Report from Prof. Yu-shuang Yao

I had a very busy summer. I went to China three times and travelled to Japan and Italy; I attended two academic conferences and one forum. The second annual conference of EASSSR (East Asian Society for the Scientific Study of Religions) was held by Hokkaido University at the end of July. Before that, my university, FGU, had organized a forum with our sister university in China, the North West Normal University. Though I was only given eight minutes for my presentation, I think it was the first time I could talk about my research (undertaken under OCBS auspices) on Fo Guang Shan to my colleagues. I felt my presentation was well received. Of course, I had translated it into Chinese.

In Hokkaido I was planning to speak about my joint research with Richard on the Christian influence on FGS in the EASSSR, as I was pretty sure that none of them had ever heard about our research. Unfortunately, my journey to Hokkaido was very exhausting. I had to take a budget airline from Taipei; the plane took off at 3 AM, but on arrival I had to wait at the airport till 3 pm, when the hotel allowed us to check in. The conference had very bad luck: apparently someone hacked into their bank account, and took quite a lot of money, so that we had to squeeze our conference into two days; there were 4-5 panels taking place at the same time, and I could not give the talk I had prepared.

The third conference I attended in the summer was the CESNUR in Turin. CESNUR is the acronym for the Centro per lo Studio di Nuove Religioni — the Centre for the Study of New Religions. The organizer, a jovial lawyer called Massimo Introvigne, runs this conference annually, and it is colourful and relaxed, because it has an egalitarian ethos and admits both participants in the new religions and academics who study them. I have known Massimo since my student days in the 90s, but I had never had the opportunity to attend it. This time I organized a panel on the new religious movements of Taiwan; it included Richard Gombrich’s talk on Humanistic Buddhism, my talk on Tzu Chi, Miao (my student) on the Bahai, Mo from Beijing and Paris, who gave her field research report on the Bliss Wisdom movement, and a delegation from the Wei Shin Sheng Jiao, a religious group who focus on Yi Jin geomancy. Though, as usual, one would have liked to have had more time for discussion, we certainly conveyed that Taiwan today is a hotbed of religious innovation.










Left – right: RFG, Prof. Yao, Miao, Massimo Introvigne, delegate from Wei Shin Sheng Jiao, and finally Mo.



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Recent Interaction with Tzu Chi.1

by Prof. Richard Gombrich (May 2019)

The OCBS has recently enjoyed several brief visits from Dr Rey-Sheng Her, Director of Public Relations for Tzu Chi, the flourishing new Buddhist sect based in Taiwan, but already with an estimated ten million members worldwide. Dr Her has also recently been in Beijing and there set up a Foundation for the Practice of Goodness. This Foundation has been registered with the Chinese government and has already begun to teach courses on practical philanthropy, which is what lies at the heart of Tzu Chi’s mission. In March Dr Her was running such a course for Tzu Chi members based at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge, and asked me to give a lecture in the general area of what he called “Buddhist wisdom”. I prefer to talk unscripted and the talk had no formal title, but I spoke about personal responsibility and selflessness, explaining why these values, expounded by the Buddha, form the foundation of what Tzu Chi puts into action. My audience consisted of about twenty Chinese people from Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the mainland, ranging in age roughly from 70 to 20; as a few of them were not fluent in English, Rey interpreted into Chinese throughout. My impression was that we interacted very successfully.

About a fortnight later I was in Taiwan and found myself lecturing at Tzu Chi University, which is in Hualien on the east coast, next to the movement’s headquarters. I was invited to talk by Prof. Hui-Xin Lou, Dean of Humanities, and my companion, Prof. Yu-Shuang Yao, interpreted. I spoke on the same topic; however, since I had no script, it was easy to adapt my content to a more academic (though still a Tzu Chi) audience who might, I felt, like to know a bit more about the Buddha’s historical context.

1. The best source of information on Tzu Chi is Yu-Shuang Yao, Taiwan’s Tzu Chi as Engaged Buddhism, Leiden and Boston, Global Oriental, 2012. The name means “Compassion Relief”. In pinyin it would be written Ci Ji, but the movement is Taiwanese and thus uses the older Wade-Giles romanisation.