Miracles and the Supernormal in Medieval China: A Discussion on Religious Objects in the Works of Daoxuan道宣596–667

Nelson Landry, University of Oxford
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17:00 - 18:30
University of Oxford China Centre - Online Event
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Lectures and seminars
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The early spread of Buddhist teachings was promoted not only by the dissemination of its creed but also by the manifestation of miracles. These ‘miracles’ were the dazzling wonders produced by religious objects as well as highly attained Buddhist practitioners. In China, many embraced the wonder-working abilities of both Chinese monks and foreign missionaries. This was, in part, because the marvels associated to Buddhist practitioners and objects fell in line with indigenous understandings of the miraculous as attested to in the medical, philosophical, historiographical, and divinatory traditions of China. Miraculous occurrences and supernormal powers were, for missionaries on the ground as well as for individuals recording these events, used to prove the efficacy of the new Buddhist creed in China. These miracles were often recorded in collections of biographies, apologia, and miracle tales.

Daoxuan 道宣 (596–667 CE) was an influential religious and political figure in early Tang dynasty (618–907) Buddhism. He is best known for his exegetical work relating to the monastic codes. Daoxuan was, moreover, one of the great Buddhist historiographers of the sacred in China as he collected many tales relating to the miraculous. This lecture delves into Daoxuan’s collections of apologia and miracle tales with the intent of tracing an outline of the miraculous in the Chinese Buddhist context. Nelson Landry will be paying particular attention to Daoxuan’s mention of miraculous religious objects (i.e. relics, images, pagodas) in the Ji shenzhou sanbao gantong lu 集神州三寶感通錄.