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Wei Wu: Indigenization of Tibetan Buddhism in Modern China

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This talk examines the indigenization of Tibetan Buddhism from the 1910s to the 1950s, focusing on the rise of a Tibetan Gelug lineage founded by a Chinese monk, Nenghai (1886–1967), in Sichuan province. The study explores the cross-cultural religious transmission by analyzing the transformations of the doctrines, praxis, and institutional formations. The study shows that indigenization of Tibetan Buddhism in China proper involved a dialectical process of translation and interpretation. Chinese Buddhists’ prior knowledge of Buddhism and vision of Buddhism in the modern world preconditioned their reception of Tibetan Buddhism. While highlighting the common ground of different teachings to argue for compatibility, advocates promoted certain Tibetan thought and practice as distinctive inspiration. They were particularly drawn to the highly-developed tantric and commentary traditions in Tibetan Buddhism, seeing them as sources making up for insufficiencies in Chinese Buddhism. The study shows that their interpretations not only exhibited syncretism to varying degrees, but also reflected tensions in the local context.

Wei Wu is an assistant professor at the Department of Religion, Emory University. She received her PhD in religion from Princeton University in 2017 and her master’s degree in Buddhist studies from the University of Hong Kong in 2009. She is currently preparing a book manuscript, Indigenization of Tibetan Buddhism in Twentieth-Century China. The book project sheds light on cross-cultural and trans-regional religious transmission, specifically showing how the interaction between Tibetan Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism influenced the religious landscape of modern China.

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