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Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face

Scripture, Ritual, and Iconographic Exchange in Medieval China

Christine Mollier

Publication Year: 2008

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xi

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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...

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1. The Heavenly Kitchens

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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...

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2. In Pursuit of the Sorcerers

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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. 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...

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3. Augmenting the Life Account

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pp. 100-133

There is no more patent case of purloined scripture, among the examples presented in this volume, than that of the Sūtra to Increase the Account (Yisuan jing 益算經). This short text of one juan, 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...

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4. Under Stellar Protection

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pp. 134-173

As is the case for the Yisuan 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 the Yisuan jing, the tradition of the Beidou...

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5. Guanyin in a Taoist Guise

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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, the Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law (Saddharma-pundarīkasūtra, Miaofa lianhua jing 妙法連華經), or Lotus 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...

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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...


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pp. 213-229


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pp. 231-241

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861698
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824831691

Publication Year: 2008