Shi Zhiru, Ph.D. Candidate
Dept of East Asian Studies, University of Arizona (Tucson)
Dizang (Ksitigarbha) Belief and Pure Land Developments:
A Missing Piece in the History of Medieval Chinese Buddhism
The connection between Dizang and pure land belief, though recognized in the Japanese milieu where Dizang quite commonly figures as Jizo in pure land raigo art, has hitherto been overlooked in the context of Chinese Buddhism. Indeed little, if any, trace of such a relationship is suggested in the canonical Buddhist literature. However, among the Buddhist manuscripts discovered at Dunhuang is a short Chinese apocryphon (The Scripture of the Bodhisattva Dizang) containing a paragraph that distinctly associates Dizang worship with rebirth in the pure land. In addition to examining this apocryphal scripture, this paper will also present other less-studied sources to argue that the relationship between Dizang worship and pure land belief existed in medieval China prior to its spread to other parts of the East Asian continent. Evidence of such an association, this paper argues, is attested not only in liturgical writings also from Dunhuang but also in inscriptional and iconographical evidence from a number of Chinese Buddhist cave sites (especially Longmen and Sichuan). The sources deployed in this paper suggest that the two strands, Dizang worship and pure land belief, crossed paths at some juncture in the larger medieval religious milieu in the Tang period, apparently producing an intriguing religious amalgamation. There was no single systematized manner through which the figure of Dizang was incorporated into the doctrine of rebirth in the pure land or into the pure land pantheon. Rather, the sources yield a set of permutations: Sometimes the Bodhisattva Dizang replaced Buddha Amitbha altogether both as the central object of worship guarranteeing rebirth in the pure land for devotees, or as the spiritual guide leading the deceased to the pure land; at other times he was subsumed in the pure land triad as an additional fourth member, or more often he would displaced one of the members in the traid.
The connection between Dizang and pure land belief, though recognized in the Japanese milieu where Dizang as Jizo quite commonly figures in pure land raigyo art, is hitherto unknown in the context of Chinese Buddhism. Indeed little, if any, trace of such a relationship is suggested in the canonical Buddhist literature.
The connection between Dizang belief and pure land developments, this paper concludes, is but one more indication of the complexity of the medieval Chinese religious milieu yet another reminder that the boundaries between seemingly disparate strands of religious belief and practice in that period were much more fluid than have been assumed in the past. For sometime now, modern scholarship has been aware that the term pure land, as utilized in both Indian and medieval Chinese settings, had a broader definition than an exclusive focus on Amitbha Buddha and his pure land. The findings of this paper are offered as yet another step in that direction.