Transnational networks, localization, and hybridization: the practice and influence of Chinese Buddhism in contemporary Myanmar and Thailand

Tzu-Lung Chiu

In the past few decades, globalization has brought about transnational flows of people and cultures via both immigration and commerce. Inevitably, Buddhism’s different traditions have transcended their traditional geographic boundaries, resulting in unprecedented mutual dialogue, competition and integration, even to the point of creating hybrid Mahāyāna/Theravāda communities. The research, therefore, investigates how Chinese Mahāyāna monasteries in Thailand and Myanmar have influenced, and been influenced by, the prevailing cultural ethos of Theravāda Buddhism in those places. Given the marked differences between these two traditions in terms of both ritual/ceremony and religious practices, such as meditation and precept observance, it is especially worth inquiring how, and to what extent, Chinese monastics have adjusted their ways of everyday life to suit their interactions with Theravāda contexts. The project addresses the following three main research questions:  (1) how far do extant monastic institutions maintain a sense of continuity with the key characteristics of Chinese Buddhism, as evidenced by dharma services, liturgy, ritual, and rites? (2) How, and to what extent, have Chinese Buddhists’ religious practices and spiritual cultivations been adapted to, reshaped by, and merged with indigenous traditions and customs due to localization or hybridization, and/or the need to garner the support of local Theravāda followers, as well as Chinese laypeople? and (3) How much cross-traditional (i.e., Mahāyāna and Theravāda) interaction with Thai/Burmese monastic communities can be characterized as mutual, at the level of either doctrine or practice?

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