Chun-fang YuPassing the Light: The Incense Light Community and Buddhist Nuns in Contemporary Taiwan

University of Hawaii Press, 2013

by Luke Thompson on October 14, 2014

Chun-fang Yu

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Chün-fang Yü’s new book, Passing the Light: The Incense Light Community and Buddhist Nuns in Contemporary Taiwan (University of Hawaii Press, 2013), focuses on a community of nuns in Taiwan founded in the early 1980s, and discusses the appearance and development of this community within the context of rapidly changing social and economic circumstances in Taiwan during the last half of the twentieth century.  Based on extensive fieldwork and numerous interviews conducted between the mid-1990s and 2013, Yü provides the reader with a vivid picture of daily life in the seminary and a close examination of the Buddhist education classes for laypeople taught by the nuns.  Along the way she explores the appearance of Buddhist seminaries in China during the late Qing and Republican periods, the transformation of Taiwanese nuns from individuals devoted to Buddhist ritual and personal salvation into religious teachers of the Buddhist laity, the changing demographics of the Taiwanese Buddhist nunnery, and the development of curricula that incorporate both traditional Buddhist subjects (e.g., study of the Vinaya) and secular ones (e.g., business management).  Through Yü’s detailed presentations of the instructional materials used to educate both nuns and laypeople, the reader begins to understand the vision that informed the activities of the Incense Light Community as well as the way in which one particular community of nuns dealt with modernization and its concomitant challenges to traditional Buddhist education, practice, and belief.  However, perhaps the most compelling aspect of this work is its ability to draw the reader into the lives of individual nuns and the complex social realities of life as a Taiwanese nun during the past half-century.  This book will be of particular interest to those researching or interested in issues of Buddhist modernization, Buddhist and Chinese views of gender, female monasticism, and Buddhist education.

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