Millenarian Teaching

Thesis: The Wite Lotus Society and the White Lotus Teachings – Reality and Label Promovendus Barend Joannes ter Haar
Title obtained in Leiden, 1989. Promotor Prof. E. Zurcher Prior assistance and guidance by prof. Kawakatsu Mamoru and Tomita Kenji of Kyushu University

Subject: White Lotus Teachings and Tradition in pré-republican China.

Unaware of the inclusion of large sections of beliefs or cultivations belonging to the White Lotus Teachings (bailianjiao) into Chinese Pure Land-teachings (jingtu), the promovendus stated in the first two chapters of his study that both Amidism and the cultivation on Maitreya, the Buddha of the future are manifestations of millennialism, to be understood in the Christian sense as an end to time and an end earth, as a saving of the believers into a parallel universe, and as a “second coming of Christ” as it is called – although it does not say where he comes since the world came to an end.
We may hold Matteo Ricci (ch. 6.1.2 in the thesis) responsible for introducing this concept of millenarian teaching.

Nor Amidism, nor “Maitreyism” are millenarian in that Western-Christian sense of the word. In neither teaching there is the preaching of an end of the world. The Buddhist Small Vehicle-manuscript, the Agañña sutta does speak of a “contracting” of the planet, followed by an “re-evolving”(1). Other texts mention a worldwide conflagration followed by a reinvigorating of the planet and either a coming of a “World Ruler” or of the next Buddha.

When there is mention of “millennialism” or “millenarian teaching” in the European sense it is understood as a belief by which the adherents are collectively saved just before a litteral and final end of the world takes place. The Amidists however follow an individual path by which this individual by his own determination-fixation on Buddha’s name and Buddhas Unconditional Compassion is accepted into the Pure Land where s/he continues to cultivate towards Buddhahood. In this latter view the world keeps turning be it without the individual who managed to step out.
Something similar goes for what we call Maitreyism: at the end of an era, when the Buddhist Teachings are lost and forgotten, the world is in disarray but does not come to an end. At that moment, it is believed, another Buddha appears, one in a long successions of Enlightened Ones who “turns the wheel” anew.

Both in the theory around the Christian-Western millenarian teaching and in other instances where East and West wish to meet, but cannot without in-depth research into words and concepts, we must come to the conclusion that here is a “discussion between the deaf”; both parties speak, but neither hears.

  • (1) Contracting and expanding may be understood as the physical process in someone who goes hungry – his brains produce a “tunnel vision”, and starts eating again – the brains regain their former function. Especially this particular manuscript allows such an interpretation.
  • The partly refurbished Pudu district in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, is named after the Chinese White Lotus monk Pudu (1255-1330). This district is that of working class Chinese immigrants, i.e. their descendants. During the first years of the 21rst Cent. the  Buddhist Temple in Jalan Pudu was raised to the ground to allow for city renovation. The bhikshuni (or bhikkhuni: nuns) of the Pudu temple belonged officially to the Jingtu (Pure Land) Tradition but still maintained White Lotus ideals while serving the surrounding population that held and holds the same ideals.
  • Albert de Pouvourville, part of the French ambassadorial staff in Vietnam and China, publishes an article in “La Revue de Paris” of April 3, 1912.
    Besides being obsessed with categories such as Yellow Race (Chinese), White Race (Westerners), and Red Race (Indians) he maintains that the White Lotus Society is a consequence of a first and ancient concept of Triad: Heaven, Earth, Mankind. He fails to see this as one of the postulates of Confucianism but seems to have heard that the “first traces of it appeared already in the second Cent. BC.” He however fails to provide us with relevant sources.

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