Click here return to the Hualin main page.

Click here return to the Hualin E-Journal Vol 4.2 Table of Contents page.


Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 4.2 (2021): 497–534;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Wheel that Crossed the Borders: Buddhist and Non-Buddhist Religions)

Download full text PDF


Borderland Complexes and Translocations: How a Japanese Tendai Monk Discovered Chan/Zen Buddhism in an Indian Buddhist Homeland in the Hangzhou Region

University of Arizona

Abstract: Caught between the aims of modern Rinzai ideology and the hybrid Buddhism of a late Heian/early Kamakura era Zen reformer, the meaning of Myōan Eisai’s (Yōsai) 明菴栄西 (1141–1215) search for authentic Buddhism has been poorly understood. In this article, I look at the complexities of Eisai’s reform Buddhism, which advocates a return to monastic rigor with an abiding interest in Tendai esotericism and meditation, made authentic through the mind to mind transmission 以心傳心 of the new Buddhism of the Song dynasty, Chan/Zen. I particularly note the significance of the greater Hangzhou region to Eisai’s quest, reimagined as a new Buddhist homeland that inspired Eisai’s transformation. This suggests that when looking for the influences of Tiantai/Tendai Buddhism, one must look beyond sectarian and scholastic divides to see the meaning of Chan/Zen Buddhism not in terms of its modern definitions, but as an inclusive repository for a wide range of Mahāyāna traditions including Tiantai/Tendai, a repository particularly apropos of the Hangzhou region, home to Mt. Tiantai 天台山.

Keywords: borderland complex, translocation, Hangzhou region, Eisai, Tendai, Aśoka stūpa, Budai Mile


About the Author: Albert Welter’s area of academic study is Chinese Buddhism, and he has published in the area of Japanese Buddhism as well. His main research focuses on the study of Buddhist texts in the transition from the late Tang (ninth century) to the Song dynasty (tenth to thirteenth centuries). In recent years, he has published Monks, Rulers, and Literati (Oxford, 2006), The Linji lu and the Creation of Chan Orthodoxy (Oxford, 2008), and Yongming Yanshou’s Conception of Chan in the Zongjing lu (Oxford, 2011), in addition to numerous articles. His work also encompasses Buddhist interactions with Neo- Confucianism and literati culture. He just finished a project on the social and institutional history of Buddhism as conceived through a text compiled in the early Song dynasty, Zanning’s Topical History of the Buddhist Clergy, published by Cambria Press in 2018 (The Administration of Buddhism in China; Stemming from this latter research interest, Professor Welter has also developed a broader interest in Chinese administrative policies toward religion, including Chinese notions of secularism and their impact on religious beliefs and practices, leading to a co-edited volume (with Jeffrey Newmark), Religion, Culture, and the Public Sphere in China and Japan (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2017). He recently received funding from the Khyentse Foundation for a project, ‘The Hangzhou Region and the Creation of East Asian Buddhism’, in conjunction with Zhejiang University, the Hangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, and the Hangzhou Buddhist Academy. He also received funding from the American Council of Learned Societies (with the support of the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation) for an international conference, ‘Creating the World of Chan/Sŏn/Zen: Chinese Chan Buddhism and its Spread throughout East Asia’. Before coming to the University of Arizona, Dr. Welter was based in Canada, where his research projects were regularly supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.