Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face

Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face: Scripture, Ritual, and Iconographic Exchange in Medieval China

Christine Mollier
Copyright Date: 2008
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    Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face
    Book Description:

    Christine Mollier reveals in this volume previously unexplored dimensions of the interaction between Buddhism and Taoism in medieval China. While scholars of Chinese religions have long recognized the mutual influences linking the two traditions, Mollier here brings to light their intense contest for hegemony in the domains of scripture and ritual. Drawing on a far-reaching investigation of canonical texts, together with manuscript sources from Dunhuang and the monastic libraries of Japan—many of them studied here for the first time—she demonstrates the competition and complementarity of the two great Chinese religions in their quest to address personal and collective fears of diverse ills, including sorcery, famine, and untimely death. In this context, Buddhist apocrypha and Taoist scriptures were composed through a process of mutual borrowing, yielding parallel texts, Mollier argues, that closely mirrored one another. Life-extending techniques, astrological observances, talismans, spells, and the use of effigies and icons to resolve the fundamental preoccupations of medieval society were similarly incorporated in both religions. In many cases, as a result, one and the same body of material can be found in both Buddhist and Taoist guises. Among the exorcistic, prophylactic, and therapeutic ritual methods explored here in detail are the "Heavenly Kitchens" that grant divine nutrition to their adepts, incantations that were promoted to counteract bewitchment, as well as talismans for attaining longevity and the protection of stellar deities. The destiny of the Jiuku Tianzun, the Taoist bodhisattva whose salvific mission and iconography were modeled on Guanyin (Avalokitesvara), is examined at length. Through the case-studies set forth here, the patterns whereby medieval Buddhists and Taoists each appropriated and transformed for their own use the rites and scriptures oftheir rivals are revealed with unprecedented precision. Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face is abundantly illustrated with drawings and diagrams from canonical and manuscript sources, together with art and artifacts photographed by the author in the course of her field research in China. Sophisticated in its analysis, broad in its synthesis of a variety of difficult material, and original in its interpretations, it will be required reading for those interested in East Asian religions and in the history of the medieval Chinese sciences, including astrology, medicine and divination.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6169-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Christine Mollier
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    The implantation of Buddhism in China, during the first centuries of the common era, was an unparalleled phenomenon in the history of religions. Unlike Christianity, which played a major cultural, social, and political role in the formation of early medieval Europe, Buddhism did not have such a pervasive effect in the Chinese world. Already five or six centuries old when it entered China, the Indian religion encountered there an ancient, highly advanced civilization. China had its own rich intellectual, philosophical, and religious traditions. It had also a strong sense of cultural and political identity, often expressed as a powerful ethnocentrism....

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Heavenly Kitchens
    (pp. 23-54)

    The tradition of the Heavenly Kitchens concerns neither culinary art, nor, strictly speaking, Chinese food.¹ The recipes that it advocates aim at a total abstinence from food through meditational practices. Paradoxical as it might appear, the term “kitchens,”chu廚, as it is used here, is neither fortuitous nor provocative. In Chinese antiquity, it designated the banquets held by village communities, which were dedicated to the god of the soil. Taken over, codified, and perpetuated by medieval Taoism, unbeatable custodian of the Chinese ancestral patrimony, these collective repasts became vegetarian rituals in which only the consumption of alcohol recalled the...

  7. CHAPTER 2 In Pursuit of the Sorcerers
    (pp. 55-99)

    The antiquity and virulence of sorcery in China are confirmed by both archeological evidence and dynastic histories. The manuscripts of Mawangdui already bear witness to this during the third century B.C.E.¹ Despite the adoption of draconian juridical and penal measures, which were incessantly amended by successive dynasties in the attempt at suppression, sorcery continued to afflict all classes of society. The ancient elite, far from sequestering itself in solemn state ceremonies and the cult of the ancestors, willingly gave itself over to sorcery. The ravages thus caused are described by the official historians, who detail the pathetic sequels to its...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Augmenting the Life Account
    (pp. 100-133)

    There is no more patent case of purloined scripture, among the examples presented in this volume, than that of theSūtra to Increase the Account(Yisuan jing益算經).¹ This short text of onejuan,known from many examples discovered among the Dunhuang manuscripts, has been labelled an apocryphal, or “suspect” (wei偽), sūtra in Buddhist catalogues since the end of the seventh century. It has continued to be classified as such by specialists down to the present day, notably by Makita Tairyō, even though the term “apocryphon” cannot be considered, in this case, to be more than a euphemism.² Makita...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Under Stellar Protection
    (pp. 134-173)

    As is the case for theYisuan jing,the principal objective of the talismanic tradition of the constellation of the Great Dipper, or Beidou 北斗, which is our concern in this chapter, is to assure the prolongation and preservation of the lives of the faithful. More complex in its formation than theYisuan jing,the tradition of the Beidou is deeply embedded within the millennial fabric of Chinese culture and religion, in which the diverse threads of astrology and soteriology are intimately intertwined. Let us rapidly sketch out here some of the major lines.

    Human beings, as integral constituents of...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Guanyin in a Taoist Guise
    (pp. 174-208)

    The bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara decisively entered China at the end of the third century with the translation of the most widely revered Buddhist scripture in East Asia, theSūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law(Saddharma-puṇḍarīkasūtra,Miaofa lianhua jing妙法連華經), orLotus Sūtra.¹ Its twenty-fifth chapter, the “Universal Gateway of Guanshiyin” (Guanshiyin pumen pin 觀世音普門品), which is entirely dedicated to the bodhisattva, would have a particularly remarkable legacy,² for in Avalokiteśvara (Guan[shi]yin), thePumen pinintroduced a new type of deity to Chinese religious life. The compassionate Guanyin was glorified not only as a universal savior but also...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 209-212)

    The examples of Buddho-Taoist exchange introduced in the preceding chapters lead us to a new perspective on the religious situation in medieval China. Erik Zürcher’s metaphor, comparing the two great traditions to two pyramids rising from a common base, has been often cited by historians of Chinese religion, whether to confirm or to criticize it. The top of each pyramid represents the elite and sophisticated realm of religious “professionals,” while the foundations of the pyramids belong to the devotional activities of lower-class “simple believers.” Whereas the summits are clearly separate and distinct from one another, the bases merge into a...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-230)
  13. Index
    (pp. 231-242)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-244)