Humanistic Buddhism: Empowering Free Will and Reason on the Path to Enlightenment


Natalie Malter

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This project examines a form of Ch?an Buddhism called Humanistic Buddhism. The term Humanistic Buddhism has its origins in early twentieth century China with the radical reformist Buddhist monk Tai Xu, but the movement began to thrive over the last fifty years under the leadership of Venerable Master Hsing Yun, founder of the Fo Guang Shan Order in Taiwan. The research examines why Master Hsing Yun?s order considers itself humanistic, and which fundamental Buddhist teachings are inherently humanistic. This project also studies the history of humanist movements beginning with Socrates through the Italian Renaissance, European Enlightenment, and current secular humanist movement in order to understand how humanist movements have changed throughout the centuries in regards to their acceptance or denial of religion. While earlier humanistic philosophers appear to accept religious traditions, humanists, beginning with the Enlightenment, often reject theistic religions because of the subjugation of human beings to divine power. Current secular humanists often only address religion as theistic, and Buddhism itself continues to be ignored and misunderstood by many current secular humanist scholars. The research demonstrates that the modern Humanistic Buddhist movement does meet the criteria of ?humanistic? established by more modern humanist secularists, and transcends these criteria as well. To say that it conforms to this criteria entirely would be an over simplification of Buddhist thought and tradition, but Buddhism is humanistic in the sense that through its core teachings relating to free will and reason, it empowers humans to attain enlightenment, an end to suffering in this life. Buddhism accomplishes this through teachings such as universal Buddha nature, the bodhisattva ideal, and karma and rebirth.


Dale Wright




Ford Research Endowment

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