2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 278

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Session 278: Individual Papers: The Embodiment of Medieval Chinese Religious Traditions

Chair: Anna M. Shields, Princeton University, USA

The Flavor of Meditation: Botanical Metaphor and Religious Efficacy in the Chan Bencao of Song China
Robban Toleno, University of British Columbia, Canada

The Chan bencao, or Materia Medica of Meditation, is a short and playful text by an obscure Song-dynasty Chan Buddhist that draws an analogy between herbal medicine and meditative practice. Recorded and preserved within a twelfth-century collection of Chan writings, the text appears to have been read even outside the monastic community and to have inspired imitation by the lay Buddhist Yuan Zhongdao (1575-1630 CE) of the Ming dynasty. Nonetheless, no scholars (to my knowledge) have analyzed the content of the Chan bencao or assessed its intellectual contribution to Chinese thought or literature. I argue that this oversight is regrettable, because although this seems to be an anomalous and even frivolous Buddhist work, it reflects at least three important themes in Chinese intellectual and literary history: medical analogy in Buddhism, botanical metaphor in Chinese thought, and Buddhist contributions to Chinese literary development. The Chan bencao shows that Buddhists in the Northern Song (960-1127 CE) were sufficiently familiar with materia medica (pharmaceutical) literature for this style of writing to serve as a familiar literary trope for articulating the efficacy of Buddhist self-cultivation. It provides a case study for better understanding how different literary genres interacted in Chinese history to create new idiom, illustrated here by the genealogy of chanwei, the flavor of meditation.

Deviant Viewers and Gendered Looks: Erotic Responses to Sacred Images and Their Subversive Potential in Song China
Hsiao-wen Cheng, University of Pennsylvania, USA

This paper examines talks about erotic responses to publicly displayed images during the Song dynasty and their relationship to the development of visual culture and popular religion. I focus on a serious of anecdotes about men and women’s sexual interaction with (mostly religious) images from the late Tang to the Song (in particular those in Taiping guangji and Yijian zhi). These stories on the one hand show traces of oral transmission in lay society and reflect how sexual desire and fantasies were talked about among the populace. On the other hand, they provide a distinct angle of studying popular responses to religious imagery: the inappropriate and arbitrary ones, which do not conform to what the images are made for and often require extra effort of justification and rationalization. But because people’s responses to images are arbitrary, explanations that are attached to them are hardly uniform. The harder one tries to analyze the logic, the more confused one becomes. Anecdotes of people’s interaction with images were not told based on a systematic set of belief but together shaped a heterogeneous visual culture that intertwined popular religious beliefs with unpredictable ways of viewing. Furthermore, through comparing stories about men’s and women’s interaction with images and situating them within the context of several interrelated traditions about live image (in stories about religious miracles and in art criticism), I will particularly argue how the circulation of such stories reveals and contributes to the subversive potential of women who look and desire.

Power of Words: Incantatory Healing in Medieval China
Yan Liu, University of Toronto, Canada

Incantatory healing occupied a prominent position in Chinese medicine in the Sui/Tang period, which constituted one of the four major specialties in the Imperial Bureau of Medicine. The famous physician Sun, Simiao in the 7th century juxtaposed incantations with drugs, acupuncture, amulets and calisthenics as one of the five primary approaches for healing, and dedicated two chapters in his Qianjin yifang (Supplement to the Recipes of a Thousand Gold Worth) to the practice. Incantations were also discussed elaborately in the Buddhist and Daoist sources. This paper attempts to use incantatory healing as a focal point to explore the dymanic interplay between classical Chinese medicine and Buddhist/Daoist healing practice. By examining how incantations are positioned in ritual contexts and coupled with medicinal materials, the paper intends to demonstrate the fluid or non-existant boundary between “religious” and “secular” healing in medieval China. In addition, during the Song, incantatory healing became marginalized: it ceased to be an independent department in the government, and discussions of it in medical treatises became rare and sporadic. The paper attempts to identify certain social and cultural factors that triggered such a decline. In particular, it explores the transformation of the conception of etiology, accompanied by the rise of the wuyun liuqi (five circulatory phases and the six seasonal influences) theory in the Song, as an explanatory framework to account for the eclipse of incantatory healing in later period. Overall, this study intends to offer insights on the intricate relation between orality, therapy and rituals in medieval context.

Critique and Harmonization: Shenqing and His Beishan Lu in the Tang-Song Buddhist & Literati Discourses
Kwok-Yiu Wong, , Canada

Monk Shenqing (d. 806-820) is considered by many a “prominent” Buddhist master in mid-Tang China. His Beishan lu had attracted attention from among the literati and Buddhists in early Northern Song. Monk Qisong’s (1007-1072) effort to establish the orthodoxy of Chan Buddhism, for example, can be seen at least as a partial response to Shenqing’s critique of “Southern Chan.” The Beishan lu is an interesting text, revealing Shenqing’s thoughts, particularly his tendency to harmonize the Three Teachings. While some of his ideas resemble closely to those propounded by leading guwen thinkers of his days, such as Liu Zongyuan (773-819), we find no reference at all to him, his ideas or his works from Tang sources. It was only in early Northern Song that Shenqing and the Beishan lu were “re-discovered.” It is therefore worthwhile to consider the implications of this “re-discovery,” particularly how this may broaden our understanding of Tang-Song intellectual unfolding. This paper investigates Shenqing’s religious and intellectual outlooks within the context of the unfolding Tang-Song Buddhist and literati discourses, exploring mainly three closely related issues: the effort by Buddhists to harmonize the Three Teachings through the case of Shenqing; the implication of the “re-discovery” of this “forgotten” mid-Tang Buddhist master in the early Northern Song Buddhist and literati discourses; the role played by Shenqing’s Beishan lu in the rise of Chan orthodoxy in early Northern Song.

Bridging the Gap: Zhang Sheng and the Creation of the Mount Longhu Daoist Lineage
Paul A. Amato, Arizona State University, USA

Celestial Masters Daoism grounded its authority in the tradition of a covenant between Zhang Daoling, the movement’s first patriarch, and the deified Laozi said to have been made in 142 C.E. near present-day Chengdu, Sichuan. Leadership of the sect proceeded directly from Zhang Daoling to his son, Zhang Heng, and grandson, Zhang Lu. In 215 C.E. Zhang Lu surrendered to the warlord Cao Cao who dismantled the movement’s temporal power. Centuries later, in the late Tang dynasty a new iteration of Celestial Masters Daoism emerged at Mount Longhu, in what is contemporary Jiangxi province, and claimed direct lineal descent from Zhang Daoling. The crucial task of bridging the gap between the Three Zhangs and their putative descendents on Mount Longhu was filled by Zhang Sheng, the newly created fourth Celestial Master. This paper is centered on an analysis of how Zhang Sheng came to be depicted as the vital connective tissue between the Three Zhangs and the revived Celestial Masters sect at Mount Longhu. His story, as presented in hagiographical compendia, gazetteers, and stelae demonstrates the power of hagiography to create and maintain lineal legitimacy. It was through the figure of Zhang Sheng that the antiquity of an enduring Celestial Masters presence on Mount Longhu was claimed and the authority of the resident Zhang family lineage established. He accordingly represents both the mutability of hagiographical traditions and the power of claims grounded in the narrative of a stable and unbroken lineage to validate religious movements.