Buddhism in Taiwan

Buddhism in Taiwan

Buddhism is a major religion in Taiwan. More than 90 percent of Taiwan's people practice the Chinese folk religion which integrates Buddhist elements alongside a basically Taoist base (with a role for religious specialists from both traditions during special occasions such as funerals). Of these, a smaller number identify more specifically with Chinese Buddhist teachings and institutions, without necessarily divorcing themselves from the folk practices. One study proposes that 7 to 15 percent of Taiwanese are Buddhist in the strict sense. [ http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/Publications/miscPublications/I-R/pdf/32-Vermander.pdf ] Vegetarianism is an important practice which distinguishes this "pure" form of Buddhism.

Government statistics insist on distinguishing Buddhism and Taoism, resulting in almost equal numbers for both (in 2005, 8 million and 7.6 million, respectively, out of a total population of 23 million). However, many of the self-declared "Buddhists" turn out to be merely applying the name "Buddhism" to the folk religion. Buddhism may also be confused with local syncretic faiths such as I-kuan Tao, since these tend to emphasize Buddhist figures like Guanyin or Maitreya, and also practice vegetarianism.

Four local Buddhist teachers, whose institutions are especially significant, are popularly likened to the "Four Heavenly Kings of Taiwanese Buddhism." They are:

:*North (Jinshan, Taipei): Master Sheng-yen (聖嚴) of Dharma Drum Mountain (法鼓山):*South (Dashu, Kaohsiung): Master Hsing Yun (星雲) of Fo Guang Shan (佛光山):*East (Hualien): Master Cheng Yen (證嚴) of the Tzu Chi Foundation (慈濟基金會):*West (Nantou): Master Wei Chueh (惟覺) of Chung Tai Shan (中台山)

Several of these have been influenced by the Humanistic Buddhism (人間佛教) of Master Yin Shun (印順), a theological approach which has come to distinguish Taiwanese Buddhism. (Yin Shun was inspired by Taixu 太虛, who is less often remembered in Taiwan.) These institutions have branches all over the world and, in a reversal of the traditional relationship, have begun supporting the revival of Buddhism in China.


Buddhism was brought to Taiwan in the time of the Ming dynasty by settlers from Fukien and Kwangtung ProvincesFact|date=April 2007. It was discouraged by the Dutch colonial rulers who controlled Taiwan from 1624 until 1663, until Cheng Cheng-kung (Koxinga) drove the Dutch from Taiwan in 1663. His son Cheng Ching established the first Buddhist temple in Taiwan.

When the Qing dynasty took control of Taiwan by defeating of Cheng Ching's son, Ching Ning, in 1683, large numbers of monks came from Fukien and Kwangtung provinces to establish temples, and a number of different Buddhist sects flourished. Monastic Buddhism, however, would not arrive until the 19th century.

During the Japanese period (1895-1945), most Taiwan Buddhist temples came to affiliate with one of three central temples:

:*North (Keelung): Yueh-mei Mountain (月眉山), founded by Master Shan-hui (善慧) :*Center (Miaoli): Fa-yun Temple (法雲寺), founded by Master Chueh-li (覺立):*South (Tainan): Kai-yuan Temple (開元寺), also founded by Chueh-li

As a Japanese colony, Taiwan fell under the influence of Japanese Buddhism. Many temples experienced pressure to affiliate with Japanese lineages, including many whose status with respect to Buddhism or Taoism was unclear. (Emphasis on the Chinese folk religion was widely considered a form of protest against Japanese rule.) Attempts were made to introduce a married priesthood (as in Japan). These failed to take root, as emphasis on vegetarianism and/or clerical celibacy became another means of anti-Japanese protest.

With Japan's defeat in World War II, Taiwan fell under the control of Chiang Kai-shek's government, resulting in contrary political pressures. In 1949, a number of mainland monks fled to Taiwan alongside Chiang's military forces, and received preferential treatment by the new regime. During this period, Buddhist institutions fell under the authority of the government-controlled Chinese Buddhist Association (中國佛教會). Originally established in 1947 (in Nanjing), it was dominated by "mainland" monks. Its authority began to decline in the 1960s, when independent Buddhist organizations began to be permitted; and especially since the 1987 lifting of martial law in Taiwan.

One of the first private networks of Buddhist centers was that of Hsing Yun, who first attained popularity through radio broadcasts in the 1950s. Another key figure was Cheng Yen, a nun who was ordained by the aforementioned Yin Shun and later founded Tzu Chi, Taiwan's most important charity organization. It is difficult to overestimate the impact of her personal example on the image of Taiwan's sangha. Tzu Chi runs several hospitals in Taiwan, and conducts worldwide relief work. A 1999 earthquake centered in Puli brought praise for Tzu Chi for its effective response, in contrast with that of the Taiwanese government.

During the 1980s, Buddhist leaders pressed Taiwan's Ministry of Education to relax various policies preventing the organization of a Buddhist university. The eventual result was that in the 1990s--flush with contributions made possible by Taiwan's " miracle economy"--not one but half a dozen such schools emerged, each associated with a different Buddhist leader. Among them were Tzu Chi University, Hsuan-Chuang University, Huafan University, Fo Guang University, Nanhua University, and Dharma Drum Buddhist College. The regulations of Taiwan's Ministry of Education prohibit recognized colleges and universities from requiring religious belief or practice, and these institutions therefore appear little different from others of their rank. (Degrees granted by seminaries, of which Taiwan has several dozen, are not recognized by the government.)

In 2001, Master Hsin Tao (心道) of Ling Jiou Shan opened the Museum of World Religions (世界宗教博物館) in Taipei. In addition to exhibits on ten different world religions, the museum also features "Avatamsaka World," a model illustrating the Avatamsaka Sutra.

In recent decades, Vajrayana Buddhism has greatly increased in popularity, with many Tibetan lamas from the four major Tibetan schools (Kagyu, Nyingma, Sakya and Gelug) visiting Taiwan on a regular basis. The True Buddha School is the largest Vajrayana sect in Taiwan, although in recent times the group has been denounced as a cultFact|date=September 2008.

Recent growth

Statistics provided by the Interior Ministry show that Taiwan's Buddhist population grew from 800,000 in 1983 to 4.9 million in 1995, a 600 percent increase against an overall population rise of about twelve percent. Additionally, in the same period the number of registered Buddhist temples increased from 1,157 to 4,020, and the number of monks and nuns was up 9,300 monks and nuns, up from 3,470 in 1983.14 [Lin, Diana. "As Buddhism Grows, So Grows Its Impact," "Free China Review", 9.] . This trend can be attributed to the activity of various charismatic teachers, such as those mentioned above.

ee also

*Religion in Taiwan
*Religion in Japan
*Religion in Korea
*Religion in Netherlands
*Religion in Spain


*Chandler, Stuart. "Establishing a Pure Land on Earth: The Foguang Buddhist Perspective on Modernization and Globalization." University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

*Government Information Office (Taiwan), " [http://www.gio.gov.tw/taiwan-website/5-gp/yearbook/2002/chpt25-4.htm Republic of China Yearbook] , 2002.

*Hsing, Lawrence Fu-Ch'uan. "Taiwanese Buddhism & Buddhist Temples/" Pacific Cultural Foundation: Taipei, 1983.

*Ho Erling, " [http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma4/budbusiness.html Buddha Business] " (article 2002.

*Jones, Charles Brewer. "Buddhism in Taiwan: Religion and the State, 1660-1990." University of Hawaii Press, 1999.

*Madsen, Richard. "Democracy's Dharma: Religious Renaissance and Political Development in Taiwan." University of California Press, 2007.


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