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453 BUDDHISM IN TAIWAN Chapter Eight. Conclusions


Chapter Eight



     In the course of this study, we have followed the progress of Buddhism in Taiwan from the end of the Ming dynasty through the mid- to late-1980s, and must unfortunately take leave of the story in media res. It is a time of great changes, and had I had another ten years or so to pursue this history further, I might have been able to tie up more of the loose ends which for now are still fluttering free waiting for resolution.

     The reason for the current ferment in Taiwan Buddhism has precisely to do with its unique history. As I indicated in the introduction, Taiwan has been part of "greater China" for only four years of the last century. It has changed regimes three times since its settlement by the Chinese people, and neither of the last two regimes have had enough time to integrate with the native Hokkien, Hakka, and Cantonese-speaking population in order to create a unified culture and political body. At the end of fifty years, the Japanese were only just beginning to enjoy some degree of consolidated rule, and the people of Taiwan were only just beginning to see themselves as real citizens of the Japanese empire.

     At the time of this writing, the Nationalist-led government that took over



454 BUDDHISM IN TAIWAN Chapter Eight. Conclusions

in 1945 has also just completed its first half-century, and it is at a similar stage of consolidation. The distinction between "Taiwanese" and "mainlander" that defined rival camps within the Chinese population from 1945 on has not proven important for the current generation of rising leaders. Shoulder-to-shoulder living, intermarriage, and the enforcement of Mandarin-language education for three generations has rendered the distinction less and less useful and coherent for the young.

     At the same time, "native" culture is still finding its own voice and pressing for further recognition of its preeminence on the island. One may see this in the proliferation of Hokkien-language movies, television shows, and radio broadcasts, as well as in increasing calls for Hokkien-language education in the public schools. In other words, the current climate is one of intense negotiation and compromise as the two formerly separate camps seek to fashion a balance of influence in the creation of a unified Taiwan culture. The model that appears to be emerging is one that allows more scope for the expression of "native" culture, but the "native" culture itself will have changed through interaction with mainland culture.

     This is equally true for Buddhism. The BAROC, a mainlander-identified organization, is fading in importance and finds itself under the necessity to accommodate local language and culture in order to ensure its survival. The fact that the older generation of mainland monks is just now passing the torch on to a younger generation of clergy who were born and raised in Taiwan also helps to make this process smoother. They identify themselves as "from Taiwan" (if not



455 BUDDHISM IN TAIWAN Chapter Eight. Conclusions

as Taiwanese"), are learning the local dialects (or are already native speakers), and are relinquishing the explicit goal of "re-taking the mainland" and reestablishing Buddhism there on the coattails of the Nationalist Army. Barring any attempt on the part of the Communist government in the People's Republic of China to re-integrate Taiwan forcibly into "greater China," the Buddhists of Taiwan now plan to stay on the island and build a common future there.

     A feature of Taiwan Buddhism that appears to have endured through all three regimes is its tendency to derive its organizational structures and great sectarian movements from powerful, charismatic leaders rather than from institutions. Because the great majority of individual financial contributions go to individual clergy and not to institutions, those organizations that have attractive and highly visible monks and nuns at the head prosper, while other temples and organizations lacking such magnetic leadership tend to languish, relying on the contributions it can gamer from the localities that they serve.(1) This dependence upon individual charisma augurs instability in the future, because even so great an organization as the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Association cannot guarantee its continuity after the passing of its founder. The larger organizations and many of the smaller ones realize this, and are attempting to forestall schisms,



456 BUDDHISM IN TAIWAN Chapter Eight. Conclusions

loss of support, and other potential problems by setting up a more durable infrastruction, establishing foundations, and other preventive measures.(2)

     The question raised at the outset of this study, that is, to what extent is Buddhism in Taiwan different from that found in other parts of China, to what extent is it unique, thus begins to resolve itself. Taiwan has surely had a unique history, and the Buddhism found there has certainly been affected by it. It felt the effects of the Japanese viceregal regime and its efforts at "Japanization." It also missed the ravages of the Cultural Revolution on the mainland and thrived under a government determined to oppose the Cultural Revolution with its own Cultural Renaissance. However, the question of whether or not Buddhism in Taiwan continues to exhibit any features that distinguish itself from Chinese Buddhism generally remains a problem in need of further study.

     On the one hand, the influx of mainland monks in 1949 and their success in imposing reforms argues against the claim that contemporary Buddhism in Taiwan is distinctive. The monks and nuns who came from Jiangsu Province tried very hard to stamp out any vestiges of Japanese influence so that today, traces of Japanese-style Buddhist life and practice are exceedingly difficult to find; the one feature that stands out is the tendency for monks and nuns to live together in a single temple. What may be less obvious is the extent to which the



457 BUDDHISM IN TAIWAN Chapter Eight. Conclusions

mainland clergy worked to eliminate not only Japanese, but also Taiwanese/Southern Fujianese traits from the Buddhist scene. One need only recall Ven. Dongchu's disdain for the Fujianese style of temple architecture he found in Taiwan to admit this possibility. If too many native elements have been removed by the reformers, then it may be argued that Buddhism in Taiwan is less distinctive now than it has ever been.

     In order to critically evaluate claims to the existence of something that may be characterized as 'Taiwanese Buddhism," it would be necessary to examine other regional forms of Buddhism throughout China in order to see the degree to which they developed along lines specific to their local culture. Such a study, I suspect, would reveal that Taiwan Buddhism is indeed unique in several respects, but that this uniqueness in and of itself is not unique. It is therefore to be hoped that other scholars will someday undertake similar studies which go beyond the official archives of the ancient capitals and into the precincts and annals of local temples in order to see how Buddhism developed along regional lines around China.

     Because I tried very hard to stay within the strictly historical framework of this study, there were many potentially fruitful avenues of research that were left untrod. Some of these issues are sociological in nature, such as the way in which Buddhism is adapting itself to a society increasingly urban and modern in outlook, and Buddhism's response to secularization in politics, government, and public education. Another such issue is that of the increasing lay-centeredness of



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Buddhism. We saw in chapter four that the number of new ordinations each year has been very stagnant since the 1950s, which means that lay Buddhists increasingly are playing active roles in propagating the religion, engaging in religious practice, lecturing, commenting on scriptures, and other tasks formerly reserved for the clergy- Given that laypeople have been involved in these activities throughout the history of Chinese Buddhism, some quantitative research is necessary to gauge the extent of any possible increase in lay involvement, and some narrative research is needed to determine whether this increase has been accompanied by significant changes in attitude- For example, in chapter four we saw that the BAROC leadership regarded the high number of Buddhist laypeople in leadership positions within its local chapters during the late 1940s as a problem requiring redress; would today's clergy feel the same way?

     Finally, given that this study has been a general history, and many episodes narrated in the preceding pages are far more complex and nuanced than they might appear in this brief presentation, even those topics that were taken up for discussion here represent avenues for further study. If I have done my job well, then the reader at this point should be left with a host of questions requiring follow-up. This study is only a first step towards understanding Buddhism in Taiwan; there remains much to be done.





(1) For example, when I visited the Fahua Temple in Tainan in 1991, I spoke to a monk who told me that the total resident clerical population had sunk to below ten. and he worried that without new vocations, the temple would eventually fail. I think it would be too bold to say that lack of charismatic leadership is the sole reason for the temple's self-perceived decline; it ought to be possible for a temple to find other ways to attract support through new models of clerical-lay partnership, educational programs for the laity, publishing, and so on. However, a charismatic leader could probably provide the most direct, efficient means for extending the temple's support base beyond the residents of the temple's immediate environs.[back to text]

(2) The vice-abbot of the Xilian Temple in Sanhsia. Ven. Dr. Huimin, was kind enough to show me tentative plans for the "bureaucratization" of the temple to take effect after the passing of the abbot-founder. He informed me that the clerical leadership of the temple had become alarmed upon seeing other temples fall into factionalism and schism with the passing of the founder, and they were determined to take preventive measures to ensure the temple's continued ability to function.[back to text]








     I was standing at the bus stop at the Taipei Train Station one night after work, waiting for the bus to take me back home to Peitou. I fell into a conversation with an old Nationalist Army veteran from Shandong Province. It was difficult for me to understand his thick accent, since my ears had gotten too used to hearing "Taiwan Mandarin" [Taiwan guoyu], but I remember the following exchange vividly:

     "So what are you studying?" he asked.

     "I'm writing a doctoral dissertation on Buddhism in Taiwan."

     "Oh? Are you a Buddhist, then?"

     "No," I replied.

     "Then how can you possibly understand what Buddhism is all about?"

     "Well," I said, "I'm not really writing about meditation or scriptures or anything like that. I'm just looking into the history. You know, significant people, institutions, and so on."

     "Oh, then that's different. That's not really Buddhism. That's just people coming in and going out, that's all."




460 BUDDHISM IN TAIWAN Abbreviations




1971 Gazetteer = Taiwan Provincial Historical Commission 台灣省文獻委員會. Taiwan Sheng Tongzhi 台灣省通志 (General Gazetteer of Taiwan Province). Vol. II: Annals of Folklife 卷二人民志. Religion Section. Fasc. 1 第一冊宗教篇. Taipei: the Commission, 1971.
1992 Gazetteer = Taiwan Provincial Historical Commission 台灣省文獻委員會. Chongxiu Taiwan Sheng Tongzhi 重修台灣省通志 (Revised General Gazetteer of Taiwan Province) , Fasc 3, Annals of the People 卷三住民志, Vol. 1: Religion Section 第一冊宗教篇, ed. Chu Hai-yüan 瞿海源. Nantou: the Commission, 1992.
FG = Fo Guang Da Ci Dian 佛光大辭典
Morohashi = Morohashi Tetsuji, Dai Kanwa Jiten 大漢和辭典
N = Nakamura Hajime, Bukkyōgo Daijiten 佛教語大辭典
T. = Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō 大正新修大藏經




Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8


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