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By Marsha Smith Weidner

This choice of essays on "later" chinese language Buddhism takes us past the bedrock matters of conventional Buddhist historiography - scriptures and commentaries, sectarian advancements, lives of remarkable clergymen - to ascertain quite a lot of extracanonical fabrics that light up cultural manifestations of Buddhism from the track dynasty (960-1279) in the course of the smooth interval. Straying from well-trodden paths, the authors usually transgress the bounds in their personal disciplines: historians tackle structure; paintings historians glance to politics; a expert in literature treats poetry that provides gendered insights into Buddhist lives. The broad-based cultural orientation of this quantity relies at the popularity that paintings and faith usually are not closed structures requiring in basic terms minimum cross-indexing with different social or aesthetic phenomena yet constituent components in interlocking networks of perform and trust.

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3 Much as happened with the Yulanpen Sutra during the medieval period, the Flaming-Mouth Sutra’s ritualized feeding of hungry ghosts set up profound resonances with indigenous Chinese mortuary traditions, resulting in its rapid assimilation as a technology for the postmortem transition of deceased kin, 31 Text, Image, and Transformation of the Shuilu fahui 32 as well as the pacification of malevolent ghosts (gui) who linger beyond the reach of the socially circumscribed ancestral cult. Today the shuilu stands with the Rite for Release of the Flaming Mouths (fang yankou), a later esoteric o¤spring of the Flaming-Mouth Sutra, as one of the premier Buddhist rites for the dead, de rigueur not just for Buddhists, but for any Chinese who would properly discharge their obligations to the dead.

In the service of one’s superiors and elders, if one does not sponsor a shuilu one is considered unfilial. If in giving benevolent assistance to the needy and the young one does not hold a shuilu one is considered unloving. Hence people with wealth and means will sponsor the rite on their own, while the impoverished will pool their resources and sponsor it collectively. 1 In 1934, nearly a millennium later, the Buddhist cleric Fafang (1904–1951) described a similar state of a¤airs: In every temple of China, although the plaque in the main gate says it is suchand-such Chan temple, once inside the meditation hall one realizes that it has been changed into a hall for chanting sutras and reciting confessionals, or that it has become an inner altar for the shuilu.

Gri◊th Foulk suggests, in the previous essay, that the identity and function of a given iconographic assemblage are less the product of inherent properties of style than they are the receptive strategies that viewers bring to the object. Since these strategies are historical and may shift with time and competence, meaning and function are also fluid. Ritualizations such as the shuilu were doubtless instrumental to the production and function of Buddhist art, and their study is essential to understanding the patterns of cultural reception that give this ritual art and spectacle its elemental presence.

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