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Taixu

TAIXU

TAIXU (18901947), Chinese Buddhist reformer, founder of the Wuchang Buddhist Institute and the Buddhist journal Haichaoyin, and active participant in various Buddhist movements. Taixu's lay name was Lü Peilin. Born in Haining in Zhejiang, he became a monk of the Linji school of Chan Buddhism at the age of sixteen. Buddhist scriptures as well as the radical political writings of Liang Qichao and others inspired him to act for the reformation of Chinese Buddhism. He tried to put his reform programs into practice by founding the Fojiao Xiejin Hui (Association for the Advancement of Buddhism) in 1912, but the association was short-lived owing to opposition from conservative Buddhists. In 1917 Taixu visited Taiwan and Japan. Later, he established the Enlightenment Society (Jueshe) at Shanghai with the help of some eminent Chinese. The society organized public lectures and disseminated knowledge of Buddhism through its own publications. Taixu next made a preaching tour of several cities in China and in Malaya. In 1920 he founded the Buddhist periodical Haichaoyin. He established the Wuchang Buddhist Institute in 1922, the first modern Buddhist seminary in China. In 1923, Taixu and a few followers founded the World Buddhist Federation, which included among its members Inada Eisai and K. L. Reichelt. Two years later he led the Chinese Buddhist delegation to the Tokyo Conference of East Asian Buddhists. In 1927 he became the head of the Minnan Buddhist Institute. During that year, he associated with the Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, who financed Taixu's world tour in 1928. The Chinese Buddhist Association was founded by Reverend Yuanying (18781953) at Shanghai in 1929, but Taixu's early relation with it was not cordial, though he was on its standing committee. In 1930 he founded the Sino-Tibetan Buddhist Institute in Chongqing; this became the headquarters of the Chinese Buddhist Association in the war years, 1937 to 1945. During the war, Taixu led a Chinese Buddhist mission of goodwill to Burma, India, Ceylon, and Malaya to win support and sympathy for China, and he was awarded a medal by the Chinese government for his contributions to the war effort. His influence on Nationalist leaders declined after the war, and he died on March 12, 1947. His writings were published posthumously in thirty-three volumes.

Since the late nineteenth century, Chinese Buddhism has been under constant pressure from the government and from intellectuals. In 1898 a high official proposed that 70 percent of monastic buildings and their income should be taken over to finance the public school system. Although this was not put into practice, and although the Buddhists managed at times to put off or soften anti-Buddhist threats, the idea of using Buddhist property to finance education arose again in 1928 and 1942. Taixu's suggestions for reform were part of the Buddhist reaction to public pressure. As a compromise, Taixu suggested in 1942 that 40 percent of monastic income be used for educational and charitable institutions run by the Buddhists in exchange for government protection of monastic property, but his suggestion had no effect on either side.

Taixu's attempts to reform and modernize Chinese Buddhism were to some extent successful. A number of prominent scholars and religious leaders were trained at the academies and libraries that he founded, and his lectures and writings helped create a more positive public attitude toward Buddhism. But his larger dream of a worldwide Buddhist movement, and his plan for reorganizing Buddhist institutions throughout China never materialized during his lifetime. His ideas were often viewed by the conservative Buddhist establishment as radical and unacceptable. They cooperated with him reluctantly in times of crisis but were always opposed to his ideas on monastic affairs. Yet, viewed from a historical perspective, his program of reform and modernization (the establishment of Buddhist academies, journals, foreign contacts, and so forth) can be seen to have created new patterns for Chinese Buddhism.

The religious thought of Taixu falls in the mainstream of Chinese Buddhism. It recognizes that all sentient beings possess the Buddha nature and are subject to the law of causation. The operation of cause and conditions is universal and incessant, and all worldly phenomena are based on that operation. If one follows the five Buddhist precepts, a happy life in this world is achievable. This happy life is, however, not lasting; it is subject to change. One must therefore strive for a higher wisdom and thus attain nirvāa. When one realizes that there is neither self nor object and that only the mind is universal and unlimited, one will work for the salvation of all sentient beings so that they too may become Buddhas. Taixu's contribution is his adoption of a new terminology and a modern style of writing, thus tuning the old philosophy to the new thought in China. He often used words like revolution, evolution, science, democracy, philosophy, and freedom, as well as other concepts popular in his time. Although he may not always have used these terms with a clear understanding of their modern meaning, by incorporating them into the context of Buddhism he made the tradition continue to appeal to young people at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Bibliography

The most complete and competent account of Taixu is the chronological biography compiled by Yinshun, T'ai-hsü ta-shih nien-p'u (1950; reprint, Taibei, 1973). Taixu's autobiographical writings, including T'ai-hsü tsu-chuan (rev. ed., 1945), can be found in the collection of his writings, T'ai-hsü ta-shih ch'üan-shu, vols. 2930 (1953; reprint, Taibei, 1973). Holmes Welch's chapter on the monk in his The Buddhist Revival in China (Cambridge, Mass., 1968), pp. 5157, is overly critical. See also Paul E. Callahan's "T'ai-hsü and the New Buddhist Movement," Papers on China 6 (March 1952): 149188, and the entry on Taixu in the Biographical Dictionary of Republican China, 19111949, edited by Howard L. Boorman (New York, 1970). Selections from Taixu's writings in English translation can be found in his Lectures in Buddhism (Paris, 1928) and Chou Hsiang-kuang's T'ai-hsü: His Life and Teachings (Allahabad, India, 1957).

New Sources

Fu, C.W.-h. and S. A. Wawrytko. Buddhist Ethics and Modern Society: An International Symposium. New York, 1991.

Long, Darui. "An Interfaith Dialogue between the Chinese Buddhist Leader Taixu and Christians." Buddhist Christian Studies 20 (2000): 167189.

Pittman, Don A. "The Modern Buddhist Reformer T'ai-hsu on Christianity." Buddhist Christian Studies 13 (1993): 7183.

Jan YÜn-Hua (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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