By James A. Benn
Burning for the Buddha: Self-Immolation in chinese language Buddhism is the first book-length examine of the idea and perform of "abandoning the body"(self-immolation) in chinese language Buddhism. even though mostly overlooked via traditional scholarship, the acts of self-immolators (which integrated now not in basic terms burning the physique, but in addition being gobbled via wild animals, drowning oneself, and self-mummification, between others) shape an everlasting a part of the non secular culture and supply a brand new point of view at the multifarious dimensions of Buddhist perform in China from the early medieval interval to the current time. This booklet examines the hagiographical money owed of all those that made choices in their personal our bodies and locations them in historic, social, cultural, and doctrinal context.Rather than privilege the doctrinal and exegetical interpretations of the culture, which imagine the valuable significance of the brain and its cultivation, James Benn makes a speciality of the ways that the heroic beliefs of the bodhisattva found in scriptural fabrics corresponding to the Lotus Sutra performed out within the realm of spiritual perform at the floor. His research leads him past conventional obstacles among Buddhist reports and sinology and attracts on a wide variety of canonical, historic, and polemical resources, lots of them translated and analyzed for the 1st time in any language. targeting an element of spiritual perform that was once visible as either severe and heroic, Benn brings to the skin a few deep and unresolved tensions in the faith itself and divulges a few hitherto unsuspected points of the always transferring negotiations among the Buddhist neighborhood and the state.Self-immolation in chinese language Buddhism was once arguable, and Burning for the Buddha supplies weight to the feedback and protection of the perform either in the Buddhist culture and with out. It locations self-immolation within the context of chinese language Mah?y?na idea and explores its a number of non secular, social, and ancient roles. those new views on a huge mode of Buddhist perform because it was once skilled and recorded in conventional China give a contribution not to purely the research of Buddhism, but additionally the research of faith and the physique.
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Extra resources for Burning for the Buddha: Self-Immolation in Chinese Buddhism (Studies in East Asian Buddhism)
We should not assume that because these sources now appear in three “books” they form no more than a collection of hagiographical clichés, legends, or literary tropes—although individual biographies may contain one or more of these elements. Equally, we cannot assume that they are historically veri¤able in every detail. We must give some weight to the fact that they record something and that most people who read these accounts in traditional China, whether they were sympathetic to the acts described therein or not, responded as if they recorded what had truly occurred.
16 Thus the origins of this particular rubric would seem to lie at least as far back as Baochang’s conception of renowned monastic behavior, although the precise parameters of his vision remain obscure to us in the absence of a complete version of the Mingseng zhuan. We can at least say that because so many of the self-immolators in Baochang’s collection also had biographies in Huijiao’s, the latter must have considered them eminent as well as famous. The category of self-immolation was then not just an idiosyncratic invention on the part of one monastic historian; it was a mode of religious practice that evidently had some meaning for other members of the Buddhist community.
87 Whether intentional or not, this method does seem to have been an effective way of fully reducing the body to ashes rather than producing a charred corpse, which would be the case if an unprepared body was burned on an open ¤re. 89 Perhaps the auto-cremation of Huiyi, in which the ¶ames apparently burned within the iron container rather than the cauldron placed on top of the pyre, may offer us a glimpse into how medieval Chinese Buddhists drew on and adapted scripture as a template for their own practices.