Sacred Economies

Sacred Economies: Buddhist Monasticism and Territoriality in Medieval China

Michael J. Walsh
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Sacred Economies
    Book Description:

    Buddhist monasteries in medieval China employed a variety of practices to ensure their ascendancy and survival. Most successful was the exchange of material goods for salvation, as in the donation of land, which allowed monks to spread their teachings throughout China. By investigating a variety of socioeconomic spaces produced and perpetuated by Chinese monasteries, Michael J. Walsh reveals the "sacred economies" that shaped early Buddhism and its relationship with consumption and salvation.

    Centering his study on Tiantong, a Buddhist monastery that has thrived for close to seventeen centuries in southeast China, Walsh follows three main topics: the spaces monks produced, within and around which a community could pursue a meaningful existence; the social and economic avenues through which monasteries provided diverse sacred resources and secured the primacy of Buddhist teachings within an agrarian culture; and the nature of "transactive" participation within monastic spaces, which later became a fundamental component of a broader Chinese religiosity.

    Unpacking these sacred economies and repositioning them within the history of religion in China, Walsh encourages a different approach to the study of Chinese religion, emphasizing the critical link between religious exchange and the production of material culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51993-9
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Dynastic Chronology
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  6. 1 Monastic Identity, Buddhist Religiosity, and Land
    (pp. xiv-23)

    When in 301 of the Common Era the monk Yixing made his way up the slopes of Mount Taibai in eastern Zhejiang province, he must have been impressed.³ The scenery was beautiful, and he decided to build a small hermitage on the side of the mountain, tucked into the slope for shelter, a few hours’ walk from Dongjian Lake. Peaks and valleys surrounded the breathtaking site, all blanketed in thick trees that in winter would occasionally be painted white with snow. To the east lay what later would come to be called Dinghai county. To the north was Hangzhou Bay....

  7. 2 A Square at the Center of the World
    (pp. 24-49)

    Tiantong monastery has long been simultaneously a sacred and mundane space. It was also a religious institution engaged with “practical social concerns.” To be sure, there was meditation to be practiced, salvation to be sought, but there were also a roof to be repaired, merit to be dispensed to laypeople, and rituals—for gaining merit, promoting health, and conducting a proper burial—to perform. Reconciling these seemingly dissimilar activities, at least historically, offers a deeper understanding of Buddhist monasticism. The following chapter has three aims. First is to present a view of Tiantong monastery from both history and impressionistic experience....

  8. 3 Corporate Bodies
    (pp. 50-69)

    Not far from Tiantong monastery is Qita monastery in downtown Ningbo, an institution that has close ties with Tiantong. On a recent visit there I watched a monk exiting the Buddha Hall with its low arched roof and yellow tiles. He adjusted his work robe and made his way to the center of the courtyard in front of the main hall, carrying a broom. He began to sweep: not in some stereotypical Zen fashion, but in a manner indicative of a simple desire—to clean the courtyard. A family arrived; they had requested a memorial service for their ancestors. As...

  9. 4 A Culture of Estates
    (pp. 70-91)

    There is a wonderful juxtaposition with these two quotes.³ The first implies that all under heaven belongs to the emperor. There is no territorial space that is not designated and cultivated as imperial space, so social agents who work within it are, in effect, controlled by the imperium. In the second quote all plots of land, the monks who work on it, and the harvest itself are part of the Buddha. All territory—which cannot be measured by human quantifiers—is Buddha territory. Thus, if territoriality can be understood as a spatial strategy to influence or control resources and people,...

  10. 5 Grains of Sand
    (pp. 92-101)

    At the beginning of the last chapter we read an official’s claim that Buddhist plots were as numerous as the grains of sand in the river Ganges.¹ Exaggerations aside, monastic landholdings certainly numbered many, and whether the wushan shicha (five-mountain/ten-monastery) system existed or not, the top five monasteries certainly did exist. Yin county in Zhejiang province is the historical and current location of the last two, Tiantong monastery and Ayuwang monastery.

    During the thirteenth century there were 6 counties in Ming prefecture. The Yong river divided the prefecture in half, with Cixi and Dinghai on the northern side, Fenghua on...

  11. 6 Cultivating Salvation
    (pp. 102-119)

    A yuwang monastery is about fourteen kilometers from downtown Ningbo City in Zhejiang province. Similar to Tiantong and to quite a number of other large Buddhist monasteries, Ayuwang has a large “releasing-of-life” pool (fangshengchi) in front of the Heavenly King Hall. A large pagoda dominates the landscape, encasing relics of the Buddha (Skt. sarira; Ch. sheli). Along its main axis are the front gate of the temple; a second gate; the Heavenly King Hall; the daxiongbaodian, precious hall of the great heroic one; the lecture hall; and the library. Inside the Heavenly Kings Hall, the first building on the main...

  12. 7 Salvation and Survival
    (pp. 120-126)

    Throughout the course of this book I have argued that Tiantong monastery (and indeed all the Buddhist monasteries discussed) was a space of representation (woodcuts, poems, stele descriptions, imagined reality), representational space (lived labor, an identity of labor, participant in a religious economy), emplaced sacred-mundane space, an institution engaged in territoriality, and a space of salvation via its economic practices. Like most institutions and like any powerful social group such as a large family, Tiantong operated in an environment contingent upon all the relations between positions of competing social agents (abbots, magistrates, prefects, local patrons) and within the arena of...

  13. Appendix A Yin County Buddhist Monastic Land (c. 1226 c.e.)
    (pp. 127-130)
  14. Appendix B Population Figures for Yin County, Ming Prefecture
    (pp. 131-132)
  15. Appendix C Land Totals in Ming Prefecture
    (pp. 133-136)
  16. Appendix D Major Structures in Tiantong Monastery’s Compound
    (pp. 137-138)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 139-186)
  18. Glossary
    (pp. 187-200)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-226)
  20. Index
    (pp. 227-242)