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Buddhism in Taiwan

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Buddhism is the major religion in Taiwan Taiwanese people predominantly practice Mahayana Buddhism, Confucian principles, local practices and Taoist tradition1 Roles for religious specialists from both Buddhist and Taoist traditions exist on special occasions such as childbirth and funerals Of these, a smaller number identify more specifically with Chinese Buddhist teachings and institutions, without necessarily eschewing practices from other Asian traditions Around 35% of the population believes in Buddhism2 A distinguishing feature of this form of Buddhism is emphasis on the practice of vegetarianism

Taiwan government statistics distinguish Buddhism from Taoism, giving almost equal numbers for both in 2005, 8 million and 76 million, respectively, out of a total population of 23 million3 Many of Taiwan's self-declared "Taoists" actually observe the more syncretistic practices associated with Chinese traditional religion which is based on Buddhism Self-avowed Buddhists may also be adherents of more localized faiths such as Yiguandao, which also emphasize Buddhist figures like Guanyin or Maitreya and espouse vegetarianism They are mostly vegetarians

Four local Buddhist teachers whose institutions are especially significant are popularly likened to the "Four Heavenly Kings of Taiwanese Buddhism"4 with their corresponding institutions often referred to as the "Four Great Mountains" They are:

  • North Jinshan: Master Sheng-yen 聖嚴, d 2009 of Dharma Drum Mountain 法鼓山
  • South Dashu: 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, d 2016 of Chung Tai Shan 中台山

Several of these figures 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 Sheng-yen's tradition is formally Zen Buddhism; Yin Shun was inspired by Taixu, who is less well known in Taiwan Their missions have branches all over the world In a reversal of the older historical relationship, these Taiwanese Buddhists have played important roles in the revival of Buddhism in China

This notion of ‘Humanistic Buddhism’ promotes a more direct relationship between Buddhist communities and the wider society Also known as Socially Engaged Buddhism, its focuses on the improvement of society through participation in aspects such as environmental conservation As mentioned before a large proportion of mainstream Buddhist institutions emphasize this approach56

Venerable Taixu 1890-1947 contributed greatly to this approach, as he was somewhat disappointed with a continuous focus on only ritual and ceremony7 Taixu went about promoting more direct contributions to society through the Buddhist community In fact he had three goals which were to spread Buddhism through the monastic community, encourage lay people to act according to Buddhist teachings in order to bring enlightenment to their lives and to establish Mahayana Buddhism as a significant component not only domestically but also internationally7

Today Buddhist institutions are responsible for a number of public goods such as colleges and hospitals as well as disaster relief7 This approach has filtered down to current generations and has received widespread support In fact Taixu’s approach can be directly attributed to the rapid growth in Buddhism experienced over the past few decades There is some discrepancy between specific institutions on the role Buddhism should play in the political arena Generally speaking members of Buddhist institutions are advised against participating in politics For example, members of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist school are encouraged to promote modern values such as equality, freedom and reason however concern should not necessarily lead to an intrusion into the political sphere7 It is also worth noting that many members of these mainstream Buddhist institutions are derived from the middle class8 Among many social groups in Taiwanese society the middle class has greatly benefited from Taiwan’s economic success With more free time these members of society seek to engage in activities that give meaning to their lives and for many Buddhist institutions are able to provide this

Also, these Buddhist schools contribute through cultural events and practices by publishing reading materials and by providing classes for calligraphy, dance and art7 Not only do Buddhist institutions contribute directly to society but they also seem to embed themselves in the lives of many through this emphasis on culture It enables all citizens to include Buddhism in their lives and removes barriers between monks and nuns performing rituals in a far away monastery and the requirements of everyday life This in turn creates a sense of belonging and identity within Taiwanese society helping to propagate Buddhism for many generations to come


  • 1 History
    • 11 Early years
    • 12 Japanese period
    • 13 World War II
    • 14 Modern developments
    • 15 Development of the Vajrayana schools
  • 2 Rapid Growth in the Late 20th Century
  • 3 See also
  • 4 Sources
  • 5 Notes
  • 6 External links


Early yearsedit

Ven Wei Chueh, a traditional Chán Buddhist master in Taiwan

Buddhism was brought to Taiwan in the era of Dutch rule by settlers from Fujian and Guangdong9 The Dutch colonial rulers, who controlled Taiwan from 1624 until 1663, discouraged Buddhism, since idol worship was punishable by public flogging and banishment by Dutch law10 In 1662, Koxinga drove the Dutch from Taiwan His son Zheng Jing established the first Buddhist temple in Taiwan During this period, Buddhist practice was not pervasive, with Buddhist monks only performing funeral and memorial services11

When the Qing dynasty took control of Taiwan in 1683, large numbers of monks came from Fujian and Guangdong provinces to establish temples, particularly those devoted to Guanyin, and a number of different Buddhist sects flourished Monastic Buddhism, however, did not arrive until the 1800s

Japanese periodedit

During the Japanese period 1895–1945, many schools of Japanese Buddhism came to Taiwan to propagate their Buddhism teachings, such as Kegon 華厳宗, Tendai 天台宗, Shingon Buddhism 真言宗, Rinzai school 臨済宗, Sōtō 曹洞宗, Jōdo shū 浄土宗, Jōdo Shinshū 浄土真宗 and Nichiren Buddhism 日蓮宗 During the same period, 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

World War IIedit

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 Buddhist Association of the Republic of China zh: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

Modern developmentsedit

Main sanctuary of Fo Guang Shan Monastery near Kaohsiung

One of the first private networks of Buddhist centers was that of Hsing Yun, who first attained popularity through the new medium of radio broadcasts in the 1950s and later through publication of Buddhist audio on phonograph discs, leading the founding of Fo Guang Shan in 1967 Another key figure was Cheng Yen, a nun who was ordained by the aforementioned Yin Shun and later founded Tzu Chi, one of Taiwan's most influential charity organizations It is difficult to overestimate her impact 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 the 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 opened the Museum of World Religions in Taipei In addition to exhibits on ten different world religions, the museum also features "Avatamsaka World," a model illustrating the Avatamsaka Sutra

In 2009 Taiwan lost one of its most influential Buddhist teachers when Sheng-yen of the Dharma Drum Mountain monastery died

Development of the Vajrayana schoolsedit

In recent decades Vajrayana Buddhism has increased in popularity in Taiwan as Tibetan lamas from the four major Tibetan schools Kagyu, Nyingma, Sakya and Gelug have visited the island, including the 14th Dalai Lama, who visited the island thrice in 1997, 2001 and 2009

The Koyasan Shingon sect of Japan also maintains its own practice centers and temples in Taiwan, some of them historically established during the Japanese period of Taiwanese history, while others were established in the post-WWII era in order to re-establish an orthodox Esoteric Buddhist lineage that was long eliminated during the Tang Dynasty

The True Buddha School, founded in the late 1980s by Taiwanese native Lu Sheng-yen, is one of the more well known of the Vajrayana sects in Taiwan, although at least seven established Buddhist organisations have charged that the group functions as a personality cult1213

Rapid Growth in the Late 20th Centuryedit

Statistics provided by the Interior Ministry show that Taiwan's Buddhist population grew from 800,000 in 1983 to 49 million in 1995, a 600 percent increase In contrast, the population grew about twelve percent over the same time period14 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 198315

Scholars attribute this trend to a number of unique factors in Taiwan, including the activity of the various charismatic teachers who were active during this time, as well as the migration of devout lay Buddhists fleeing religious persecution in Mainland China On top of that, several officials in the government of Chiang Kai-Shek were devoted Buddhists who helped support Buddhism when the fleeing Buddhist leaders arrived in Taiwan16 Other factors scholars cite for the rapid growth include a general search for identity among Taiwanese citizens, increased urbanization as well as a sense of isolation in an increasingly impersonal society17

The growth of Buddhism rose most sharply in the late 1980s when the Taiwanese government became much more liberalized17 Aside from societal influences there have also been a number of developments when it comes to the Buddhist community The modernization of Taiwan coincided with the rise of Humanistic Buddhism The growth of Buddhism in Taiwan was spearheaded by a number of organizations developing during this period led by various teachers who took a socially engaged approach in accordance with Humanistic Buddhist philosophy As Buddhist groups become more involved in people’s everyday lives there has been a general push to make the teachings of Buddhism more relevant and applicable to modern- day issues such as environmental protection, human rights and stress management7 These developments helped create an image of Buddhism as being highly relevant in the modern world to the Taiwanese population17

Rapid economic growth and general prosperity has also been an important factor for Buddhism in Taiwan As people acquire time-saving goods such as cars and appliances, extra time can be allocated to an activity which can help provide meaning or a goal to people’s lives This has been speculated as being the case in Taiwan where people look for deeper satisfaction beyond the immediate and the materialistic Economic prosperity has also meant that donations and volunteering have increased throughout a number of Taiwanese communities7

While other religious groups, such as Christian churches, took similar approaches and had many of the same societal benefits in Taiwan during this period of Buddhist resurgence, a major advantage Buddhism had was that it had long played a role in Chinese history and culture Groups such as Christian churches were seen as foreign and therefore Buddhism had much greater appeal to the young people in Taiwan at the time who were looking for a sense of ethnic identity and to fill the ideological needs of the more socially conscious public as Taiwan modernized7 Another advantage Buddhism had over other religious groups was that the growth of Buddhism in Taiwan was being led primarily by large Buddhist organizations such as Tzu Chi and Fo Guang Shan Organizations such as these were headed by charismatic leaders such as the "Four Heavenly Kings" and the size of the organizations allowed for large scale fundraising and public events, giving the major Buddhist organizations an advantage in terms of resources and publicity18 In addition, most of the contemporary Taiwanese Buddhist organizations leading the resurgence were known for their use of modern technology to appeal to the masses and some were known for championing popular progressive causes at the time19

Significant funding and a more liberal approach to religion allowed folk religions and Buddhism in particular to prosper in Taiwan during the post war era This is in contrast to the severe restrictions Buddhism and religion faced in mainland China between 1949-78 Buddhism, among other aspects, was seen as an aspect of Chinese culture that was holding the nation back Many monks and nuns were forced to give up their monastic lives and become part general society It wasn’t until 1978 that Buddhism has been able to re-surface in mainland China The much different environment in Taiwan allowed Buddhism to have a very significant religious presence in Taiwan since the late 20th century Many scholars now consider Taiwan to be the center of Chinese Buddhism with many schools, temples and shrines established all over the island by many prominent Buddhist leaders7

See alsoedit

  • Religion in Taiwan


  • 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, Republic of China Yearbook, 2002
  • Hsing, Lawrence Fu-Ch'uan Taiwanese Buddhism & Buddhist Temples/ Pacific Cultural Foundation: Taipei, 1983
  • Ho, Erling 5 September 2002 "Buddha Business" Far Eastern Economic Review Retrieved 23 February 2012 article 2002
  • Jones, Charles Brewer 1999 Buddhism in Taiwan: religion and the state, 1660-1990 University of Hawaii Press ISBN 978-0-8248-2061-9 
  • Laliberte, Andre "The Politics of Buddhist Organizations in Taiwan: 1989-2003" RoutledgeCurzon, 2004
  • Madsen, Richard Democracy's Dharma: Religious Renaissance and Political Development in Taiwan University of California Press, 2007
  • David Schak and Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao, « Taiwan’s Socially Engaged Buddhist Groups », China perspectives Online, 59 | May - June 2005, Online since 1 June 2008, connection on 2 September 2012 URL : http://chinaperspectivesrevuesorg/2803
  • Buddhism in world cultures electronic resource: comparative perspectives / edited by Stephen C Berkwitz Santa Barbara : ABC-CLIO, c2006 https://booksgooglecom/booksid=CRCD96RNxfwC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q=Taiwan&f=false
  • A Macroscopic Study of Taiwanese Buddhist History


  1. ^ "Major Religions Ranked by Size" adherentscom 
  2. ^ Benoit, Vermander SJ Winter 1998 "Religions in Taiwan: Between Mercantilism and Millenarianism" PDF Inter-Religio Taipei Ricci Institute: 63–75 
  3. ^ Sakya, Madhusudan 2011-01-01 Current Perspectives in Buddhism: Buddhism today : issues & global dimensions Cyber Tech Publications p 95 
  4. ^ 2600 Years of Sambuddhatva: Global Journey of Awakening 2011-01-01 p 282 ISBN 9789559349334 
  5. ^ "解嚴後台灣新興佛教現象及其特質" ddbcedutw 
  6. ^ "解嚴後台灣佛教新興教派之研究" urltw 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Schak, David; Hsiao, Hsin-Huang Michael 2005-06-01 "Taiwan’s Socially Engaged Buddhist Groups" China Perspectives 59 ISSN 1996-4617 
  8. ^ Democracy's Dharma: Religious Renaissance and Political Development in Taiwan by RichardMadsen Review by: Scott Pacey The China Journal, No 60 , pp 203-205 University of Chicago press, July 2008 203
  9. ^ Jones, Charles Brewer 1999-01-01 Buddhism in Taiwan: Religion and the State, 1660-1990 University of Hawaii Press p 4 ISBN 9780824820619 
  10. ^ Jones 3-4
  11. ^ Jones 3
  12. ^ "真佛宗是附佛邪教 七大佛團列六不法舉證" Sin Chew Daily 2007-10-25 Archived from the original on 13 December 2007 Retrieved 2007-10-25 
  13. ^ "真佛宗是附佛邪教 七大佛團列六不法舉證 archive" Sin Chew Daily 2007-10-25 Retrieved 2009-09-09 
  14. ^ Lin, Hua-Chen Jenny 2010 Crushed pearls: The revival and transformation of the Buddhist nuns' order in Taiwan Houston, Texas: PhD Thesis, Rice University p 113 
  15. ^ Lin, Diana "As Buddhism Grows, So Grows Its Impact," Free China Review, 9
  16. ^ Clart, Philip; Jones, Charles Brewer 2017-04-10 Religion in Modern Taiwan: Tradition and Innovation in a Changing Society University of Hawaii Press p 187 ISBN 9780824825645 
  17. ^ a b c Jerryson, Michael 2016-11-01 The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism Oxford University Press p 93 ISBN 9780199362394 
  18. ^ Jerryson, Michael 2016-11-01 The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism Oxford University Press p 94 ISBN 9780199362394 
  19. ^ Jerryson, Michael 2016-11-01 The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism Oxford University Press p 95 ISBN 9780199362394 

External linksedit

  • 台灣佛教世代交替 Lineage of Taiwan's Buddhist teachers
  • Dharma Drum Mountain monastery
  • Adherentscom

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