Special Issue "Impurity Revisited: Contemplative Practices, Textual Sources, and Visual Representations in Asian Religions"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 May 2020).

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Michel Mohr
Website SciProfiles
Guest Editor
Department of Religion, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Sakamaki Hall A311, 2530 Dole St., Honolulu, HI 96822, USA
Interests: religious and intellectual history; Buddhism; universalism; Asian philosophy; yoga and Asian religions; nondenominational approaches to religious practice
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue focuses on ideas and practices revolving around “impurity” and “purity” in Asian religions. It problematizes their dichotomy by using a wide range of perspectives to examine textual sources, contemplative approaches, and visual culture. Although, at first sight, nothing seems more remote from purity than contemplating impure materials, such as decaying corpses, a significant number of Buddhist sources indicate that the completion of such contemplative practices results in perceiving light and provide descriptions of such materials suggesting beauty and radiance. As we take such accounts into consideration, the core questions include how to move beyond the pure/impure duality and how to complicate the understanding of “purity” beyond its mere physical connotations. One of the considerations deserving more scholarly attention is that in languages such as Sanskrit, the semantic range of most terms associated with purity/impurity (i.e., śubha/aśubha, śuddha/aśuddha, or śuci/aśuci) are not strictly equivalent to the English vocabulary. Yet, their Chinese rendering as jìng 淨 versus bújìng 不淨 often implies connotations closer to the western terminology.

I invite you to contribute to this Special Issue by investigating a specific topic related to the theme of “impurity” and “purity” in Asian religions. Your choice of a relevant topic should highlight its characteristics, provide a clear argument defining why it matters, take into account counterarguments, and contextualize it by showing how it relates to the wider context, either from a philosophical, religious, or sociological perspective.

We will begin by scrutinizing the Buddhist contemplation of impurity (Skt aśubha-bhāvanā)—a meditative practice mostly known as an antidote to lust and craving. This starting point allows us to explore ideas about purity and impurity in the Indic monastic context and leads us to investigate how this practice was received and interpreted in the Sinosphere as bújìngguān 不淨觀・不净观. It suggests expanding the scope of this investigation by considering interactions and convergences with indigenous Chinese traditions, especially those emphasizing ritual purity, while also examining Tibetan interpretations.

Papers included in this Special Issue will mostly deal with Buddhist traditions across time and space but will also provide insights into the Daoist tradition. Within the framework of Buddhist practices and representations, we look at convergences and divergences between practices favored in the Pāli Buddhist literature, in so-called Mahāyāna texts, and in the Tantric traditions, seeking, in particular, to highlight instances where the polarity of pure/impure was questioned, either in meditation manuals, through logical and rhetorical means, in visual depictions, or as a skillful device to overcome dualistic thinking. While anchoring philological inquiries in specific traditions, time periods, and sociological contexts, we also submit these texts to philosophical perusal while questioning our own epistemological assumptions. Regarding the artistic dimension, Japanese paintings representing the human body in various stages of decomposition also illustrate attempts to edify audiences who did not necessarily have a religious background.

The purpose of this collection of articles is to broaden our understanding of practices involving “impurity” and “purity” by producing new case studies, mostly from the Asian religious sphere. So far, some excellent publications have focused on specific traditions (Wilson 1996, Dhammajoti 2009, Greene 2014), but, to the best of our knowledge, no systematic attempt has been made to envision this topic from a more global perspective. This Special Issue is a first step in this direction, although it covers only a tiny fraction of the Asian religious traditions. While contributors produce research pertaining to their own area of expertise, each of them should help broaden our understanding of the issues at stake and complicate them in a way that significantly differs from the monotheistic approaches to the “impurity/purity” paradigm.

This Special Issue contributes to existing scholarship by providing a range of new research, representing different time periods, different locations, and different traditions. As we seek to problematize the pure/impure dichotomy, we will review examples of practitioners reporting that their contemplation of impurity culminated in a sign marked by beauty and purity, followed by visions of a “pure land”. This experiential event suggests a fascinating correlation with the emergence of pure land practices. While religious methods aimed at “purifying” practitioners also include a wide range of physiological techniques including yoga, such as controlled breathing, they usually also imply an understanding of the subtle body that connects them to healing practices. This psycho-somatic dimension could be further linked to current lines of inquiry considering neuroscience and medical disciplines, although this will have to be explored under the auspices of another project. With the hope that this project will encourage further collaborative ventures, I am confident that, however small its scope, this Special Issue constitutes a milestone toward better understanding the role and signficance of impurity and purity in Asian traditions.

Prof. Michel Mohr
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • pure
  • impure
  • purity
  • impurity
  • meditation
  • Buddhism
  • Daoism
  • contemplative traditions
  • visualization
  • experiential dimension
  • śubha/aśubha
  • śuddha/aśuddha
  • śuci/aśuci
  • jìng 淨
  • bújìng 不淨.

Published Papers (3 papers)

Order results
Result details
Select all
Export citation of selected articles as:

Research

Open AccessArticle
Between Love, Renunciation, and Compassionate Heroism: Reading Sanskrit Buddhist Literature through the Prism of Disgust
Religions 2020, 11(9), 471; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11090471 - 15 Sep 2020
Abstract
Disgust occupies a particular space in Buddhism where repulsive aspects of the human body are visualized and reflected upon in contemplative practices. The Indian tradition of aesthetics also recognizes disgust as one of the basic human emotions that can be transformed into an [...] Read more.
Disgust occupies a particular space in Buddhism where repulsive aspects of the human body are visualized and reflected upon in contemplative practices. The Indian tradition of aesthetics also recognizes disgust as one of the basic human emotions that can be transformed into an aestheticized form, which is experienced when one enjoys drama and poetry. Buddhist literature offers a particularly fertile ground for both religious and literary ideas to manifest, unravel, and entangle in a narrative setting. It is in this context that we find elements of disgust being incorporated into two types of Buddhist narrative: (1) discouragement with worldly objects and renunciation, and (2) courageous act of self-sacrifice. Vidyākara’s anthology of Sanskrit poetry (Subhāṣitaratnakoṣa) and the poetics section of Sa skya Paṇḍita’s introduction to the Indian systems of cultural knowledge (Mkhas pa rnams ’jug pa’i sgo) offer two rare examples of Buddhist engagement with aesthetics of emotions. In addition to some developed views of literary critics, these two Buddhist writers are relied on in this study to provide perspectives on how Buddhists themselves in the final phase of Indian Buddhism might have read Buddhist literature in light of what they learned from the theory of aesthetics. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Advanced Contemplation of the Impure: Reflections on a Capstone Event in the Meditation Sutra
Religions 2020, 11(8), 386; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11080386 - 28 Jul 2020
Abstract
The present article explores the form of meditation called contemplation of the impure (Skt aśubha-bhāvanā; Ch. bújìng guān 不淨觀) and its meticulous description in a Chinese text produced in the early fifth century CE. It illustrates the problematic nature of the pure-impure [...] Read more.
The present article explores the form of meditation called contemplation of the impure (Skt aśubha-bhāvanā; Ch. bújìng guān 不淨觀) and its meticulous description in a Chinese text produced in the early fifth century CE. It illustrates the problematic nature of the pure-impure polarity and suggests that, ultimately, “purity” refers to two different things. As a generic category, it can be understood as a mental construct resulting from the mind’s discursive functioning, which tends to be further complicated by cultural factors. The other avenue for interpreting “purity” is provided in this meditation manual, which describes how meditation on impurity leads to the direct perception of purity, and to the vision of a “pure land.” This stage is identified as a “sign” marking the completion of this contemplative practice. Examining the specific nature of this capstone event and some of its implications lies at the core of the research whose initial results are presented here. Although this particular Buddhist contemplation of the impure begins with mental images of decaying corpses, it culminates with the manifestation of a vision filling the practitioner with a sense of light and purity. This high point indicates when the practice has been successful, an event that coincides for practitioners with a time when they catch a glimpse of their true nature. The last section of this article further discusses the extent to which positing an intrinsically pure nature—one of the major innovations introduced by Buddhism in fifth-century China—could inform ethical views. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Meditation on the Body in Chapter 7 of Saddharmasmṛtyupasthānasūtra
Religions 2020, 11(6), 283; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11060283 - 10 Jun 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
Saddharmasmṛtyupasthānasūtra is an Indian Buddhist sutra dating to the first half of the first millennium. Chapter 7 of the sutra consists of a very long meditation on the body, unusual in Buddhist literature for its anatomical, especially osteological, detail. The meditation also includes [...] Read more.
Saddharmasmṛtyupasthānasūtra is an Indian Buddhist sutra dating to the first half of the first millennium. Chapter 7 of the sutra consists of a very long meditation on the body, unusual in Buddhist literature for its anatomical, especially osteological, detail. The meditation also includes extensive descriptions of many internal worms as well as the internal winds that destroy the worms at the moment of death. The sutra has several elements not found in other Buddhist texts. For example, the Saddharmasmṛtyupasthānasūtra meditation on the body includes extensive descriptions of things in the external world (e.g., rivers, mountains, flowers) and designates them as the “external body”. Most strikingly, the meditation on the body found in Saddharmasmṛtyupasthānasūtra differs from the general scholarly perception of Buddhist meditations on the body in that it does not emphasize impurity or generate repulsion. Instead, the sutra guides the meditator through a dispassionate and “scientific” observation of the body and the world. Full article
Back to TopTop