From Temples to Teahouses

Exploring the Evolution of Lay Buddhism in Post-Mao China

In: Review of Religion and Chinese Society
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  • 1 Associate Professor, Department of Religion, Syracuse University
  • 2 Associate Professor, Department of Religion, Syracuse University

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This article presents an overview of the nature of lay Buddhist revival in post-Mao China. After defining the category of lay practitioner, it outlines key events in the revival of lay Buddhism following the end of the Cultural Revolution. Following this, it describes three main aspects of the revival: the grassroots-organized formation of communities of lay Buddhists that gather at temples either to share and discuss the moral teachings of Buddhist-themed media or to engage in devotional activities; devotional and pedagogical activities organized for lay practitioners by monastic and lay leaders at temples and lay practitioners’ groves; and, more recently, the emergence of private spaces for specific practices such as meditation, the appreciation of Buddhist art and culture, and the discussion of teachings from specific Buddhist masters. The article concludes that while government-authorized temples continue to be active spaces for lay practitioners interested in Dharma instruction from monastics, regular devotional activities, and opportunities to earn merit and gain self-fulfillment through volunteerism, greater state restrictions on spontaneous lay-organized practices in temple space are increasingly leading lay practitioners to organize activities in private or semi-private spaces. The introduction of social media has facilitated the growth of Buddhist-related practices for laypersons in nontemple spaces.

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