Taixu - Buddhist Modernism

Buddhist Modernism

Besides being a revolutionary activist for the Chinese, Taixu was a Buddhist modernist. He took the doctrine and adapted it so that he may propagate Buddhism throughout the world. One of his grand schemes was to reorganize the Sangha. He envisioned plan was to cut the number of monks in the monastic order down and according to history of religion professor Don A. Pittman, by 1930 Taixu had

these numbers to include only twenty thousand monastics; five thousand students, twelve thousand bodhisattva monastics, and three thousand elders. Of the twelve thousand bodhisattva monastics, five thousand should be spreading the Dharma through public preaching and teaching, three thousand serving as administrators in Buddhist educational institutions, fifteen hundred engaging in Buddhist charitable and relief work, fifteen hundred serving as instructors in the monastic educational system, and one thousand participating in various cultural affairs.

This reorganization of the Sangha was an attempt to revitalize Buddhism, an important step to bring about a Pure Land in this world. Pure Land Buddhism was widely practiced in China during his time. Taixu's modernist mentality caused him to propagate the idea of a Pure Land, not as a land of Buddhist cosmology but as something possible to create here and now in this very world. Pittman writes:

His views on the realization of that ideal were far from those of the mainstream of the contemporary Sangha. Rather than focusing on the glories of distant pure lands, which were accessible through reliance on the spiritual merit and power of other great bodhisattvas and buddhas, Taixu visualized this earthly world transformed into a pure land by the dedication and sacrificial hard work of thousands of average bodhisattvas who were mindful of what their concerted witness could mean.

Like many Buddhist modernists, Taixu was interested in using tactics such as cultural translation (a method of explaining Buddhism) so that non Buddhists can better comprehend the complexity of the tradition. For example, in his essay "Science and Buddhism," Taixu makes a translation of the Buddha's teaching that inside of every drop of water, there are 84 thousand microbes, a Buddhist teaching that basically states that within our world there are many more worlds. He goes on to explain how that when one looks inside of a microscope one will be able to see these tiny microbes and that each one is a life of its own.

In his writings he connected the scientific theory that there is infinite space with no center of the universe to the Buddhist Sutras that states "Space is endless and the number of worlds is infinite, for all are in mutual counterpoise like a network of innumerable beads." However, Taixu did not believe that science was the be-all and end-all. As a matter of fact he saw that in no way was it possible to reach enlightenment through science even though it is capable of explaining many of the universe's mysteries. "Scientific knowledge can prove and postulate the Buddhist doctrine, but it cannot ascertain the realities of the Buddhist doctrine." He understood Buddhism to be scientific and yet surpassing science. Like other Buddhist modernists, Taixu condemned superstition. Taixu explains that the two deeply rooted superstitions were the "Superstition of God" and the "Superstition of Reality." These two superstitions go hand-in-hand in regards to explaining why, according to Taixu, Buddhism is the only way to true enlightenment. The "Superstition of God" can be understand as how science will never be able to explain the existence of the supernatural. Also science is also only able to explain the materialistic aspects of the world, which leads to the second superstition, "Superstition of Reality." The "Superstition of Reality" is basically materialism but as materialism, in this sense, means what science is capable of explaining. These two superstitions essentially blind science and people's ability to see the truths that only Buddhism can reveal.

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