Here is a schedule for the conference with times, locations, speakers, and topics. To see an abstract for any of the papers simply place your pointer over the paper title.

Friday, March 4: Birks Building, McGill (3520 University St.)
(Birks Foyer) 

Light lunch available in common rooms
12:00 - 14:00
(Room ???)
Vanessa Sasson, McGill University
      "Tathagatagarbha Literally: A Buddha in the Womb"

In the early biographical accounts of the Buddha's conception and birth, numerous descriptions of his life in the womb abound. This paper will show that some of the earliest Buddhist sources, namely the Pali Canon, Buddhaghosa's commentaries, the Lalitavistara, the Abhiniskramanasutra and the Mahavastu, all point to an extraordinary life in the womb. This serves a number of purposes. First of all, such a luxurious fetal life serves to differentiate the future Buddha from ordinary beings and their own experiences in the womb. This life, moreover, implies that the future Buddha may have already attained Buddhahood by the time he was a fetus, for numerous accounts, particularly in the Lalitavistara, describe the fetus as being attended by celestial beings and giving teachings to his visitors in his mother's womb. Indeed, this paper will argue that the womb becomes a microcosm for the Buddhist universe, with the Buddha seated comfortably in the middle of it, giving teachings and having the universe pivot around him. For some of the early texts then, the Buddha was already an authority figure, already awakened, while still in his mother's womb. His biography was no more than a play (lila), performed for the benefit of the audience, and from his fetal experiences onward, he embodied the qualities of awakening.

Frances Garrett, University of Toronto
      "Fetal Mythology in Tibetan Literature"

This paper discusses the issue of human fetal development in medieval Tibetan literature as a way of investigating the boundaries of medicine and its relationship to religious thought. A richly varied literary tradition, writings on Tibetan embryology are linked to issues of fundamental importance in Tibetan Buddhist thought and culture: to cosmology and astrology, to causality, salvation, ethics, and the complexities of Buddhist practice. For religious writers, embryological narratives were a means of embedding doctrinal messages into human identities; for medical writers, embryological narratives became a forum for religious theorizing. This paper clearly identifies medicine as a player in a far larger discourse than simply that of medicinal healing. It thus questions the validity of superimposing our own epistemological taxonomies on classical Asian thought, pointing also to the value of an interdisciplinary approach.

Jane Marie Law, Cornell University
      "Fetal Agency in Japanese Mythological Traditions: From Military Advisors to Raging Avengers of Social Injustice"

This paper is an exploration of the uses of fetuses as beings with agency in the post-partum world in Japanese mythological traditions. I am intentionally using the term traditions in the plural in this paper, to explore the many ways that the fetus has been employed as a being of agency in more than one source of religious and imaginative life in Japan. I suggest that this multiplicity of sources contributes to a very complex, and by no means easily generalized understanding of how the fetus is imagined in Japanese religious life. I argue against the recent trend to regard late, Tokugawa Buddhist and nativist discourses on the fetus as the dominant voices of Japanese imaginations of the fetus. Further, I argue for an allegorical, rather than literal reading of the use of "fetal agency" in many of these myths examined in this paper.

The work begins with two main examples from the eighth century narrative Kojiki (comp. 712 C.E). I explore the case of the Leech Child of the earth creating deities Izanami and Izanagi, as an example of a miscarried fetus. I also explore the case of the child in the womb of Empress Jingu, advising her on military matters as she invades Korea.

The next section of this work explores examples of fetal imagery from Japanese folktales, as displayed in popular performance, painting and graphics. I include a new analysis of the famous Momotaro myth/folktale. My cases include both late medieval and early modern examples.

Finally, I turn to early modern (late Tokugawa) images of fetuses. Here, I argue that we see a shift in the concept of fetal agency. Far from being a period of life regarded as having an agency of its own, this shift is one in which the fetus becomes the property of a nativist discourse to define the national body politic. The fetus can be read as the source of this body politic reproducing itself. In short, the idea of a fetus as having allegorical agency is stripped and becomes instead the focus of an external agency.

I argue that the haunting and menacing quality of the fetus in this period, an imaginary schema continuing into the twentieth century (and even until the present) can be read on a number of levels, including as a form of social protest against the claiming of fetal life as part of a national family.

This paper includes visual imagery from Japanese art and religious didactic painting.

Marc L. Moskowitz, Lake Forest College
      "The Making of Modern Mythology: Fetus Spirits in Modern Taiwan"

Fetus-ghost appeasement in Taiwan is a modern day import from Japan. It only became popular in the mid 1970s and when abortion was legalized in 1985 the ensuing public discussion in the press also brought fetus-ghost appeasement to the forefront of public consciousness. In this presentation I will examine the ways in which modern media contributes to people's conceptions of fetus ghosts. I will examine widely disparate images of these spirits, ranging from malevolent ghosts, to spirits that harm without intent, to benevolent spirits. In doing so I will focus on mass media including a movie, short fictional stories, and short stories that are presented as true accounts of the exorcist/author's experiences with the ghosts. Because this belief is so new, an examination of the contested images of this particular spirit shows us the range of interpretive creativity and links to the goals of the producers of that image: Are they selling the story as drama? Is it advertising for a temple? Is it being used as anti-abortion propaganda? One might predict that eventually some of the images of the fetus-spirits will fade as others begin to be reified by popular imagination. Thus, an examination of this relatively new belief allows us to witness myths in the making.


14:30 - 16:00
(Room ???)
Jessica Main, McGill University

Wendy Donner, Carleton University
     "The Bodhisattva Code and Compassion: A Mahayana Buddhist Perspective on Violence and Nonviolence"

Martin Adam, University of Victoria
      "Terrorism from a Buddhist Perspective"

This paper concerns Buddhism and terrorism; it is meant to express possible understandings of the latter from a theoretical vantage point representative of the former. Discussion of Buddhist theory is limited to certain core doctrines originally formulated in India and attributed by the tradition to the Buddha. The foundations of nonviolent conduct are elaborated in what is, essentially, an antifoundationalist Buddhist context. The argument traces the connection between the basic practical prescription of nonviolent conduct and Buddhist emptiness teachings. This involves a discussion of the Buddhist understandings of the nature of karma, morality, and emptiness. An attempt to infer the relevance of these ideas to the topic of modern terrorism is made only after they have been examined. The study proceeds by exploring some non-Buddhist perspectives (e.g. Jain, Gandhian) that help to bring out relevant features of the Buddha's teachings.


16:15 - 17:45
(Room ???)
Melissa Curley, McGill University

Lara Braitstein, McGill University
      "Breaking your Vows with Non-Violence: The Ethics of Violence in Vajrayana Buddhism"

"Vows are virtue" argues Sakya Pandita, and so in discussing whether or not actions can in themselves be deemed virtuous or non-virtuous, his conclusions are surprising and counter-intuitive. Of practitioners maintaining the Bodhisattva vow he writes, "To be forbearing toward - when anger could prevent - one who inflicts harm upon the Three Jewels and one's teachers, or toward one who destroys the Doctrine, is impure patience" (verse 61), placing it alongside such things as donating cattle to a slaughterhouse, or delighting in false teachings. Another area where this phenomenon is in evidence is in Vajrayàna discussions of samaya, or vows to one's teacher. Among the root downfalls that break one's samaya is refraining from forceful action when it is called for. This clearly sanctions expressions of anger and uses of force in some circumstances. The determination that it is the upholding of one's vows and not one's actions in and of themselves that constitutes virtuous behaviour, is both fascinating and challenging to popular notions of conventional Buddhist ethics.

Sue Andrews, McGill University
     "Does Violence have a Role to Play in the Cultivation of the Enlightened Mind?"

18:00 - 19:30
(Birks Foyer)
(Birks Foyer)
A special exhibit on the evolution of the Buddhist Robe. Three monks from different traditions within Buddhism will explain the different parts of their robes: the colors, the ritual practices, the differences in styles, etc. This presentation of actual robes will be supplemented by a PowerPoint presentation giving further images and information about the Buddhist robe in history and in modern practice. This is a unique presentation, not to be missed.

Birks Building Closes

Saturday, March 5: IBPS Temple (3831 Jean-Talon East)
9:00           Registration

Ven. Yifa, University of the West
      "The Eight Special Rules for Bhikkuni"

Prajapati, the first woman to be admitted into the Buddhist order, accepted the Eight Special Rules as a condition of her ordination. These rules stipulated, among other conditions, that a nun even of great seniority must bow even to a monk who had been ordained only one day, that nuns had to spend the rainy season in retreat under the supervision of monks, that nuns must take ordination from the presiding of monks but not the reverse, that nuns could never reprimand or criticize monks, and so on. Modern western scholars have usually looked upon these Eight Special Rules as examples of conventional gender hierarchy, of male control over women. In this paper, I examine the Eight Special Rules from a different perspective.

The controversy about the rule that a senior nun had to bow to even a novice monk has called into question the Buddha's stand on the gender issue. However, taking into consideration the royal background of the women who made the request to join the order in comparison to the low caste of some of the monks, I will argue that the issue as it appeared to the Buddha was the equality of social status rather than gender equality. In addition, these special rules, which have been taken as authoritative and serious ones for nuns, indeed were not as rigid as they appear. In other rules of the Vinaya, when monks tried to apply the rule that nuns should not rebuke monks, surprisingly the Buddha allowed the nuns to reprimand the monks as long as their intention was for the sake of spiritual cultivation. In this paper, we will look in more detail at the establishment of precepts for monks and nuns and the social environment which was a factor in constituting the rules of the Vinaya. Most of the monastic rules set up by the Buddha were his response to certain social conditions. It will be misleading if we look at the rules merely from the interpretation of their wording. Exploring these social contexts will help us to understand the master's real intentions.

Cheng Wei-Yi, University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies
      "Understanding the Bhikkhuni Movement in Contemporary Sri Lanka"

This paper examines concerns over Mahayana influence in the bhikkhuni movement in contemporary Sri Lanka. Although the number of Sri Lankan women receiving the bhikkhuni ordination has increased rapidly since the late 1980s, research has found that concerns over Mahayana influence remain an important factor in the legitimization of bhikkhuni status in Sri Lanka. The first part of the paper briefly introduces the history of the Sri Lankan Buddhist nuns' order. The second part discusses elements often cited by Sri Lankan Buddhists as the basis for refuting the Mahayana tradition. The third part examines the political context behind concerns over Mahayana influence. Many argue that since the late 19th century a strong association has developed between Sinhala nationalism and Theravada Buddhism. I argue that this association makes Mahayana elements in the transmission of the bhikkhuni ordination become unacceptable to many Sri Lankan Buddhists.

Ellen Posman, Baldwin-Wallace College, Department of Religion
      "Pursuing Full Ordination for the Tibetan Ani"

While many people are aware that Theravada laywomen have been denied ordination by the monastic establishment, few are aware of a similar situation in Tibet. Unlike their Theravada counterparts, Tibetan females pursuing the spiritual life are considered nuns: they dress as nuns, and they live in nunneries. However, these women are generally not gelongma, or fully ordained nuns, but rather ani, or novice nuns. Recently, some Tibetan nuns have sought full ordination outside Tibet, but the validity of these gelongma has been questioned by the Tibetan monastic authorities. The explicit concerns of the monastic authorities include the acceptance of a different lineage, in this case the Dharmagupta lineage, and the nature of the Dharmagupta lineage in terms of whether it is an unbroken lineage. However, there are also implicit economic, cultural, and political concerns about a possible relationship between fully ordained male and female orders. This paper presents the current status of this issue from the perspective of the monastic establishment as well as from the perspective of those in favor of full ordination of Tibetan nuns and argues that the real issue under debate is not the issue of broken or unbroken lineages but a debate on gender issues.

Vanessa Sasson, McGill University
      "Politics of the Robe: Encounters with the Silmatas of Sri Lanka"

The question of ordination in Sri Lanka today is a difficult one. A number of women have gone forth and chosen to take bhikkhuni ordination, despite opposition from the government and the bhikkhu sangha, but most female renunciants have not. Instead, these women have chosen to shave their heads, don the ochre robes, abide by the first ten precepts, but have refused formal ordination. The question this paper will address is, why? Why have the majority of Sri Lankan female renunciants refused to take full ordination at this point in history? What do they know about it, and how do they feel about it? This paper will demonstrate that many of these non-ordained renunciants actually know very little about the process, that they tend to be rather misinformed and have a number of misconceptions about what the life of a bhikkhuni actually entails. The women interviewed for this study appeared to be, for the most part, very devout and sincere Buddhist practitioners. They all claimed that they were content not to be ordained, that they enjoyed the freedom they experienced as a result of not being affiliated with any formal institution, but they also clearly believed many "urban legends" about the bhikkhuni sangha which appear to have been fed to them by government and monastic authorities. They therefore were not really "free" at all, but rather were imprisoned by the ignorance they were victims of.


Ven. Rong-Dao, Queens University
      "In Search of a New Buddhism: Taixu's Reform Movement in Contemporary Chinese Buddhism"

One cannot study Chinese Buddhism in the twentieth century without encountering the name Taixu (1890-1947). Having lived during the chaotic time in a war-torn China, Taixu deliberately argued that the modern world, in which sentient beings had grown ever more powerful without growing wiser, stood at the edge of self-destruction and was in desperate need of salvation. The resolution lies in what he called "Buddhism for human life" - the dharma common to the five vehicles that will lead to the idealized state of a "Pure Land on Earth." Taixu's life-long effort to reform and revitalize Chinese Buddhism failed due to the Japanese invasion, civil wars, and inner struggle among Buddhist themselves. However, numerous elements of his reformist thoughts are the dominant trends in Chinese Buddhism today. This essay aims to present the biographical sketch of Taixu's career alongside the historical context in which he emerged as a controversial leader, and a synopsis of Humanistic Buddhism, which served as the underlying principle of his reform.

Ven. Shi Zhiru, Pomona College
      "The Visual Representation of Buddhist Social Engagement: The Compassionate Relief (Ciji) Movement in Taiwan"

Among the Humanistic Buddhist movements in Taiwan, Ciji is perhaps the most innovative in its usage of visual culture for the propagation and practice of Humanistic Buddhist ideals. Ciji has innovatively re-cast "traditional" themes in Buddhist art and architecture to highlight the this-worldly orientation of Humanistic Buddhism, especially to convey its vision of Buddhist social engagement. This paper looks at key examples of Ciji's visual representations of Buddhist social engagement that are integrally tied to its vision of Humanistic Buddhism. It argues that these visual representations constitute powerful media through which new religious ideals are articulated and integrated into the fabric of the daily life of the Ciji community, or more appropriately, communities. The art becomes, moreover, the very arena through which negotiation with, and transformation of existing Buddhist teachings and practices are worked out to enable adaptation to the changing concerns in contemporary Taiwanese society. Specifically, the art Ciji commissioned visually translates the work of social welfare and peace activism in terms of Humanistic Buddhist teachings and practices, thereby achieving a creative amalgamation of the humanization of Buddhist ideals on the one hand, with the practices of so-called Engaged Buddhism on the other.

Jason Clower, Harvard University
      "Humanistic Buddhism's Rivals: Forgotten but not Gone"

Taixu and his heirs have succeeded so spectacularly in influencing late 20th century Chinese Buddhism that we easily forget that, for most of the 20th century, "humanistic Buddhism" did not dominate the Buddhist scene nearly so much as it does now. I will speak about Taixu's Buddhist rivals in the early 20th century-Shingon reclaimed from Japan, "Pure Land pietism," and the "New Yog?c?ra"-and ask whether they might yet someday eclipse humanistic Buddhism.

Noel Salmond, Carleton University
      "Anagarika Dharmapala: Formulating Buddhist Revival in a Colonial Context"

This paper examines the pivotal efforts of the Sinhalese Buddhist Anagarika Dharmapala (1864 - 1933) to forge an international, modernist, and activist Buddhism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Dharmapala grew up in colonial Ceylon attending English-medium Christian schools and would later headquarter his Mahabodhi Society in Calcutta, the capital of British India and seat of Imperial power. Drawing on Dharmapala's writings, (often-unpublished) diaries, and documents in the National Archives of India, the paper focuses on the highly ambivalent attitude Dharmapala exhibits with regard to the British colonial power: its regnant symbols, its ruling class, and its religion. Dharmapala was both a Sinhalese nationalist and Buddhist internationalist. The paper argues that Dharmapala, the Buddhist ecumenist, must be understood in light of his admiration - and revulsion - for the Raj.

14:00 - 15:30

Varant Arslanian, McGill University
      "Creating an American Zen Monastery"

It is often stated that laicization is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Buddhism in North America. It is true that Buddhism in North America has focused primarily around the lay person. Even amongst those who have made a commitment to monasticism, it is difficult to distinguish a difference between their lifestyle and those of lay Buddhists. At Zen Mountain Monastery a stand has been taken against this blurring of boundaries and the need for a distinctly monastic Buddhist practice to parallel the laicization of Buddhism has been emphasized. This article will examine Zen Mountain Monastery's attempt to create a monastic tradition and show how this call for monasticism has been used as a means of authentication and identity formation by the monastery.

Ryann Miller, Independant Scholar
      "Lotuses and Maple Leaves: A Six-Fold Typology of Buddhism in Canada"

This paper outlines a six-fold typology of contemporary Buddhism in Canada. It briefly surveys an ethnic Buddhist community, a philosophical tradition popularly practiced by Euro- and Anglo-Canadians, the fusion of Shambhala International, 'pop-culture' Buddhism, new Buddhist movements and socially engaged Buddhism as they are evident in Canada. The paper argues that the disparity of history, geography, cultural context, values and aims of the six groups results in their insularity and independence from each other. These characteristics lead to two conclusions. Firstly, it is more accurate to label each group a distinct Buddhism altogether. Secondly, while this independence reflects the groups' unique Buddhist identities, it concurrently underscores their Canadian character. The paper argues that Canada's policy of multiculturalism, with its emphasis on the maintenance of cultural, ethnic and religious traditions, is a fitting theoretical framework for the six Buddhisms. Therefore the groups' inward foci epitomize their distinctively Canadian identity. This paper underlyingly suggests that it is due time for analytical theories about the nature and makeup of Buddhism(s) in Canada and that this colloquy treat seriously the specific Canadian environment which has helped to give shape to the forms of Buddhism we see around us today.

Lynn Eldershaw, University of Alberta
      "Collective Identity and the Post-Charismatic Fate of Shambhala International"

The study examines the charismatic leadership of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, an exiled Tibetan tulku, in the origination of Shambhala International, one of the largest Buddhist communities in North America. Following the untimely death of their founder in 1987, the movement experienced a crisis of succession which garnered international negative exposure and threatened the stability of the movement. The case of Shambhala challenges the assumption that new movements collapse following the death of the charismatic founder. The analysis draws on recent theorizing of collective identity to examine the manner in which this community has survived the crisis and gone about reconstituting itself, and proposes that recent transmutations in Shambhala International-the blending of secular and religious elements-are indicative of larger changes in the practice of religion within contemporary Western culture.

Patricia Q. Campbell, Wilfrid Laurier University
      "Transforming Ordinary Life: Coming to Zen Buddhism in Toronto"

This presentation is based on an ethnographic study of twelve convert Buddhist practitioners who were members of a Zen Buddhist temple in Toronto, Canada. The stories of how and why participants came to Buddhism will be discussed, with particular focus on factors such as personal crisis, views of mainstream religions, and felt affinities with Buddhist practice and doctrine. The discussion will also examine the process by which participants sought out a religious organization to join in the pluralistic Buddhist environment that exists in North America. This process of "shopping around" for a religious group or teacher will be discussed in terms of its implications for the development of Buddhist organizations among North American convert practitioners.


Conclusion of conference day and concluding remarks.

Post-conference dinner for conference participants.