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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 5.1 (2022): 1–55;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Text and Image & Buddhist Biography)

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Daoxuan and the Medieval Chinese Encounter with Relics and Images

Nelson Elliot LANDRY
University of Oxford

Abstract: This paper will concentrate on Buddhist material culture related to saintly figures, examining Buddhist relics and images as they are presented in the Ji Shenzhou sanbao gantong lu 集神州三寶感通錄 [Collected Record of Miracles Relating to the Three Jewels in China; henceforth the Record of Miracles]. The Record of Miracles is a collection of miracle tales compiled by the scholar monk Daoxuan 道宣 (596–667) in 664. Daoxuan was a monk of great erudition who read translated Indic Buddhist texts and helped translate many into the Chinese idiom. His was a world at once informed by the experience of Chinese religious and political life, while simultaneously being coloured by his own prolonged literary encounter with the foreign philosophies and rites of Buddhist India. Bearing this in mind, by investigating the literary evidence in the Record of Miracles related to relics and images, as well as Daoxuan’s recorded experience with these cult-objects and the place they held in both his writing and his life, this paper will first draw some conclusions about the place of Buddhist objects in Chinese society. It will then demonstrate Daoxuan’s profound investment and personal interest in the cult of saints. Particular attention will be directed at Famen Monastery 法門寺 and Daoxuan’s relationship to the finger bone relic cult out of this important imperially mandated monastery.

Keywords: Daoxuan 道宣 (596–667), Famen Monastery 法門寺, cult-objects, miracle tales, Chinese Buddhism


About the Author: Nelson Elliot Landry is a fifth year D.Phil. student at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Oxford. He is working on a research project regarding the Tang dynasty scholar monk master Daoxuan (596–667) and the corpus of historical texts which Daoxuan authored that touch on supernormal themes, especially Daoxuan’s later compilation of miracle tales, the Ji Shenzhou sanbao gantong lu 集神州三寶感通錄 [Collected Record of Miracles Relating to the Three Jewels in China]. Landry completed his bachelor’s degree at McGill University in 2014, where he obtained a double major in World Religions and East Asian Studies. Landry continued his studies at Peking University with the generous support of the Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC) where he took a one-year foundational course in Mandarin Chinese, and completed a three-year master’s under the supervision of Professor Li Silong. Landry’s master’s thesis studied the narrative use of dreams in Huijiao’s (497–554) Liang Biography of Eminent Monks, analysing these dream sequences to try and extrapolate on their role in the process of Sinification of Buddhism that is characteristic of North and South Dynasty Buddhism.


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