BUDDHIST STUDIES . Buddhism is considered to be a historical religion, that is, a religion with a founder who appeared at a specific moment in human history. This founder is, of course, the Buddha, who lived for some eighty years in what is today northern India and southern Nepal, sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries bce. Buddhist texts would reject any claim that Buddhism originated at that time; Śākyamuni was only the most recent of a series of buddhas who have appeared in the past and will appear in the future. Yet, Buddhists across the centuries of Buddhist history would agree that he was the buddha for the present age, and that his life and teachings constitute an epochal event in the history of the universe. The study of Buddhism, whether by Buddhist monks in the monasteries of Asia or by scholars in the European and American academy, has therefore consistently looked back to the Buddha and to the teachings attributed to him as the defining point of origin.
Traditional Study of Buddhism
If by "Buddhism," one means the teachings of the Buddha, then a history of the study of Buddhism would begin in India, almost 2,500 years ago. According to traditional accounts, shortly after the Buddha's passage into nirvāṇa, a council of monks was convened in order to recite, remember, and thereby retain his teachings for the future. Regardless of whether this first council was a historical event, its description in a variety of texts points to persistent concerns with issues of canon throughout the history of Buddhism. What should be judged as the word of the Buddha? What did the Buddha teach? And among the many things he must have taught over his long career, which represented his own view and which were an accommodation to suit the needs of a given audience? Such questions are not merely the concern of the modern secular scholar. They have been asked, and answered, over the course of more than two millennia by Buddhist monks and scholars from across Asia, who developed sophisticated methods—some historical, some textual—for determining what is to be accepted as the authentic teaching of the Buddha.
Thus, the writings of the sixth-century Indian monk Bhāvaviveka, for example, include a detailed list of arguments made by non-Mahāyāna Buddhist scholastics in support of their claim that the Mahāyāna sūtras are spurious, that is, that they are not the word of the Buddha. In Tibet, in the fourteenth century, the Buddhist monk Bu ston (1290–1364) compiled what is known as the bka' ʻgyur, "the translation of the word" [of the Buddha], and explained the principles according to which he included some texts and excluded others. In Tokugawa Japan, where the Mahāyāna sūtras were regarded as the word of the Buddha, Tominaga Nakamoto (1715–1746) used historical analysis to identify numerous discrepancies among these texts; he argued that the Mahāyāna sūtras were not various manifestations of the Buddha's skillful means, but rather were composed long after his death during struggles for scholastic superiority. The Thai king Mongkut (Rāma IV, 1804–1868) made a detailed study of Buddhist literature in an effort to establish the authentic Pali canon, excluding what he deemed legendary elements such as the well-known stories of the Buddha's previous lives.
As Buddhism spread across Asia, the texts, whether they were judged canonical or non-canonical, required translation from various Indic languages (notably Sanskrit and Pali) into a wide variety of vernaculars. Translation has therefore long been central to the study of Buddhism and has been a preoccupation of Buddhist scholars, who have consistently sought the most complete and accurate editions of Indian texts, who have developed and debated the principles for producing the most accurate translations, and who have compiled glossaries and other translation tools that continue to be used by modern scholars.
The energies of Buddhist scholars have not, however, been directed solely to textual exegesis; they have been directed toward other domains of the study of their tradition. For example, the famous Chinese Buddhist pilgrims to India, Faxian (c. 337–422) and Xuanzang (602–664), wrote detailed accounts of their travels, attempting to link the places that they visited with the legendary and historical sites mentioned in Buddhist scriptures, while also describing the Buddhist doctrines and practices they encountered; Xuanzang provided information on both the size and the sectarian affiliation of a large number of Buddhist monasteries in India and Central Asia.
Buddhism is a religion in which primary importance is given to lineage—the ability to trace a teaching from one's teacher back to India and to the Buddha himself. It is from lineage, as much as from texts, that authority and authenticity derive. A great deal of historical investigation has traditionally been devoted, therefore, to establishing lines of transmission. Buddhist scholars have often gone to great lengths, spanning the historical and the mythological, in an effort to chart the passage of specific doctrines back across centuries in time and across mountains and oceans in space in order to claim authority and legitimation for their particular sect.
To note some of the concerns of Asian scholars of Buddhism, over the course of two millennia, is meant to suggest that any history of the study of Buddhism must take into full account the developments in the modes of analysis of their religion by scholars who were also adherents of that religion. These scholars, in most cases Buddhist monks, produced editions of texts, dictionaries, digests of philosophical tenets, catalogues of scriptures, as well as numerous chronicles and histories—both local and global—all products of a sustained tradition of historical reflection. The relationship between their concerns and methods and those of academic scholars of Buddhism is one of continuity rather than sharp disjunction, and the network of relations between the "traditional" and the "modern" remains a fruitful subject for analysis. It is nonetheless the case that the terms "the study of Buddhism" or "Buddhist studies," most commonly evoke the "academic" or "scientific" study of Buddhism that began in Europe in the nineteenth century.
Early European Encounters
Prior to the thirteenth century, European contact with Buddhist societies was limited. Reports of Buddhism in classical antiquity appear as early as Clement of Alexandria (200 ce), who mentions the Buddha as one of the deities of India. Some two centuries later, Hieronymus (fourth–fifth century) stated that the Buddha was born from the side of a virgin. Elements of a biography of the Buddha became the basis for the lives of two Christian saints, Barlaam and Josaphat, although the Buddhist source of the narrative was not noted until the mid-nineteenth century.
The study of Buddhism by professional scholars in Europe was preceded by a number of encounters with Buddhist peoples by a wide variety of European travelers, missionaries, and diplomats, and European knowledge of Buddhism into the early nineteenth century derived largely from their reports. These include, among others, the accounts of Marco Polo (1254–1324), who reported on the religions of the Mongol Empire as well as Sri Lanka, the Flemish Franciscan friar Willem van Ruysbroek (c. 1215–c. 1295; also known as William of Rubruck), who visited the Mongol court in 1253 and 1255, and the Czech Franciscan friar Odoric (c. 1286–1331), who traveled extensively in China and Mongolia in the early fourteenth century. The travels of Roman Catholic priests during this period were motivated, at least in part, by the search for the kingdom of Prester John, a legendary Christian realm believed to exist somewhere in Asia. Simon de la Loubère (1642–1729), envoy of Louis XIV to the court of Siam, provided a detailed description of Thai Buddhism, including the monastic code, in his 1691 Du Royaume de Siam, published in English in 1693 as New Historical Relation of the Kingdom of Siam. The Jesuit missionary Ippolito Desideri (1684–1733) spent five years in Tibet beginning in 1716. He lived in a monastery in Lhasa and learned to read and write Tibetan well, producing refutations of Buddhist doctrines written in classical Tibetan. He also wrote an extensive description of Tibetan religion and culture, entitled Notizie Istoriche del Thibet.
These figures are just a few of many Europeans to describe their encounters with Buddhists—in China, in Japan, in Tibet, in Mongolia, in Sri Lanka, in Thailand, in Burma—prior to the nineteenth century. It is important to note, however, that none of these figures, regardless of the extent of the knowledge they gained, described the tradition they encountered with the term Buddhism. Prior to the eighteenth century, Europeans recognized only four religions in the world: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Idolatry (or Paganism). What is identified today as "Buddhism" was regarded then as so many local versions of idolatry. It is only at the end of the eighteenth century that Europeans began to conclude that the various images of the Buddha, with various local names, encountered across Asia in fact represented the same figure and that his followers were thus widely dispersed across the continent. One of the first to make this observation was Dr. Francis Buchanan (1762–1829) in his 1799 article "On the Religion and Literature of the Burmas" published in Asiatick Researches. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term Buddhism (or Boudhism ) is first attested in 1801.
European Studies in the Nineteenth Century
It can therefore be said that the history of the study of Buddhism, understood as a single tradition that began with the Buddha in India and subsequently spread across Asia, does not begin in Europe until the nineteenth century. The development of this knowledge in the nineteenth century was the result of a number of factors, including the rise of the science of philology and the study of Asian languages in the academies of Europe, and of particular importance, European colonial projects in Asia. Articles on a wide variety of topics related to Buddhism appeared in scholarly journals such as Asiatick Researches and Journal Asiatique. In 1823, the German scholar Julius von Klaproth (1783–1835) published a life of the Buddha from Mongol sources. In 1833 and 1834, George Turnour (1799–1843), a British civil servant, published in Ceylon Epitome of the History of Ceylon, and the Historical Inscriptions. This contained a translation of "the first twenty chapters of the Mahawanso [the Mahāvaṅsa, a famous Sinhalese chronicle] and a prefatory essay on Pali Buddhistical literature." In 1837, Isaak Jakob Schmidt (1779–1847) published the first complete translation of a Buddhist sūtra into a European language with his translation of the Diamond Sūtra, from Tibetan into German. The Transylvanian scholar Alexander Csoma de Kőrös (1784–1842) published a series of articles on the Tibetan canon, based on his studies in Ladakh. One of the most important works of this period was that of the great French sinologist Jean Pierre Abel-Rémusat (1788–1832). His unfinished translation of the account of the Chinese monk Faxian's fifth-century pilgrimage to India was completed and heavily annotated by Klaproth and Charles Landresse and published in 1836 as Foé Koué Ki, ou Relation des royaumes bouddhiques.
It is notable that none of this important scholarship dealt directly with the land of Buddhism's birth, India. Buddhism had essentially disappeared from India by the fourteenth century ce. When the officials of the British East India Company undertook their various research projects in India, all that was found of Buddhism were various monuments and ruins, and the presence of the Buddha in the Hindu pantheon, where he had become the ninth incarnation of the god Viṣṇu. There were no Buddhist institutions, nor any Buddhists, to be found. This absence of Buddhism in India during the period of European colonialism, and its survival only in the form of archaeological and textual remains, proved an important factor in the European construction of Buddhism.
An official of the East India Company, Brian Houghton Hodgson (1800–1894), was stationed in Nepal, where he found Buddhism to be thriving. Hodgson published a number of widely read articles on Buddhism, but he is remembered for another reason: Beginning in 1824, with the assistance of a Nepalese Buddhist pundit, Hodgson accumulated a large number of Buddhist Indian Sanskrit (and some Tibetan) manuscripts that had been preserved in Nepal. Between 1827 and 1845, he dispatched more than four hundred works to libraries in Calcutta, London, Oxford, and Paris. They included many of the most important sūtras and Tantras of Sanskrit Buddhism. The manuscripts attracted little attention initially, except in Paris, where Eugène Burnouf (1801–1852) held the chair of Sanskrit at the Collège de France. Burnouf immediately recognized their importance, and after reading through scores of manuscripts, selected one, the Lotus Sūtra, for translation. He planned a three-volume study of Buddhist literature (a volume on Sanskrit texts, a volume on Pali texts, and a volume on the history of Indian Buddhism) to precede its publication, and in 1844 published the first volume, Introduction à l'histoire du Buddhisme indien. This massive work (647 pages in the original edition) was the first scholarly book-length study of Buddhism in a European language. For the depth and breadth of its analysis and for the quality of its translations from numerous Buddhist texts (he consulted Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, and Tibetan sources), it is regarded by many as the foundational text for the European study of Buddhism. Burnouf died before he was able to complete the remaining volumes of his study, and his translation of the Lotus Sūtra (Le Lotus de la bonne loi ) was published after his death. Burnouf was also the first scholar to make a detailed study of the rock edicts of the emperor Aśoka. The study of Buddhist epigraphy has remained an important source for the social history of Buddhism.
For the remainder of the nineteenth century, India became the primary focus of Buddhist studies in Europe, and Sanskrit (together with Pali) became the lingua franca of the field. A great deal of attention was focused on the life of the Buddha and on the early history of Buddhism in India, prior to its demise there. There was particular interest, parallel to the quest for the historical Jesus, in a quest for the historical Buddha and his teachings, which was referred to by such terms as "original Buddhism," "primitive Buddhism," sometimes "pure Buddhism." This Buddhism was regarded by many as a complete philosophical and psychological system, based on reason and restraint, opposed to ritual, superstition, and the priest-craft and caste prejudice of the brahmans. Standing in sharp contrast to what was perceived as the spiritual and sensuous exoticism of colonial India where Buddhism was long dead, this ancient Buddhism, derived from the textual studies of scholars in the libraries of Europe, could be regarded as the authentic form of this great world religion, against which the various Buddhisms of the modern Orient could be judged, and generally found to be lacking. Buddhism thus came to regarded as a tradition that resided most authentically in its texts, such that it could be effectively studied from the libraries of Europe; many of the most important scholars of the nineteenth century never traveled to Asia.
The Life of the Buddha
As might be expected, the life and teachings of the Buddha have remained a persistent topic of scholarly investigation. Sir William Jones of the East India Company knew of the Buddha only as one of the incarnations of the Hindu deity Viṣṇu, and speculated on his origin, considering both Scandinavia and Ethiopia as possible sites. By the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, a sufficient number of texts had become available to allow scholars to analyze a wide variety of sources on the life of the Buddha. Émile Senart (1847–1928) sought to understand the events of the life of the Buddha within the context of Indian mythology. Hermann Oldenberg (1854–1920) used text critical methods in an attempt to identify the oldest stratum of Buddhist literature and to derive from that the historical (as opposed to mythological) elements of the Buddha's life and original teachings. During the late nineteenth century, scholars also sought to determine the relationship of Buddhist concepts to those found in other contemporary Indian philosophical systems, such as Sāṃkhya and Yoga. Work on the life of the Buddha continued in the twentieth century with the publication of E. J. Thomas's 1927 Life of the Buddha as Legend and History, which examined the structural and doctrinal relationships among various biographical fragments. Since then, scholars have identified a number of biographical cycles of the Buddha and connected them to specific discourses in the sutra and vinaya literature. Important biographical studies have been produced by Erich Frauwallner (1898–1974), Étienne Lamotte (1903–1983), and André Bareau (1921–1993). Albert Foucher (1865–1952) made extensive use of art historical and archaeological evidence to link the development of the Buddha's biography to pilgrimage sites in India. Even the dates of the Buddha's birth and death remained a topic of scholarly inquiry in the late twentieth century, with Heinz Bechert arguing that the Buddha may have lived as much as a century later than the once widely accepted dates of 563–483 bce.
The Role of Colonialism
The history of the study of Buddhism in the nineteenth century is closely linked to the history of European (and later, Japanese) colonialism, with the domains of scholarly investigation often directly related to domains of colonial possession. Thus, the British provided much of the early archaeological and art historical scholarship on Indian Buddhism. The island of Sri Lanka was at that time the British colony of Ceylon, and much of the work of the translation of the Pali canon was carried out under the direction of Thomas W. Rhys Davids (1843–1922), a former colonial official in Ceylon. In 1881, he founded the Pali Text Society, currently based in Oxford, which, over the subsequent century, published scholarly editions and translations of a large number of important works of the Theravāda tradition of Southeast Asia. The French scholar Paul Mus (1902–1969), based in Vietnam (at that time the French colony of Indochina), produced a groundbreaking study of Borobudur, the monumental stone complex located in Java. Tibetan Buddhism was the dominant form of Buddhism in Mongolia and the Kalmykia. The authority of the Russian Empire and, later, the Soviet Union, in these regions gave Russian scholars easy access to a large corpus of Tibetan Buddhist materials.
This is not to suggest that European scholars limited their studies to the traditions of their nation's colonies. As more and more Buddhist texts became available in the libraries of Europe, access was provided to those who learned the necessary languages. The tradition of Sanskrit studies begun in Paris by Burnouf was continued by his scholarly descendents. This lineage included Sylvain Lévi (1863–1935), who produced new editions, translations, and studies on a wide range of subjects. In his travels in Nepal, Lévi found a number of important Mahāyāna texts that had not been previously available in Europe, including central texts of the Yogācāra school. Lévi's most prominent student was the Belgian scholar, Louis de la Vallée Poussin (1869–1938), perhaps the most important European scholar of Buddhism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He translated key texts from a number of genres and Buddhist languages. Perhaps his greatest work was his translation from Chinese of Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośa (relying, it should be noted, on an annotated Japanese edition), but he also published editions, translations, and studies of central Yogācāra, Madhyamaka, and tantric texts, in addition to a number of significant topical studies. Another of Lévi's pupils, Jean Przyluski (1885–1944), joined Marcelle Lalou (1890–1967) in founding the Bibliographie bouddhique (1930–1967), which provided an annotated reference to all important scholarship on Buddhism published between 1928 and 1958. The Belgian Roman Catholic priest Étienne Lamotte, a student of la Vallée Poussin, provided translations of important Mahāyāna sūtras, including the Vimalakırti. He also wrote an influential History of Indian Buddhism. His copiously annotated five-volume translation from Chinese of the Dazhi dulun, Kumārajīva's translation of a massive commentary on the Perfection of Wisdom in 25,000 Stanzas, was published between 1944 and 1980 under the title Le traité de la grande vertu de sagesse. Lamotte's student, Hubert Durt for many years directed the Hōbōgirin encyclopedia project of the École Française d'Extrême Orient, located in Kyoto.
Although Buddhist studies have been a predominantly text-centered enterprise since its inception, this is not to suggest that there have not been important anthropological studies, especially in the postwar period. For reasons that are not entirely clear (apart from the early translation of many of its canonical texts), much of the most important anthropological work has focused on the Theravāda traditions of Sri Lanka and Thailand. Here, the studies of Richard Gombrich, Gananath Obeyesekere, and Stanley Tambiah have been influential. Important contributions to Pali textual studies have continued through the twentieth century, including those made by K. R. Norman and by the team of scholars in the ongoing Critical Pali Dictionary project in Denmark, begun in 1924.
Translations for the Public
As is clear, Buddhist studies in the west is very much a descendant of Indology, in the sense that prior to the Second World War, the study of Buddhism in the western academy was carried out largely by Sanskritists (or sometimes Sinologists) who also read Buddhist texts. However, the translations and studies produced by these scholars did not circulate only within a closed academic circle. The gradual accumulation of knowledge of a wide variety of Buddhist texts led to publication of translations and anthologies that played a significant role in bringing Buddhism to a wide audience of readers around the world, including in Asian societies. Some of these translations were made or overseen by scholars of Buddhism. In 1894, the Sacred Books of the East series was published, edited by Friedrich Max Müller (1823–1900), a student of Burnouf. Ten of the forty-nine volumes of the series were devoted to Buddhist works. Reflecting the opinion of the day that Pali texts of the Theravāda tradition represented the most accurate record of what the Buddha taught, seven of these volumes were devoted to Pali works. Among other Indian works, Aśvaghoṣa's famous life of the Buddha appeared twice, translated in one volume from Sanskrit and in another from Chinese. The Lotus Sūtra was included in another volume. The final volume of the series is entitled Buddhist Mahāyāna Texts and contains such famous works as the Diamond Sūtra, the Heart Sūtra, and the three Pure Land sūtras, all Indian works (or at least so regarded at the time) but included because of their importance for Japanese Buddhism. In 1895, Thomas W. Rhys Davids initiated the Sacred Books of the Buddhists series, which provided English translations of dozens of texts. Some of the most widely read translations and anthologies were produced by enthusiasts of Buddhism who were not trained in Asian languages. Thus, in 1894, Paul Carus (1852–1919) published The Gospel of Buddha According to Old Records. The American Theosophist Walter Y. Evans-Wentz (1878–1965) published his study of a translation of a Tibetan text in 1927 as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. In 1938, Dwight Goddard (1861–1939) published an anthology of mostly Chinese Buddhist texts as A Buddhist Bible.
Such works played an important role in a phenomenon that scholars have retrospectively dubbed "Buddhist modernism." Beginning in the late nineteenth century, through the efforts of Asian Buddhists (including such figures as Anagarika Dharmapala in Sri Lanka, Taixu in China, and Shaku Sōen in Japan) as well as European and American enthusiasts (including early members of the Theosophical Society), Buddhist modernists sought to defend Buddhism against the attacks of secularists and Christian missionaries by portraying Buddhism as an ancient system of rational and ethical philosophy that was at the same time entirely modern, in that it dispensed with the ritualistic trappings of religion, was compatible with science, and promoted an egalitarian society. Buddhist modernism has had a significant influence on the development of the study of Buddhism, especially in the case of those figures who have been both scholars of Buddhism and Buddhist modernists. Perhaps the most influential of these figures was D. T. Suzuki (1870–1966), who sought to portray the Zen tradition as above all concerned with an "experience" that is unbound by time or culture. This interaction of the "academic" and the "popular" has remained a constant component in the modern study of Buddhism.
Expeditions to Asia
At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, a large number of Buddhist manuscripts were discovered by European and Japanese expeditions at sites along the former Silk Road in Central Asia. An important cache of Sanskrit texts, some of the most ancient yet identified, were found at Gilgit in modern Pakistan. Beginning with Aurel Stein (1862–1943) in 1907, a series of European and Japanese scholars visited the huge cave temple complex at Dunhuang in the desert of western China. Over the course of a decade, they removed tens of thousands of bamboo slips, scrolls, and manuscripts in a wide range of languages and deposited them in libraries in London, Paris, Saint Petersburg, Kyoto, and New Delhi. These texts remain the subject of detailed study and continue to provide insights into the practices of Central Asian, Chinese, and Tibetan Buddhism. The caves at Dunhuang, a site of Buddhist activity from the fourth to the fourteenth centuries, have been identified as a World Heritage site, and their remarkable paintings are being digitally photographed and catalogued. Manuscripts continued to be discovered throughout the twentieth century at sites across Asia, from Afghanistan to Tibet to Japan.
The Study of Buddhism in Japan
The fact that Japanese expeditions were dispatched in search of ancient Buddhist manuscripts suggests that the academic study of Buddhism was not limited to Europe and North America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Japan has played a central role in the history of the study of Buddhism. Japan is perhaps unique in the Buddhist world as a society possessing a long heritage of traditional Buddhist studies, which moved to a European style "scientific study" of Buddhist traditions (both its own and others) beginning in the late nineteenth century, with Japanese scholars eventually making significant contributions to all fields of study. Among the reasons for Japanese eminence in the field of Buddhist studies is the fact that Japan never came under European or American colonial domination and became a colonial power in its own right. During the Tokugawa period, Japanese scholars participated in a tradition of critical scholarship that produced excellent editions of a number of canonical Buddhist texts central to the major sects of Japanese Buddhism. During the Meiji period, students in a wide range of academic disciplines were encouraged to study abroad. Among these students was Nanjō Bun' yū (1849–1927), who traveled to Oxford to study Sanskrit with Max Müller. He produced a catalogue of the Chinese Buddhist canon that made reference to Sanskrit and Tibet editions and was instrumental in establishing Sanskrit studies in Japan. Another Japanese student at Oxford, Takakusu Junjirō (1866–1945), provided Müller with a translation from the Chinese of a Pure Land sūtra for inclusion in Sacred Books of the East. Fujishima Ryōon (1853–1918) studied with French scholars and wrote the first history of Japanese Buddhism to appear in a European language. The Taisho edition of the Chinese Buddhism canon, published in Japan between 1924 and 1935, has provided the standard version of thousands of texts. Japanese scholars also produced a large number of invaluable reference works, including Mochizuki Shinkō's encyclopedia of Buddhism, the Bukkyō daijiten, published between 1932 and 1936. In the period following the Second World War, Japanese Buddhist scholars produced influential studies on a wide range of topics in Indian, Chinese, Tibetan, and Japanese Buddhism. Among the many scholars who might be mentioned are Ui Hakuju, Kamata Shigeo, Sekiguchi Shindai, Nakamura Hajime, Nagao Gadjin, Takasaki Jikidō, Yanagida Seizan, and Hirakawa Akira. Buddhist studies remain a vibrant academic discipline in Japan, with most scholars drawn from the families of Japanese Buddhist priests.
The Study of Chinese Buddhism
The study of Chinese Buddhism has differed from the study of Buddhism in India (from which Buddhists were absent after the fourteenth century) or Tibet (where the possibility of European travel was restricted in the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries). By the end of the nineteenth century, China was the object of intensive missionary activity from both Europe and North America, and much of the early study of the Chinese Buddhist community was undertaken by missionaries such as Samuel Beal (1825–1899). The importance of Chinese translations of Indian Buddhist texts had been recognized by Burnouf, but texts composed in Chinese, apart from the accounts of the Chinese pilgrims to India, attracted little scholarly attention until the twentieth century. The institutional practice of Chinese Buddhism became the subject of a number of important studies in the decades prior to the Communist Revolution. Notable among these are the work of Jan J. M. de Groot (1854–1921), the Danish architectural historian Johannes Prip-Møller (1889–1943), and Holmes Welch, who documented the Buddhist revival in China in the early twentieth century, as well as Buddhism under Mao. Buddhist texts and doctrines have been the object of important studies by scholars such as Paul Demiéville (1894–1979), but also within the context of social and institutional history, where the studies of Jacques Gernet have been highly influential. Erik Zürcher wrote a detailed study of early Chinese Buddhism and explored some of the relations between Daoist and Buddhist terminology. This is not to suggest that there has not been a strong and influential tradition of Chinese Buddhist studies among Chinese scholars. Beginning in the early twentieth century and continuing until the Cultural Revolution, important historical studies were produced by such scholars as Tang Yongtong (1893–1964), Chen Yinke (1890–1969), and Hu Shi (1891–1962). The philosopher Feng Youlan (1895–1990) also wrote extensively on Buddhism. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution, both the practice and study of Buddhism have begun to reemerge in China.
Crucial scholarship on Chinese Buddhist texts has been carried out by Japanese scholars. In part because of the historical links between the Japanese sects of Buddhism and China, in part because of the Japanese colonial presence in Taiwan, China, and Korea in the first half of the twentieth century, Japanese scholars have produced a range of important studies on all aspects of Chinese Buddhism, focusing especially on the key texts and lineages of the Chinese traditions that became established in Japan. With the growth of Buddhist studies in North America in the last half of the twentieth century, knowledge of Japanese scholarship has been deemed essential for all work in East Asian Buddhism, and provided the focus for much graduate training. Stanley Weinstein at Yale was one of a number of scholars to insist on the importance of Japanese scholarship for the study of Chinese Buddhism. The study of Korean Buddhism has also become a distinct area of Buddhist studies (rather than a branch of Chinese Buddhism) through the efforts of a number of scholars, including Robert Buswell.
The Study of Tibetan Buddhism
Prior to the Second World War, Tibetan Buddhism was valued above all for its preservation, in accurate translation, of a large canon of Indian Mahāyāna texts that had been lost in the original Sanskrit. With the notable exception of the work of such scholars as Eugene Obermiller (1901–1935) and Giuseppe Tucci (1894–1984), the vast corpus of autochthonous Tibetan Buddhist literature remained largely unexamined by European scholars. This situation changed dramatically as a result of the invasion of Tibet by the Peoples Republic of China and the subsequent flight into exile of the Dalai Lama in 1959. Over the course of the next decade, he was followed into exile by tens of thousands of Tibetan refugees, many of whom were highly educated monks and lamas. These refugees settled in India and Nepal, and later in Europe and North America. European and American scholars soon began to study Tibetan Buddhist texts in collaboration with refugee Tibetan scholars, thereby bringing the doctrines and practices of Tibetan Buddhism to a large audience in the West. Among the first scholars in this regard were David Snellgrove, Herbert Guenther, and David Seyfort Ruegg, who demonstrated the important contributions made by Tibetan Buddhist scholars to many of the key philosophical debates and concepts of Indian Buddhism. Beginning in 1961, under Public Law 480, the Government of India provided the U.S. Library of Congress with copies of all books published in India. The head of the Library of Congress in New Delhi from 1968–1985 was the eminent Tibetologist E. Gene Smith, who arranged for thousands of Tibetan texts, brought out of Tibet by refugees, to be published in India and sent to depository libraries across the United States. As a consequence, during the last decades of the twentieth century, Tibetan Buddhism became a major area of Buddhist studies, not only for the insight it can provide on the development of Indian Buddhism, but also, for the first time, as an important domain of investigation in its own right, with academic research in the Tibetan cultural regions of the PRC also becoming possible. The extensive Tibetan literature on Buddhist Tantra has also become a growing area of scholarly investigation. The close collaboration of European, American, and Japanese academics with traditionally trained Tibetan scholars has not only borne fruit in terms of the translation of texts; it has also raised important questions about the relation between the academic and the popular and between Buddhist scholarship and Buddhist practice.
The Study of Buddhism in the United States
The first academic lecture on Buddhism to be delivered in the United States was "Memoir on the History of Buddhism," presented by Edward Eldridge Salisbury (1814–1901)—instructor of Sanskrit at Yale and recently returned from study with Burnouf in Paris—at the first annual meeting of the American Oriental Society on May 28, 1844. Buddhist studies did not become well established in the United States, however, until more than a century later. Two distinguished Pali scholars of the early period were Henry Clarke Warren (1854–1899) and Eugene W. Burlingame (1876–1932). Franklin Edgerton (1885–1963) coined the term "Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit" to describe the deviations from classical Sanskrit that occur in many Indian Buddhist texts and in 1953 published a two-volume grammar and dictionary of Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit.
The American academy saw enormous changes during the decades after the Second World War, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, with the explosion of two fields: area studies devoted to Asia and religious studies. Area studies provided federal funds (through the National Defense Education Act) for training in a wide range of Asian languages. At the same time, the study of religion moved from the seminary to the college and university, where departments of religion were formed, often on the model of the Christian seminary, with faculty in such areas as Old Testament, New Testament, Church History, Modern Religious Thought, Ethics, and perhaps, World Religions. Because of the pan-Asian scope of Buddhism, college and university positions in World Religions were often occupied by scholars of Buddhism.
In 1961, Richard Robinson (1926–1970) instituted the first doctoral program in Buddhist studies in the United States at the University of Wisconsin. Over the subsequent decades, other programs, some led by Robinson's students, were established in a range of area studies departments (at Berkeley, Michigan, British Columbia, and UCLA) and religious studies departments (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Chicago, and Virginia). In Europe, Buddhist studies were pursued at Oxford, the University of London, Hamburg, Lausanne, and Vienna. By 1976 and the founding of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, the study of Buddhism was taking place in Europe, North America, South America, Australia, and New Zealand, and across Asia.
Although broad trends can only be identified with a certain caution, it is probably accurate to say that in the decades following the Second World War, there was a strong interest in the study of what has been called Buddhist philosophy. In part because of the strong philological and philosophical training of the early European scholars in the field, in part because of the perceived need to justify the sophistication of Buddhist thought in American departments of religious studies, scholars tended to focus their attention on the elite scholastic traditions of Buddhism, especially the Abhidharma of the Theravāda, the Madhyamaka and logical traditions of India (with their Tibetan commentaries), and the Chan and Zen traditions of East Asia. In some cases, Buddhist texts and figures have been brought into the realm of comparative philosophy, where Nāgārjuna could be seen as Kantian at the beginning of the twentieth century, as Wittgensteinian in the middle, and as Derridian at its end. In the last decades of the twentieth century, as the humanities in general turned toward social history, there has been a turn away from scholastic Buddhist philosophy and toward institutional histories, employing a wide range of sources in an attempt to discern how Buddhism was practiced in the various cultures of Asia and among all levels of society, both monastic and lay. The more recent manifestations of Buddhism outside Asia are also beginning to be examined.
Almond, Philip C. The British Discovery of Buddhism. Cambridge, U.K., 1988. A study of the development of British attitudes toward Buddhism during the Victorian period.
Droit, Roger-Pol. The Cult of Nothingness: The Philosophers and the Buddha. Chapel Hill, N.C., 2003. Originally published in French in 1997, a study of the ways in which European philosophers of the nineteenth century understood Buddhism and the idea of nirvāṇa.
Halbfass, Wilhelm. India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding. Albany, N.Y., 1988. A study of the European encounter with India, and especially Indian philosophies and religions, from classical antiquity to the twentieth century.
Hanayama, Shinsho. Bibliography of Buddhism. Tokyo, 1961. A bibliography of works on Buddhism published in European languages from the seventeenth century up to 1932.
Jong, J. W. de. "A Brief History of Buddhist Studies in Europe and America." Eastern Buddhist, n.s. 7, no. 1 (May 1974): 55–106, and no. 2 (October 1974): 49–82. Reprinted in a single volume, Tokyo, 1997. The most detailed account of the development of Buddhist studies in the West, although with a strong focus on Indological studies and little discussion of the study of East Asian and Southeast Asian Buddhism.
Ketelaar, James Edward. Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan: Buddhism and Its Persecution. Princeton, N.J., 1990. A study of the persecution of Buddhism by the Japanese government in the last decades of the nineteenth century, and the redefinitions of Buddhism that emerged as a result.
Leoshko, Janice. Sacred Traces: British Explorations of Buddhism in South Asia. Burlington, Vt., 2003. A study of nineteenth-century European investigations of Buddhist art and archaeology in India, and the legacy of these investigations for subsequent views of the Buddha and of Buddhism.
Lopez, Donald S., Jr., ed. Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism. Chicago, 1995. A collection of essays on several of the major figures in the development of Buddhist studies in Europe and North America.
Lubac, Henri de. Le rencontre du bouddhisme et de l'Occident. Paris, 1952. A history of European encounters with Buddhism from classical antiquity to the twentieth century, focusing especially on the work of Roman Catholic missionaries and on subsequent academic scholarship.
McRae, John R. "Chinese Religions: The State of the Field." Part 2: "Living Religious Traditions: Buddhism." Journal of Asian Studies 54, no. 2 (1995): 354–371. A bibliographical essay on the state of the field of Chinese Buddhist studies at the end of the twentieth century.
Nakamura, Hajime. Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Bibliographical Notes. Intercultural Research Institute Monograph, no. 9. Hirakata, Japan, 1980. A survey of the Japanese- and European-language scholarship on Indian Buddhism.
Przyluski, Jean, et al. Bibliographie bouddhique. Buddhica: Documents et travaux pour l'étude du bouddhisme, vols. 1–31. Paris, 1929–1961. An annotated listing of all major articles and books on Buddhism up to 1958, including both European- and Asian-language works.
Schwab, Raymond. The Oriental Renaissance: Europe's Rediscovery of India and the East, 1680–1880. New York, 1984. Originally published in French in 1950, a detailed study of the rise of Oriental studies in Europe and its influence on European arts and letters.
Donald S. Lopez JR. (2005)
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