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Chinese Buddhist Miracle Stories Essay

1028 words - 4 pages

As the Han Empire fell into disarray, so did the Confucian ideological framework. The significance and importance of the supernatural and nether world heightened as scholars and intellectuals began to raise their interest towards the new explanations. This newly formed interest resulted in the creation of indigenous Chinese tales, often with unusual and extraordinary storylines. At the same time, this “new philosophical inquiry” sparked off Buddhism’s influence. As Buddhism spread throughout the country, many foreign Buddhist literatures were translated where most of these tales and stories were of didactic nature. Therefore, rather than just focusing on the plot of the story, these stories sought to teach and educate people of the Buddhist ideologies and concepts. Consequently, Scholars combined these two major principles, indigenous Chinese tales and Buddhism, to create the Chinese Buddhist miracle tales.
One of the earliest collections of strange tales, Lieh-i chuany, reveals motifs of indigenous Chinese tales. Although the story contains elements of supernatural themes and plots, “it presents its narration in a straightforward prose style with little embellishment for artistic pur-poses” (Gjertson 289). This once again points to its authenticity as an indigenous Chinese source. Ts’ai Chih ch’I is one example of the stories where a man accidentally journeys into the netherworld. In it, Ts’ai Chih, finds himself making a delivery for the God of Mt. Tai who then revives his dead wife:
“The emperor asked, "How many years has it been since your wife died?" "Three years," replied Chih. "Would you like to see your wife?" asked the emperor. "I would be indebted to the Heavenly Emperor's favor!" answered Chih. The emperor then ordered the president of the Board of Census to command the Arbiter of Fate to move the census entry of Ts'ai Chih's wife to the register of the living, and to accompany Chih when he departed”
In the story, two main motifs of Chinese indigenous characteristics are presented. First, the first two main terms, Mt. Tai and Netherland is presented. Mt. Tai is one of the centerpieces of Chinese mythology: it is the residence of the Jade Emperor, the gate of the netherworld and controller of life and death. Moreover, the concept of netherworld’s bureaucratic nature is presented just as illustrated above. As there are different positions and roles in nether land, there is an Emperor, and his subordinates: this is likely ideology from the Confucian era illustrating the relationship between ruler and subordinate.
Although some evidence remains of the Buddhist influence in the earlier periods, it was not until “late Han and post-Han period that new interest in philosophical inquiry of Buddhism began to grow among the intellectuals.” Its unique features and such characteristics “offered a very highly developed metaphysics to those speculative minds that were dissatisfied with traditional Chinese explanations.” And as more people...

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