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T'ang Studies 12 (1994) New Archaeological Evidence of Tang Esoteric Art PATRICIA KARETZKY BARD COLLEGE Esoteric Buddhism was welcomed at court in the mid-Tang and was widespread by the later part of the dYnasty. Although historical records describe the proselytizers and important religious centers of study, scant physical evidence remains in China. For this reason the several esoteric objects recently excavated from tombs in Xi'an provide important information of this late form of Buddhism. Emperor Xuan Zong (r. 712-756) welcomed the Western Buddhist masters who brought esoteric Buddhism into China in the eighty century. He was receptive to these difficult doctrines partly because of his interest in occult Taoist practices. By honoring Western monks with special titles, soliciting their companionship, installing their images in state temples, and providing funds for translating, Xuan Zong lavishly patronized the esoteric school. Among the first monks favored by the emperor was Subhakarasi l1lha (Shanwuwei ~.-N:)(637-735), who arrived in the capital of Chang' an in 716. Called to court numerous times, sometimes as a rain-maker, Subhakarasiqilia received imperial support to translate scriptures, twenty-one of which he produced with the help of the Chinese monk Yixing ~fT (d. 727), an eminent scholar of Buddhism and Taoism.1 Vajrabodhi (Jin'gangzhi Jtlij~~), arriving in 719, was even more greatly esteemed. Allowed to work at the important state temples of Zishengsi ~~~ and Dajianfushi *~m=i¥=, where he established the ordination rituals of the esoteric school, Vajrabodhi received the title UNational Teacher" (guoshi). As with Subhakarasil1lha , the emperor enjoyed his companionship, on one occasion even asking him to cure his daughter's illness. Vajrabodhi, devoted 1 Stanley Weinstein, Buddhism Under the Tang (New York, 1987), 55ff. 11 Karetzky: Tang Esoteric Art to translation activities, traveled back to India to get additional scriptures in 741, returning to China five years later.2 Esoteric Buddhism continued to flourish in the late eighth and early ninth centuries, a time of continual rebellion in the provinces and along the empire's borders.3 Part of the doctrine's appeal was its ability to ward off hostile forces. The most distinguished Tantric master, Amoghavajra (Bukong 1'~) (active until 774), was enjoined to solicit divine aid to protect the state: he addressed prayers and consecrated scriptures and images to esoteric deities.4 Prajfta (Banruo ME), a North Indian monk who arrived from Southeast Asia in 781, was honored and supported by De Zong (r. 779-805).Also dedicated to translating the sutras, Prajfia traveled to India to get more, returning to Chang'an in 792.5 As is evident in the accounts of the travel of monks to and from China, the Vajrayana school was thriving in the West. To the north it was established in Pakistan, Kashmir, Nepal, and Tibet.6 In eastern India the eminent university at Nalanda was a center of international studies: Yijing ~", who studied there in the last decades of the 2 Weinstein, 55. Vajrabodhi translated the Luechu niansong jing and the Dari jing, two major texts, in 723-24. 3 Tang China continued to suffer repeated provincial rebellions and external military threats from the Tibetans and the Tanguts in the north and from Annam and Assam in the south. 4 Amoghavajra was called upon by Xuan Zong during the Anxi rebellion in 742. In appreciation for his apparent success in protecting the state, Amoghavajra was greatly honored by the court. Returning from India with Tantric texts in 746, Amoghavajra translated over one hundred and eight scriptures, among them a 753 retranslation of the Luechu niansong jingo 5 Weinstein, 97ff. Working with a Nestorian priest, he made a translation of the Dasheng Iiqu liu boloumiduo jing in 786; later at Ximingsi in Chang'an, he undertook other translations under the patronage of Emperor De Zong (779-805), who honored him with the title of Master of the Tripitaka in the 780s. 6 David Snellgrove, "Buddhism in Indian and the Western Himalayas," The Silk Route and the Diamond Path, ed. Salter (Los Angeles, 1983), 64-80. As Snellgrove notes, the diffusion of Tantric Buddhism from the north Indian areas of Swat and Kashmir to Tibet began as early as the seventh century. 12...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1759-7633
Print ISSN
0737-5034
Pages
pp. 11-37
Launched on MUSE
2021-04-08
Open Access
No
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