Defining Contemporary Chinese Buddhism through New Texts and Literature Distributed by Buddhist Institutions in Singapore

Author: Andre Magpantay (University of the Philippines – Diliman)
Speaker: Andre Magpantay
Topic: Buddhist studies and discourses
The CALA 2021 General Session


Buddhism is one of the dominant religions in Asia. The Buddhist teachings and traditions have remained relevant throughout the years, passed on through generations of believers, or learned by non-Buddhists through the widely-available materials and texts of the religion. Its philosophies are distinct as an interplay of a lot of symbolisms and meanings which have both survived and adapted to the challenges of time. Such symbolisms are reflected in the unique temples, pantheon of Buddhas, which are characterized both by Chinese Buddhism and the Mahayana tradition. In recent years, Buddhist institutions in Singapore aimed to spread the religion through free publications both in print and electronic. These publications occupied both the Buddhist community centers in Singapore and huge online virtual platforms and spaces all around the globe. This study focuses on the publications of two Buddhist institutions in Singapore, mainly, the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, and the Amitabha Buddhist Center. This paper also examines the contemporary contents and narratives of the Buddhist religion reflected in the recent publications of the two institutions. It will also define concepts primarily in terms of the core Buddhist beliefs which includes: the Buddhist Dharma and Karma, the Three Universal Truths, the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eightfold Paths. A comparative analysis with traditional Buddhist texts is conducted to examine the evolution of these concepts both as a core belief and as an interpretation of the authors in the contemporary context. The Core beliefs are also studied using semantic and pragmatic theories in order to define and contextualize its meanings and the place of Chinese Buddhism in the current society. The results show that there are distinct differences in the interpretation of these symbolisms and meanings specially in the more popular publications released to teach Buddhism to younger Buddhists and non-Buddhists. It is also found out that Contemporary Chinese Buddhism in Singapore has also a distinctive difference to other Chinese Buddhist traditions. New Buddhist ideologies are also created as the religion adapts to contemporary values in terms of business, family, friends, and self-development. The paper presents a definition of Contemporary Chinese Buddhist as a uniquely defined religious tradition on its own, that of which is representative of the contemporary Asian society.

Keywords: Chinese Buddhism, Contemporary Buddhism, Buddhist Text, Buddhist Literature, Buddhist Symbols, Buddhist Meanings