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2013 Buddhism in China:

Guanyin Workshop


Program Structure


The Guanyin Workshop began with a seven day intensive study on the culture of Guanyin (Avalokiteśvara), led by the eminent Buddhism Scholar, Professor Chün-fang Yu, followed by a three day tour of the islands of Putuo and Luoqie.


The seven day intensive included a monastic life practicum including daily meditation and chanting. The program is being hosted by Putuo Buddhist College.


Significance of Guanyin

Buddhism, a religion originated in India, has been widely accepted by the Chinese people for over two thousand years. One central feature of Chinese Buddhism is the cult of buddhas and bodhisattvas. By far one of the most important objects of worship in the Buddhist traditions, the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara is regarded as the embodiment of compassion. While he was closely identified with the royalty in south and Southeast Asia, and the Tibetans continue to this day to view the Dalai Lamas as his incarnations, in China he became a she—Guanyin, the “Goddess of Mercy”—and has a very different history. The causes and processes of this metamorphosis have perplexed Buddhist scholars for centuries. In this workshop on the cult of Guanyin, we will discuss the various media through which the feminine Guanyin became constructed and domesticated in China. We will examine Buddhist scriptures such as the Lotus sutra, miracle stories, pilgrimages, popular literature, monastic chronicles and local records as well as the changing iconography reflected in Guanyin’s images and artistic representations to determine the role these materials played in this amazing transformation. The workshop serves as a case study to explore the larger issue of the indigenization of Buddhism in China. It also hopes to suggest various methodologies in studying Chinese Buddhism.


Biography of Professor Chün-fang Yu

Chün-fang Yü was born in China and educated in Taiwan, graduating from Tunghai University with a major in English Literature and minor in Chinese philosophy. She received a MA degree from Smith College in English Literature and a Ph.D. from Columbia University in Religion, specializing in Chinese Buddhism. She taught at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey from 1972 to 2004 when she returned to Columbia. She is the Sheng Yen Professor in Chinese Buddhist Studies, a faculty member in both Department of Religion and Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.


Her research interests are quite broad. Her early works deal with the history of Chinese Buddhist thought and institutions and later on she focused equally on Buddhist rituals and practices. Her first book, "The Renewal of Buddhism in China: Chu-hung and the Late Ming Synthesis" (Columbia University Press 1981), is one of the earliest studies in English on post-Tang Buddhism. Other articles dealing with Chinese Buddhism in the late imperial period include: “Chung-feng Ming-pen and Ch’an Buddhism in the Yuan” (1982), “Ch’an Education in the Sung: Ideals and Procedures” (1989), and the Cambridge History of China’s “Buddhism in the Ming Dynasty” (1998). She is also interested in the interaction between religions, including Buddhism, and Chinese society. With Susan Naquin, she co-edited "Pilgrims and Sacred Sites in China" (1992). She is the editor of "The Ultimate Realm: Doctrines of Tienti Teachings, A New Religion" (1994). She is the author of "Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokiteśvara" (Columbia University Press 2001) which traces the patterns of the evolution of the cult of Guanyin through the various medias of transmission. The book has been translated into Chinese and published in China and Taiwan.


Her recent research interests continue her fascination with the transformation of Buddhism in China. She has completed a study of contemporary Buddhist nuns in Taiwan and it will be published by the University of Hawaii Press in the spring of 2013 with the title, Passing the Light: The Incense Light Community and the Buddhist Nuns in Contemporary Taiwan. Her current research project is tentatively entitled “The Creation of a Buddhist Pantheon”, which studies the pairing of two bodhisattvas: Guanyin and Dizang, in iconography and temple architectural layout from the tenth century on.



August 5 Arrival (Putuoshan, China)

August 6-12 Classes and discussions on Guanyin and Monastic Life Practicum

August 13-15 Putuo temple tour

August 16 Departure (Putuoshan, China)



Accepted applicants must provide their own transportation to and from Putuoshan, China and $80 (USD) for uniforms and other minor expenses. There are no additional costs for the Platform Sutra Workshop. Room and board, tuition, and local transportation costs will be covered by a scholarship for all selected participants.


Dress Code

During the Monastic Life Practicum, participants are required to wear a uniform provided by the program. This will help facilitate the objectives for this part of the program as well as ensure that clothing is appropriate and comfortable for meditation.


Eligibility and Application

The Guanyin workshop accepts applications from faculty, graduate level, and advanced undergraduate students, and those who have already completed their degrees from any country. Applicants from diverse academic disciplines are encouraged to apply with preference given to those in the fields of East Asian and Buddhist Studies. Applications will be reviewed by a committee including Buddhist clergy, scholars, and Woodenfish alumni. Approximately 40 applicants will be offered admission to this program.

Applications will be reviewed on a ROLLING BASIS, and decisions will be made within two weeks after submission. Selection is quite competitive; applicants are encouraged to apply early to ensure a better chance of admission into the workshop.


College Credit

Participants may receive university credit from the University of the West to the academic institution they attend: REL 427 “Chinese Buddhism: Philosophy and Practice” for undergraduates and REL 638 “Seminar in Chinese Buddhism: Philosophy and Practice” for graduate students. Enrollment in a credit course is not required to participate in this program. Interested applicants should check the University of the West’s website for current enrollment information and fees. Upon completion the student will receive a letter grade for the class. Please check with the academic institution/department you attend beforehand to see if it will accept credits from UWest.

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