Buddhist Studies Group

Conference program First pages

The Buddhist Studies Group is a student-led initiative that aims to facilitate exchange among UVa students and faculty on current research in Buddhist Studies.  In particular, the Group provides a platform for UVa graduate students to discuss their ongoing work and develop their professional presentation skills.


February 20, 2013

Research and Data Management: Notes from the Field

–Jed Verity, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Virginia

Are you managing your data in Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, emailing yourself notes, and otherwise leading a fractured academic existence across all kinds of media? In this session we’ll discuss making smart use of Evernote to manage nearly all of your research data, and will begin to talk about using custom databases tailored to your particular needs. Gone are the days of “Where did I see that again?” and here are the days of “There it is, right at my fingertips!” If you don’t already have Evernote, download it before our session at http://evernote.com.

November 15, 2012

To Give a Canon: Patronage and Authority in Eighteenth-Century Tibet

–Ben Deitle, PhD Candidate, University of Virginia

This paper focuses on one form of patronage, the funding of wood-block editions of the Tibetan Buddhist Canon by eighteenth-century Asian monarchs, in order to understand how patronage increased a ruler’s legitimacy and authority. I begin by looking at the writings of the Tibetan catalogers of eighteenth-century editions of the Tibetan
Buddhist Canon to see how they situated these publications and their patrons within the ideals of Buddhist kingship and Buddhist giving. I then turn to some modern theoretical considerations, making use of the ideas of Marcel Mauss, Patrick Geary, and Clifford Geertz, as a means of bringing to light some of the links between patronage and authority not expressed by the eighteenth-century Tibetan writers. The paper
thus provides a traditional Tibetan Buddhist framework for patronage as well as bringing such patronage into broader scholarly conversations which provide alternative explanations for the motivations and outcomes of these religious publications.

October 31, 2012

“The Transmission of Buddhist Art: Jianzhen’s Travels to Japan, 743–63″

— Dorothy Wong, Associate Professor of Art History, the University of Virginia

In the landscape of cultural crossings between China and Japan in the Tang dynasty (618–907), the monk Jianzhen (688–763; Ganjin in Japanese) was a traveller extraordinaire. He was honored for his religious zeal and determination to travel to Japanto spread Buddhism, and for the goodwill in Sino-Japanese exchanges that he came to embody. Between 743 and 753, he attempted to travel to Japan six times, finally arriving in late 753, by which time he had lost his eyesight. Through a study of the art and artifacts that have remained from Jianzhen’s time as well as his biographies and other contemporary writings, the lecture examines the kind of Buddhist artworks and cultic practices that were prevalent in China and which, through the activities of pilgrim-monks like Jianzhen, were transmitted to Japan in the period circa 740 to 760.

September 14-16, 2012

Buddhist Traditions: New Directions — 2012 Graduate Student Conference in Buddhist Studies 

The conference featured a keynote address by Professor Gregory Schopen, pioneering scholar in Buddhist Studies, on Friday, September 14 at 4 pm in Nau 101 (The New South Lawn Building).  We also hosted 14 research presentations by graduate students and a workshop on “Teaching Buddhism Today” in order to introduce teaching innovations in the contemplative sciences.


May 1, 2012

The Systematization of Buddhist Doctrines in Chinese Buddhism: Zhiyi’s 智顗,538-597) Theoretical Basis and Synthetic Framework

–Lucy Hye-kyung Jee, Visiting Scholar from Yonsei University

Since the time when diverse sūtras began to be translated into Chinese, many Buddhist exegetes have tried to understand sūtras as a univocal body of literature, from Daoan (道安, 312/314-385) and Kumārajīva (鳩摩羅什, 344-414) to Daosheng(道生, 360), Fayun (法雲, 467-529) and Zhiyi (智顗, 538-597).  Among them, Zhiyi successfully established a synthetic framework using the notion of a “single principle” (yili一理) as a theoretical basis. “Single principle” derives from the concept of “principle” (理), which indicates a pattern in jade, the nature of being, natural law, and, since Daosheng, the universal principle underlying all phenomena.  Zhiyi critically engaged previous exegetes’ works and then established “single principle” as a unifying basis of diverse Buddhist doctrines, which he organized within a grand “systematic synthesis (yuanrong, 圓融).”


April 25, 2012

Indian Mahayana Buddhism: Reflections on the State of the Field

–Shimoda Masahiro, Professor from the University of Tokyo

The history of modern research on Mahayana Buddhism, spanning around 180 years in the West and 120 years in Japan, is itself an intriguing research object, which, seen with the wisdom of hindsight, reflects more or less the mood of the times in which the relevant scholars lived. The recent state of research of Mahayana Buddhism, particularly since the 1980s, seems to point to an interesting trend of “the blurring of boundaries,” a characteristic in keeping with our time. I would like to give an overview of the current state of research of Mahayana Buddhism by drawing on recent work on the Mahayana precepts, the body of the Buddha, the concept of the bodhisattva, and changes in transmission media, and the like.


April 20, 2012

Tibetan Zen: Manuscripts, Communities and Rituals

–Sam Van Schaik, The British Library (event co-hosted by the East Asia Center)

Straight from London, Dr. Sam van Schaik of the British Library, the foremost authority on Tibetanmanuscripts from Dunhuang, will discuss his recent findings on the history of Zen Buddhism in Tibet.


April 11, 2012

The Social and Pedagogical Background of the Tendai Debate: Jitsudo Nunku’s (1309-1388) Rule

–Paul Groner, Professor of Religious Studies

“The highpoint of debate within the Tendai School is found during the lifetime of Jitsudo Ninku (1309-1388), an able scholar and administrator who served as abbot of both Rozanji and Sangoji temples, which played major roles in both the Tendai School and the Seizan lineage of the Jodo School. Ninku composed several sets of rules for these temples, which contain valuable information on the pedagogical background of the debate tradition.  For example, debates were based on four traditions: Tendai, Esoteric Buddhism, Pure Land and the bodhisattva precepts. The traditions were not to be mixed, and Hinayana teachings were off-limits. In addition to analyzing the rules themselves, this paper places them in their social contexts in discussing the procedures for enforcing them, the punishments violators incurred, and which social classes of monks participated in debates. Ninku was particularly concerned with differentiating his temple from Zen institutions.”


March 21, 2012

What Should Be Negated on the Path to Enlightenment?  Tsongkhapa’s Presentation of the Object of Negation in the Svātantrika School

–Jongbok Yi, Ph.D. Candidate

“In Tsongkhapa’s (1357–1419) system, how to identify what is to be negated (object of negation, dgag bya) is an important topic: because it distinguishes the Gelukpa from other Tibetan Buddhist sects, and also because it takes part in the systemization of the path to enlightenment in the Gelukpa tradition. Explaining the typology of the object of negation in the Gelukpa’s tenet system, this presentation will particularly focus on how Tsongkhapa proves the authenticity of his system by citing Kamalaśīla’s (the 8th century Indian Svātantrika-Mādhyamika scholar) Illumination of the Middle.  Although the tradition does not question Tsong-kha-pa’s discovery of the clear identification of the object of negation in the  Svātantrika School, it seems that what he found is based on his creative way of reading, and thereby neglecting another passage that could not fit into his system. In this way, this presentation will demonstrate three aspects of the identification of the object of negation in the Svātantrika School by Tsong-kha-pa: 1) The typology of the object of negation, 2) Tsong-kha-pa’s presentation of the object of negation in the Svātantrika School, and 3) an example of Tsong-kha-pa’s unique ways of reading Indian texts.”


November 11, 2011

Bringing New Light to Tibet’s Dark Age: Re-examining the Textual World of Nupchen Sangye Yeshe’s The Lamp for the Eye in Meditation

–Manuel Lopez, Ph.D. Student

“The last few years have seen a growing reconsideration by scholars of Tibet’s so-called Dark Age (842-978), the century following the dissolution of the Tibetan Empire.  What traditional sources have usually considered a period of political and religious decline is now being reexamined as a problematic and troubled era, yes, but also a very dynamic period for the development of Buddhism in Tibet. One of the main problems scholars have had in reassessing this era is the paucity of textual sources that have survived from the period. The Lamp for the Eye in Meditation (bsam gtan mig sgron) by Nupchen Sangye Yeshe (gnubs chen sang rgyas ye shes) is one of them. The main goal of this paper is to use the Lamp as a window from which to look at that lost textual world.”


November 9, 2011

Rewriting the Medieval History of Tibet: A Field Survey of the Great Tombs and Relics of the Tibetan Empire in the Western Kokonor Region

–Yongdrol K. Tsongkha, Professor for Ethnic and Tibetan Studies, Lanzhou University PRC

“Since the 1983 discovery of plundered imperial tombs in Dulan in the western Kokonor region of the Tibetan Plateau, thousands of tombs dated to the period of the Tibetan Empire (7th-9th centuries) have been discovered in the area.  A great number of tomb relics such as gold, silver and silk artifacts and Tibetan inscriptions on stone tablets and wood slats are now circulating in public museums and private collections in Europe, North America, Japan and China as well as in antique markets in Hong Kong, Beijing, Lanzhou and elsewhere.  Based on extensive field studies, Professor Tsongkha’s lecture will give a survey of the tombs, relics from the tombs, and recent academic studies, all detailing the significance of these discoveries for understanding the medieval civilization of Tibet.”


October 19, 2011

Taixu’s (1890-1947) Perspectives on Desire, Employment, and Buddhahood  

–Eric Goodell, Ph.D. Candidate

“Taixu, a progressive Chinese Buddhist monk who came of age during the turbulent years of the early 20th century, is generally recognized as the pivotal figure in the modernization of Buddhism in China. Many prominent Chinese Buddhist organizations today have embraced some version of Humanistic Buddhism, a model of Buddhist religiosity created by Taixu. Crucial to its formulation are Taixu’s responses to the issues of whether desire and full-time employment are obstructions on the path to buddhahood for lay Buddhist practitioners. Underlying these issues is the question of maximizing Buddhism’s appeal while maintaining the authenticity of Buddhism’s core principles. The present paper looks at how Taixu addressed these issues, further identifying the social changes that brought these questions to the forefront for Buddhists.”


September 21, 2011

Tibetan Customaries in the Growth of the Gelukpa in Amdo  

–Brenton Sullivan, Ph.D. Candidate

“This presentation is based on a study of the chayik (T. bca’ yig)—customary or monastic constitutions—of one of the most influential monasteries in Amdo (i.e. in Western China and Northeastern Tibet) from the late Ming (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911) as well as those chayik of its numerous branch monasteries. While chayik serve to prescribe the behavior of a monstery’s monks and officers and to prescribe a particular liturgical calendar for a monastery, for the historian they also help reveal how sectarian and institutional networks came into being and legitimized their hegemony. The monastery in question, Gönlung Jampa Ling (dgon lung byams pa gling), was one of the earliest and most influential Geluk monasteries in the region. Also, it is said to have had nearly fifty “branch” or “child” monasteries and temples at its height. Thus a study of the chayikof Gönlung and its affiliates can help us begin to understand the explosion of Geluk activity in Amdo in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and it can also help us understand how a single “mother” monastery such as Gönlung might spread its influence in a region.”


May 3, 2011

The Buddha in Tibetan Art and Literature: The Case of Jonang Monastery

–Kurtis Schaeffer, Professor of Religious Studies

“Narratives of the Buddha’s life are widespread in Tibet. Literary narratives may be found at the beginnings of Tibetan Buddhist literature, and visual narratives pervade Buddhist monasteries and temples. Yet it remains a challenge to demonstrate how art, literature, doctrine, and practice work together in a coherent system. The case of Jonang Phuntsok Ling Monastery in Tsang offers a chance to explore these relationships. The monastery’s founder Taranatha (1575-1634) crafted a multi-media life of the Buddha, integrating visual art, architecture, prose narrative, poetry, and ritual. He also theorized the effects of literature, art, and practice on human psychology, particularly in relation to the development of faith. This talk presents the full spectrum of Taranatha’s writings about the Buddha, sets them in a literary context, relates them to the murals of the Buddha’s life at Jonang Monastery, and offers brief comparisons with other sites around the Tsang region of Central Tibet.”



April 5, 2011

Tibetan ‘Holy Madmen’ in the Marketplace

–David DiValerio, Ph.D. Candidate

“In the course of his career, Sangye Gyeltsen (1452-1507) went from being an ordinary monk from a humble family to one of Tibet’s most famous ‘holy madmen’ or ‘mad siddhas’ (grub thob smyon pa).  Sangye Gyeltsen rose to fame by doing shocking things like going about naked and eating human feces in the marketplaces of central Tibet.  This talk explores how Sangye Gyeltsen’s eccentric behavior positioned him in the competitive religious marketplace of his day, enabling an historical-minded interpretation of his identity as a ‘madman.’ ”


March 1, 2011

In Defense of Beautiful Monasteries and Comfortable Living

–Karen Lang, Professor of Religious Studies

“The Buddha advocated a middle path between the extremes of luxurious living and harsh asceticism. The early Buddhist community frequently criticized the severe ascetic practices of groups like the Jains and Ajīvikas. In response, critics of Buddhist monastics’ lifestyle accuse them of living far too well: enjoying the pleasures of beautiful monasteries and relishing the taste of ‘meat fried in butter with yogurt and rich sauces.’ In this paper I will examine some of the early criticism against asceticism, Jain and Hindu texts that criticize Buddhist monastics as gluttonous carnivores, and Candrakīrti’s response in the Bodhisattvayogācāracatuḥśataka that defends Buddhist monastics’ use of fine buildings, good food, and costly clothing.”



***Although this organization has members who are University of Virginia students and may have University employees associated or engaged in its activities and affairs, the organization is not a part of or an agency of the University.  It is a separate and independent organization which is responsible for and manages its own activities and affairs.  The University does not direct, supervise or control the organization and is not responsible for the organization’s contracts, acts, or omissions.***