Founded by Tàixū 太虛 and others, the Wǔchāng Buddhist Seminary (Wǔchāng Fóxué yuàn 武昌佛學院) was the first "Buddhist Seminary" 佛學院 so called. It was one of the more important modern Buddhists schools in the 1920s, and it trained many prominent ordained Buddhist thinkers.
In the spring of 1922, Tàixū 太虛 gave a lecture on the Sūtra of Complete Enlightenment 圓覺經 in Hànyáng 漢陽. After the lecture, several laypeople approached him to talk about starting a school for the education of the sangha. Some of the members of that group wrote Fóxué yuàn zhāngchéng 佛學院章程, and Tàixū wrote Fóxué yuàn yuánqǐ 佛學院緣起. In total, there were 30 lay people who contributed to the school, with each donating 400 yuan.
The renovation of buildings for the school was completed by June of that same year. Entrance examinations for the school ended on September 11 and 80+ students were admitted. Teachers included Tàixū himself, as well as Shànyīn 善因, Kōngyě 空也, Táng Dàyuán 唐大圓 (Chinese philosophy), Zhāng Huàshēng 張化聲 (Madhyamaka), Shǐ Yìrú 史一如 (Indian Buddhist philosophy and logic), and Dù Hànsān 杜漢三 (Chinese language). In setting the curriculum, Tàixū adopted the curriculum of a Japanese Buddhist school. Classes ran for 5-6 hours per day, with 3-4 hours of self study. Subjects included Buddhist philosophy, psychology, mathematics, and science.
After the first year, Tàixū wanted to begin running the Seminary according to Chán monastic rules (qīngguī 清規). The lay board of directors opposed this idea and instead required that some of the incoming second class of 40 students be laypeople.
By the school's third term, the students were not doing very well, so they combined years and weeded some out, and let some quit on their own. 60 students remained. After the fourth term, in 1924, those 60 students who had been part of the first two classes graduated. 20 of them were chosen to stay and do research. From that point onward, students at the Seminary were divided into a graduate (research) division and a college division.
In the fall of 1924, Tàixū left the school due to illness (though it is possible his decision to leave was also motivated by his conflict with the Seminary's board of directors). When he left, he handed the reigns to Shànyīn. Only 30 students returned for the third year of the school, and few of these had taken classes directly with Tàixū. In the fall of 1926, the Northern Expedition arrived and the school was occupied soldiers. Most of the students left and the board suspended the school, though a few students remained to look after it. These were Fǎfǎng 法舫, Dàxǐng 大敬, and Wáng Sēnfǔ 王森甫 (president of the Right Faith Society 正信會).
In 1929, Táng Dàyuán came back to teach at Wǔhàn University. He lived at the Seminary. He and Fǎfǎng got Zhāng Huàshēng to come back, and they restarted the Seminary. That same year, Tàixū came back from a trip to Europe and America and he, Táng, and Zhāng started the World Buddhist Studies Center 世界佛學苑 with agreement and support (in the amount of 100-200 yuan per person) from the Seminary's former board of directors. In 1932, the army billets were finally moved out of the old buildings and the rooms were returned to Seminary control. That same year the World Buddhist Studies Center Library 世界佛學苑圖書館 was formed, with Fǎfǎng overseeing its operations. It ran a lecture series, with 29 lectures given from 1933 - 1934.
The Seminary, Center, and Library all shut down during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Periodic attempts were made to revive the Seminary later during the Republican period, but none of these efforts led to a re-establishment of the Seminary.
The Wǔchāng Buddhist Seminary exerted a tremendous influence on Chinese Buddhism during the 20th century. Graduates of the school went on to run other Buddhist Seminaries 佛學院 all over China.
Section Editor: Erik Hammerstrom
Graduates who began during first term
Graduates who began during second term
Class of 1936