P30. East Asian Religion and Philosophy

Session: Session 5, 10:15 – 11:45 am, Saturday 9/30

Category: Individual Papers

Location: Excellence

Chair: Alina Stetsuk (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

Paper Presenters: Dixuan Chen (Grinnell College), Andrew Tschirki (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign), Xiaoliang Yang (University of Pennsylvania)

More than Curing the Sick: A Neglected History of Medicine Buddha Worship in China

Speaker: Dixuan Chen
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: Grinnell College
Abstract: This study questions and challenges the traditional approach to understanding the worship of Medicine Buddha (Sk. Bhaiṣajyaguru; Ch. Yaoshi 藥師), with a focus on the Sui 隋 (581-618) and the Tang 唐 (618-907) eras when this mode of devotion initially reached a full-fledged development in China. The conventional interpretation characterizes the Medicine Buddha as a unique “healing divinity” of the living, with little relevance to salvific efficacy for the deceased. My research argues that the traditional approach oversimplifies Medicine Buddha worship to a unified totality, perceiving it as only relevant to procuring health. This narrow perspective is underpinned by a normative assumption that generates a binary division between the living and the dead. To overcome the limitations of the traditional view, the article suggests the need for adopting a more contextual approach to locate this worship in the multifaceted nature of Chinese religious beliefs and practices. Through a close examination of extant literature and epigraphy during the Sui-Tang period, the article investigates a historical aspect of Medicine Buddha worship that is different from what we know today. It reveals how Medicine Buddha worship was shaped by broader social and cultural values and how it played a role in reinforcing these values during the time. This study takes a fresh look at the complex interplay between Buddhism and Chinese local culture, which provides a valuable foundation for further research into the development of Buddhism in China.

The Dharma of the Manyoshu: Reevaluating the Buddhist Poetry of the Manyoshu

Speaker: Andrew Tschirki
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Abstract: Much scholarship of the Buddhist poetry of the Manyoshu regards the poetry as not inherently “Buddhist” or as “immature” in its Buddhist development. However, in context of the Japanese Buddhist literary tradition, many texts of the same nature are regarded as “Buddhist.” My goal is to explore the Buddhist themes of the Manyoshu in context of the Buddhist literature of the period, and suggest that evaluation of the Buddhist poetry should not be contingent on the development of Japanese Buddhist thought in the subsequent centuries.

Familial Love or Social Justice? Confucian Dilemmas of Ethics and Politics

Speaker: Xiaoliang Yang
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Pennsylvania
Abstract: In this paper, I seek to approach Classical Confucians’ treatments of ethical dilemmas, reflected in Confucian classics. After researching recent literatures and identification of academic gaps, I respond to a current scholarly debate, where scholars framed Confucian ethics as “familial favoritism”, where social interests are given way to familial ones. I argue that, their construction is entirely based on Confucians’ compliments of those who prioritize familial interests, in ethical dilemmas between family vs. society. But the acceptance of one choice does not necessarily lead to the refutation of the other, since Confucians might also praise those who prioritize social interests. In the latter parts of the thesis, I provide theoretical reasons for the allowance of different choices within one ethical dilemma in Classical Confucianism, and analyze why Confucians will also credit those who prioritize social interests simultaneously, in the contradiction of family versus society, extracting passages from primary and secondary literature in Confucianism and classical studies. Thereby, this research rejects commonly spread notion of “familial favoritism” for Confucianism, by unveiling one unseen dimension of Confucianism in which social interests can be more favored as well. This research also seeks to reconstruct Classical Confucianism as a system encompassing high tolerance of diversified solutions toward one problem, demonstrate internal complexity and flexibility within Confucian theoretical system, and furthers understandings of Confucianism as well as its attitudes toward ethical dilemmas, which culturally and mentally influences people in East Asia and of a broader scale for innumerable ages.