Fang Litian: devoting to Buddhist philosophy
An otherwise large room, Fang Litian`s study seems narrow because of the stacks and stacks of books lining the walls. A collection of Buddha statues queued in ascending order by size sits on top of one of his bookcases. "On the one hand, Buddhism teaches people to understand the essence of the universe and life and encourages them in the pursuit of truth; on the other hand, it helps the standard of human morality attain new realms," Fang Litian remarks, explaining his research to me.
Fang Litian was born into a farmer`s family in Yongkang, Zhejiang Province in 1933. Graduating from the Department of Philosophy at Peking University in 1961, Fang Litian joined the Department of Philosophy at Renmin University of China, first as an assistant professor, later becoming a lecturer. After receiving special approval from the Ministry of Education in 1984, he was promoted to professor.
For half a century, Fang Litian has devoted himself to the development of Buddhist philosophy at Renmin University, successively offering courses on the "History of Philosophy in China", "Issues in ancient Chinese philosophy", "Selected readings from classic Buddhist texts", "Introduction to Buddhism", "Buddhist Philosophy", "Buddhism and Chinese Culture", "Metaphysics in the Wei and Jin Dynasties", "Buddhism in the Sui and Tang Dynasties", among many others. He is the author of 17 books and more than 370 articles. During his academic career, he has supervised more than 40 graduate students, both in China and abroad.
Fang Litian has served as vice-president and adviser of the Chinese Religious Studies Association, standing vice-president and adviser of the China Philosophy and History Association, chief editor of History of Chinese Philosophy, and member of the Social Sciences Committee in the Ministry of Education. One of his deepest academic interests is the relationship between religion and society, a topic which has inspired him to explore contemporary China`s religious views. For instance, his book On the Chinese Marxist view of Religion summarizes ten innovative ideas on the Marxist religious perspective in China.
While "sharing the feelings and understanding the thoughts" (a research method on religion asserted by Tang Yongtong (1893-1964), an influential Chinese scholar of Buddhist history who was active primarily in the first half of the 20th century), in his research, Fang Litian has also devoted his own life to the study and practice of Buddhism. At the age of 80, Fang still advises doctoral students; his engagement with the study of every day, practical issues in religion and Buddhism in China has not waned a bit.