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Imperfect Accomplishment: The Fo Guang Shan Short-Term Monastic Retreat and Ethical Pedagogy in Humanistic Buddhism

By James Laidlaw, Jonathan Mair

Cite As:
Laidlaw, James, and Jonathan Mair. 2019. “Imperfect Accomplishment: The Fo Guang Shan Short-Term Monastic Retreat and Ethical Pedagogy in Humanistic Buddhism.” Cultural Anthropology 34, no. 3: 328–358.


Fo Guang Shan (佛光山; Buddha’s Light Mountain), an international Buddhist movement headquartered in Taiwan, regularly runs what it calls a short-term monastic cultivation retreat, a week-long residential program designed to provide lay members with an opportunity for intensive cultivation (修養; xiuyang or 修行; xiuxing). Contributions to the anthropology of ethics have recently drawn sharp distinctions between ordered, systematic ethics associated especially with religious traditions, and the compromise and accommodation that result from the exigencies of everyday life. This retreat, we argue, shows that the experience of ethical shortcomings can be a positive instrument and aspect of religious striving. While much debate in the anthropology of ethics assumes an a priori conceptual framework that opposes ordinary or everyday exigency to ordered transcendence, exigency and order in the Fo Guang Shan retreat are instead mutually constitutive and dynamically related. Here, failing and being corrected are not imperfections in, but central and ritually scripted elements of its ethical pedagogy.






ethics; self-cultivation; virtue; pedagogy; character; Buddhism; Taiwan; Fo Guang Shan; 核心詞:道德; 自修; 美德; 教學法; 品格; 佛教; 臺灣; 佛光山; 核心词:道德; 教学法; 台湾