We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva


Publication Year: 2007

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (145.5 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (54.2 KB)
pp. ix-x

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (66.4 KB)
pp. xi-xii

This book grew out of my doctoral dissertation, which was submitted to the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Arizona. I am tremendously grateful to the Reverend Hou Zhong for his broad vision of monastic education and to the congregation at the Mahāprajnā Buddhist Society for their unstinting support of my graduate studies. In a similar...


pdf iconDownload PDF (269.4 KB)
pp. xiii

read more

Introduction: Problems and Perspectives

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.6 MB)
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...

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

read more

1. Early Scriptural Representations: Texts and Contexts

pdf iconDownload PDF (474.6 KB)
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...

read more

2. Cultic Beginnings Reconsidered

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.3 MB)
pp. 50-77

Two groundbreaking studies were responsible for calling attention to Sanjie jiao and Longmen for understanding early Dizang worship. In a seminal work published in 1927, Yabuki Keiki devotes a chapter to mapping the relationship between Sanjie jiao and Dizang worship. Yabuki shows that Sanjie jiao regarded the...

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

read more

3. Indigenous and Accretionary Scriptures

pdf iconDownload PDF (742.1 KB)
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. Each scripture connects Dizang to varied aspects of Chinese religion that cannot...

read more

4. Art and Epigraphy

pdf iconDownload PDF (12.7 MB)
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...

read more

5. Narative Literature

pdf iconDownload PDF (498.8 KB)
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...

read more

Conclusion: Reassessing Dizang, Lord of the Underworld

pdf iconDownload PDF (523.9 KB)
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...

Appendix 1: The Scripture on the Ten Wheels: Reevaluating the Traditional Dating

pdf iconDownload PDF (344.5 KB)
pp. 225-228

Appendix 2: Antecedents of Dizang? Ksitigarbha in India and Central Asia

pdf iconDownload PDF (365.3 KB)
pp. 229-239

Appendix 3: Translations of Scriptures

pdf iconDownload PDF (624.8 KB)
pp. 241-258

Works Cited

pdf iconDownload PDF (886.6 KB)
pp. 259-294


pdf iconDownload PDF (134.2 KB)
pp. 295-305

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (94.3 KB)
pp. 307

E-ISBN-13: 9780824864835
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824830458

Publication Year: 2007