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) | Viewed by 12664
Interests: East Asian religions; religious and intellectual history; Asian philosophy; Buddhism; universalism; ethics; yoga; nondenominational approaches to religious practice
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals
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
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- contemplative traditions
- experiential dimension
- jìng 淨
- bújìng 不淨.