James A. Benn: "Controversies in the Doctrine and Practice of Self-immolation in Medieval China"
In this seminar we will read selected passages from the chapter on self-immolation (sheshen pian 捨身篇) in the seventh-century Chinese Buddhist compendium Fayuan zhulin 法苑珠林. We will see how the compiler of the work—Daoshi 道世 (596?–683) places a range of somatic practices including burning the body within the context of the propagation of Buddhism. We will note how he deploys key jātaka tales and Mahāyāna sutras as scriptural supports for the practice, and reflect on his choice of hagiographical material from China.
James A. Benn received his PhD from UCLA in 2001 and is now Professor of Buddhism and East Asian Religions at McMaster University, where he was Chair of the Department 2011-2016. His undergraduate degree is from University of Cambridge and he has an MA from School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He studies Buddhism and Daoism in medieval China. To date, he has focused on three major areas of research: bodily practice in Chinese Religions; the ways in which people create and transmit new religious practices and doctrines; and the religious dimensions of commodity culture. He has published on self-immolation, spontaneous human combustion, Buddhist apocryphal scriptures, and tea and alcohol in medieval China in journals such as History of Religions, T’oung Pao, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies and Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. He is the author of Burning for the Buddha: Self-immolation in Chinese Buddhism (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007) and Tea in China: A Religious and Cultural History (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015).
April 21 & 22, 2018