Mark Blum talk at VESAK Celebration 2023

Research Expertise and Interest

Buddhism, Japan, culture and society, modernization

Research Description

Mark Blum is a professor of Buddhist Studies at UC Berkeley.  His four areas of research: (1) the intersection of Buddhist culture with Japanese culture, (2) Pure Land Buddhist thought and culture, (3) translations from Chinese and Japanese of Buddhist scriptures, and (4) the impact of modernity and postmodernity on Buddhist thought and culture in Japan. (1) looks at the processes by which Japanese society was changed by Buddhism, and how traditional forms of Buddhism in Japan differ from other Buddhist countries. It involves philological study of the language of Chinese translations from Indic texts and the often idiosyncratic way in which Buddhist Chinese was read in Japan, apocryphal scriptures composed in China and Japan, the transformation of Japanese notions of self and society in new forms of Buddhist expression in the medieval period including the arts, especially visual expression. (2) examines Pure Land Buddhism as a distinctly East Asian form of Buddhist culture, what it says about how Chinese and Japanese Buddhists self-identified as Buddhists, the importance of historical consciousness to this process, and its influence on the performative arts in Japan. (3) aims at publishing annotated translations of core Buddhist texts relevant to the above topics that were written in China and Japan between the 5th and 13th centuries. At the center of this are three translation projects: the Nirvana Sutra (Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra) from a Chinese translation completed around 430 CE that will be published in 4 volumes (the second of which is currently in print), an exegetical commentary by Shandao (613-681) on the Guan wuliangshou jing (expected 2024~2025), and the Japanese language writings of Honen (1133-1212). (4) examines the complex modernization of Japanese society and its effect upon Japanese Buddhism and religious consciousness wherein themes of romanticism, mythological hyper-nationalism, imperialism, capitalism, deymythologization, etc. have instigated a continuous discourse of reflection and change beginning in the 1890s that continues today.

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