A Re-examination of Ven. Taixu ‘s 太虛 Jiànshè rénjiān jìngtǔ lùn 建設人間淨土論 (“On the Establishment of the Pure Land in the Human Realm”)
Charles B. Jones (周文廣), Ph.D.
Almost fifty years ago, Holmes Welch said that Ven. Taixu (Tàixū 太虛, 1890-1947) was “widely regarded as the most important figure in the history of modern Chinese Buddhism.” A tireless advocate for the modernization of Buddhism, he is credited with articulating a vision for a Buddhism adapted for modern society called “Buddhism for Human Life” (rénshēng rójiào 人生佛教) or “Buddhism for the Human Realm” (rénjiān rójiào 人間佛教, often rendered nowadays as “Humanistic Buddhism”). Within this framework we often find the phrase “The Pure Land in the Human Realm” (rénjiān jìngtǔ 人間淨土), generally understood not as the
Buddha-land of Amitābha as a potential located within this present world. Under this rubric, Buddhists are counseled not to denigrate the world before them as defiled nor to place all of their hopes on rebirth in an idealized Pure Land after death, but to engage the present world in order to purify it and create a Pure Land here and now. Taixu’s major statement of this concept may be found in his essay “On the Establishment of the Pure Land in the Human Realm” (Jiànshè rénjiān jìngtǔ lùn 建設人間淨土論). Don A. Pittman’s monograph on Taixu summarizes this essay in a way that brings Taixu’s reformist concerns to the forefront, and western scholars still take it as a statement of Taixu’s desire to direct modern Buddhism toward social reform. However, when one reads this essay, along with Taixu’s other texts on Pure Land, one finds it to be a very eclectic mix of the modern and the traditional in which aspiration for rebirth in Amitābha’s Pure Land is not at all discouraged. This presentation will bring back into discussion the full range of subjects addressed in this pivotal essay, and in the conclusion Taixu will appear as a transitional figure pointing toward the modernization of Chinese Buddhism rather than as a decisive modernist.
Almost fifty years ago, Holmes Welch said that Ven. Taixu (Tàixū 太虛, 1890-1947) was “widely regarded as the most important figure in the history of modern Chinese Buddhism.” A tireless advocate for religious modernization, he is credited with creating the vision of
“Buddhism for Human Life” (rénshēng rójiào 人生佛教) or “Buddhism for the Human Realm” (rénjiān rójiào 人間佛教, now usually rendered “Humanistic Buddhism”). Within this framework we often find the phrase “The Pure Land in the Human Realm” (rénjiān jìngtǔ 人間淨土), a concept that directs religious effort toward the perfection of this present world and away from the goal of rebirth in the Buddha-land of Amitābha. Under this rubric, Buddhists are counseled not to denigrate the world before them as defiled and seek to abandon it after death, but to engage the present world in order to purify it and create a Pure Land here and now. Taixu’s major statement of this concept may be found in his essay “On the Establishment of the Pure Land in the Human Realm” (Jiànshè rénjiān jìngtǔ lùn 建設人間淨土論).
Don A. Pittman’s monograph on Taixu summarizes this essay in a way that foregrounds Taixu’s social concerns, and scholars generally assume it to be a statement of Taixu’s desire to direct Buddhism toward social reform. However, when one reads this essay, along with Taixu’s other writings and speeches on Pure Land, one finds them not so narrowly-focused. Instead, one finds a very eclectic mix of the modern and the traditional. Modern astronomy blends with traditional Buddhist cosmology; long scriptural citations occupy much of its space; the “human realm” turns out to include mythical places such as Uttarakuru in addition to the present world; the desire for rebirth in either Amitābha’s Pure Land or in the Tuṣita Heaven with Maitreya is not at all discouraged; and so on. This presentation will bring the full range of subjects addressed in this pivotal essay up for discussion, and in the conclusion Taixu will appear as a transitional figure pointing toward the modernization of Chinese Buddhism rather than as a decisive modernist. In order to see the full range of topics addressed in this essay, I will provide a complete outline of its contents.
Taixu begins by acknowledging that human beings have two basic kinds of need: the need for security of life and resources in the present world, and the need for “immortality and bliss” (yǒngshēng jílè 永生極樂) after death. While Buddhism does discuss ways of obtaining the former, the latter is provided for by belief in Pure Land of Amitāyus (p. 356). People attempt to gain the first by extending their lives and having children; they try to acquire the second by establishing households, nations, and other political structures (p. 356-357). The mythical continent of Uttarakuru, which Taixu identifies as a planet within the solar system, serves to fulfill the former desire, and he provides a very long quotation from the “Chapter on the Continent of Uttarakuru” (Yùdānyuè zhōu pǐn 鬱單越洲品) from the Fóshuō qǐshì yīnběn jīng 佛說起世因本經 (T.25) (p. 358ff). Taixu seems to think that Uttarakuru, being within our solar system, is accessible and can serve as a place where beings may achieve security while still living.
However, Taixu acknowledges that even in Uttarakuru life eventually comes to an end, and Buddhism provides for rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitāyus. In support of this, he quotes a lengthy description of the Land of Bliss from the Larger Sukhāvatī-vyūha-sūtra. Taixu thus admits that improvements made in the present human world provide benefit only while people are alive, and that Buddhists must still think about their postmortem fates.
Section 2 is entitled “Problems of Contemporary Humanity” (Xiàndài rénjiān zhī kǔnǎo 現代人間之苦惱), and in it Taixu describes all of the difficulties that vex humankind under three broad categories: 1. disasters of the external (i.e., natural) world, 2. problems internal to the self (i.e., psychological problems), and 3. societal problems. Having listed examples of all three, he says this: “In Uttarakuru one is removed from the problems of the external world and of society, but the problems based in the self remain. Only in the Pure Land of Amitāyus does one escape from all suffering; that is why it is called Utmost Bliss.” Taixu then goes on to describe all the competing groups and interests found among human beings, and the savage and murderous struggles to which they give rise. In a clear call for Buddhists to help cleanse the present world of these problems, he says, “Please! Take up the Buddhist slogan to turn the Five Turbidities into the Five Virtues in order to counsel everyone who has a mind to wake up!” Taixu follows up this call with another very long quotation from the Larger Sukhāvatīvyūha-sūtra in which the Buddha Śākyamuni exhorts the bodhisattva Maitreya to work diligently to quell wrongdoing and suffering in the present human world. In the sutra, the Buddha has just told Maitreya that he will attain rebirth in the western Pure Land through this virtuous practice, but Taixu takes up the passage at the part in which the Buddha describes the five sufferings of the present world. Toward the end of the passage, the Buddha declares that a single day and night of practice in the present world equals a hundred years of practice in the western Pure Land, because such practice comes more easily there than here.
He follows this with another quotation which he ascribes to Laozi but which actually comes from the Liezi (Lièzi 列子). The quotation states that human beings regard others as human if they have a human body even if their minds are animal-like, while beings who differ in form are considered inhuman, even if they have the mind of a sage. To illustrate, the text mentions several ancient sage-emperors who had serpentine bodies or the heads of oxen. Immediately following this citation, Taixu provides a chart upon which are arranged all the beings within the Buddhist cosmos and the Chinese political world so that the reader can distinguish superior beings from inferior. His purpose is to correlate human beings of the present world to all the various levels of rebirth:
Those who extend their strength to monopolize power to their own benefit and the detriment of others—these are the barbarians and asuras! Those who amass capital for their own enrichment, eating the substance of others to fatten themselves—these are the animals and beasts! Those who form the majority, whose capital is coerced, who labor without sufficient food or clothing—are they not the hungry ghosts? Those multitudes who live under force and pressure and cannot speak or act freely—are they not the denizens of hell? Contemplating this in silence, the kind of world this human realm is and what manner of doings one finds in this human world, can you not feel an outpouring of grief, and do tears of sorrow not fall?
Section 3, “The Establishment of a Pure Land in the Human Realm” (Rénjiān jìngtǔ zhi jiànshè 人間淨土之建設), follows immediately. After briefly describing six utopian schemes from both East and West (e.g., Laozi’s rustic community, Thomas More’s Utopia, Christian and Hindu ideas of heaven, and so on), Taixu lists the “ingredients” (chéngfen 成分) needed for a Buddhist pure land in the present world. First, this world must have the Three Treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, which Taixu reinterprets as aspects of enlightened humanity to be realized in this world. The Buddha turns out to be our own rational minds when turned from defilement and toward enlightenment. From this basis in the mind, the present human realm manifests as Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha:
Now we are nimble of mind and can imagine (zàozuò 造作) and keep things in mind. This is the Buddha hidden within our nature. Inside, we have the body and its faculties and the cognizing mind (xīnshí 心識); outside is the container world and the nation. These internal and external factors give rise to body, speech, and conduct, and this forms the basis for the Dharma. The Buddha’s enlightenment turns all the dharmas, the dharmas accumulate and manifest as the Buddha revealed in the mind (xīnfó 心佛). They come together as the body, the household, the nation, the masses, as humanity (rénjiān 人間), and as the immeasurable beings throughout the universe; this is our innate faculty (běnnéng 本能) for the Sangha.
While the meaning of this is a bit obscure, Taixu follows it by saying that failure to embody the Three Treasures within ourselves and our societies leads to rebirth in samsara, and that it is only in a human rebirth that we may achieve the Pure Land in the Human Realm through Buddhist cultivation. The subsection called “The Dharma of Safeguarding the Security of Life and Property” (Bǎochí shēnmìng zīchǎn zhi ānquánfǎ 保持身命資產之安全法) begins by stating that security is a prerequisite for establishing the Pure Land here and now. This may be done in a radical way (zhìběn zhi fǎ 治本之法) by either attaining rebirth in Uttarakuru or by a fundamental transformation of one’s present society, or by “superficial” measures (zhìbiāo zhi fǎ 治標之法) . The two superficial measures include (1) establishing a transnational Buddhist association dedicated to charitable and relief work, or (2) performing esoteric rituals to “diminish calamities, augment good fortune, and quell the resentments of devils” (息災增福，降伏魔怨) as well as repentance rituals to “turn misfortune into good fortune” (逢凶化吉). He concludes, “If we could practice these methods for addressing both root and surface using both exoteric and esoteric means, then the causes and conditions would harmonize and there would be no one who would not be able to maintain security.”
The next section is entitled “Specific Means for Establishing [the Pure Land in the Human Realm]” (具體之建設). Here Taixu provides a detailed charter for a utopian Buddhist community to be constructed on Mount Putuo or on a secluded, forested mountain purchased with government assistance. At its center, Taixu envisioned a monastic compound with about 1000 monks and nuns in residence. The compound would include halls and liturgical spaces for each of the eight schools of Chinese Buddhism, and Taixu especially desired that clerics in the Esoteric Hall practice rituals for the aversion of disaster and the quelling of demons every day. Around this compound, he planned three concentric rings of lay family dwellings. Those in the outermost ring would go to families who had taken the Three Refuges, and they would receive the smallest allocations of farmland. In the next ring the tracts would be larger and would be distributed to those families that had taken the Five Lay Precepts. Those who had undertaken the Ten Virtuous Deeds would live closest to the monastic compound and receive the largest plots. Each of these zones would have schools and a police force. The remainder of this section stipulates the community’s form of government and methods for electing officials.
The next section, called “Universal Ingathering” (普遍之攝化), is fairly brief and details ways in which this Buddhist community will interact with the wider world, both by making its facilities and services available to everyone from world government representatives to private families, and by sending missionaries and teachers out to share the fruits of their study and practice abroad.
Section 4, “The Pure Land in the Human Realm and Eternal Life and Bliss” (人間淨土與永生極樂), begins by pointing out that even for those dedicated to building up the Pure Land in the Human Realm, life still comes to an end and people must still prepare for their postmortem fates.
The Pure Land in the Human Realm is just to safeguard life and property by the Three Refuges and the Ten Virtues, and to keep the Three Refuges and the Ten Virtues by safeguarding life and property. Although one may extend life, life still comes to an end and one dies. Since we believe that the mind-consciousness goes on and takes on another body and does not revert to oblivion, we must therefore arrange for the “mark of consciousness that continues to be embodied” a stable and appropriate basis in order to avoid the danger of going from delusion to delusion while bobbing up and down in samsara. Having already laid down the good roots of the Pure Land in the Human Realm by the Three Refuges and the Ten Virtues, we must add on the practice of invocation and transfer of merit to gain ascent and rebirth in the Pure Land of the Inner Court [of Maitreya] or of the [Land of] Utmost Bliss [of Amitābha] in the next life.
In order to provide the scriptural warrant for both of these Pure Lands, Taixu first quotes from the Sutra on the Contemplation of Maitreya’s Ascent to the Tuṣita Heaven Preached by the Buddha (Fóshuō guān Mílè Púsà shàngshēng dōushuàitiān jīng 佛說觀彌勒菩薩上生兜率天經 , T.452), and then from the Amitâbha Sūtra (Fóshuō Āmítuó jīng 佛說阿彌陀經, T.366). Each citation is quite extensive, and each gives a detailed description of the magnificence of the Maitreya’s and Amitābha’s pure lands followed by instructions on the practices that will lead to rebirth in them after death. However, he relativizes all of the lands of which he has spoken thus far (impure lands, the Pure Land in the Human Realm, the Inner Court of Maitreya, and the Pure Lnad of Amitâbha) as mere manifestations of the ultimate reality, which he calls the Tathatādharmatā Pure Land. All beings have the inherent Mind of Awakening (juéxīn 覺心), but their minds are tainted in particular ways, leading them to either the five Destinies or the Pure Land in the Human Realm in this life, and to attain the Inner Court or the Western Pure Land thereafter. Even the latter two manifestations involve some small degree of lingering delusion; the ultimate goal, Buddhahood, brings with it the realization of the Tathatā-dharmatā Pure Land, which contained all the others all along.
Section 5 is called “One’s Own Vows of Compassion and Acts of Charity as the Starting Point” (由本人發大悲願施捨為始). It begins by exhorting readers to generate their own vows of compassion, noting that vows mark the point of departure for the creation of any pure land, human or celestial. As an example, Taixu cites in full the 48 vows set forth by the bodhisattva Dharmākara by which the western Pure Land of Amitābha was accomplished. Following this, he notes that vows need to be upheld by offerings. He supports this with another quotation from the Longer Sukhāvatī-vyūha-sūtra that describes the innumerable offerings that Dharmākara gave while pursuing Buddhahood. With a short verse exhorting readers to work for the benefit of all by purifying a Buddha-land, the main text ends.
An appendix called “Creating the Pure Land in the Human Realm” (Chuàngzào rénjiān jìngtǔ 刱[=創]造人間淨土) contains the text of a lecture Taixu gave in 1930. While the foregoing text mixed calls for practical social action in the present world with highly traditional elements of Buddhist thought, this section seems more thoroughly modern. Gone are the sutra citations and the expressions of concern for the afterlife; gone also the plans for a specific local utopian community and the esoteric rituals for the good of the nation. Instead we find here four sections dealing only with social action to improve the present world in order to create the Pure Land in the Human Realm not in a distant future when Maitreya will descend and attain Buddhahood here, but in a nearer future and as a result of human effort. The first part describes the Five Turbidities that make our present world an impure land, and acknowledges that Buddhism accepts the notion of pure buddha-lands that lie elsewhere, perhaps as other planets. However, it goes on to say that pure lands are accomplished by the practice of virtue; they do not just appear spontaneously. The mind of each individual is the root, and purification through discipline and virtue will take one to the goal. Right action directed toward good deeds provides both for the establishment of a buddha-land, but also the good society.
Second, given the centrality of the mind and the constant transformations of consciousness that give rise to the world, there is no need to abandon this world and seek purity elsewhere in the same way that many Chinese citizens of the day think that migrating to America will solve their problems. Instead, Taixu points out:
To be blunt, even if this present land is neither good nor stately, if everyone works to purify their own minds and accumulate the causes and conditions, then if we move forward bit by bit over the long haul, this defiled and evil human realm can be transformed into a magnificent pure land. There is no need to leave this human realm and look for a pure land somewhere else. This is why it is called the Pure Land in the Human Realm.
Third, in order to put forth appropriate effort, one must go beyond the delusions of both optimists and pessimists. The first believe the world is already good and in no need of change, while the second do not believe it can be improved. When one learns that everything happens through causes and conditions, then one gives up false doctrines of creation by a sovereign God and pure materialism, both of which deprive human beings of their ability to change things. Realizing that things arise as transformations of mind, then one will realize that the purification of the mind is an effective way to improve society.
Fourth, how does one proceed? The first necessity is government involvement. Just as one needs the government’s forces to put down bandits, one needs the government’s aid in working for social progress. After that, the founding of the Pure Land in the Human Realm requires industry to provide the requisites of life, education to form character and teach skills, the arts to raise industry from mere technology to new levels and elevate thought, and then morals to guide and direct the application of industry, education, and the arts. When all of these are combined with Buddhism’s understanding of the formative power of the mind and its push toward liberation, then society can move forward to implement the Pure Land in the Human Realm.
3. Previous Scholarship
The summary just presented is very long, and in a sense that is the point. Taixu’s essay is long, rambling, and presents many threads of thought, challenging any attempt at a succinct recap. Previous attempts to present its contents, such as those of Don Pittman and Justin Ritzinger, do not present the full complexity of this text. I have given a fuller description of its contents here in order to help promote a trend in Taixu studies that is unfolding only slowly.
Western scholars first became aware of Taixu’s importance through the groundbreaking work of Holmes Welch, who devotes an entire chapter of The Buddhist Revival in China to him.15 In this work, Welch portrays Taixu primarily as an organizer and modernizer, and not a very good one at that. While acknowledging (briefly) that Taixu’s ministry included Pure Land elements, Welch contends that Taixu was not sincere about it, but grudgingly included it as a sop for ignorant followers who knew nothing better. Welch’s characterization dominated western understanding of Taixu’s role in Buddhist modernism for a long time. Pittman’s study retained this understanding. His summation of Taixu’s “On the Establishment of the Pure Land in the Human Realm” omits all references to Pure Land and Maitreyan themes, and focuses primarily on the plan for a Buddhist mountain utopia. In his conclusions, Pittman lists three hallmarks of modern religion as put forward by Joseph Kitagawa, the second of which is an abandonment of otherworldly or postmortem paradises in favor of work in the present world, and he states that Taixu meets this description: “[[[Taixu]]] understood the significance of human existence, emphasized the attainment of buddhahood within this world, and rejected the givenness of the social order in favor of building a pure land on earth.”
Recent doctoral dissertations by Eric Goodell and Justin Ritzinger have expanded our understanding of Taixu and shown him to be a much more complex character than the earlier studies indicated. Goodell makes note of the influence that his grandmother’s practice of nianfo (niànfó 念佛) had on him and the importance of early experiences in meditation. He notes that Taixu recognized Pure Land as one of the eight schools of Chinese Buddhism and that after 1928 (by which time the Northern Expedition had reunited China and made nationwide organization possible again), Taixu softened his criticism of more traditionalist forms of practice in an effort to smooth his relationships with older influential monks. However, for Goodell Taixu remains a modernizer whose tolerance of traditional practices was strategic:
The elimination of the deva vehicle also involves the “faithful masses” of faithful Buddhists. Taixu was not so much interested in reducing the influence of the incense-offering Buddhists, but rather in demonstrating to new Buddhists that their understanding of Buddhism was more genuine, and unrelated to the more traditional type. In this connection, Taixu’s Humanistic Science disparages the devotional masses who see buddhas and bodhisattvas as gods and seek heavenly rewards.
Ritzinger is much more expansive in the matter of Taixu’s devotional life. The dissertation as a whole intends to show that Taixu harbored a lifelong devotion to Maitreya and sincerely sought to gain rebirth in the Tuṣita Heaven when he died. He promoted Maitreya worship when he could and provided Maitreya devotions for his followers within the institutions that he founded. We have seen this already from Taixu’s declaration given above that, even after years of social engagement, one must still face the fact of one’s own death and prepare for one’s future rebirths. Ritzinger’s assessment of Taixu’s feelings regarding Amitābha Pure Land practice is somewhat ambiguous, however. Was Taixu content to let Buddhists conduct practices leading to rebirth in Sukhāvatī rather than the Tuṣita Heaven, or did he simply resign himself to its inevitability given its long tradition and overwhelming popularity? Let us take a closer look at the relationship between the two practices.
Taixu’s essay “On the Establishment of the Pure Land in the Human Realm” seems to give about equal space to both Amitābha and Maitreya. When he first moves from a discussion of securing life and property in the present world to providing for one’s postmortem fate, he begins with a very long citation from the Larger Sukhāvatī-vyūha-sūtra that describes the physical attributes of the western Pure Land. He then returns to the problems of this present world, following this with another long quotation from the same sutra. Up to this point, he appears to be favoring the Amitābha cult while ignoring Maitreya.
But it is not that simple. While it is true that this second quotation comes from a classic sutra of the Pure Land tradition, the section he quotes shows us the Buddha Śākyamuni addressing Maitreya and praising him for his longstanding efforts to succor beings in the present world. While a more traditional Pure Land devotee might think Taixu is emphasizing the cult of Amitābha here, in fact Taixu is cleverly using the text to focus on Maitreya and this-worldly compassionate action.
After this, he returns to his plans for improving life and establishing a Buddhist utopia and does not return to the subject of future rebirths until much later. Only when he does return to it does he finally bring up the practices leading to rebirth either in the Tuṣita Heaven with Maitreya or in Sukhāvatī with Amitābha. He begins with the possibility of joining Maitreya, providing a long citation from the Sutra on Maitreya’s Ascent to the Tuṣita Heaven (Fóshuō guān Mílè Púsà shàngshēng dōushuàitiān jīng 佛說觀彌勒菩薩上生兜率天經, T.452). The passage presents a description of the Tuṣita Heaven and the practices that lead to rebirth there. He follows this immediately with another long passage from the Amitābha sūtra describing the splendors of the western Pure Land of Amitābha.
That is really all that Taixu says about postmortem matters in this essay. It ends soon thereafter, but not before Taixu has rooted the purity of both the Tuṣita Heaven and Sukhāvatī in the human mind and exhorted his readers to follow the examples of both Maitreya and Amitābha insofar as they constructed their paradises by long kalpas of compassionate action on behalf of others. One cannot see a clear preference for either cult here. If anything, the traditional Pure Land focus on Amitābha has an edge over the cult of Maitreya, at least to judge by the amount of space devoted to each. When he does juxtapose them, he seems interested only in presenting them as two equally viable options; he does not seem to recommend one over the other. This appears to be consistent with Taixu’s other writings. For example, in a text entitled “Chan, Tiantai, and Huayan Flowing Back into Pure Land Practice” (Chán, tái, xián liúguī jìngtǔ xíng 禪台賢流歸淨土行), Taixu presents both Maitreya practice and traditional Amitābha practice as two viable methods of attaining rebirth in a pure land. He does take time to explain why the cult of Maitreya is not as popular as that of Amitābha: it had few texts in circulation and few advocates, and it received unfair criticism from authors favoring Amitābha. He goes on to say that Maitreya has greater affinities with denizens of our world and his Inner Court is closer, being also within the Sahā world. He does not declare that Maitreya practice is superior to Amitābha practice; he merely seeks to elevate Maitreya practice to the same level: “Thus, the lack of currency of this practice is not a matter of superior versus inferior or difficult versus easy; it is just that after the Tang there were few practitioners and few advocates.”
In the remarks on traditional Pure Land practice that follow, Taixu again does not discourage its pursuit, but seeks only to clarify what version of Pure Land he deems legitimate. He argues that from the time of Lushan Huiyuan (336-414), nianfo was a very disciplined form of meditation. It was only in later periods that nianfo and Chan split apart, and nianfo was reduced to mere oral invocation of the Buddha’s name. This he describes as a debasement of nianfo, which properly ought to be directed toward the attainment of the nianfo samadhi (niànfó sánmèi 念佛三昧). And lest it be thought that Taixu modulated his message to suit his audience, I would call attention to a lecture Taixu delivered in Japan before a Jōdo shinshū 淨土真宗 audience at Ryukoku University in 1925, in which he reiterated the point: nianfo is not oral invocation, but a serious meditative endeavor that should lead to samadhi. It seems, then, that Taixu’s main concern was not to promote Maitreya devotion over Amitābha Pure Land practice, but to lift the image and status of Maitreya devotion in order to put it on a par with a certain version of Amitābha practice.
A master narrative that has persisted for too long (and to which I confess I have contributed) depicts Taixu as a modernizer who, by propounding Humanistic Buddhism and articulating the new goal of building a “Pure Land in the Human Realm,” sought to replace backwards, traditional, and other-worldly Buddhist practice with a modern, socially responsible, and this-worldly orientation. A careful reading of his “On the Establishment of the Pure Land in the Human Realm” and related texts reveals no such agenda. While it is true that Taixu pushed for modernization in many areas, such as education and the pivot away from traditional gentry and toward the modern middle class, he never sought to displace practices that tended to the believer’s postmortem fate. Justin Ritzinger is surely correct in identifying Maitreya worship as Taixu’s own preferred practice, but I see less evidence that he tried to promote it publicly to the exclusion of other practices. A look at the essay under examination shows that he wanted all the traditional schools of Chinese Buddhism represented in his mountain utopia, and if anything stressed Esoteric ritual as the practice which would benefit the nation most.
As to the shibboleth that Taixu was being disingenuous when he spoke approvingly of traditional Amitābha worship, addressed it in writing, and tolerated its practice in his establishments merely as a kind of religious realpolitik, I would point out two things. First, whatever his private attitude and regardless of what he said to confidantes in private settings, his legacy consists in the writings he left, and these present an apparently honest concern for the afterlife and promote both Maitreya and Amitābha. Second, the fact that he publicly stated to a Japanese Jōdo shinshū audience that nianfo was normatively a serious meditative practice and not reducible to oral invocation calls the whole idea that he merely pandered into question. In the end, Taixu remained much more of a traditional Buddhist than western scholarship has been able to see. His modernization project was adaptive: he wanted to make Buddhism address the situations and needs of modern society. It was also additive: he wanted to add more by way of concern for the public good and political involvement than perhaps had been the case previously. He did not want to subtract anything or supersede the traditional with the modern. He wanted a rebalancing. Thus, scholarly treatments of Taixu should turn away from portraying him one-sidedly as a modern figure. We should see him more appropriately as a transitional figure who initiated the modernization process that is still ongoing today.
1. Primary Sources:
Fóshuō qǐshì yīnběn jīng 佛說起世因本經, T.25.
Inagaki, Hisao, and Harold Stewart, trans. 2003. The Three Pure Land Sutras. Revised second edition. Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research.
Taixu 太虛. “Chán, tái, xián liúguī jìngtǔ xíng” 禪台賢流歸淨土行, Downloaded from http://www.nanputuo.com/nptlib/html/200707/1812143485802.html.
———. “Jiànshè rénjiān jìngtǔ lùn” 建設人間淨土論 (“On the Establishment of the Pure Land in the Human Realm”), in Tàixū dàshī quánshū 太虛大師全書 (The Collected Works of the Great master Taixu), vol. 14. Downloaded from http://www.nanputuo.com/nptlib/html/200707/1812143485802.html.
———. “Jiànshè rénjiān jìngtǔ lùn” 建設人間淨土論 (“On the Establishment of the Pure Land in the Human Realm”), in Tàixū dàshī quánshū 太虛大師全書. Taipei: Shandao Temple Sutra Distribution Center 善導寺佛經流通處, 1956, p. 24:349-430.
———. Lùn jìngtǔ zhi yàoyì 論淨土之要義 (“The Essential Meaning of the Pure Land”).
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