All events are free and open to the public

Spring Term 2018

Thursday, February 15, 2018, 5 pm
The Merit of Words and Letters: Sutra Recitation in Japanese Zen
Erez Joskovich, Shinjō Itō Postdoctoral Fellow in Japanese Buddhism, UC Berkeley
180 Doe Memorial Library

Joskovich talk image

Classical Chan/Zen literature is famous for its disparagement of scriptural authority, ranging from the well-known slogan “separate transmission outside the scriptures...,” attributed to Bodhidharma, to stories of renowned Zen masters abusing Buddhist scriptures. Nevertheless, similar to other Buddhist schools, incantations of sutras and invocation of dhāranī have been a significant component of Zen monastic life throughout history. Not only do Zen monks not burn sutras, but in fact daily and monthly sutra-recitation services, including different offerings and prayers, take up more of the monks’ time and effort than does any other activity, including zazen.

This talk examines the liturgical function of Buddhist scriptures within the Japanese Rinzai Zen School. Specifically, it aims to better understand how Zen practitioners interpret the meaning and purpose of sutra recitation, and how they bridge the apparent gap between the disparagement of scriptural authority and the pervasiveness of Buddhist scriptures in their monastic life. To achieve this goal, we will explore the Kankinbō 看経榜 (“Reading Sutra Placard”) chapter of Goke sanshō yōromon 五家參詳要路門 (“An Examination of the Essential Teaching of the Five Houses”; T 2576), written by the eminent eighteenth-century Japanese Rinzai monk Tōrei Enji (東嶺圓慈, 1721–1792).

Tōrei discussion combines various mental and physical benefits of sutra recitation, as well as its power to positively affect natural and supernatural environments. Thus, this work highlights the multifaceted understanding of texts as ritual objects, one that challenges any strict distinctions between worldly benefits and spiritual cultivation. Moreover, Tōrei exegetical efforts to explain the function and to justify the legitimacy of sutra recitation clearly indicate that the tension between antinomian rhetoric and worship was a major concern for pre-modern Zen masters, and not, as some scholars have argued, merely the result of projecting Western categories on traditional Zen practice. Accordingly, I contend that the Kankinbō can advance our understanding of the relations between the orthodox view of rituals within the Rinzai Zen tradition and its modern interpretations in Japan and elsewhere.

Erez Joskovich is a Shinjō Itō Postdoctoral Fellow in Buddhist Studies. He specializes in the intellectual and religious history of Chan/Zen Buddhism, with a particular focus on the development of Japanese Zen since the 18th century to the present. His doctoral dissertation is a detailed study of the development of lay Zen in modern Japan. While working on his thesis, he was awarded fellowships from the Japan Foundation and the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT). The fellowships enabled him to work as a visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo (2008-2012). He received his Ph.D. (June 2014) from the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Tel-Aviv University (in collaboration with the University of Tokyo). Other research interests include Buddhist ethnography, ritual, and performance studies

Event Contact: buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510.643.5104

Thursday, February 22, 2018, 5 pm
From chan to Chan:  meditation and the semiotics of visionary experience in medieval Chinese Buddhism
Eric Greene, Yale University
180 Doe Memorial Library

Supported by the Tianzhu Global Network for the Study of Buddhist Cultures

Greene talk image

In this talk Eric Greene argues that a distinguishing feature of “early Chan” discourse relative to mainstream Chinese approaches to “Buddhist meditation” (chan)was the rejection of the semiotic potential of visionary meditative experiences. Drawing from early Chan texts, contemporaneous non-Chan meditation manuals, and recently discovered stone inscriptions from Sichuan, he suggests that one way Chan partisans redefined what it meant to be a master of “meditation “ was by claiming that extraordinary meditative visions were never signs of attainment. This rejection was, Greene proposes, a key element of the “parting of the ways” that during this time began to separate (ideologically, at least) the streams Chinese Buddhist thought and practice typically classified as “Chan” and “Pure Land” respectively.

Eric Greene (PhD Berkeley, 2012) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Yale. His research focuses on the history medieval Chinese Buddhism, with a particular focus on Buddhist meditation in China, Buddhist rituals of repentance, and Chines Buddhist translation practices.

Event Contact: buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510.643.5104

Thursday, March 1, 2018, 5 pm
Buddhism and Social Discrimination in Japan
180 Doe Memorial Library

Sponsors: Center for Japanese Studies (CJS), Center for Buddhist Studies

Buddhism and Social Discrimination in Japan Colloquium image

This meeting will focus on how Japanese Buddhist culture has responded in premodern and modern times to the needs of individuals traditionally branded by social custom as hinin 非人 (outcasts) by reason of profession, medical condition, family background, or poverty.

Hank Glassman (Associate Professor, Haverford College)
"Kegawarashii: Discrimination against Funeral Workers in Japan, Medieval and Modern"

Jessica Main (Associate Professor, University of British Columbia)
"Public Health and Propaganda: Shin Buddhism and the Campaign to Eradicate Leprosy in the 1930s"

Jessica Starling (Assistant Professor, Lewis & Clark College)
"Practicing Ethics in Contemporary Shin Buddhism: Deconstructing Stigma at a Former Leprosarium"

Event Contact: cjs-events@berkeley.edu, 510.642.3415

Friday-Sunday, March 2-4, 2018
Workshop on Tannishō Commentarial Materials
Jodo Shinshu Center
2140 Durant Avenue, Berkeley

Sponsors: Center for Japanese Studies (CJS), Center for Buddhist Studies, Otani University, Ryukoku University. 

For more information on participation and registration, please visit the Center for Japanese Studies events page.

Thursday, March 8, 2018, 5pm
Migrants, Monks, and Monasteries: Toward a History of South China Sea Buddhism
Jack Meng-Tat Chia, University of California, Berkeley/National University of Singapore
180 Doe Memorial Library

The event is co-sponsored by the Tang Center for Silk Road Studies and the Center for Buddhist Studies

Migrants, Monks, and Monasteries event image

Chinese migration since the nineteenth century have led to the spread of Buddhism to maritime Southeast Asia. Recently, scholars of Buddhism and historians of Chinese religions have begun to consider the connected history of Buddhism in China and Southeast Asia, using Buddhist records, epigraphic sources, as well as oral history interviews. In this talk, I explore the transregional Buddhist networks connecting Southeast China and the Chinese diaspora from the nineteenth century to 1949. I discuss how new patterns of Buddhist mobility contributed to the circulation of people, ideas, and resources across the South China Sea. I show that, on the one hand, Buddhist monks and religious knowledge moved along these networks from China to Southeast Asia, while money from wealthy overseas Chinese was channeled along the networks for temple building in China; on the other hand, Buddhist monks relied on the networks to support China's war effort and facilitate relocation to Southeast Asia during the Sino-Japanese War.

Jack Meng-Tat Chia is a Senior Tutor in the Department of History at the National University of Singapore and currently a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Center for Buddhist Studies, University of California, Berkeley. Born and raised in Singapore, he received his MA in East Asian Studies from Harvard University, and his PhD in History from Cornell University. He is currently working on his book manuscript, entitled Diaspora's Dharma: Buddhism and Modernity across the South China Sea. This book seeks to contribute to our understanding of the connected history of Buddhism in China and Southeast Asia.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018, 5 pm
Chao Presidential Chair Annual Lecture
Meditation and Nonconceptual Awareness
Perspectives from Buddhist Philosophy and Cognitive Science
Evan Thompson, University of British Columbia
Toll Room, Alumni House, UC Berkeley

Supported by a generous gift from Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao

Thompson talk image

Mindfulness meditation practices are often traditionally said to induce “nonconceptual” forms of awareness, and scientists and clinicians often repeat such descriptions. But what does “nonconceptual” mean? Clearly, without a precise specification of what a concept or conceptual cognition is, the notion of nonconceptuality is equally ill-defined. I present an account of concepts, concept formation, and nonconceptual awareness based on combining ideas from Buddhist philosophy and cognitive science. On the Buddhist side, I draw from Dharmakīrti’s “exclusion” (apoha) theory of concept formation and the Yogācāra view of conceptual cognition as necessarily structured by the duality of “grasper” (grāhaka) and “grasped” (grāhya) (i.e., by the duality of subject versus object). On the cognitive science side, I distinguish between sensory discrimination, perceptual categorization, and mental conceptualization (the deployment of concepts in thought). According to both Dharmakīrti’s “exclusion” theory and cognitive science considerations, perceptual categorization is the most minimal form of conceptual cognition. It structures our engagement with the world at a basic and prelinguistic level, and it is motivationally and affectively biased. Combining these Buddhist and cognitive science ideas provides a philosophically precise and empirically useful way to define “nonconceptual awareness” and “nondual awareness.” Nonconceptual mental events do not undergo or result from “exclusion” (apoha), and they do not involve perceptual categorization. Nondual awareness in addition lacks the grasper-grasped (subject-object) structure and is not motivationally and affectively biased. I apply this framework to scientific studies of Buddhist mindfulness meditation practices, with attention to experimental studies of the effects of these practices on the perception and experience of pain. One take-home message is that cognitive scientists, clinical scientists, philosophers, Buddhist scholars, and experienced meditation practitioners need to work together. In particular, more attention needs to be given to the cross-cultural philosophical issues about concepts discussed in the lecture to clarify and advance the empirical investigation of mindfulness meditation practices.

Evan Thompson is Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and an Associate Member of the Department of Asian Studies and the Department of Psychology. He is an Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He is the author of Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2015); Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind (Harvard University Press, 2007); and Colour Vision: A Study in Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Perception (Routledge Press, 1995). He is the co-author, with Francisco J. Varela and Eleanor Rosch, of The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991, revised edition, 2017). He received his B.A. in Asian Studies from Amherst College and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto. He was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto from 2005 to 2013, and held a Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Science and the Embodied Mind at York University from 2002 to 2005. In 2014, he was the Numata Invited Visiting Professor at the Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He has also held invited visiting appointments at the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement (ICE) at Dartmouth College, the Faculty of Philosophy, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, the Ecole Polytechnique (Paris), the Center for Subjectivity Research at the University of Copenhagen, and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Event Contact: buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510.643.5104

Tuesday and Thursday, March 13/15, 2018, 5-7 pm
Tuesday and Thursday, March 20/22, 2018, 5-7 pm
Chao Presidential Chair Annual Seminars
Emptiness, Mind, and Reality
Buddhist Interventions in the Realism Versus Anti-Realism Debate in Contemporary Philosophy
370 Dwinelle Hall, UC Berkeley

Supported by a generous gift from Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao

Chao Seminars image

Registration for the seminars is encouraged. Those registered will have access to assigned readings through a dropbox link. Register by sending an email to buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu.

Does it make sense to think that we inhabit a world that exists and has a nature independently of how anyone takes it to be? Realists answer yes, and argue that objective knowledge is impossible unless it tells us how things are independently of what anyone might think. Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy, however, specifically the Madhyamaka and Yogācāra traditions, is usually understood to be anti-realist, because it denies either that things have intrinsic natures (Madhyamaka) or that things have intrinsic natures independently of the mind (Yogācāra). Philosophical scholarship on Madhyamaka and Yogācāra often relates them to anti-realist or idealist ideas in modern European philosophy (e.g., from Kant, Wittgenstein, and Phenomenology). For example, Madhyamaka is variously interpreted as a form of conventionalism, global anti-realism, or quietism, while Yogācāra is sometimes read as a form of transcendental phenomenology. These four seminars will examine core ideas from Madhyamaka and Yogācāra in light of the resurgence of realism in contemporary philosophy. For example, Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Taylor argue that we can “retrieve” realism by giving up the idea that knowledge consists of ideas in the mind representing the external world; by denying this “meditational epistemology” we can regain a view of knowledge as being based on our direct access to the everyday world and the physical universe of science. Quentin Meillassoux argues that the way to be a realist is to give up “correlationism,” which is the idea that we only ever have access to the correlation between the mind and the world and never to either one considered apart from the other, and he argues that the reason to reject correlationism is that it cannot make sense of the meaning of scientific statements about the world anterior to the appearance of human beings. How should the contemporary Madhyamaka or Yogācāra philosopher respond to these kinds of arguments? What contributions can Madhyamaka and Yogācāra make to the contemporary debates about realism and anti-realism? These questions will be the guiding ones of the four seminars. We will read selections (in translation) from Nāgārjuna’s Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā) and The Dispeller of Disputes (Vigrahavyāvartanī), as well as Vasubandhu’s Treatise on the Three Natures (Trisvabhāvanirdeśa), together with relevant secondary readings relating these texts to contemporary philosophy.

Seminar 1: March 13: Madhyamaka Versus Realism: Setting up the Debate
Seminar 2: March 15: Epistemology:  Madhyamaka Versus Nyāya
Seminar 3: March 20: Yogācāra: Mind and World.
Seminar 4: March 22: Ambiguity, Paradox, Dialetheism, Quietism

Attendees at the Chao Lecture and Chao Seminars may also be interested in the workshop on Conceptuality and Nonconceptuality in Buddhist Philosophy, to be held on Friday-Sunday, March 23-25, 2018 (see below).

Event Contact: buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510.643.5104

Friday-Sunday, March 23-25, 2018
Conceptuality and Nonconceptuality in Buddhist Philosophy Workshop
Toll Room, Alumni House

Supported by generous gifts from the Mind and Life Institute, from Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao, and from the Tianzhu Global Network

Friday March 23: 4 pm to 7 pm
Saturday March 24: 9:30 am to 6 pm
Sunday March 25: 9:30 am to 12:30 pm

Paper presenters:
Dan Arnold (University of Chicago)
Christian Coseru (College of Charleston)
John Dunne (University of Wisconsin)
Jay Garfield (Smith College)
Sonam Kachru (University of Virginia)
Birgit Kellner (Austrian Academy of Sciences)
Ching Keng (National Chengchi University, Taiwan)
Catherine Prueitt (George Mason University)
Robert Sharf (UC Berkeley)
Mark Siderits (Illinois State University)
Evan Thompson (University of British Columbia)
Roy Tzohar (Tel Aviv University)

Bronwyn Finnigan (Australian National University)
Anand Jayprakash Vaidya (San Jose State University)
Koji Tanaka (Australian National University)

Download the abstracts here

Event Contact: buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510.643.5104

Thursday, April 5, 2018, 5pm
Buddhist and Muslim Perspectives on the Contemporary Crisis in Myanmar
John Clifford Holt, Bowdoin College
180 Doe Memorial Library

The event is co-sponsored by the Department of South & Southeast Asian Studies and the Center for Buddhist Studies

Buddhist and Muslim Perspectives on the Contemporary Crisis in Myanmar event image

Voices from each of the major communities (Arakanese, Burmese and Rohingya) articulate narratives of siege when explaining how the current conflicts between Buddhists and Muslims have unfolded recently in Myanmar. Why are respective understandings of belonging and exclusion so seriously contested? How do ethno-religious perspectives and contemporary geo-political realities complicate these understandings? How do people from these communities see a path forward, if any? And, is there a constructive role for outsiders (the U.N., the Western media, and NGOs) to play?

John Clifford Holt teaches courses about Asian religious traditions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as courses on theoretical approaches to the study of religion. In 1982, he organized and founded the Inter-collegiate Sri Lanka Education (ISLE) Program for a consortium of private liberal arts colleges, and in 1986 he became the first chair of Bowdoin’s Asian Studies Program.

Event Contact: buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510.643.5104

Thursday, April 12, 2018, 5 pm
Buddhist Painting, Painters and Performance
Ronald M. Davidson, Fairfield University
370 Dwinelle Hall

Buddhist painting talk image

From the Gupta-Vākāṭaka period forward, Buddhist rituals featured painting on cloth and other media as part of their increasingly elaborate ritual program. The paintings from Ajanta, Bedsa and other sites in India exemplify in some measure the importance of painting systems for Indian Buddhists. In Buddhist usage, both the painter and paintings were sanctified with ritual systems that conferred on them a specific authority, including signs of accomplishment and powers gained through their use as material spirituality. The specifically Indian values associated with painting have not been given sufficient consideration, and the presentation will discuss the confluence between Buddhist ideology, Indian uses of portraiture, ritual, memory, aesthetic reflection and representation.

Dr. Ronald M. Davidson is Professor of Religious Studies at Fairfield University, in Fairfield Connecticut. He received his AB (1971), MA (1980) and Ph.D. (1985) from the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Studies, although also trained in Chinese Buddhist documents. He arrived at Fairfield in 1990, after having taught at the Graduate Theological Union, the Institute of Buddhist Studies and Santa Clara University. From 2014-17 he was the Inaugural Director of the Humanities Institute, College of Arts and Sciences. He was awarded research fellowships from Fulbright (three), American Institute of Indian Studies, ACLS, NEH, ASIANetwork, the Numata Foundation and the American Academy of Religion. His area of expertise is in the social and linguistic dynamics of Buddhist ritual, particular associated the use of mantras, dhāraṇīs and Indian tantrism, and has translated texts from Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese. He has published five single-authored or edited volumes, and dozens of articles, most recently a series on the mantra literature of Buddhism in late classical India of the Gupta-Vākāṭaka period.

Event Contact: buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510.643.5104