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On the Evolution of Meditation in Chinese Zen Buddhism

Stone Buddhas
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Wednesday, October 03, 2018
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3:00 pm - 4:30 pm
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Morten Schlütter (Chinese Religion and Buddhist Studies, University of Iowa)
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APSI Speaker Series

Zen is a major branch of Buddhism in all of East Asia that began in China in the 7th century. Zen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word "Chan," which comes from the Chinese rendition of a Sanskrit word for "meditation;" Chan/Zen is often described as a form of Buddhism that centers on meditation. However, there are very few actual descriptions of how to meditate in Chan literature, and several Chan sources seem to dismiss the practice of meditation altogether. In this presentation, I will look at some discussions of meditation in Tang-dynasty (618-907) Chan sources, and then address the debate over the silent-illumination approach versus k¿an meditation (a k¿an is an enigmatic and seemingly unsolvable "riddle") that took place in 12th century China, and which came to define meditation in all East Asian Zen. I argue that there was a strong ambivalence towards meditation in the Chan school because of its ideological conflict with the teaching that all sentient beings are already endowed with the original Buddha-nature, and that the evolution of Chan meditation must be understood in that light.

Morten Schlu¿tter is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, as well as the Director of the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies, at the University of Iowa. His research interests center broadly on Chinese Chan (Zen) Buddhism, Buddhist institutional history, and religion under the Song dynasty (960-1279).