Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Anarchy in the Pure Land: Tradition, modernity, and the reinvention of the cult of Maitreya in Republican China
by Ritzinger, Justin R., Ph.D., Harvard University, 2010, 391; 3415426
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation addresses an apparent anomaly of Republican-era reform Buddhism: Why did reformers who are often portrayed as demythologized and deritualized seek to promote devotion to the bodhisattva Maitreya and to secure rebirth in his heavenly paradise? I attempt to resolve this apparent contradiction by developing a theorization of alternative modernities derived from Charles Taylor's analyses of the moral dimensions of modernity. I argue that the cult of Maitreya was reinvented by Taixu, the leader of the reform movement, in order to articulate a vision that provides a place for two hypergoods—Buddhahood and utopia, perfected self and perfected society.

While the former is obviously derived from Buddhism, the latter was imbibed from Western traditions of radicalism. In part one, I draw on heretofore unstudied sources to show that Taixu's youthful involvement with radicalism was much deeper and more sustained than the flirtation it is often made out to be. I analyze a series of essays he wrote for radical journals to show that it was the utopian vision of radicalism that fired his imagination and that his thought in this period represents a series of shifting and unstable attempts to bring this ideal together with that of Buddhahood.

While Taixu ultimately rejected radicalism, its utopian vision continued to provide an orienting framework for his moral imagination and drove the reinvention of the cult of Maitreya. In part two, I trace the history of this movement from its beginnings as the "house cult" of Taixu's seminaries to later attempts to promote it more widely, revealing the importance of devotion and ritual to the reformers' religious lives. Theologically, the core texts of the cult reveal important points of convergence with anarchism, points which are greatly augmented in Taixu's commentaries. The vision that emerges is one in which utopia and Buddhahood are simultaneously secured through inculcation of transformative knowledge, adherence to an activist ethic, and devotion to Maitreya. Although an object of a great deal of activity in the 1920 and 30s, a series of historical misfortunes ultimately disrupted the cult's development, leaving it nearly forgotten today.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Puett, Michael
School: Harvard University
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 71/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religion, Religious history, Asian Studies
Keywords: Anarchism, Buddhism, China, Maitreya, Modernity, Taixu
Publication Number: 3415426
ISBN: 978-1-124-09106-8
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