When and how the marginal became central: Borderland complex in East Asian Buddhism
Jinhua Chen, University of British Columbia
Shinnyo-en Lectures in Buddhist Studies
A profound “borderland complex” obsessed Chinese, or Japanese and Korean monks when they related to India or China; that is, “how to overcome the seemingly unbridgeable distance between India and their own countries?” Such a distance was not perceived to be merely geographical, but also, more importantly, cultural. In contrast to India, which, as the birthplace of the Buddha, was recognized as the center of the “dharma world,” all the places located outside the Indian sub-continent were taken to be marginal. Such a sense of marginality naturally created a kind of complex that was quite complicated and sometime self-contradictory. First and foremost, the distance from the Buddha’s birthplace was to cause in the hearts of his followers outside India a kind of humbleness that might easily intensify to be anxiety, disappointment or even despair. In the meanwhile, such a sense of distance might also turn into an admiration of India for her status as the center of Buddhism. Admiration fostered desire to follow, confidence to emulate, and eventually probably a perception that the marginal is not different from, or even more central than, the central. This lecture explores several patterns in which this kind of borderland complex was perceived and addressed in East Asia, to the formation of some unique characteristics in Buddhism of medieval China and the rest of East Asia. These include how sacred sites were constructed and recast in East Asia with the inspirations from India and Central Asia and how different strings of sacred lineages were conceived and repeatedly developed as an effective way to battle this borderland complex.
Jinhua Chen is Professor of East Asian Buddhism at the University of British Columbia, where he also served as the Canada Research Chair in East Asian Buddhism (2001-2011). He has worked on Chinese Buddhism from the fifth to ninth century, and Japanese Buddhism (primarily Tendai and Shingon) during the Nara and Heian periods. In addition to over forty journal articles and book chapters, he also authored Making and Remaking History (Tokyo, 1999), Monks and Monarchs, Kinship and Kingship (Kyoto, 2002), Philosopher, Practitioner, Politician: The Many Lives of Fazang (643-712) (Leiden, 2007), Legend and Legitimation: The Formation of Tendai Esoteric Buddhism (Brussels, 2009), and Crossfire: Shingon-Tendai strife as seen in two twelfth-century polemics (Tokyo, 2010)