Rhetorical Strategies in Medieval Chinese Pure Land

Rhetorical Strategies in Medieval Chinese Pure Land

  • Sunday, June 2, 2013 | 2:45pm – 3:45pm | Gage Residence, Fort Camp Lounge

Cuong T. Mai (University of Vermont) “The Amitāyus Visualization Sūtra (Guan wuliangshoufo jing觀無量 壽佛經, T.365) as an Apocryphal Mortuary Text: The Social and Ritual Contexts of Fifth-Century Chinese ‘Visualization’ Sutras”

This study situates the making of the Amitāyus Visualization Sūtra within the early-medieval Chinese Buddhist world of cult deity worship, shedding light on the mortuary context of these cults. I argue that the worship of deities such as Amitābha and Maitreya did not appear in China as discrete, fully-formed cults that were merely “transplanted” from one cultural region into another; rather, they had to be remade and reconfigured to make them intelligible, compelling, and consonant with the larger worldview of the popular Buddhist culture of the time. This process of re-inventing deity cults in early-medieval China involved the writing of apocryphal scriptures such as “visualization” (guan 觀) texts. In this study I provide a close reading of the apocryphal literature related to such deity cults, focusing on the Amitāyus Visualization Sūtra. I extract common rhetorical strategies and implied ritual modalities to explore how authors of such texts sought to deliberately reconfigure, or “consolidate,” religious functions, ritual practices, and ideological messages around respective central cult deities. Investigating the textual structure and social context of apocryphal “visualization” scriptures brings to light heretofore ignored textual fissures and thematic tensions, especially rhetorical strategies surrounding the multivalent term guan 觀. Investigating the multiple rhetorical usages of the term guan shows how its many semantic resonances extended beyond the elite world of meditation practice into the wider Chinese mortuary culture which was burgeoning during early-medieval times.

Nancy Chu (Harvard Divinity School)Syncretism as Strength: Flexibility and Integrity in Lianchi Zhuhong’s Pure Land Teachings

Ming dynasty Pure Land patriarch Lianchi Zhuhong lived in a time when Buddhism in China was declining. At once needing to make Buddhism accessible to a wider lay population and to revitalize commitment to monastic discipline, Zhuhong found his solution in a syncretism that embraced elements of Chan, Hua-yen, and Confucianism. China has a long tradition of syncretic thinkers, but each syncretises differently. I find that Zhuhong’s syncretism is responsive to his socio-historical conditions and freely adapts other elements to his Pure Land doctrine. At the same time, he maintains his position as an orthodox Buddhist leader. In doing so, he destabilizes normative ideas of innovation and novelty vs. conservatism and orthodoxy in Pure Land Buddhism.

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