Buddhist Transformations and Interactions: Essays in Honor of Antonino Forte

by Victor H. Mair


Paperback. *Includes images.

One of the greatest scholars of Chinese and Japanese Buddhist history was Antonino Forte (1940–2006), who was Director of the Italian School of Oriental (later East Asian) Studies in Kyoto for many years. At the institute Professor Forte welcomed scholars from around the world to use the magnificent research library he had built up, and he generously shared his vast erudition on countless subjects related to East Asian medieval Buddhist history.

Professor Forte's approach to Buddhist Studies was like that of a detective attempting to solve a difficult case. He displayed his investigative skills in a series of important projects such as those in which he addressed the riddle of the origins of The Great Cloud Sutra, the mystery of Empress Wu's massive tower and astronomical clock, and the case of the Iranian prince held hostage at the Tang court. Forte was relentless in tracking down the last available bit of evidence, for he was convinced that, when he brought all of the available data together, the answer would emerge with pellucid clarity. This intensely empirical approach extended to archaeological remains. Few Buddhist historians have dedicated so much attention and energy to reading archaeological reports and even going into the field to carry out onsite investigations as Antonino Forte. The same data-driven spirit informs the chapters in this tome dedicated to Professor Forte’s legacy.

This volume is unusual in the way that it assembles the research of distinguished scholars from various fields and regions. All these scholars knew Professor Forte personally and were influenced by his scholarship. Seldom does one find the combination of spatial breadth, temporal depth, and conceptual rigor that is abundantly present in Buddhist Transformations and Interactions. The purpose of bringing together the twelve chapters in this book is to exemplify the method and principles of Antonino Forte’s own work. At the same time, the authors collectively wish to illustrate significant facets of Buddhism as it developed during the vital middle period of East Asian history, as well as what preceded and succeeded that period.

One of the main themes that runs through Buddhist Transformations and Interactions is that of borders and their crossing. In very concrete ways, the individual chapters look at how Buddhism passed from India to Central Asia and China and Korea, and from China and Korea to Japan. But crossing is not merely geographical, hence cultural and doctrinal transformations and adaptations are also examined closely. Following the example of Antonino Forte, the authors ground their investigations in historical specifics, but they are also keen to grasp the intellectual and conceptual implications of the various manifestations of Buddhism that they describe.

While centered in East Asia (China) and Northeast Asia (Japan and Korea), the volume also embraces South Asia (India), Southeast Asia (Vietnam), and Inner Asia (Khitan), in disciplines ranging from history to literature, from art and architecture to archaeology, as well as the scripture and practice of religion. This study vividly demonstrates the commonality of Buddhist religion and culture cutting across the eastern part of Asia, with due attention to their roots in South Asia and parallels in Central Asia and Southeast Asia. While acknowledging the oneness of Buddhism in Asia, the authors are sensitive to the unique features of the religion and its culture as manifested in the various regions where it is found, and they have endeavored to describe them in detail.

Offering a rare and rich assortment of cutting-edge Buddhological research on diverse topics, this study examines topics such as nirvana and maya, sacred sites, monastery origins, biographical writing, sectarianism in China and Japan, funeral rituals, miracle tales and strange stories, architecture, and lineage transmission. An attentive reading of Buddhist Transformations and Interactions will provide readers with a much better appreciation and understanding of East Asian Buddhism.

Buddhist Transformations and Interactions is a valuable resource for scholars and students in Asian studies, particularly Buddhist studies, history of religions, the history of East Asian art and archeology, textual analysis, South Asian studies, and Liao/Khitan studies.

Watch Professor Victor Mair's speech at the AAS Cambria Press reception about the Cambria Sinophone World Series and his new book.


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