Beyond Zen - Engaged Buddhism in 1920s Japan

Woolley Rogers Room in the John Woolley Building at the University of Sydney

Cost: FREE

Though we have moved beyond the assumption that engaged Buddhism was somehow distinctively Western, most studies have been of recent and contemporary movements. This paper extends the history of engaged Buddhism in time and place with an account of the Far Eastern Buddhist Conference, Tokyo, November 1925. This was a major public event, attended by over 3,000 people, including reform monks from China, Korea and Japan. The conference proceedings mapped out an extensive agenda for social and political reform in Asia and in the world at large. The vision was for action beyond philanthropy; Buddhist social action at this level required structural change and political engagement.

The title of the paper is a reference to the fact that one of the ironies of the absence of Western knowledge of this significant aspect of Japanese Buddhism is that the images of Zen as the essence of Japanese Buddhism, a form of Buddhism characterized by its association with meditation, personal spiritual development, and cultural production - images that continue to dominate popular knowledge of Buddhism in Japan - emerged from this same movement of modern Buddhist social and political engagement.

Associate Professor Judith Snodgrass

Judith Snodgrass writes, researches and teaches in the areas of Buddhism in the West, Buddhism and Asian modernity, Buddhist nationalism, and Western knowledge of Asia at the University of Western Sydney. She is the author of Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West: Orientalism, Occidentalism and the Columbian Exposition and is the current president of AABS.