New Book on Buddhist Influence on Modern Chinese Thought

An important new book on in role of Yogacara Buddhism in shaping modern Chinese thought has been published. Click here or read on for details.

Transforming Consciousness: Yogācāra Thought in Modern China (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), edited by John Makeham, xiii+436 pages | 978-0-19-935813-7 (Paperback ), 978-0-19-935812-0 (Hardback )

Abstract: The Western roots of many aspects of modern Chinese thought have been well documented. Far less well understood, and still largely overlooked, is the influence and significance of the main exemplar of Indian thought in modern China: Yogācāra Buddhist philosophy. This situation is all the more anomalous given that the revival of Yogācāra thought amongst leading Chinese intellectuals in the first three decades of the twentieth century played a decisive role in shaping how they engaged with major currents in modern Chinese thought: empirical science; “mind science” or psychology; evolutionary theory; Hegelian and Kantian philosophy; logic; and the place of Confucian thought in a modernizing China. The influence and legacy of Indian thought have been ignored in conventional accounts of China’s modern intellectual history. This volume sets out to achieve three goals. The first is to explain why this Indian philosophical system proved to be so attractive to influential Chinese intellectuals at the very moment in Chinese history when traditional knowledge systems and schemes of knowledge compartmentalization were being confronted by radically new knowledge systems introduced from the West. The next goal is to demonstrate how the revival of Yogācāra thought informed Chinese responses to the challenges of modernity, in particular modern science and logic. The third goal is to highlight how Yogācāra thought shaped a major current in modern Chinese philosophy: New Confucianism.

Transforming Consciousness forces us to rethink the entire project in modern China of the “translation of the West.” Taken together, the chapters develop a wide-ranging and deeply sourced argument that Yogācāra Buddhism played a much more important role in the development of modern Chinese thought (including philosophy, religion, scientific thinking, social, thought, and more) than has previously been recognized. They show that Yogācāra Buddhism enabled key intellectuals of the late Qing and early Republic to understand, accept, modify, and critique central elements of Western social, political, and scientific thought.

The chapters cover the entire period of Yogācāra’s distinct shaping of modern Chinese intellectual movements, from its roots in Meiji Japan through its impact on New Confucianism. If non-Buddhists found Yogācāra useful as an indigenous form of logic and scientific thinking, Buddhists found it useful in thinking through the fundamental principles of the Mahāyāna school, textual criticism, and reforming the canon. This is a crucial intervention into contemporary scholarly understandings of China’s twentieth century, and it comes at a moment in which increasing attention is being paid to modern Chinese thought, both in Western scholarship and within China.


Introduction by John Makeham

Part 1: The Indian and Japanese Roots of Yogācāra
1. Yogācāra: Indian Buddhist Origins, by John Powers
2. Indra’s Network: Zhang Taiyan’s Sino-Japanese Personal Networks and the
Rise of Yogācāra in Modern China, by John Jorgensen

Part 2: Early Appropriations
3. Tan Sitong’s “Great Unity”: Mental Processes and Yogācāra in An
Exposition of Benevolence, by Scott Pacey
4. Equality as Reification: Zhang Taiyan’s Yogācāra Reading of Zhuangzi in
the Context of Global Modernity, by Viren Murthy

Part 3: Yogacara and Modern Science
5. Taixu, Yogācāra, and the Buddhist Approach to Modernity, by Scott Pacey
6. Yogācāra and Science in the 1920s: The Wuchang School’s Approach to
Modern Mind Science, by Erik J. Hammerstrom

Part 4: Yogacara and Confucian Thought
7. Liang Shuming and His Confucianized Version of Yogācāra, by Thierry
8. Xiong Shili’s Critique of Yogācāra Thought in the Context of His
Constructive Philosophy, by John Makeham

Part 5: The Return to “Genuine Buddhism”
9. Ouyang Jingwu: From Yogācāra Scholasticism to Soteriology, by Eyal Aviv
10. Lü Cheng, Epistemology and Genuine Buddhism, by Dan Lusthaus
11. The Uncompromising Quest for Genuine Buddhism: Lü Cheng’s Critique of
Original Enlightenment, by Chen-kuo Lin

Part 6: Denouement
12. Chinese Ressentiment and Why New Confucians Stopped Caring about
Yogācāra, by Jason Clower


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