Study of Mysticism in Chinese Buddhist Monks and Nuns

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The social scientific study of mysticism has suggested a mystical experiential core that exists across traditions. Empirical studies have identified this “common core” in traditions such as Christian Protestants, Jews, Hindus, and Persian Muslims. There has been a lack of understanding in the mystical experience among Oriental Buddhism both in its content and in its structure.

The current study explores the phenomenological structure of mystical experience among 139 Chinese Pure Land (i.e., Jingtu) and Chan Buddhist monks and nuns. Semi-structured interviews, thematic coding, and statistical analyses demonstrated that Stace’s common facets (i.e., Ego Loss, Timelessness/Spacelessness, Unity, Inner Subjectivity, Positive Affect, Sacredness, Noetic Quality, Ineffability) of mysticism as measured by Hood’s Mysticism Scale successfully described Buddhist experience as modified by Buddhist doctrines. Confirmatory factor analysis revealed that these facets could be formed into Stace’s three-factor structure (i.e., Introvertive Mysticism, Extrovertive Mysticism, Interpretation).

These data contribute to the understanding of religious experience shared by practicing Buddhists, and lend strong support to the thesis that the phenomenology of mystical experience reveals a common experiential core that can be discerned across religious and spiritual traditions. The posted data are quantitative codes of interviews which reflect whether a participant has or has not had a certain mystical experience. Qualitative analyses of specific contents of mystical experiences are available in the published paper.

Data File
Cases: 139
Variables: 13
Weight Variable: None
Data Collection
Date Collected: March 2010 - April 2011
Original Survey (Instrument)
Buddhist Mysticism Codebook
Collection Procedures
This survey employed face-to-face interviews with Buddhist monks and nuns at the temples and nunneries (located at Jiuhua Mountain, Anhui, China) where they lived and practiced their traditions. Jiuhua, literally “Nine Glorious,” is one of the four sacred mountains of Chinese Buddhism and has kept a tradition for Pure Land Buddhism since the eighth century. We derived interview questions from a Chinese translation of the Mysticism Scale. Each of the mystical facets was tested by one or more questions adapted from scale items (a full list of the interview questions is available upon request).
Principal Investigators
Zhuo Chen
University of Oregon
Related Publications
Chen, Zhuo, Wen Qi, Ralph W. Hood, Jr. & P. J. Watson. 2011. "Common Core Thesis and Qualitative and Quantitative Study of Chinese Buddhist Monks and Nuns." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 50(4):654-670.

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