The Taste of Chan project is being undertaken by a participatory research committee including lay and monastic members of the temple itself as well as three anthropologists from the Buddhist Ethics Network.
Our research will combine three principlal research methods which have been selected to investigate the ethical work of the Fo Guang Shan Temple in personal, institutional and public contexts. Throughout the research we will combine observations from these methods to identify the multiple effects of Buddhist practice.
We will conduct in-depth semi-structured interviews with 20 – 30 members of the London temple. This will allow both breadth of scope and depth of interaction: interviewees will be selected from a full range of socio-economic backgrounds, genders and roles in the temple. The researchers intend to work with the whole spectrum of temple participants, including religious professionals, lay organisers and casual attendees.
The interviews will focus on the role of the temple and religious practice led by the temple in people’s lives. Respondents will be encouraged to reflect upon their religious involvement, how this intersects with other social commitments and impacts upon their lives outside the religious context, and the practices by which respondents attempt to bring the teachings propagated by the temple into their daily lives. Respondents will also be asked to recount their life stories; this will help us to locate respondents reflections on religious work and transformation in a broader biographical narrative. Where permitted, interviews will be recorded. The unstructured nature of the interview method will allow greater insight into multiple levels of meaning that direct questioning. Interviews will be guided, where possible, by respondents’ own discourses, with the investigator primarily encouraging further elaboration, to reduce the risk of our own research interests determining an interview’s trajectory.
Secondly, we will attend and participate in activities organised by the temple by and for members of the community and the wider public. This will be critical for understanding the multiple methods by which the temple promotes practices that encourage wellbeing and self-reflection. The engagement between the temple and the public in these pedagogic forums is likely to have a substantial impact on the ways in which individuals understand their own religious practice. The temple provides a wide variety of activities including meditation classes, language classes, tea ceremonies, gardening, dancing and choral activities. We will conduct participant observation in these pedagogic domains in order to understand how the Buddhist teachings are both promoted and received. Teachers and attendees will be approached for interview to record participants’ immediate accounts of the events and trace their impact over time.
Thirdly, we will conduct participant observation of everyday life in the temple. An important plank of Master Xing Yun’s teaching is the application of Buddhist values in daily life. Through on-going participant observation with temple goers we seek to investigate how, when and why Buddhist principles are activated in everyday contexts. We thereby hope to establish how the practice of Buddhist ethics is mediated by the social context in which it is enacted.