Pilgrimage, traveling gurus and transnational networks

The lay meditation movement in contemporary Chinese societies

Authored by: Ngar-sze Lau

Routledge International Handbook of Religion in Global Society

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138182509
eBook ISBN: 9781315646435
Adobe ISBN:


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In the context of global religions, it is important to study sacred landscapes, pilgrimage, migration and diaspora, missionary activities and transnational religious networks. Transnational religious networks become far more important because of migration and the growth of diaspora communities. However, transnational religious networks developed by pilgrims and traveling gurus need more careful research. Since the 1960s, Western spiritual seekers have been traveling to Southeast Asia to learn meditation and return to their countries to become meditation teachers. They have also invited well-known meditation teachers to travel to the United States from Asia to lead meditation retreats. The movement of transnational lay meditation and later secular mindfulness has flourished in the West and the rest of the world. Since the start of the twenty-first century, Chinese visitors traveling to learn meditation in Asia and the West have had an impact on the growth of transnational meditation practices in Chinese societies. There has been an increasing number of Chinese monastics and lay people from Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China visiting Buddhist sacred sites and meditation centres. With the influence of Buddhist modernization, they are attracted to learn various kinds of transnational practices, especially vipassanā, by staying at the centres for months or even years. Following the practice of international yogis, some are ordained as short-term monks or nuns in the Theravāda tradition. After returning home, some active meditators organize retreats by inviting teachers from Asia and the West to travel to Chinese societies. Various transnational meditation communities of specific teachings have rapidly developed by travelers through cyber technologies in mainland China. This chapter will examine the historical development of the transnational lay meditation movement, which began in Southeast Asia before becoming popular in the West and then later on in East Asia. I argue that instead of migration religious traveling has been the key force behind the growing transnational lay meditation network.

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