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Saintly or Heretical? Legends about Buddhist Monks as Political Prophets

When Oct 18, 2017
from 05:00 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Rooms 8 & 9
Contact Name
Contact Phone 01223-338331
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China Research Seminar given by Dr Wu Junqing, Leverhulme Fellow, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge

One of the miracles attributed to eminent/saintly Buddhist monks was that they could accurately prophesy political events such as a change of throne, the result of an important battle or the death of a ruler. Legends about monk-prophets such as Bao Zhi 寶誌 (who was thought to be connected with Bodhisattva Guanyin) and Fo Tu Deng 佛圖登 were well-known and transmitted/embellished at least till the Song. These monks were portrayed as trusted and admired by the current rulers (not necessarily emperors). However, after the Song and particularly in late imperial times, stories of this kind greatly decreased and the old legends of historical monk-prophets also went out of fashion, both in official history and in literature. Furthermore, the making of political prophecies was increasingly considered dangerous and seditious and often associated with religious heresy. Contemporary eminent monks were no longer portrayed as successful prophets. This change not only reflected changing state/elite attitudes towards religion and political legitimacy but also the changing status of Buddhist monks at the popular level.

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