Tag: religion

Visiting a Buddhist Statue Factory in Taiwan

      During my 2016–17 Fulbright fellowship in Taiwan, I had the opportunity to visit the Taoyuan factory of Sheng Kuang 聖光 (Sacred Radiance), a leading manufacturer of Buddhist statuary whose finished work can be found in temples and sacred sites across Taiwan and other parts of Asia. While the company produces Buddhist images of every size, some of their statues are remarkably large, including the Ushiku Daibutsu 牛久大仏 in Japan, which at 390 feet is (as of this writing) the third-tallest statue in the world. They have also produced large-scale statues for temples in Taiwan, such as the 236-foot tall image of the Buddha Maitreya at the Tian’en Maitreya Buddha Temple 天恩彌勒佛院in Hsinchu. Visiting their factory offered an amazing chance to witness firsthand how these statues are produced, and to better understand how new technologies are changing the manufacture of Buddhist statues.       Scholars of Buddhism know that images and icons have been fundamental to Buddhism’s historical spread across Asia since its emergence in roughly the 5th century BCE, and statues of the Buddha Śākyamuni, bodhisattvas, and other figures have always featured prominently on the altars of Buddhist temples and played an important role in the everyday religious lives of

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My Reflections

    Taiwan is a welcoming, multicultural environment offering wonderful opportunities to international scholars. I have known Taiwan for 30 years, having first come at age 28 to teach English for a summer at the Tainan YMCA, and returning a year later for Chinese language study at the Stanford Center at National Taiwan University.  After earning my PhD in East Asian Studies from the University of British Columbia in 1990, I have made several more trips to Taiwan:  as a research scholar at Academia Sinica in the summer of 1996, as a guest professor of history at National Chengkung University in the spring of 2012, and now as a Senior Fulbright Scholar at Tunghai University.  Tunghai University is a highly regarded private university in central Taiwan, founded in 1955 by the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia.  Its motto is “Sustainability on the Foundation of Liberal Arts.” In the course of my fruitful five months at Tunghai, I have dedicated myself to collaborative work between Trinity University and the International College at Tunghai University.  I have contributed to the strong relationship between these two institutions and our two countries in three areas:  service, teaching, and research.    

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On the Road with Xuanzang

This was a spectacular find. Xuanzang is one of the most celebrated monks in the history of Asia. His historic pilgrimage from China to India in the seventh century has been re-imagined in texts, images, and performances for well over a thousand years. In the early twentieth century, Xuanzang’s translations and commentaries were enjoying a revival after more than a millennium of neglect. The Faxiang tradition of Yogācāra Buddhism, whose intricate phenomenological and epistemological systems were popularized in China through Xuanzang’s efforts, fell out of favor soon after his death. But the Yogācāra textual corpus had been reintroduced to China by the late Qing era lay-scholar Yang Wenhui, who retrieved a collection of Yogācāra texts from Japan in the late nineteenth century. Incredibly, just a few decades after the body of Xuanzang’s work was brought back from obscurity, his long lost physical remains were also unearthed. Since its discovery, Xuanzang’s skull shard has both re-enacted and extended Xuanzang’s life. It has also multiplied. Over the last seventy years, Xuanzang’s parietal bone has been broken and divided more than a dozen times—producing a plurality of relics, each with its own distinct history. Because Xuanzang’s life and literary legacy have left such

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Fragments from a Taiwan Notebook

The flight to Taipei was a 13 hour-long tunnel through about a million movies, and Taipei was a glimmer of signs in the dark. We’ve woken up in a gorgeous hotel room. Outside the window it’s Times Square but with palm trees. Next, we drive south to Taichung. Maia: “I could get used to Taiwanese hospitality.” We’re in Taichung, in a house on campus, and it’s a little bit like living in Jungle Book. There are geckos walking across the ceiling and frogs in the kitchen. Outside there are cobras in the tall grass (we’re told) and bats at dusk, peacocks and weird butterflies. The main road is lined with banyan trees and their branches look like they’re dripping into the ground. Plus, it’s really steamy. But the people are incredibly hospitable in a completely informal way, and the food is just astounding. Papaya for breakfast, mangoes like poems, a kind of red candied tofu… At night any open space is utilized: lines of women shyly dancing to the music of a boom box, their exercise routine. Everyone in unison. Whenever you hear a tinny rendition of “Fur Elise,” it’s a garbage truck passing by. Food at the night market:

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