water world” and attempts to attenuate the perils of climate change fall short, then the relatively meek activity of these traditions in recent history do not preclude the resurfacing of the violence and upheaval inspired by Huyên’s prophecy in previous centuries.
- Sharon Wesoky (Allegheny College): “Chasing Zombies”: Buddhism and Political Subjectivity in the Capitalocene
“Carbon-fueled capitalism is a zombie system, voracious but sterile,” writes Roy Scranton in his book Learning to Die in the Anthropocene. “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,” writes Marxist theorist Fredric Jameson in Seeds of Time. This paper proposes to place Buddhism in dialogue with western Marxist and feminist thinkers to consider how Buddhist philosophy as embodied mindfulness and ethics can help resolve the problem of the political subject confronting the “end-times” of global climate change. While western social theory on its own presents a clear diagnosis of the structural dimensions of the problem and offers critiques on the nature of the political subject created through capitalism andneoliberalism (e.g., Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, The New Way of the World; Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos), it often undertheorizes the ways that new forms of subjectivity are necessary to transform the human relationship to nature in the Anthropocene (or, what Jason Moore terms the Capitalocene as an acknowledgement of the overriding causal importance of capitalism to the climate crisis). This paper will draw on the work of both Buddhist practitioners (Reb Tenshin Anderson, Norman Fischer) and contemporary Buddhist philosophers (David Loy, Stephanie Kaza, Avram Alpert, Clair Brown) to theorize a different notion of subjectivity constructed on a foundation of embodied mindfulness and compassion, a subjectivity that could be both emotionally and materially more satisfying than neoliberal consumerism.
- Jeff Wilson (Waterloo): Environmental Activities in North American and Hawaiian Jodo Shinshu Temples
This paper documents and analyses environmentalist activities in the temples of the Buddhist Churches of America, Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada, and Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii. Drawing on oral history interviews, archival documents, and recordings of public presentations, I argue that such activities primarily cluster around three themes: 1) educational efforts, 2) temple greening, and 3) ritual activity. Environmental awareness began to appear in the Buddhist Churches of America by 1970. However, concerted, organized efforts at preventing environmental destruction and inculcating ecological consciousness in Buddhist practitioners only emerged in recent decades, as best represented by the founding of the EcoSangha movement. This movement eventually received official approbation and spread in grassroots fashion to impact many member temples. The Hawaiian temples created their own program, known as Green Hongwanji, in 2015. The forms of engagement pursued by these movements are significantly shaped by a confluence of Japanese and American/Canadian historical and cultural forces. On the Japanese side, these include the cultural attitude of mottainai (“non-wasting”), gratitude to ancestors (extended to encompass all the forces that have supported one’s life), and indebtedness. On the North American/Canadian side, these include temples as sources of community organizing and ethnic identity, the post-Carson environmental movement, the Dharma school system, the tendency to apply efforts inwards toward the temple community rather than activism in the wider public, and the particular mix of communal activity and individual responsibility that defines the North American and Hawaiian Jodo Shinshu approach to Buddhist practice.
- Guo Wu 伍國 (Allegheny College): How Can Animals as Moral Agents Inspire Humans—Revisiting the Transmission of the Jātaka into China
In the Jātaka stories there were multiple animals and birds that had been yet to research in a more in-depth and thorough way. The eminent philosopher Tang Yongtong argued that Chinese Buddhism during the Han dynasty was but magical and ritualistic performance hardly distinguishable from Daoism of the same time. However, based on close reading of the Jātaka stories in Liudu jijing[Sutra of the Six Paramitas], on which Tang Yongtong did not elaborate except one mentioning in his history of Buddhism of medieval China, and Da Fangbian Fo Baoen Jing, as well as the reincarnated deer stories in Xuanzang’s Da Tang xiyuji, I would like to venture a hypothesis that telling moral-teaching stories was a key strategy of early Buddhism to engage the Chinese people, and the prolific and persistent use of the imageries of a wide range of animals made Buddhism distinct from both Confucianism and Daoism that rarely put animals in the center of analysis. At the same time, the animals’ stories resonate with the Chinese ethical values of filial piety, responsibly, and self-sacrifice. A careful analysis of the use of herbivores such as deer, turtles, wild geese, and monkeys as a device of narrative in the Jātaka stories demonstrate that animals were not only humanized but also moralized to the extent that they became the source of inspiration and instructors of humans. Turning animals into articulate moral agents render them no longer the object of human sympathy as in Confucianism nor metaphors in philosophical Daoism, but intellectually equal and even ethically superior to humans. I argue that the Buddhist idea of cherishing all sentient beings was not merely based upon compassion but also a non-human, egalitarian perspective that acknowledges animals’ subjectivity as autonomous emotional-moral agents as well as the Buddha’s own multiple non-human incarnations. It is this unique dimension of Buddhism that complemented Chinese native cultural tradition in history and deserves more attention today.
- Teresa Zimmerman-Liu (California State University): Applying the Buddhist “Toolkit” to Promote Sustainable Lifestyles: The Case of Taiwan’s Humanistic Buddhists
Taiwan made dramatic improvement in environmental sustainability during the first two decades of the 21st century. In 2005, Taiwan ranked 145 out of 146 countries on the Environmental Sustainability Index, but by 2016, Taiwan had improved to 60 out of 183 countries on the Environmental Performance Index (Hsu, et. al. 2016) with the greatest 10-year percentage improvement (26.96%) among all countries in East Asia. Robert Weller identifies Taiwan’s humanistic Buddhist groups as a major pro-environmental force in society. The contribution of these groups lies primarily in their ability to inculcate among a significant segment of the populace green lifestyle behaviors, such as recycling, vegetarianism, using mass transit, and reducing consumption. Lee and Han (Unpublished) use quantitative analysis of the fifth wave of data in the Taiwan Social Change Survey (TSCS 2005-2009) to confirm Weller’s (2006) qualitative finding that membership in Taiwan’s humanistic Buddhist groups is significantly correlated with adopting pro-environmental lifestyle habits.
This paper uses data from the author’s four-year multi-sited ethnographic study (2015-2019) of two Taiwan Buddhist groups that most closely align with Venerable Yinshun’s teachings on how committed groups of monastic and lay believers can produce a pure land on earth: namely, Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation and Dharma Drum Mountain. It finds that, in addition to their universal Mahayana bodhisattva practice among all four categories of believers, Buddhist perceptions of cause and effect have enabled these groups to respond effectively to the changing conditions of environmental degradation since the 1990s. Moreover, because Buddhist dharma entails both teaching and practice, the groups respond to environmental challenges with integrated teachings, practices, and behavioral norms that promote lifestyle changes among the populace. Finally, the Buddhist concept of upaya, or skillful means, has allowed these groups to adapt their teachings to various audiences, as they seamlessly code-switch in the framing of their environmental message from the Buddhist Discourse System to the Confucian (or Three Teachings) Discourse System and to the rational-scientific Utilitarian Discourse System. These factors have contributed to the groups’ ability to impact society beyond their own members.
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