Three Years in Ceylon: How Shaku Sōen Invented “Mahāyāna Buddhism”

Visiting Scholar Talks

Mar 21, 2022 | 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM

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Baba Norihisa | Professor, Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, The University of Tokyo, HYI Visiting Scholar, 2021-2022


Charles Hallisey | Yehan Numata Senior Lecturer on Buddhist Literatures, Harvard University

Held via Zoom – registration required:

Based on his study of Sanskrit texts from Nepal, Eugène Burnouf categorized Buddhism all over Asia into “Northern Buddhism (or North Buddhism), which translated the Sanskrit scriptures into Chinese or Tibetan, and “Southern Buddhism” (or South Buddhism), which transmitted the Pali Canon and commentary from Sri Lanka to mainland Southeast Asia. This way of “Northern Buddhism/Southern Buddhism” categorization became common in European studies of Buddhism and spread to Japan through English-language texts, since Japan first came into contact with Western Buddhist Studies in the mid-1870s. Inspired by European studies of Buddhism, Shaku Sōen (1860-1919) learned Pāli in Ceylon as one of the first Japanese between 1887 and 1889. He would later become the abbot of the Engaku-ji Temple in Kamakura and the mentor of D. T. Suzuki. This presentation examines how Shaku Sōen decided to spread Buddhism in the West, created the concept of “Daijō Bukkyō / Shōjō Bukkyō” (Mahāyāna Buddhism / Hīnayāna Buddhism) instead of “Northern Buddhism / Southern Buddhism,” and influenced modern Buddhist Studies through D. T. Suzuki.

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