- Conceiving the Indian Buddhist Patriarchs in China by Stuart Young
Conceiving the Indian Buddhist Patriarchs in China reviews and analyzes the changing representations of the Indian Buddhist saints in the hagiographical and iconographical source materials produced between the fifth and tenth century in medieval China. The book presents the historical trajectory and [End Page 97] chronological order of those varying images, by explaining the respective socio-cultural and historical-political circumstances that elicited each shift of paradigm in this tradition of religious imagery.
The author focuses the discussion on the three Indian patriarchs Aśvaghoṣa, Nāgārjuna, and Āryadeva, who are the seminal and most exemplary figures of Buddhist saints venerated throughout all eras of Chinese Buddhism. This triad of Indian saints originally emerges as a group of authors who had composed doctrinal treatises that have later been transmitted to China. Their achievement in promoting the dharma long after the Buddha's realization of nirvaṇa in India is a constitutive element of their sanctity in many Buddhist traditions. For the Chinese Buddhists, who are fully aware of their own temporal and spatial distance from the historical source of Buddhism, this triad serves as a role model in a world, which the author refers to as "post-parinirvaṇa India."
In addition to a wide array of primary sources such as prefaces composed by elite scholar monks and imperial patrons, doctrinal treatises, scriptural commentaries, hagiographies, master-disciple genealogies, and historiographies, this survey particularly considers the writings of Kumārajīva's (344-413 or 350-417) Chinese associates, the Dharma Treasury Transmission (Fu fazang yinyuan zhuan 付法藏因緣傳) and the iconographical imagery from the Cave of Perduring Saints (Dazhusheng ku 大住聖窟), the accounts of Jizang 吉藏 (549-623), Guanding 灌頂 (561-632), and Xuanzang 玄奘 (602-664), the Baolin Tradition (Baolin zhuan 寶林傳), and the Scripture of Kumbhīra (Foshuo jinpiluo tongzi weide jing 佛說金毗羅童子威德經).
In reference to these primary sources, the book examines the Chinese Buddhist appropriations of the images of ancient Indian patriarchs and tries to delineate, in six chapters, the medieval Chinese conceptions of Buddhist sanctity "across the Indian-Sino divide" (p. 6). Characterizing the project as a whole, the study describes itself as the illustration of a "trajectory of localization, whereby ancient Indian founts of Buddhist sanctity were adduced initially as distant models of a True Dharma since diminished, before being increasingly portrayed as immanent presences within the newfound Buddhist heartland of imperial China" (p. 20).
The Introduction provides an outlook of the methodological approach which mainly consists of (1) analyzing the narrative structures, themes, and tropes in the Chinese hagiographies and (2) interpreting the religious implication and functioning of these structures and themes as means of conveying the Buddhist ideal of salvation in the broader context of the sociopolitical and institutional history in imperial China.
Chapter 1 deals with the accounts of Kumārajīva's Chinese associates and disciples, in particular, with those of Sengzhao 僧肇 (374-414), Sengrui 僧睿 (371-438), and Huiyuan 慧遠 (344-416), since it was Kumārajīva who first [End Page 98] translated and disseminated the early Indian Madhyamaka works of Nāgārjuna and Āryadeva in China. These accounts include the oldest extant images of Aśvaghoṣa, Nāgārjuna, and Āryadeva. Their narrative framework underscores and features the situation of the dharma long after the Buddha's realization of nirvaṇa as a state of decline in order to highlight the three Indian saints as models of Buddhist revivalism. According to the author, those Chinese accounts try to reveal that what has enabled and qualified the Indian saints to fulfill their role as the savior of the dharma in this Indian period of decay embraces the same values that the Chinese literati hold to in their own times. In this fashion, the Chinese Buddhist scholar-monks, who competed for patronage and prestige with those literati gentlemen, intend to present these values as fundamentally Indian and Buddhist, thereby underscoring their own relevance in bringing about salvation in this life and world.