SYMPOSIUM> Other Power III: “Other Power” in Tibetan, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Buddhism (online)

Camila Minutti Discussion

Dear all,

The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhism and Contemporary Society is delighted to host a virtual symposium, entitled:

Other Power III: “Other Power” in Tibetan, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Buddhism

Saturday, December 10, 17:00 (5 PM) Pacific Standard Time 

[Full event details here] | [Register Here]

About this event:

In this third panel in the series on “Other Power in Buddhism,” we expand our scope to include materials from Tibetan Buddhism while continuing to include new topics from the East Asian Buddhist sphere. The first presentation by Kenneth Tanaka will summarize the main points from the previous two panels, focusing on thematic issues related to Other Power. Next, Todd Lewis will expand the paradigm of Other Power by embracing broader Mahayana ritual practices that incorporate, for example, special words (mantra and dhāraṇī) that can generate both transcendental and pragmatic blessings. The third presentation by Richard McBride will analyze Other Power in Korean Buddhism within a larger exegetical context that includes the issues of the arousal of the aspiration to enlightenment (bodhicitta) and the objective of reaching a state of non-retrogression. The last presentation by Charles Jones will report on an international debate that took place on the “self-power vs. Other Power” controversy between Chinese and Japanese intellectuals in the early part of the 20th century.


Kenneth Tanaka, Professor Emeritus, Musashino University, Tokyo

Summarizing the Past Two Panels: Focusing on the Main Thematic Issues

The first panel, held in 2020, explored manifestations of Other Power in Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Buddhism, revealing the prevalence of “Other Power” throughout a wide spectrum of Mahayana Buddhism. These examples went beyond Pure Land Buddhism, which is often seen, incorrectly, by many to be the only school to promote Other Power. The second panel, held in 2021, was entitled “The Radical Other Power of Shinran (1173-1263): A Normative or an Outlier Position in Mahayana Buddhism?” For this panel, scholars examined some elements of the historical background that led to Shinran’s position as well as its manifestations in premodern and modern times. After summarizing the above points, I plan to set the stage for this year’s panel presentation by laying out some of the main themes of this Other Power series.


Todd Lewis, Professor of Arts and Humanities at the College of the Holy Cross

Dharma as Power in Buddhist Tradition

In scholarly treatment of what constitutes “Dharma” as one of the three refuges (triśaraṇa) or three jewels (triratna) in the Buddhist tradition, the standard scholarly focus has been on its meaning as the Buddha’s “Teachings” or “Doctrines.” This habitual practice of restricting the interpretation of Dharma to doctrine only has had the effect of delimiting the understanding of what typical Buddhist householders characteristically took refuge in as devotees. This paper broadens the definitional range of what Dharma means by highlighting texts in which the Buddha speaks to reveal ritual practices. Prominent in this popular domain are paritta and rakṣā formuli disclosing special words (mantra and dhāraṇī) that, when chanted precisely, can generate both transcendental and pragmatic blessings. For most householders, who constituted the vast majority of adherents throughout the faith’s history, as well as for many monastics, rituals and recitations have been important resources; for them, taking refuge in the Dharma was less about embracing complex doctrinal beliefs and more about seeking protection from personal dangers to epidemics and other threats that recurrently struck communities in the pre-modern world. The refuge of mantra and dhāraṇī become even more prominent in Mahāyāna Buddhism, one factor underwriting the tradition’s extraordinary success in pan-Asian history. Stories abound of great monks using this “technology of the sacred” to cure or make it rain—pivotal acts that opened the door to Buddhism’s acceptance and expansion. This paper will examine how texts such as the Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa that specify complex ritual practices likewise highlight how the Dharma includes practical instructions on how good Buddhists can wield power in the universe through ritual. This configuration of Buddhist tradition is most clearly seen in Tibet and Nepal, and the paper will mention examples from them. The talk argues that extant ritual texts found in archives and libraries can serve as a metric of importance for properly characterizing Buddhism in praxis: the sheer number of manuscripts that were hand-copied (such as the Pañcarakṣā) support the proposition that rituals were at the center of Buddhism throughout history.


Richard D. McBride II, Professor and Chair of Asian and Near Eastern Languages at Brigham Young University

The Sinitic Buddhist Context of Wŏnhyo’s View of “Other Power”

How did the monk-exegete Wŏnhyo (617–686) of the Korean state of Silla understand the concept of “other power”? In contemporary scholarship, the concept of “other power” is almost exclusively associated with devotion for the Buddha Amitābha, with scholars hearkening back to the writings of Chinese Buddhist monks Tanluan (ca. 488–554) and Daochuo (562–645), who actively promoted the Amitābha cult in the sixth and seventh centuries. Although both Tanluan and Daochuo examined the concept of “other power” in their writings on Pure Land issues, their views must be analyzed within a larger exegetical context that includes the issues of the arousal of the aspiration to enlightenment (Skt. bodhicitta) and the objective of reaching a state of non-retrogression (Skt. avaivartika). This includes writings attributed to Nāgārjuna (ca. 50–150) and translated by Kumārajīva (343–413), as well as sūtras translated by Bodhiruci I (fl. 508–535). Although Wŏnhyo does not employ the term “other power” in his extant writings on Pure Land scriptures, his views on the topic can be inferred from his Doctrinal Essentials of the Larger Pure Land Sūtra (Muryangsu-gyŏng chongyo) and show a greater affinity to mainstream Sinitic scholarly views on the significance of arousing the aspiration to enlightenment.


Charles B. Jones, Professor of Religion and Culture at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.

A Debate Over Self-Power and Other-Power: The Nianfo yuantong  of  Ogurusu Kōchō  and Yang Renshan’s Response

In the year Meiji 32 (1899), a Japanese Jōdo Shinshū missionary in Beijing named Ogurusu Kōchō (1831-1905) published a book explaining the Shinshū Pure Land teachings called Nianfo yuantong. This work came to the attention of the influential Buddhist layman and publisher Yang Renshan (or Yang Wenhui, 1837-1911) because it contained criticisms of some remarks he had made about Japanese Pure Land doctrine, which he found to be fundamentally at odds with Chinese Pure Land teachings. He wrote critical notes in the margins of his copy, which were subsequently published as part of his collected works. His response came to be known as Critique of Ogusuru’s Nianfo Yuantong. Since Ogusuru himself had passed away, it fell to another Shinshū priest, Ryūsen (1861-1931) to answer Yang’s objections in a 1901 work called Nenbutsu entsū tudusen (a continuation of Nianfo yuantong). All of these writings have been collected and edited together by Nakamura Kaoru (2009). This presentation will trace the back-and-forth arguments regarding self-power and other-power in order to see how the arguments proceeded in a rare, direct confrontation of Japanese and Chinese Pure Land intellectuals.


Sponsored by UBC’s Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhism and Contemporary Society and the International Association Shin Buddhist Studies.

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