Creating Amitabha: The Deification of Yongming Yanshou From the Wuyue to the Ming
AuthorBaldry, T. Adam
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractYongming Yanshou (904-975) was an influential Buddhist figure during the Wuyue Period (907-978) known for his writings, teachings, and tenure as abbot at Lingyin Temple 靈隱寺 and Yongming Temple 永明寺 (later known as Jingci Temple 淨慈寺). A look at his early biographies, such as his biography included in the Song gaoseng zhuan 宋高僧傳 [Song Biographies of Eminent Monks] (988), indicates that he was an eminent monk worthy of veneration. Yet, by the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) the narrative surrounding his life had changed significantly. He was being claimed as an incarnation of Amitabha Buddha and was worshiped as such. This study attempts to discover how this drastic change to Yanshou’s narrative developed. By tracing through Yanshou’s biographies it is evident his narrative was manipulated, growing his spiritual powers and abilities, slowly deifying him in the process. By the time of the Ming Dynasty these changes to Yanshou’s narrative had been fossilized. Three individuals named Yuanjin Dahuo (1576-1627), Yu Chunxi (jinshi 1583), and Huang Ruheng (1558-1626) were deeply influenced by the Yanshou they knew in the Ming. After rediscovering Yanshou’s relics, these three individuals produced a new biography of Yanshou, the Yongming daoji 永明道蹟 [Traces of Yongming’s Path] (1607), as an effort to raise funds to build a new stupa for Yanshou at Jingci Temple. Within the Yongming daoji, and in later records surrounding the building of Yanshou’s stupa that are collected in the Chijian jingci sizhi 勅建淨慈寺志 [Officially Built Jingci Temple Monastic Gazetteer] (1805), Dahuo, Yu, and Huang claimed Yanshou was an incarnation of Amitabha Buddha, Dahuo being the first to do so. Yu and Huang later interpolated Yanshou’s narrative by including four known figures as other incarnations of Yanshou and Amitabha (two having lived before Yanshou’s birth and two living after his death). By placing Yanshou within a series of incarnations Yu and Huang were able to solidify their claim of Yanshou as an incarnation of Amitabha. Yanshou was thereby fully deified into Amitabha during the Ming Dynasty.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
East Asian Studies