China and Inner Asia
Medieval Chinese Buddhist anthologies or leishu are often read by contemporary scholars as signs of Indian Buddhism’s “Sinification.” An anthology like the seventh-c. Grove of Pearls from the Garden of Dharma supposedly exemplifies processes of religious localization, adapting “foreign” myths, rituals, and theology for “native” use. Under a category like “filial piety,” for instance, stories on parental devotion extracted from sūtras may be contemplated alongside indigenous miracle tales. The Chinese leishu format economizes materials from a welter of Buddhist genres — from cosmology, monastic ordinances, and ritual recipes, to commentarial treatise, poems of praise, and tales of karmic response. These various written sources’ original contexts are presumably lost in translation, because anthologies necessarily jettison much source text in pursuit of providing useful extracts.
My talk casts the work of anthologies as broadly continuous with earlier traditions of Buddhist scriptural production rather than as a violent break. I argue that anthologies respect the generic programs of the sources they draw from, explicating how anthologies are put together at the level of the chapter and section. I show that anthology-chapters reify genres of Buddhist literature rather than scrambling them: certain chapters of A Grove of Pearls collect karmic narratives from Indic avadāna collections and come to resemble them; others reassemble extracts from multiple treatises and look like treatises themselves; one chapter collects dhārani and manifests as a spell-book. Chinese anthologies reaffirm traditional genres of Buddhist writing, not in order to Sinify Buddhism but to allow for the further Buddhicization of China.