This paper shows that tomb inscriptions provide detailed descriptions of the lives of Tang Buddhist nuns that complicate the exclusively divine representation in traditional Buddhist hagiographies. I suggest that tomb inscriptions, though highly formulaic, create such different images of female renunciants by rooting their religious practice in secular society and familial affiliations. I introduce the formula of tomb inscriptions for Tang female renunciants through a reading of a representative stele written for Huiyuan 惠源, an eighth-century nun from a prestigious and devoutly Buddhist family. I recount the effort of the inscription’s author to incorporate the values of both Confucian historiography and Buddhist hagiography into a single “non-sectarian” composition. Attending next to biographical records of nuns associated with the Anguo Convent 安國寺 in Chang’an 長安 from the eighth century, I compare traditional biographies of exemplary women and Buddhist accounts of eminent nuns with the tomb inscriptions of deceased female renunciants. I conclude that tomb inscriptions amplify manifold life experiences and achievements of the female renunciants in the Tang Dynasty and therefore merit further scholarly investigation.


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pp. 77-96
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