Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Authors: Zu, Xiaomin
Advisors: Teiser, Stephen F.
Contributors: Religion Department
Keywords: Chinese Buddhism
Chinese philosophy
engaged Buddhism
global history
social Darwinism
Subjects: Religion
Asian studies
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Why did many early twentieth-century Chinese intellectuals celebrate a form of ancient Buddhist idealism—Yogācāra (the school of consciousness-only)— at a time when science, realism, and social Darwinism were gaining sway? Extant scholarship characterizes this revival as a Buddhist science because of its systematic nature and rigorous logic. However, this approach does not explain how Buddhist idealism could be reconciled with scientific realism. To understand this apparent paradox, this dissertation traces the intellectual journey of the renowned advocate of Yogācāra, one of the first Buddhologists of modern China, Lü Cheng (1896-1989). In the 1920s, the young Lü Cheng called for an aesthetic revolution. He then turned to consciousness-only philosophy as the primary resource for renewing society. This dissertation argues that what propelled Lü to turn toward Yogācāra was his quest for a universal moral agency suitable for the scientific world. This study reveals that Buddhist idealism appealed to many modern Chinese intellectuals because of its powerful social critique. In the early twentieth century, “social reality” had become an independent category of intellectual inquiry, freed from the reign of politics and religion. The dominant sociological view defined social reality as objectively existing and subject to scientific study. This sociological view worked in tandem with social Darwinism to depict individuals as passively controlled by natural laws and bereft of moral agency. In order to inject human agency into the realm of the collective, Lü renewed Yogācāra critiques of realism and materialism and redefined social reality as an intersubjective oneness subject to karmic laws. Consciousness-only doctrines proved effective in counterbalancing scientific realism, remedying the ills of capitalist materialism, and redefining social evolution as collective spiritual progress. This study argues that Lü repurposed Buddhist spiritual exercises to build an egalitarian, democratic society. I term this movement of welding soteriological goals with social concerns a “socio-soteriology” in order to emphasize that, for Lü, Buddhist emancipation was supposed to take place through a transformation of society. Beyond the Chinese sphere, Lü’s theorization of Buddhist social consciousness was part of a transnational trend—now discussed under the category of “engaged Buddhism”—of integrating Buddhism and social activism.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Religion

Files in This Item:
This content is embargoed until 2022-10-15. For more information contact the Mudd Manuscript Library.

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.