Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Elise DeVido's "Taiwan's Buddhist Nuns"

Elise Anne DeVido is Assistant Professor of History at St. Bonaventure University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Taiwan's Buddhist Nuns, and reported the following:
I suspect that Ford Madox Ford originally meant his test to be applied to a work of fiction, which, as drama, has a different structure, trajectory, and emotional world than do works of non-fiction. At least, his test might work better on books far longer than my short monograph! But when I turn to page 99, lo and behold I do find a core passage on “Buddhism for the human realm,” one of the overarching themes of this book.

Before I turn to that passage, let’s look at page 93. There I wrote: “Every chapter of this book has mentioned “Buddhism for the human realm,” renjian fojiao, the modernized form of Buddhism first formulated in early twentieth-century China and promulgated in Taiwan by a number of Buddhist groups.” My book explores how Buddhist women and men in Taiwan, both monastics and laypeople, interpret and practice this “modernized” form of Chinese Buddhism. Why Taiwan, not China? Because in modern times until very recently, war and political struggles in mainland China disrupted and suppressed the practice of Chinese Buddhism, a rich tradition with two thousand years of history, and the tradition which over time spread to Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, and, wherever the Chinese emigrated. This may all be new to many readers more familiar with Japanese Zen Buddhism (In fact, “Zen” originated in China) or the Westernized forms of Tibetan Buddhism.

So on page 99 we find a famous quotation by the pre-eminent reformer of Chinese Buddhism, the monk Taixu, from his essay “How to establish Buddhism for the human realm (1933):”
“[Buddhism for the human realm] is not a Buddhism in which you leave the human realm and become a god or ghost, or for everyone to take monastic vows, go to a temple, or become an eremite in the forest. It’s a Buddhism which, in accordance with Buddhist teachings, reforms society, helps humankind to progress, and improves the whole world.”
World affirming, fully engaged in today’s society, technologically savvy, a Buddhism entered into life and the human realm…but the heart of the book is that in Taiwan, most Buddhist monastics and laypeople are women, a situation not found in other Buddhist countries. Read the book to find out why!
Read an excerpt from Taiwan's Buddhist Nuns, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue