The Body Incantatory

The Body Incantatory: Spells and the Ritual Imagination in Medieval Chinese Buddhism

PAUL COPP
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 400
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/copp16270
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  • Book Info
    The Body Incantatory
    Book Description:

    Whether chanted as devotional prayers, intoned against the dangers of the wilds, or invoked to heal the sick and bring ease to the dead, incantations were pervasive features of Buddhist practice in late medieval China (600--1000 C.E.). Material incantations, in forms such as spell-inscribed amulets and stone pillars, were also central to the spiritual lives of both monks and laypeople. In centering its analysis on the Chinese material culture of these deeply embodied forms of Buddhist ritual,The Body Incantatoryreveals histories of practice -- and logics of practice -- that have until now remained hidden.

    Paul Copp examines inscribed stones, urns, and other objects unearthed from anonymous tombs; spells carved into pillars near mountain temples; and manuscripts and prints from both tombs and the Dunhuang cache. Focusing on two major Buddhist spells, or dharani, and their embodiment of the incantatory logics of adornment and unction, he makes breakthrough claims about the significance of Buddhist incantation practice not only in medieval China but also in Central Asia and India. Copp's work vividly captures the diversity of Buddhist practice among medieval monks, ritual healers, and other individuals lost to history, offering a corrective to accounts that have overemphasized elite, canonical materials.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53778-0
    Subjects: Religion, History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. PREFACE: THE BODY INCANTATORY
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)
  5. THANKS
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
  6. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xxix-xxxii)
  7. INTRODUCTION: DHĀRAṆĪS AND THE STUDY OF BUDDHIST SPELLS
    (pp. 1-28)

    Dhāraṇī incantations and related mystic phrases likemantra,hṛdaya, paritta, andvidyāhave been integral parts of nearly all Buddhist traditions since at least the early centuries CE.¹ That they remain so today is obvious to any traveler in contemporary Buddhist countries, where spells commonly adorn the bumpers of cars or dangle within pouches from rearview mirrors and cell phones.² Modern scholarship, however, was relatively slow to take them seriously; indeed, from early on in the modern study of Buddhism there was a marked aversion to their study that has only recently abated.³ For a stark example of this aversion...

  8. 1. SCRIPTURE, RELIC, TALISMAN, SPELL: MATERIAL INCANTATIONS AND THEIR SOURCES
    (pp. 29-58)

    For the reader of the literature on Buddhist spells—both traditional and modern—what is most arresting about written spells is not the natures or workings of the potencies attributed to them or their sometimes intricate and beautiful forms. It is the simple fact that they were to be written down at all. Buddhist spells, as one scholar has quipped, “unlike children, were to be heard but not seen; that is, they were to be spoken but not read.”¹ The writing of incantations, however, despite oft-repeated claims for the essential orality of these “utterances,” turns out to have constituted an...

  9. 2. AMULETS OF THE INCANTATION OF WISH FULFILLMENT
    (pp. 59-140)

    In April 1944, archeologists Feng Hanji and Yang Yourun excavated a small Tang-era tomb on the campus of Sichuan University, in Chengdu. The simple single-chamber tomb, located near a bend in the Jin River, contained one occupant, whose head was oriented toward the southwest (figure 2.1). Along with a number of other objects placed carefully around it, including urns, dishes, and bowls, and along with coins placed in its mouth and hands, and a jade slip in each hand, the skeleton bore a silver armlet on its upper right arm. Its beauty and workmanship aside, the armlet did not especially...

  10. 3. DUST, SHADOW, AND THE INCANTATION OF GLORY
    (pp. 141-196)

    Late seventh-century transformations in material dhāraṇī practice, as we have seen, can be mapped according to two very simple practical logics:wearingspell-enchanted objects as amulets and directlyanointingthe body with enchanted material, whether oil, ash, dust, or (as we will see) shadow. Unlike the spell inscriptions with which they came to be associated, these two basic models of efficacy were not themselves late products of Buddhist incantation practice; their histories stretch back to much earlier forms of Indic spell craft. Indeed, it was the assimilation of material dhāraṇī is to these (and other) ancient styles of incantation that...

  11. 4. MYSTIC STORE AND WIZARDS’ BASKET
    (pp. 197-226)

    Having explored two individual traditions and styles of material incantation in medieval Chinese Buddhism, we can now step back and begin to take a broader view of the history of which they were parts. Accounts of this history have tended to feature the rise of Esoteric (or Tantric) Buddhism, highly systematized traditions that were formed in part through syntheses of earlier and more diffuse ritual traditions that in India have been known by various collective names, such as theMantranaya, theVidyādhara-piṭaka, or more simply as “dhāraṇi literature.”¹ In China, these rites—and the conceptual understandings of the incantations that...

  12. CODA: MATERIAL INCANTATIONS AND THE STUDY OF MEDIEVAL CHINESE BUDDHISM
    (pp. 227-232)

    This book is an attempt to revise our understanding of the nature of dhāraṇīs and other Buddhist spells as they were practiced and made (by hand, often) in late medieval China. I have tried to show that material incantations and their bodily engagements were natural and integral to Buddhist incantation practice, not strange or secondary developments parasitic upon a tradition centered on oral performance, and to show that dhāraṇī practice in medieval China, taken in thelongue durée, displays its own logics and coherences, quite apart from the narrower history of Esoteric Buddhism to which it has often been reduced....

  13. APPENDIX 1. SUIQIU AMULETS DISCOVERED IN CHINA
    (pp. 233-238)
  14. APPENDIX 2. STEIN NO. 4690: FOUR SPELLS
    (pp. 239-240)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 241-302)
  16. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 303-314)
  17. SOURCES
    (pp. 315-346)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 347-364)