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  • [中国大陆]宣方:The Contemporary Situation and Developing Tendency of Chinese Buddhism: A Brief Survey

     

    The Institute for Advanced Studies of Religions, Renmin University of China, Beijing Xuan Fang

     

      Abstract

      Focused on the relationship between Buddhism and modernity in China today, this paper attempts  to present an observation  of the contemporary Chinese Buddhist development ,to analyze the mechanism behind this phenominon, and to predict the direction of the move of Buddhism in the future ten years.  The  paper comes to five conclusions:  (1) Buddhism is still undoubtedly the largest religion in China, (2) In the last twenty years Buddhism developed much more slowly than Christianity, particularly in the rural areas.. (3) Buddhism in both of the institutional and non-institutional forms gained  robust development,  and the latter grew more rapidly than the former. (4) The constitutions and social conditions of the institutionalized Buddhism had an obvious change. (5)The administration models and guiding thoughts of Buddhist monasteries became  increasingly diversified. The paper gives a brief explanation to above phenomena. Finally, the paper identifies the primary factors that will influence the development of Chinese Buddhism in the coming ten years:religious policies, the revival of Chinese traditional culture, new technologies, urbanization, demographic element .

      PartⅠ The Observation of Current Chinese Buddhism and Analysis

      §1.  Theory and Hypotheses

      This paper will   examine the current situation and trend  of the contemporary Chinese Buddhism with a focus on  on the relationship between religion and modernity. It has been a challenge universal to  the world's major religionshow religious tradtions  would critically respond and adapt to modernization, and  at the same time be critical to the  problems of modernization. Regarding modernity, the particular issue to  contemporary Chinese religions is how their adjustment to modernity could  be compatible with the socialis t society in China.

      To examine the contemporary religions in China with their adaption to both modernity and the socialist conditions in China, , we must start from the examination of the impacts of modernity on the political, economic, cultural and social fields and their consequent influence on religion especially  in relation to government, identity of the nation-state, economy mode of the monasteries, education in religion, social engagement of religious institutes, gender ethics, the tension  between monastics and laities, and the reproductive mechanism of the religious institutions under the influence of above elements.

      The adoption of free market system has impacted Chinese society to such a degree that the political, economic, cultural, social structure had undergone rapid, extensive, and profound changes, which were particularly present  in loosening the totalitarian political system and weakening the mainstream ideology and atheist education. Under this condition, the social structure was  experiencing a return  from the state-people controlling pattern to the traditional threefold state-society-people pattern, the sharp increase of social mobility, and rapid urbanization process as well. In this transitional period the demand for religion in contemporary China tremendously surged. . This observation has been evidenced in academic research for many years. From this point starts  the following analysis.

      §2.  The Observation of current situation of Buddhism in China and the analysis

      1. Buddhism is still undoubtedly the largest religion in China.

      According to the sampling survey in 2007 released by Horizon Research Consulting (HRC) Company in 2010, the number of Buddhists accounted  for 16.6% of the total population in China, about 219.16 million people, 3 times higher than the total number of practitioners in the other four big religions.  This suggests that the ratio pattern  of religions in China has no fundamental change. Buddhism remained as the largest institutional religion in contemporary China with the largest population of practitioners.   This, of course, is because Buddhism has a long history and firm social foundation in China.

      2.Buddhism and other indigenous religions developed more slowly  than Christianity, particularly in rural areas , where showed  a general trendthat Buddhism declined  whereas the Christianity increased .

      Although the national-wide  statistics is absent, many regional investigations conducted  by scholars and data collected by the relevant government departments in recent 15 years showed that since the mid 1990s, tChristianity in China, especially in countryside, developed much faster than any  other religions, including Buddhism.

      There are various causes for this situation.  First, the present policies of the Religious Affairs Administration in China, did not only fail to help the legal Buddhist  institutes (" red market") promote their religious services, but ironically suppressed them. This shortage of services led  the general public to  turn to the religious "grey market" or "black market to fulfill their religious needs. However, Christian family churches became one of the biggest beneficiaries in this controlled market due to  their organizational patterns and communication strategies.   Second, the urbanization process in China has altered  the structure of the rural population. The reduction of rural population inevitably led to the decrease of the Buddhist population which were traditionally concentrated in the rural areas.

      3. while  both of institutional and non-institutional Buddhism have gained robust development, the latter developed even faster.

      The institutional Buddhism refers to the institutions, such as monasteries, nunneries, Jushilin (lay Buddhist organizations, which literally means forest of Lay Buddhists) etc. which  have clear organizational structures and under the supervision of the government.

      The non-institutional Buddhism  refers to those loose traditional Buddhist practices, such as Qigong, Yoga, spirituality, life enhancement, and traditional Chinese cultural forms, etc.  They are spread mostly by the mass medias, popular cultures, and modern technologies.

      As mentioned above, religious demands in the contemporary Chinaexperiencd  a uncontainable robust flourish. This robot demand made  institutional and non-institutional Buddhism a rapid growth, while the latter is developed even faster. The Horizon Consulting Company's 2007 survey confirmed this: Among all the Buddhists in China, only 9.9% of them have taken the  Refuge Ceremony. This  suggested that the institutional organizations  were not attractive to the Buddhist Practitioners.  There were  many reasons for  the unbalanced development of institutional and non-institutional forms Buddhism. First of all, the current religious policies of suppression generated the crowding-out effects on the decrease  of institutional Buddhism and the increase of non-institutional Buddhism . As some scholar has pointed out, "it was  precisely because of the strict control of the authority over the institutional formsreligion that led  the prosperity of the non-institutional religious practices such as individual-inclined types or NRM (New Religion Movements) types.”

      Second, given the restriction of the official  religious institutes, their religious supply could not satisfy the public need. Under this condition, practitioners were more channeled to  mass medias, popular cultures (such as the action movie Shaolin Temple, Jin Yong's martial arts novels, electronic games, etc.), qigong, yoga, spirituality, life enhancement, traditional Chinese culture. These channels are more convenient to meet the demands of Buddhist de facto or potential practitioners . The film Shaolin Temple or Jinyong's martial arts novels  had much more impact on the public’s imagination about Buddhism than any eminent institutional monks did in the mainland of China. Almost no Buddhist leaders’ books but the famous Buddhist laity Nan Huaijin’s can meet the upper-middle class’ demands for  Buddhism. A large number of free distributions of audio and video tapes, CD/DVD, missionary books made  Ven. Jingkong ,a popular oversea dharma master, one of the most influential figures among the lay Buddhists groups in the mainland of China.   However,  in recent years, Ven. Xingyun, a master born in mainland while spent most of lis life in Taiwan, has taken the place of Ven. Jingkong, to become the top influential one among the lay Buddhist groups in China after the government limited  Ven. Jingkong’s organization , and opened to door to Xingyun . But the influence of Ven. Xingyun in general has not yet reached the level of the former has once gotten.

      Third, new communication technologies  have brought great convenience to the Buddhist practitioners  who affiliated with the unconventional and self-organizing institutions. Since the 1990s, the rapid development of Internet, mobile phones and other new technologies have enabled these unconventional institutions to break throughits bottleneck and to gain an explosive growth. Within only  ten years, Buddhist self-organizing institutions based on network has passed  three generations of development: BBS was  the first generation. The popularity of the BBS “Wang Hai Lian Zhou”(lit. the Lotus Boat Over Net Ocean) and online circulation of “YueChen’s Books” witnessed the rapid uprising of lay Buddhists in the mainland of China, who have  abandoned the traditional institutional Buddhist system in the digital  age. Blog was s the second generation. Many Buddhist leaders have been shaping their own images, marketing their teachings , and providing Buddhist services through Blogs. The popularity of Master Xuecheng’s blog indicated  that Buddhist leaders in traditional institutions have gripped the new opportunity to  spread their Dharma after losing the first one. Weibo and WeChat were the third generation, which made  the spread of the network information even easier. They enable common people rapidly become a possible focused person. This has greatly weakened Buddhist leaders’ advantage of monopoly of information, profoundly changed the ecology of network Buddhism. It’s worthy to pay attention to its future development.

      Compared with the non-institutional Buddhism’s quick adaption to new technologies, China's Religious Affairs Administration system at present fell far behind, inflexible to meet the vast and diverse needs in the society.  Although it was always dubious that the restriction of this system on the institutional Buddhism was effective   their administration, at least, was working.  In contrast, the development of non-institutional Buddhism is almost beyond the limitation of the Religious Affairs administration. Restriction and supervision from the other government departments are also very weak.

      4. The constituents  and ecological situation have been obviously changed even inside the institutional Buddhism.

      In traditional Chinese society, there are three types of the institutional Buddhism : Township Buddhism, countryside Buddhism, and forest Buddhism. Three of them have their own characteristics. Each shares its own equal coverage to one and the other. This situation had continued until 1949. These three had sharply declined after the Liberation. During the Cultural Revolution they even suffered a devastating blow. Township Buddhism only symbolically existed in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Xi 'an etc., while the Countryside and Forest Buddhism were near disappearance. The three have been recovered since the new period, but their coverage share and ecological situation have changed significantly.

      (1) The Township Buddhism developed steadily.

      The revival started from Township Buddhism is the first to start, and this revival remained potent. Rapid urbanization in the past over ten years served as momentum new for the development of Township Buddhism and especially City Buddhism (in large and medium-sized cities and regional central cities). The following main problems existed in the development of Township Buddhism:

      --The unbalance between supply and demand. The number of Buddhist monasteries and monks was very poorly low even in the urban cities which are the cultural centers. The quantity and quality of religious services they could provide, compared with the huge urban population and the increasing religious needs, were completely out of balance.

      --The allocation of the resources for the institutional Buddhism was impropriate. The limited resources for the institutional Buddhist organizations were usually located in the old urban area of the cities  or in the outskirts while there were very few resources and even none in the new urban area where the urban population growth was most rapid , and  the urban-rural borders  where the population was most mobile This condition  turned  the potential Buddhists in the institutional Buddhism  other religions in the those area, or  to  the “grey or black markets” of the religious services for the satisfaction of their spiritual need.

      --The unbalance of the development of Institutional Buddhism and non-institutional Buddhism has been mentioned in the previous session.

      (2) The development of Countryside Buddhism showed obvious regional differences.

      The revival of Countryside Buddhism started relatively late and showed it presents obvious regional differences due to the lack of motivation. In general, in the southwest ethnic region where people had Buddhist tradition and in in the economic prosperous  areas, Countryside Buddhism could barely  manage its survival. However, in the economic backward areas or in the labor export regions, Countryside Buddhism showed the declining tendency. One of the significant examples of this unbalance can be found in Fujian Province. The masses in the eastern part of Fujian had great faith in Buddhism, so the Countryside Buddhism could survive there; in the southern part of Fujian where the economic situation was good, Countryside Buddhism revived in some degree. However, in the northern part of Fujian, Countryside Buddhism was obvious declining. The registered Buddhist monasteries were evacuated at a speed of more than 10% per year because of the absence of new recruited monastic.

      (3) Forest Buddhism existed only in names. Its nature has fundamentally altered.

      Forest Buddhism, traditionally located in the famous buddhist mountains, is different from the Township Buddhism and Countryside Buddhism given its distinct characteristics in traditional Chinese concept. This form of Buddhism has always been regarded as the spiritual pillar in conventional institutional Buddhism either by the inside Buddhist community or the cultural imagination of the social masses. But the social transformation after 1949 has profoundly altered the Forest Buddhism. From 1949 to1978, elites in Forest Buddhism had disappeared.

      The Forest Buddhism has begun a tough road to revival since the new period. The market economy has swiftly pushed this form of Buddhism into the wave  of commercialization. Most of the Forest Buddhism has become a part of the scenery spots for tourism. Monks and monastic life have become higher cultural landscapes, like the pandas, being appreciated by tourists.  Surprisingly high-priced tickets of the scenic spots have blocked the pilgrims out of the door of Buddhist Mountains, But only opened to the door to tourists. Most of the tickets revenue went to the local governments’ treasury. Bustling tourists have profoundly affected the normal life in the monasteries. Many forest monasteries were no longer pure places exclusively for recluses. Activities like Buddhist rituals for the deceased, divination, receiving guests, dining and chatting have become a main part of the daily life for forest monks, especially for those livd in the famous mountains.

      “The famous mountains are still there, but the eminent monks are no longer there.”thise common lament from both inside and outside of the Buddhist communities  reflected he typical entrenched  crisis of the institutional Buddhism in the contemporary Chinese society.

      --Commercialization was are quite common among forest temples, and these temples were even turned into local governments’ instruments for tourism. This commercialized Buddhism which were widely criticized by the public, was actually commercialized by the local authority and commercial institutions. Buddhist communities just did not have much power to say no and to resist their rude involvement.

      ---The religious life pattern has essentially changed by nature. The traditional forms of Forest Buddhism almost disappeared in many places but only some routine activities in daily religious life in regards to morning and evening chanting, the religious services like repentance ritual and ceremony for the deceased. However, scrutiny on the tripitaka and meditation practice, which were generally regarded and cherished as the kernel of traditional Forest Buddhism barely exists.

      There were many reasons leading to this situation. The most important and direct one was the powerful intervention by the local government, which made most of the monasteries unable to choose their own life styles. Secondly, because of the rude intervention, those monks who were more willing to compromise, to obey , and even to flatter the needs of governments and officials, had  more opportunities to be the abbot or main members in  monasteries, while those who insisted on their standard and resisted against commercialization were easily marginalized. Thirdly, some monks just intended to pursue their ordination as a profession, career which would help them to gain material interests and economic benefits from the market of religion. Fourthly, modernization also dramatically altered the geographic culture of the Forest Buddhism with more and more convenient transportation and the advanced communication technologies.

      5. The administration modes and the thoughts among the Buddhist organizations became diversified.

      In terms of organization system, all the Buddhist monasteries respected the traditional monastic system ostensibly. But as a matter of fact, in order to adapt to the modern society, they had to modify their traditional system. Some of them simplified   monastic precepts; some publically adopted the enterprise administration model and evaluation system, and even invited property administration logistic to do the cleaning, which was traditionally considered as a daily cultivation for monks.

      In ideological tendency, the Engaged/ Humanistic Buddhism has seemingly  become the political-correct and at least nominally mainstream ideaology of Buddhism in China with the initiation by Master Taixu and further promotion by Buddhist leaders from Mainland China and Taiwan such as Ven. Yinshun, Ven. Xingyun, Ven. Shengyan, Ven. Zhengyan and Mr. Zhao Puchu. This ideology was also recognized by the government authority. But due to the generality of interpretation provided by various official authorities and and the deviation in the process of actual practices, many Buddhist groups and individuals in the Buddhist communities were so skeptical that they even resisted  this idea. Besides the ideology of “Engaged Buddhism,” views from traditional conservatives or even the narrow-minded fundamentalism had a great number of supporters in the Buddhist communities.  Because the current religious policies did not pay enough respect to the self-autonomy of the Buddhist organizations, the conservative ideology which intentionally kept a distance from the government and all levels of the Official Buddhist Associations were widely received among the Buddhist practitioners. At the same time, proposals to follow the examples of the Tibetan Buddhism, the Theravada Buddhism or even the Japan- and Korean- Buddhism also found some supporters in the Buddhist community.

      Part Ⅱ  The trend of the development of Buddhism in Mainland China

      In the next ten years, the most important factors that will influence the development of Chinese Buddhism would be: religious policies, the revival of Chinese classics and traditional culture, new technologies, the process of urbanization, and demographic factors.

      §1.  Religious policies and administration of religious affairs administration will still be the most important factors which will influence Buddhism, especially the institutional Buddhism in the next ten years.

      If the current religious policies and administration of religious affairs administration did not make necessary adjustments, they would certainly continue to distort the supply and demand relation in the religious market and to suppress the institutional religious organizations for their supplies of abundant and good quality religious services. Its squeeze-out-effect would ironically promote the development of the religious “gray and black market” which would not be expected by the government. It would also encourage the flourish of the non-institutional religion and the emerging new religions.

      However, religious policies will also be the most dynamic factor. Whether they can change and how they would change will not only depend upon the renewal of the national ideology, the reshape of the core value system, the reform of political system and administrative regulation, but more importantly  depend on the negotiation of interests on the religious affairs  between the central and local governments and among the government inter-departments. So it would be hard to accurately predict how effectively these policies will impact on specific religions..

      §2.  The popularity of the Chinese classics and the revival of the traditional culture will have great impact on the development of Buddhism, especially on the small- scaled non-institutional Buddhism.

      The focus of the popularity of the Chinese classics and the revival of the traditional culture was on   the revival of Confucianism given the promotion of the government and cultural communities and the expectation from the general public. However, the Confucianism, like a haunting ghost, might continue to survive in current society as one of cultural traditions, but it did not seem optimistic that Confucianism might create any institutional conditions to replace the old ones—the gentry class, the patriarchy system, and the civil exam, three conditions on which Confucianism relied in traditional China. . In contrast, Buddhism, as the biggest institutional entity in traditional culture, may surprisingly become the biggest beneficiary of the popularity of Chinese classics and traditional culture renaissance.

      The Chinese classics’ popularity would foster the development of the institutional Buddhism, uplifting the monks’ education level and updating their knowledge. The demand of the social elite class for well-educated monks will force the monks to speed up their personnel training. With the improvement of the monks’ education level, some temple’s abbots who had low education level would more likely come to earlier retirement, no longer holding life time tenure like their predecessors.

      We can also safely foresee that the popularity of the Chinese classics would greatly promote the development of the non-institutional Buddhism.  The constituents of the popularity of the Chinese Classics, such as the alternative medicine and the holistic health movement such as Qigong, yoga, life enhancement, and cultural training class (lessons in the regular schools and the Chinese culture training courses outside) will become the major channels for Buddhism’s embeddedness into society system. Meanwhile, we also need to be alert to the possibilities that these conditions ferment the new religious movements.

      §3. New technologies will accelerate the disintegration of the Forest Buddhism and enhance the development of the non-institutional Buddhism.

      New technologies’ impact on the development of Buddhism is hard to be measured in a  long run. But in the next ten years, its influence could be mainly in the following aspects:

      ---The incentive effect of the modern communication technologies ---primarily the network and mobile phones--- on the development of Buddhism will continue to expand, especially the emergence the mobile network, primarily the 3G, 4G mobile phones---will have a significant impact on both institutional and non-institutional Buddhism.

      The impact of new communication technologies and information platform on the institutional Buddhism is mainly reflected in the following aspects: firstly, they would amplify not only the social influence of Buddhist monks, Buddhist celebrities in particular, but also make both of their personal charisma and shortcomings transparent. To adapt to this situation and to reshape the personal charisma will become the important quality of Buddhist leaders in the network era; and the skills in handling the public relations’ crisis would become a demand for both the large Buddhist communities and Buddhist leaders. Secondly, these technologies would radically challenge traditionally effective way to keep monks and monastic institutions aloof from the prying of the secular world. It would be increasingly difficult to maintain the refined and transcendent characters of the Sangha.

      The impact of new communication technologies and information platform on the non-institutional Buddhism is mainly reflected in the following: they will further reduce the cost to develop the self-organized Buddhist institutions, increase the mobility of the Buddhist cultural capital, and also greatly increase the possibility of the emergence of heretic communities, which is out of the government’s control and beyond the mainstream society.

      ---High-speed railway network and modern communication technologies will further narrow the geographical and cultural distance between Forest Buddhism and the cities, which would probably erase the particularities of the institutional Forest Buddhism and homogenize it into the Township Buddhism.

      However, counter to this development trend, some small Forest Buddhist communities may undergo a rapid boom. For example, the various small Forest Buddhist communities in Mount Zhongnanshan have caused the attention in academy. But for administration the government, such groups would not be worth keeping a firm grip on.

      §4.  Urbanization has further impact on the development of Buddhism.

      Under the existing religious policies, urbanization was bound to further aggravate the contradiction between supply and demand of religion. The impact of urbanization on the development of Buddhism is mainly reflected in the following aspects:

      ---Intensify the differentiation of institutional Buddhism: the development of Township Buddhism will speed up, the Countryside Buddhism will diminish, and the Forest Buddhism will tend to be integrated into Township Buddhism.

      Under the existing administration system, the supply and demand of the Township Buddhist services were seriously out of balance. Due to lack of competition and screening systems, the Sangha in cities or towns tended to live a comfortable life without diligent practice, and to deteriorate moral standards. It was very difficult to maintain the sacredness of the Sangha communities. But in the process of the urbanization, the City Sangha communities will strengthen its social involvement,especially in charity and cultural education.

      ---Speed up the development of the non-institutional Buddhism. Due to the great shortage of the services offered by the institutional Buddhism, a considerable number of the Buddhist seekers from the ever growing urban population will inevitably turn to the non-institutional Buddhism.

      In general, in the next ten years both institutional and non-institutional Buddhism will have a rapid development, but the development of latter will be particularly rapid. The development of Township Buddhism will be very prominent in the institutional Buddhism, but there will be still many existing problems and shortcomings.

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