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Humanistic Buddhism

For the teachings of Thích Nhất Hạnh, see Engaged Buddhism.

"Humanistic" (human-realm) Buddhism (Chinese: 人間佛教; pinyin: rénjiān fójiào) is a modern philosophy practiced mostly by new religious movements originating from Chinese Buddhism and Nichiren Buddhism.


Taixu, a reformist pioneer in early 20th century Chinese Buddhism, was one of the first to popularize the term "Buddhism for Human Life" (Chinese: 人生佛教; pinyin: rénshēng fójiào),[citation needed] though may not have been the inventor of this term. The first two characters, "human" and "life", indicating his criticism of several aspects of late Ming dynasty and early Republican Chinese Buddhism that he wished to correct, namely, an emphasis on spirits and ghosts (viz "human"), and funeral services and rites (viz "life"). His disciples continued this emphasis.[1]

Taixu also used the term "Buddhism for the Human World", or popularly "Humanistic Buddhism" (Chinese: 人間佛教; pinyin: rénjiān fójiào). It appears that at first the two terms were largely interchangeable. One of Taixu's disciples, Yin Shun, used the term "Humanistic Buddhism" to indicate a criticism against the "deification" of Buddhism, which was another common feature of much of Chinese Buddhism, in his articles and books. It was Yin Shun, and other disciples of Taixu, who brought both of these two terms to Taiwan in the wake of the Republican's defeat during the civil war against the Chinese Communist Party. It was in Taiwan that the term "Humanistic Buddhism" became the most commonly used term, particularly amongst the religious leaders who originally hailed from China.[1] An international conference on "Humanistic and Engaged Buddhism - Patterns and Prospects" was held May 18–24, 2009 at Foguang University in Ilan, Taiwan to reflect on the history, teachings, practices, and future of these movements.[2]

Pure Land in the human world

The proponents of humanistic reformation[who?] did not see it[citation needed] as a rejection of other forms of Buddhism, but a reinterpretation. One classic example is the idea of "creating a pure land in the human world" (Chinese: 建設人間淨土; pinyin: jiànshè rénjiān jìngtǔ), which can be seen as a new interpretation of Pure Land Buddhism, one of the most popular forms of Chinese Buddhism for over 1000 years, particularly amongst the laity. Many of the forms and practices are maintained; however, the aim is redirected - rather than practicing in the hope (or vow) of rebirth in Amitabha's pure land, the practitioner seeks to better themselves and society, to create a pure land here on earth. This interpretation is also quite well justified in many Mahayana scriptures[citation needed], which indicate that the bodhisattva (Mahayana practitioner) "travels from Pure Land to Pure Land, learning from the Buddhas and bodhisattvas", before creating their own, as an expedient means to liberate sentient beings.[citation needed]

The Soka Gakkai and Buddhist Humanism

According to Daisaku Ikeda, head of the Soka Gakkai new religious movement,
The essence of Buddhist humanism lies in the insistence that human beings exercise their spiritual capacities to the limit, or more accurately, without limit, coupled with an unshakable belief in their ability to do this. In this way, faith in humanity is absolutely central to Buddhism.[3]
Another aspect of manifesting the teaching of Humanistic Buddhism is the interfaith dialogue and the study of the common tenets of non-violence.[4]

Soka Gakkai International teaches that “the Lotus Sutra that leads all people to Buddhahood, and we ordinary human beings are in no way different or separate from one another.[5] and viewed the Buddha as a role model for all humanity: “The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, lies in his behaviour as a human being”.[6]

To link Nichiren’s interpretation of Buddhism to humanism is, however, not shared nor documented by schools of Nichiren Buddhism outside of the Soka Gakkai new religious movements.

Buddhism and new religious movements in Taiwan

Yin Shun was the key figure in the doctrinal exposition of Buddhism, and thus Humanistic Buddhism, in Taiwan. However, he was not particularly active in the social or political spheres of life. This was to be carried out by a younger generation: Hsing Yun, Sheng-yen, Wei Chueh and Cheng Yen. These four figures, collectively known as the "Four Heavenly Kings of Taiwanese Buddhism", head the "Four Great Mountains", or monasteries, of Taiwanese Buddhism and Buddhist new religious movements: Fo Guang Shan, Dharma Drum Mountain, Chung Tai Shan, and Tzu Chi.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Bingenheimer, Marcus (2007). "Some Remarks on the Usage of Renjian Fojiao 人間佛教 and the Contribution of Venerable Yinshun to Chinese Buddhist Modernism". In Hsu, Mutsu; Chen, Jinhua; Meeks, Lori. Development and Practice of Humanitarian Buddhism: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (PDF). Hua-lien (Taiwan): Tzuchi University Press. pp. 141–161. ISBN 978-986-7625-08-3. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Toward a World of Dignity for All: The Triumph of the Creative Life
  4. ^ Gandhi and Mahayana Buddhism
  5. ^ The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life
  6. ^ WND1 p 852

Further reading

  • Guruge, Ananda Wp (2003). Humanistic Buddhism for Social Well-Being: An Overview of Grand Master Hsing Yun's Interpretation. Buddha's Light Publishing. ISBN 0-9717495-2-3. 
  • Jacqueline Ho. “The Practice of Yin Shun’s Ren Jian Fo Jiao: A Case Study of Fu Yan College, Dharma Drum Mountain and Tzu Chi Buddhist Compassion Relief.” MA thesis, University of Calgary, 2008. ISBN 978-0-494-44221-0
  • Hughes Seager, Richard (2006). Encountering the Dharma: Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai, and the Globalization of Buddhist Humanism. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-24577-6. 
  • The Virtue of Asian Humanism, Prof, Nick Gier
  • The Globalisation of Buddhist Humanism, Seager, Richard Hughes -ISBN 0-520-24577-6, March 16, 2006
  • A New Humanism, D.Ikeda - ISBN 978-1848854833, Oct. 15, 2010
  • New Humanism for world peace, Kawada
  • Pittman, Don Alvin (2001), Toward a Modern Chinese Buddhism: Taixu's Reforms, University of Hawaii Press 
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