Exploring the Future of Buddhism Through a Historical Perspective

Tzu Chi Buddhism as a Case Study


  • Rey Sheng Her 何日生 Tzu Chi University, Harvard University Author




Tzu Chi, Buddhism, Venerable Master Yinshun, Venerable Master Cheng Yen, Max Weber, monastic community, altruism, enlightenment, Śramaṇa, upoṣadha, Dharma, interdependent arising, Economy of Goodness, Aśoka, Brāhmaṇa, Law of Manu, Sectarian Buddhism, equality, Gupta Empire, Mahāyāna Buddhism, Lonely Elder, decline of lay people, Zen, Indian Buddhism, Venerable Master Taixu, Compassion, bodhisattva, public, Tzu Chi Studies


This paper discusses the future of Buddhism through a historical perspective, using Tzu Chi Buddhism as a case study. It explores why Buddhism came to an end in India and declined in China in the Ming and Qing dynasties, after one thousand nine hundred years of existence. It argues that with the origin of Buddhism in India two thousand six hundred years ago, the Buddha transformed the mysticism of Brahmaṇism into rational moral practice, emphasising the Eightfold Path and the Four Immeasurable Minds. The paper argues that the demise of Indian Buddhism in the thirteenth century can be attributed to the fact that, in its middle and late stages, Indian Buddhism overemphasised abstract philosophy of mind and monastic self-cultivation, and did not fully establish a universal “knowledge system” and “value system.” Shifting to the contemporary period, it discusses how Tzu Chi Buddhism has responded to this history, building an organisation of lay followers over the past fifty years that has become one of the most rigorous groups of lay Buddhist followers in the world.

Author Biography

  • Rey Sheng Her 何日生, Tzu Chi University, Harvard University

    Dr. Rey Sheng Her is a scholar, media veteran, and humanitarian, currently serving as Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Tzu Chi Foundation. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Tzu Chi University, Chengchi University (NCCU), and Xuanzang University. He is also an Associate scholar of Harvard University’s CAMLab. Dr. Her received his PhD in Philosophy from Peking University in 2016. He has been a visiting scholar at the Harvard Kennedy School, Columbia University, the University of Oxford, and the University of Cambridge. He is a co-initiator of the Yin-Cheng Distinguished Lecture Series on Buddhism and convener of the Tzu Chi Academic Committee. In addition to a prolific media career as a senior news anchor and producer, Dr. Her has written several books, including Economy of Goodness, which won three awards, including the For Good Award (China), the Shravasti Humanity Award (USA), and the Golden Tripod Award, the highest honor in Taiwanese publication. His publications also include Governance Based on Goodness, The Essential Studies of Tzu Chi Buddhism, Born of a Poet, From Altruism to Ultimate Awakening, The Moment of Inspiration, Constructive Journalism, and Great Love as a Running Water. He is also a co-author of Co-Existing with the Earth and editor of The Buddhist Renaissance, The Universal Value of Buddhism and the Dharma Path of Tzu Chi, and The Dialogue of Religion and Environment, among others.