A Late Sixteenth-Century Chinese Buddhist Fellowship

Spiritual Ambitions, Intellectual Debates, and Epistolary Connections


Through a detailed analysis of epistolary writing, A Late Sixteenth-Century Chinese Buddhist Fellowship: Spiritual Ambitions, Intellectual Debates, and Epistolary Connections brings to life the Buddhist discourse of a network of lay disciples who debated the value of Chan versus Pure Land, sudden versus gradual enlightenment, adherence to Buddhist precepts, and animal welfare. By highlighting the differences between their mentor, the monk Zhuhong 袾宏 (1535-1615), and his nemesis, the Yangming Confucian Zhou Rudeng 周汝登 (1547-1629), this work confronts long-held scholarly views of Confucian dominance to conclude that many classically educated, elite men found Buddhist practices a far more attractive option. Their intellectual debates, self-cultivation practices, and interpersonal relations helped shape the contours of late sixteenth-century Buddhist culture.

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Biographical Note
Jennifer Eichman, Ph.D. (2005), Princeton University, is a Research Associate at the Centre of Buddhist Studies, SOAS, University of London. She has published on late Ming Chinese Buddhist traditions and the intersection of Confucian and Buddhist ideas.
Review Quotes
'Jennifer Eichman’s rich and insightful book sheds significant new light on the ethical and religious aspirations, self-understandings, and practices of elite men in late-Ming China. This is a vital book for understanding the interactions between Buddhism and Confucianism, and indeed, what Buddhism and Confucianism meant in practice. (...) Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this book is the fluidity with which sociological theory, historical and cultural investigation, literary analysis, and doctrinal and more anthropological studies of religion all blend together seamlessly.'
Stephen C. Angle, Wesleyan University

'Eichman purposely limits her study to the relatively narrow Wanli period (1573–1620), giving the work a depth that would otherwise not be possible. This allows her to examine the development, over about half a century, of a religious network strung together by personal relationships.(...) This level of detail assists us—both author and reader—to avoid one of the pitfalls of the study of Pure Land Buddhism, which is the presumption of the normative status of later Japanese developments, such as exclusive adherence.(...) Eichman’s study makes important contributions for several different interested audiences, more than can be discussed adequately in this brief review. Two of these are historians of Chinese religions, and scholars of religious studies.(...) Given the important contributions made by this work, it will continue to provide resources for later studies, as well as standing as an exemplary instance of how such studies should be conducted.
Richard K. Payne, Reading Religion (http://readingreligion.org/books/late-sixteenth-century-chinese-buddhist-fellowship)

'In short, this is a rich study with fruitful and instructive findings. Its calls for a more interactive and fluid model of late Ming Buddhist-Confucian relations and for further exploration of Buddhist epistolary collections should be heeded.'
Yiqun Zhou, Stanford University, Journal of Chinese Religions, 45:2, (2017)

'This book makes a valuable contribution to the study of late imperial Chinese Buddhism by examining a network of monks and lay practitioners connected by relationships rather than geography. Drawing primarily on epistolary sources, it seeks to ground late Ming intellectual, social, and religious history in a particular group of elite men concerned about how they might best cultivate their heart-mind. Eichman uses “mind cultivation” as a bridge concept in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Buddhist and Confucian discourse (...) Eichman presents her arguments carefully and meticulously, and she provides ample footnotes for specialists in late imperial Chinese Buddhism. (...) The structure of her book allows for individual chapters to be easily incorporated into graduate or advanced undergraduate courses as one discusses general topics such as religious identity, ethics, and meditation, or more specific issues such as killing and eating animals, releasing-life societies, encounter dialogues, or Pure Land recitation.Finally, Eichman allows for and acknowledges ambiguity in her sources, which results in a nuanced and complex rendering of religious thought and practice.'
Beverley Foulks McGuire, University of North Carolina, Wilmington, Journal of the American Oriental Society 137.4 (2017)
This volume should interest all scholars of East Asian Buddhism, Chinese history, literature and religion and in particular those working on religious networks, community formation, and epistolary writing.
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