The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva

The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva: Dizang in Medieval China

Copyright Date: 2007
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    The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva
    Book Description:

    In modern Chinese Buddhism, Dizang is especially popular as the sovereign of the underworld. Often represented as a monk wearing a royal crown, Dizang helps the deceased faithful navigate the complex underworld bureaucracy, avert the punitive terrors of hell, and arrive at the happy realm of rebirth. The author is concerned with the formative period of this important Buddhist deity, before his underworldly aspect eclipses his connections to other religious expressions and at a time when the art, mythology, practices, and texts of his cult were still replete with possibilities. She begins by problematizing the reigning model of Dizang, one that proposes an evolution of gradual sinicization and increasing vulgarization of a relatively unknown Indian bodhisattva, Ksitigarbha, into a Chinese deity of the underworld. Such a model, the author argues, obscures the many-faceted personality and iconography of Dizang. Rejecting it, she deploys a broad array of materials (art, epigraphy, ritual texts, scripture, and narrative literature) to recomplexify Dizang and restore (as much as possible from the fragmented historical sources) what this figure meant to Chinese Buddhists from the sixth to tenth centuries. Rather than privilege any one genre of evidence, the author treats both material artifacts and literary works, canonical and noncanonical sources. Adopting an archaeological approach, she excavates motifs from and finds resonances across disparate genres to paint a vibrant, detailed picture of the medieval Dizang cult. Through her analysis, the cult, far from being an isolated phenomenon, is revealed as integrally woven into the entire fabric of Chinese Buddhism, functioning as a kaleidoscopic lens encompassing a multivalent religio-cultural assimilation that resists the usual bifurcation of doctrine and practice or "elite" and "popular" religion. The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva presents a fascinating wealth of material on the personality, iconography, and lore associated with the medieval Dizang. It elucidates the complex cultural, religious, and social forces shaping the florescence of this savior cult in Tang China while simultaneously addressing several broader theoretical issues that have preoccupied the field. Zhiru not only questions the use of sinicization as a lens through which to view Chinese Buddhist history, she also brings both canonical and noncanonical literature into dialogue with a body of archaeological remains that has been ignored in the study of East Asian Buddhism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6483-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Problems and Perspectives
    (pp. 1-26)

    My first encounter with the Bodhisattva Dizang 地藏 (Ksitigarbha) took place more than two decades ago at the Chinese temple of a lay Buddhist society in Singapore called the Buddhist Lodge (Jushi lin 居士林) . It was the last night of the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar, a month traditionally consecrated to the welfare of deceased relatives, especially those reborn in the unfortunate realms of hungry ghosts and hell beings.¹ An elaborate festival brought to a close the month-long communal recitation of theDizang pusa benyuan jing地藏菩薩本願經(Scripture on the Past Vows of dizang Bodhisattva).² At the heart...

  7. PART 1: Early Images:: The Bodhisattva of This Defiled World

    • CHAPTER 1 Early Scriptural Representations: Texts and Contexts
      (pp. 29-49)

      Imagine being transported across vast expanses of time to early medieval china. What would be one’s initial impressions of the Bodhisattva Dizang? Literary sources suggest that Dizang first appeared in China sometime in the late fourth or early fifth century, first as an audience bodhisattva—that is, a member of the entourage gracing the Buddha’s assemblies in the scriptures.¹ One also finds examples of Dizang’s appearance as an interlocutor posing questions to the person preaching a scripture.² However, in these passing references, Dizang exists only in name and no significant information is disclosed about him. The first substantive glimpses of...

    • CHAPTER 2 Cultic Beginnings Reconsidered
      (pp. 50-78)

      Modern scholarship attributes the initial dissemination of the Dizang cult to the Teaching of Three Levels (Sanjie jiao) and cites Longmen sculptures and inscriptions as examples of Dizang worship in the seventh century. For example, theEncyclopedia of Religionsays of the early history of Dizang:

      Knowledge of Ksitigarbha [Dizang] was probably introduced to China around 400, but there is no evidence that [Dizang] became an object of widespread devotion there until much later. An important stimulus for the popularity of faith in [Dizang]’s vows seems to have come from the San-chieh Chiao [Sanjie jiao] . . . a group...

  8. PART 2: Multiple Images:: This World, Hell, and Pure Land

    • CHAPTER 3 Indigenous and Accretionary Scriptures
      (pp. 81-117)

      Between the sixth and tenth centuries, a small corpus of scriptures foregrounding the Bodhisattva Dizang appeared in china. To a greater or lesser extent, this set of “Dizang scriptures” reflects broader patterns of religious and cultural amalgamation that existed at the time.¹ Each scripture connects Dizang to varied aspects of chinese religion that cannot be reduced to any singular theme. If not the focus of the scripture, Dizang appears frequently and the text endeavors to integrate Dizang worship with its main subject. According to this definition, those scriptures that mention Dizang’s name but do not treat the bodhisattva substantively will...

    • CHAPTER 4 Art and Epigraphy
      (pp. 118-166)

      Written texts are not the sole medium in which religious negotiations and innovations take place. Visual and material objects document devotional practices that written records often overlook, especially forms of religious piety that take shape outside so-called orthodoxy and are thus marginalized by the elite clerics responsible for writing religious history. As discussed in part 1, Shaanxi iconography proved to be critical for elucidating seventhcentury Chinese Buddhists’ visualizations of Dizang Bodhisattva inspired by theScripture on the Ten Wheels. In this chapter, a wider range of art and inscriptions will be considered to amplify our knowledge of Dizang. Viewed through...

    • CHAPTER 5 Narative Literature
      (pp. 167-196)

      The need to move beyond an exclusive focus on the written word in the study of medieval religion and culture has been voiced repeatedly in modern scholarship. But the study of the oral aspect of medieval culture poses its own methodological problems. Aaron Gurevich, an expert in the field of western medieval popular culture, frames the problem as follows:

      The oral tradition of the distant past could not be directly recorded, and everything we learn of it in the sources, the texts of the literary tradition, is only an indirect reflection. What is more, this reflection of the oral through...

  9. CONCLUSION: Reassessing Dizang, Lord of the Underworld
    (pp. 197-224)

    In the modern encounter described in the introduction, Dizang Bodhisattva presides over a set of afterlife rites, all of which were introduced by Tang Buddhism. On the thirtieth day of the seventh lunar month, Dizang’s birthday, local temple celebrations seamlessly synchronize a medley of rites for feeding deceased ancestors reborn as hungry ghosts and hell dwellers.¹ The observances of the Ghost Festival, the Buddho-Daoist purgatorial rites of universal salvation, the esoteric rite of liberating flaming mouths, and theScripture on the Past Vows—all converge into a single vision of afterlife redemption, at the crucible of which stands Dizang, lord...

  10. APPENDIX 1: The Scripture on the Ten Wheels: Reevaluating the Traditional Dating
    (pp. 225-228)
  11. APPENDIX 2: Antecedents of Dizang? Kṣitigarbha in India and Central Asia
    (pp. 229-240)
  12. APPENDIX 3: Translations of Scriptures
    (pp. 241-258)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 259-294)
  14. Index
    (pp. 295-306)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-314)