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Ancestors and Anxiety

Ancestors and Anxiety: Daoism and the Birth of Rebirth in China

Stephen R. Bokenkamp
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Ancestors and Anxiety
    Book Description:

    This innovative work on Chinese concepts of the afterlife is the result of Stephen Bokenkamp's groundbreaking study of Chinese scripture and the incorporation of Indic concepts into the Chinese worldview. Here, he explores how Chinese authors, including Daoists and non-Buddhists, received and deployed ideas about rebirth from the third to the sixth centuries C.E. In tracing the antecedents of these scriptures, Bokenkamp uncovers a stunning array of non-Buddhist accounts that provide detail on the realms of the dead, their denizens, and human interactions with them. Bokenkamp demonstrates that the motive for the Daoist acceptance of Buddhist notions of rebirth lay not so much in the power of these ideas as in the work they could be made to do.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93334-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Translation
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: The Problem of Rebirth
    (pp. 1-32)

    In order to survey the ground we will cover, we begin with two vignettes.

    Cai Yong 蔡邕 (133–92) was an eminent official, intellectual, calligrapher, and writer of the Latter Han dynasty.¹ Though born into a powerful literati family, he first came to court notice because of his reputation for filial piety. Historians record that the first publicly recognized instance of Cai’s remarkable devotion to his parents came about as follows.

    When Cai was young, hismother died. Cai set up a hut beside her grave and ritually served her shade during the mourning period. As a result of his intense...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Envisioning the Dead
    (pp. 33-59)

    One of the most intimate descriptions of the underworld abode of the dead in all of Chinese letters is to be found among the visionary transcripts ofYang Xi (330–86?), as assembled and annotated by Tao Hongjing. In book 5 of hisDeclarations of the Perfected(Zheng’gao),Tao has transcribed for us the revelations Yang received, both from his celestial informants and by other, unknown means, concerning the six palaces of Mount Luofeng, or Fengdu, as the administrative center of the dead was known.¹

    Located on and under a massive mountain in the far north, the direction of winter, darkness, and...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Unquiet Dead and Their Families, Political and Agnate
    (pp. 60-94)

    One common expression for the Chinese polity,guojia國家, or “kingdom and families,” well expresses the allegiances of the elite families whose relations with their dead we are tracing. As we saw in the case of Su Shao, the dead had not escaped from the world of theguojia.The kingdom and families they seemingly left behind proved to extend into the dark realms. Further, the voices of the dead might be mobilized to serve bothjiaandguo.Su, while providing prestige for his family, explained for his kingdom the political etiology of the plague that infected them as...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Questionable Shapes: How the Living Interrogated Their Dead
    (pp. 95-129)

    Benedict Anderson has introduced the concept of “imagined communities” to explore the ways in which religions, kingdoms, and nations invent themselves and imagine connectivity across boundaries of space and time.¹ The imagined community we have been exploring is even more nebulous than any human grouping, but the strategies of collectivity prove the same. The medieval Chinese recognized their dead to be insubstantial yet rarely wraithlike (though we know little of the precise imaginings of ancestral practice).² They were separated from the solid human realm—when they drank or ate, the sustenance remained; when they wrote, the writing was unrecognizable. And...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Doomed for a Certain Term: The Intimate Dead
    (pp. 130-157)

    In this chapter we investigate in detail the progress of one particular underworld lawsuit, similar to the ones Yang Xi found to have embroiled the father and mother of Chi Yin (chapter 3). The concept may seem to be an odd one. Remember, though, that familial ancestral practice attests to the ancient and enduring Chinese view that the fates of the living and the dead were intimately, if always uncertainly, connected. Recall too that all of the troubles of the sunlit world were projected onto the dark world. We have already seen that revolution in the underworld was a possibility...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Rebirth Reborn
    (pp. 158-192)

    One of the most detailed expositions of any Chinese individual’s former lives comes from a Daoist text, part of the Lingbao scriptures composed in the late fourth and early fifth centuries.¹ According to the opening of one Lingbao text, originally known asTrials of the Sages,the Duke Transcendent Ge Xuan 葛玄 gathered thirty-two of his disciples on Mount Laosheng 勞盛山 on February 11, 240, to answer their queries concerning his practice.² Ge’s disciples especially wished to know why it was that, though they had practiced for hundreds of years, none of them could match the attainments of the Duke...

  11. Postscript
    (pp. 193-198)

    This book, while it deals with the Chinese reception and deployment of the Buddhist ideas of rebirth, karma, and samsara, is not finally about Chinese Buddhism. Rather, as I have tried to make clear at each stage, the texts we have examined are not Buddhist. Further, the “Buddhism” that appears in them is not an accurate, historical reflection of the faces of Chinese Buddhism, but a projection of the authors, who sometimes construe the Buddhism of their compatriots as “other” and sometimes ignore it altogether.

    And yet, I have argued, the story our authors tell is all the more valuable...

  12. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 199-202)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-214)
  14. Index
    (pp. 215-220)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-221)