Dr. Liu Zhen gives lecture on the Dharmadhatustava

This past Monday, April 10, Dr. Liu Zhen, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, China (pictured above), gave a lecture at Vassar on a Sanskrit text called the Dharmadhastutava. / Courtesy of Wikimedia

This past Monday, April 10, Dr. Liu Zhen gave a lecture titled “On Dharmadhatustava Found in Tibet.” In order to bring such a multidisciplinary scholar, the lecture was sponsored by the Chinese and Japanese Department with additional support from the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, the Asian Studies Program, the Philosophy Department and the Religion Department.

The decision to bring Dr. Liu Zhen to campus was initially proposed by Professor of Chinese and Japanese Haoming Liu, who has been a close friend of Dr. Liu Zhen for around ten years now.

Professor Haoming Liu said in a written statement, “My then-new book on the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies (Duineser Elegien) just came out and a famous bookstore in Shanghai that specializes on books of belles lettres and humanities in general held a panel discussion that was free to the public. They invited Dr. Liu as a panelist.” The two professors bonded over their common language of German and have remained in close contact after that, generally meeting up when both were in Shanghai.

“The greater benefit of the event for me, greater than the book promotion itself, is that Dr. Liu and I became acquainted and soon friends,” explained Professor Haoming Liu. He continued, “Among other things we both had the experience of studying humanities in Germany and German is one of our common languages. Each time I went to Shanghai we met and talked about a range of things related to our works and academia.”

Dr. Liu Zhen’s places of study are as broad as the disciplines his work has touched on. He earned his Masters degree and doctorate in Germany and has served as a Harvard-Yenching Fellow at Harvard since September 2016. Currently, Dr. Liu Zhen is a professor at the National Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies and Director of the Center for Gandhian and Indian Studies, both at Fudan University located in Shanghai, China.

Professor Haoming explained, “Dr. Liu is a comparative philologist focusing on the Sanskrit language and literature with knowledge in the Tibetan, Tocharian, Pali and other ancient or medieval languages in South and inner Asia. His research focuses especially on Sanskrit literature including Buddhist and Vedic literature in connection to their mostly medieval Tibetan and Chinese translations and receptions.” According to Professor Haoming Liu, Dr. Liu Zhen is part of a small group of Sanskrit/Pali/Tocharian/Tibetan/Chinese linguists and philologists in the world.

The focus of Dr. Liu Zhen’s lecture, Dharmadhastutava, is a treatise on the dharmadhatu written by Nagarjuna, the founder of the Buddhist Madhyamika school. The dharmadhatu translates from Sanskrit as realm or sphere. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition it means realm of phenomena.

Professor Haoming Liu noted, “Although China has a long history (almost two thousand years) of Buddhism and translation of Buddhist sutras, modern study of Sanskrit has been very underdeveloped. Even rarer is a study that includes Tibetan literatures. Dr. Liu’s qualifications and research are therefore very unique and will have a great impact on the field not only through his own research but also through teaching.”

Dr. Liu Zhen’s remarks served as a brief introduction to the complex topic for many of the Vassar students in attendance. Professor Haoming Liu expressed his hopes for the impact of the lecture: “That the lecture was hosted by the Department of Chinese and Japanese is therefore both appropriate and inspiring for our students in that people should recognize how diverse and rich the Chinese tradition is and how limited and inadequate the more conventional picture of China typically represented by Confucianism, popular culture and Mandarin or Cantonese is.”

The lecture dove into a new and complicated topic for many students, presenting them with inspiration for how they might move forward in the field of Chinese and Japanese studies, and the possibilities after graduation.

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