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A Social Turn of Yogācāra Soteriology in Modern China, 1866-1966

August 29, 2017 - 16:15-18:00

Lecture by Jessica Zu, Princeton University

Narratives of decline and revival have been employed by many modern Chinese Buddhist communities for adapting to a fast-changing world. This study examines how this narrative functioned for the well-known Yogācāra revival led by Yang Wenhui, Ouyang Jingwu, and Lü Cheng. Thus far, this movement is largely seen as promoting scholasticism, thanks to its thorough analysis of Buddhist texts in Chinese, Sanskrit, Pāli, and Classical Tibetan. I suggest that this lay-led “revival” is fundamentally a redesign of Yogācāra soteriology into a social theory. This social theory aimed to reform modern society on Buddhist terms. This innovation was inspired by the Mahāyāna soteriology (nirvāṇa for all) to Buddhicize this world (佛化世間) and presented itself as a solution to the perceived problems of modernity.

The rhetoric of revival served to justify a new institution of aspiring bodhisattvas (初志凡夫) aiming to transform the world through education. Following Yang’s and Ouyang’s vision, Lü Cheng implemented a training program featuring multi-disciplinary learning, scientific methodology, and Mahāyāna precepts independent from monastic Vinaya. This marks a self-conscious endeavor to validate a self-governing lay community based on its social function.

By outlining the continuing social appeal of Yogācāra soteriology, this study hopes to enrich our understanding of the prehistory of socially-engaged Buddhism that has flourished in East Asian Buddhist communities since the 1950s.)

A Social Turn of Yogācāra Soteriology in Modern China, 1866-1966


August 29, 2017


P.A. Munchs hus, Seminarrom 13
Niels Henrik Abels vei 36
Oslo, Norway
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