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  • Buddhist Stone Sutras in China. Sichuan Province. vol. 4. Wofoyuan Section D ed. by Martin Bemmann and Sun Hua
  • Bart Dessein (bio)
Martin Bemmann and Sun Hua, editors. Buddhist Stone Sutras in China. Sichuan Province. vol. 4. Wofoyuan Section D. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag; Hangzhou: China Academy of Art Press, 2018. xi, 612 pp. Hardcover €174.00, isbn 978-3-447-11006-8.

This fourth volume on Sichuan of the Buddhist Stone Sutras in China series is the necessary complement to the three earlier volumes on Sichuan, dedicated to the Grove of the Reclining Buddha (Wofoyuan), Ziyang City, Anyue County. [End Page 104] The present volume is, more precisely, dedicated to four caves (numbers 59 and 66 with engraved sutras and numbers 65 and 70 without engraved sutras) situated to the south of the image of the reclining Buddha. In his general introduction to the four caves that are discussed in this volume, Lothar Ledderose states the following: "Apparently the entire precinct was conceived as a giant mortuary shrine, with the colossal icon of the Reclining Buddha in the north of the valley complemented by the immensely long text of the Nirvana Sutra in the south, thus recreating the specific location, Kusinagara, where the Buddha entered nirvana" (p. 10).

As "a giant monument to death" (p. 18), this site is indeed unique in Asia. In this volume, Dharmaksema's translation of the "Mahayana Nirvana Sutra" (Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra; Da banniepan jing;T.12.374: 365a-603c) that is carved on the walls of cave numbers 59 and 66 is discussed by Mark L. Blum (pp. 35–62). Jessica Rawson discusses the ornaments of cave 59 that accompany the sutra text (pp. 20–34). Eric M. Greene discusses the excerpts culled from the "The Great Vehicle Great Collection Sutra on the Earth-Store Bodhisattva and the Ten Wheels" (Daśacakrakṣitigarbhasūtra; Dasheng daji dizang shilun jing; T.13.411: 721a–777c) that are engraved on one of the walls of cave number 59 (pp. 63–92), and Ryan Richard Overbey discusses the excerpts that are culled from the "Scripture on the Secret Essentials of Meditation" (Chan miyao jing; T.15.613) that are carved on the same wall of cave number 59 that also the fragments discussed by Eric M. Greene are carved on (pp. 117–121). Transcriptions of the texts with references to block prints and to the Taisho edition, translations, extensive photographs of the site and of rubbings of the texts, a list with variant characters, and a general bibliography complement this work.

As we are used from the previous volumes of this excellent series, texts, ornaments, niches, and statues are interpreted within a historical and religious context. Mark L. Blum hypothesizes on a connection with the hermeneutics of Zhiyi (538–597). Given that the Nirvana Sutra and the "Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law" (Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra; Miaofa lianhua jing; T.9.262: 1a–62c) were given the same status in Zhiyi's "classification of the doctrine" (pan jiao), and given that the Lotus Sutra is carved elsewhere on the site, a connection of the site to the Tiantai tradition is not unlikely (p. 59). Mark L. Blum herein follows the opinion of Stephen F. Teiser, given in the first volume on Sichuan of this series.1 The importance of the Lotus Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra on the site makes the presence of the figure of the reclining Buddha problematic. As Mark L. Blum states (p. 59): "In both the Nirvana Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, Sakyamuni talks about entering nirvana but he never does. In other words, even in the Nirvana Sutra the Buddha does not die, so why is the nirvana scene, which is normally understood to visually represent his death, carved?" He therefore suggests that depicting the reclining Buddha might have [End Page 105] been given in by continued influence of the pre-Mahayana story of the death of the Buddha, and he, interestingly, remarks that the reclining Buddha in Wofoyuan is lying on his left side, not on his right side. This, so he suggests, may have to be interpreted as that the Buddha as depicted here is not...