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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 3.2 (2020): 102–128;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhism and Technology, and Epigraphy)

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Zen, Motorcycles and Burning Buddhas

Christian WITTERN
Kyoto University

Abstract: The standard narrative of the relationship of religion and science presents science as wrangling domination from the realm of religion, which is clouded in dogma, by using the rational mindset of enlightenment, a sophisticated method which is designed to discover the truth about our world and ourself.

In this paper, I would like to turn this story on its head and show how science today is marred in dogma, unable to move beyond a very narrow conception of reality, supporting a worldview that is bound to crash full speed into the boundaries of our planet and taking most life forms with it.

Buddhism, on the other hand, will emerge as providing one possible path to move beyond the limitations of these dogmas and engage with our planet and all its lifeforms in the only meaningful way possible: As a relationship based on loving-kindness, rooted in the first hand experience of the inter-connectiveness of all beings and the intimate, heartfelt love based on this. Buddhism, is of course not the only worldview that takes such a stance, but since it is the topic for this conference, I will focus on Buddhism, more specifically on Chan-Buddhism as reflected in the Chan literature of early Song China.

Keywords: Man and nature, history of science, scientific method, Chan Buddhism, Mindfulness


About the Author: Christian Wittern 維習安 was born in Germany. He studied Philosophy, Literature and Sinology at the universities of Tübingen, Hamburg, Hangzhou, Göttingen and Kyoto, holds a M.A. from Hamburg and a Ph.D. from Göttingen. Christian is currently Professor at the Center for Informatics in East-Asian Studies at the Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University. His research interests here are premodern digital Chinese texts, research methods in digital Sinology and Chinese lexicography, as well as the limits of the scientific world view. He founded and oversees the Kanseki Repository project ( and is collaborating with Princeton University and Bochum University in the maintenance of the Thesaurus Linguae Sericae (TLS). Before coming to Kyoto, he worked at the Chung-Hwa Institute for Buddhist Studies, a division of Dharma Drum Mountain 法鼓山 in Taiwan, where he was a founding member of the Chinese Buddhist Electronic Text Association (CBETA), a project for which he still serves as adviser. He published two volumes of Chan texts in German translation.


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