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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 3.2 (2020): 182–247;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhism and Technology, and Epigraphy)

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Imprinting the Living Rock with Buddhist Texts: On the Creation of a Regional Sacred Geography in Shandong in the Second Half of the Sixth Century

Claudia WENZEL
Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Abstract: During the earliest phase of the production of stone-carved Buddhist texts in China, only selected passages were carved. Most scholars understand these text selections as forerunners of much longer texts carved from the Northern Qi dynasty (550–577) onwards under the open sky on cliff surfaces as well as inside of caves. This paper explores another aspect of the carving of selected sutra passages prominent in Shandong Province during the second half of the sixth century by arguing that the repeated carving of the same short text in a variety of layouts helped to establish a regional network of sacred sites, where the words of the Buddha were imprinted on the living rock. Behind this network of sites was a social network of donors with a related doctrinal background. This early network of sites and selected texts was not restricted to Shandong Province, but also reached out to the border region of Hebei and Henan, in particular to the cave temples of Northern and Southern Xiangtangshan. Finally, the prominence of certain carved passages culled from the Sutra on the Great Perfection of Wisdom Spoken by Mañjuśrī (T no. 232) within this network was fundamental for the emergence of Mañjuśrī veneration on Mount Wutai in Shanxi.

Keywords: Stone sūtras, sacred topography, Mañjuśrī veneration, Buddhist cave-temples, Buddhist mountains


About the Author: Claudia Wenzel is a senior researcher in the research unit ‘Buddhist Stone Inscriptions in China’ hosted by the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. She is the editor of two of a total of seven volumes so far published in the series Buddhist Stone Sutras in China: Buddhist Stone Sutras in Shandong Province Volume 2 (together with Wang Yongbo, edited by Lothar Ledderose), and Buddhist Stone Sutras in Sichuan Province Volume 3 (together with Sun Hua). Apart from her numerous contributions to all volumes in this series, she has also published on related art-historical topics, such as ‘The Image of the Buddha: Buddha Icons and Aniconic Tradition in India and China’ (Transcultural Studies Vol. 2, no. 1, 2011). Her current research focus is on the interrelations between stone carvings and Buddhist topography, with publications such as ‘Monumental Stone Sutra Carvings in China and Indian Pilgrim Sites’ (Journal of Chinese Buddhist Studies Vol. 29, 2016).


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