Living Karma

Living Karma: The Religious Practices of Ouyi Zhixu

BEVERLEY FOULKS MCGUIRE
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/mcgu16802
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  • Book Info
    Living Karma
    Book Description:

    Ouyi Zhixu (1599--1655) was an eminent Chinese Buddhist monk who, contrary to his contemporaries, believed karma could be changed. Through vows, divination, repentance rituals, and ascetic acts such as burning and blood writing, he sought to alter what others understood as inevitable and inescapable. Drawing attention to Ouyi's unique reshaping of religious practice,Living Karmareasserts the significance of an overlooked individual in the modern development of Chinese Buddhism.

    While Buddhist studies scholarship tends to privilege textual analysis,Living Karmapromotes a balanced study of ritual practice and writing, treating Ouyi's texts as ritual objects and his reading and writing as religious acts. Each chapter addresses a specific religious practice -- writing, divination, repentance, vows, and bodily rituals -- offering first a diachronic overview of each practice within the history of Chinese Buddhism and then a synchronic analysis of each phenomenon through close readings of Ouyi's work. This book sheds much-needed light on a little-known figure and his representation of karma, which proved to be a seminal innovation in the religious thought of late imperial China.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53777-3
    Subjects: Religion, History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-16)

    Karma is a fundamental idea in Buddhist ethics but a contentious topic for scholars of Buddhist ethics. Although it undergirds most academic introductions to Buddhist ethics,¹ scholars disagree on how best to approach the study of karma in Buddhist traditions. Those focused on systematizing Buddhist theories of ethical action and moral choice have approached karma through moral philosophy, and they have largely debated whether Buddhist ethics represents a form of consequentialism or virtue ethics.² A few scholars—notably Charles Hallisey, Anne Hansen, and Maria Heim—have advocated a different approach to Buddhist ethics that incorporates other methodologies including literary studies,...

  6. ONE KARMA AS A NARRATIVE DEVICE IN OUYI’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 17-36)

    These are the closing remarks of Ouyi Zhixu in his autobiography, which he completed in January 1653—two years before his death. They evoke a sense of uncertainty in the face of the vagaries of karma and rebirth, with his present conditions lacking and his future destiny unknown. They also encapsulate one purport of his autobiography: his eschewing of any identification with specific contemporary institutions (be they Buddhist or Confucian). Perceiving himself as inhabiting an age of religious decline, instead of binding himself to a contemporary institution or locating himself within a specific Confucian, Chan, Vinaya, or Tiantai lineage, Ouyi...

  7. TWO DIVINATION AS A KARMIC DIAGNOSTIC
    (pp. 37-52)

    Karma not only operates as a narrative device in Ouyi’s autobiography but also serves as a hermeneutic in his ritual texts. In this passage, Ouyi distinguishes between repentance and divination rituals according to the types of karmic activity addressed by each. Mahāyāna Buddhist repentance rituals involve confession of sins from present and past lives but because of the difficulty of discerning the latter, they typically incorporate a general repentance of sins. By contrast, divination rituals enable one to specifically discern one’s past transgressions. Ouyi emphasizes the fact that people inherit particular legacies of karmic habits (yexi) that have accumulated from...

  8. THREE REPENTANCE RITUALS FOR ELIMINATING KARMA
    (pp. 53-80)

    Although ouyi portrays divination as a vehicle for diagnosing his karma, his repentance rituals aim to eliminate karma entirely. He outlines procedures for performing such rituals in three texts—two that are based on apocryphal sutras and one centered on the bodhisattva Dizang: the repentance ritual from theZhancha shan’e yebao xingfa(Procedure for performing the sutra of divining good and bad karmic retribution, 1633; hereafter referred to as Divination repentance),² hisFanwang jing chanhui xingfa³ (Procedure for performing the repentance of the Sutra of Brahma’s Net, 1633; hereafter referred to as Brahma’s Net repentance),⁴ and hisZanli Dizang pusa...

  9. FOUR VOWING TO ASSUME THE KARMA OF OTHERS
    (pp. 81-92)

    Just as Ouyi esteems Dizang for his vow to erase the fixed karma of humankind, Ouyi himself makes vows throughout his life. His votive texts (yuanwen) form the first fascicle of his collected writings in the Lingfeng Zonglun, which was compiled by his disciple Chengshi. The designation of the section as “votive texts” belies the actual diversity of the types of texts that are included—“oaths” (shiwen), “repentance texts” (chanwen), “invitations” (qiwen), “addresses” (gaowen), “verses” (jie), and “texts of dedication of merit” (huixiang wen)—but Jianmi Chengshi was not entirely misguided in grouping them under this larger theme because many...

  10. FIVE SLICING, BURNING, AND BLOOD WRITING: Karmic Transformations of Bodies
    (pp. 93-124)

    Having seen how Ouyi portrays divination as a karmic diagnostic, views repentance as having the potential to extinguish karma, and professes vows to substitute for others in their karmic retribution, we will now consider the role Ouyi’s body¹ plays in presentations of himself as a future bodhisattva. As Paul Williams notes, bodhisattva bodies are the medium for fulfilling bodhisattva vows because their bodies become “being-for-others” or physical expressions of their commitment to save other sentient beings.² Bodies are vehicles for instantiating bodhisattva ideals.

    Susanne Mrozik contends that bodhisattva bodies are not only the medium for fulfilling generic bodhisattva vows but...

  11. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 125-132)

    In a world structured by karma, every experience—however trifling—becomes infused with greater significance. Anti-Buddhist writings that could easily be attributed to youthful naïveté become tantamount to disparaging the Three Jewels—the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha—and worthy of rebirth in the lowest realms of hell. Leaving home to become a monk equates to a failure in one’s filial duty and negligence that will result in an unfavorable rebirth. Receiving the precepts in front of the image of an eminent Buddhist monk instead of the Buddha nullifies their reception altogether and contravenes the monastic rules, which has its own...

  12. APPENDIX 1. A TRANSLATION OF OUYI’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 133-142)
  13. APPENDIX 2. A MAP OF OUYI’S LIFE
    (pp. 143-144)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 145-192)
  15. GLOSSARY OF TERMS, PEOPLE, PLACES, AND TITLES OF TEXTS
    (pp. 193-202)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 203-220)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 221-228)