The formation and development of the Dizang cult in medieval China
AdvisorGimello, Robert M.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis study investigates the medieval Chinese formation of the cult of Dizang (Skt. Kṣitigarbha; Jpn. Jizō), a Buddhist divinity especially popular in connection with East Asian beliefs about the afterlife. It explores why and how Dizang, an obscure figure from the pre-Chinese Buddhist pantheon, became in medieval China an important object of cult worship. A tendency to focus on the popularized characterization of Dizang as " the savior of the damned" has distorted scholarly understanding of this Bodhisattva, obscuring other developments of his personality, including afterlife trends other than the underworld function. To arrive at a more accurate re-construction of the medieval Chinese Dizang cult, this study examines a diverse range of evidences (canonical and non-canonical, textual and visual, as well as Buddhist and non-Buddhist) so as to ferret out threads of Dizang belief not documented in standard sources. Non-canonical sources are particularly highlighted since they frequently capture largely neglected aspects of religious development which must be studied in order to uncover the full complexity of medieval Chinese Buddhism. In particular the formation of the Dizang cult supplies a crucial key to unlocking the larger cross-cultural patterns of religious assimilation operating in medieval Chinese society, which have wider implications for the study of Chinese religion. Previous studies on sinification in Chinese Buddhist history have focused on a particular thinker, a specific text, a single doctrinal concept, or one ritual practice, thus demonstrating the development of only one pattern of assimilation and reducing the complexity of the cross-cultural dynamic in which assimilation really took place. The Dizang cult instead allows one to better contextualize the patterns of cross-cultural assimilation in medieval Chinese religion. What distinguishes the Dizang cult from other examples of sinification is the manner in which the figure of Dizang functions as a religious symbol that integrates diverse religious planes, doctrine, mythology, ritual, and soteriology. The Dizang cult, in short, offers a single but kaleidoscopic lens that encompasses a multivalent religio-cultural assimilation, thus resisting usual bifurcations between doctrine and ritual, as well as between so-called "elite" and "popular" religion.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
East Asian Studies