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The Idolization of Enlightenment on the Mummification of Ch'an Masters in Medieval China - Sharf

The Idolization of Enlightenment on the Mummification of Ch'an Masters in Medieval China - Sharf

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The Idolization of Enlightenment: On the Mummification of Ch'an Masters inMedieval China
Robert H. Sharf 
History of Religions
, Vol. 32, No. 1. (Aug., 1992), pp. 1-31.
History of Religions
is currently published by The University of Chicago Press.Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available athttp://www.jstor.org/about/terms.html. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtainedprior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content inthe JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained athttp://www.jstor.org/journals/ucpress.html.Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.The JSTOR Archive is a trusted digital repository providing for long-term preservation and access to leading academicjournals and scholarly literature from around the world. The Archive is supported by libraries, scholarly societies, publishers,and foundations. It is an initiative of JSTOR, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to help the scholarly community takeadvantage of advances in technology. For more information regarding JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.http://www.jstor.orgMon Jan 21 03:53:54 2008
H.Sharf 
THE IDOLIZATION OFENLIGHTENMENT: ONTHE MUMMIFICATIONOF CH'AN MASTERS INMEDIEVAL CHINAIThis article is a preliminary attempt to make sense of the fact that asignificant number of eminent Chinese Ch'an priests were mummifiedat death and enshrined in temple precincts as objects of worship.' Thepractice of preserving the bodies of famous Ch'an masters-turningtheir corpses into "icons of flesh"-is attested as early as the Western
An earlier draft of this article was presented at the panel "Rituals of Death and Im-mortality" held at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in New Or-leans on November 18, 1990.My interest in this topic grew out of a collaborative research project with T. GriffithFoulk (University of Michigan), and Elizabeth Horton Sharf (McMaster University),concerning the function of Ch'an and Zen portraiture (see our jointly authored report:T. Griffith Foulk, Elizabeth E. Horton, and Robert H. Sharf, "The Meaning and Functionof Ch'an and Zen Portraiture" [paper delivered at the annual meeting of the College ArtAssociation, New York, February 15, 19901; an extended version will appear in
in press). Section
of this article, which involves an analysis of funeralrites for Ch'an abbots in the Sung, emerges directly from our collaboration, and
wouldlike to thank them for their assistance and for their permission to use the material here.
would also like to thank Bernard Faure (Stanford University) for generously sharing withme his work in progress, as well as for reading and commenting upon an earlier draft ofthis article. Faure's work on relic worship and the ritualization of death in Ch'an andZen, which includes a discussion of Ch'an mummification, appears in his
The Rhetoric
Immediacj: A Cultural Critique of Chan/Zen Buddhism
(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Uni-versity Press, 1991). Last but not least,
would like to thank James Dobbins (OberlinCollege) and Gregory Schopen (University of Texas), whose perceptive comments andsuggestions on earlier drafts have significantly improved this study.
The Unibersity
The Idolization of Enlightenment
Chin dynasty
266-316) and continues down to the present day.2(The most recent case may be that of Tz'u-hang, a native of Fu-chienwho died in Taiwan in
and was mummified four years later.13The fact that the remains of deceased Ch'an masters were quite literally"idolized" by their disciples may come as a surprise to some studentsof Ch'an. Given the belief, still widespread in the West, that Ch'an isprecisely that school of Buddhism that sought to purge Buddhism ofempty ritual and vulgar superstition, and given the popular conceptionof the Ch'an master as incarnate Buddha and iconoclastic sage destinedfor final
at death, the mummification and worship of the mas-ter's corpse seems curious indeed.As
began my inquiry,
was confronted with a surprising dearth ofscholarship on Buddhist mortuary rites in general. This may reflect themethodologically troubling tendency of Buddhist scholars to acceptideological assertion as historical description-to treat the prescriptiveregulations found in canonical materials as ethnographic data4 Giventhe "orthodox" Buddhist attitude toward death as represented in thecanon, the general disinterest among Buddhologists in Buddhist fu-neral rites is not difficult to fathom. Buddhist doctrine teaches that atthe moment of death the nonphysical or "mental" component of the
(the psychophysical continuum) immediately separates fromthe physical body and, taking on a new physical form, is reborn in oneof the six realms. This is true for all beings with the exception of Bud-dhas, arhats, and other enlightened sages. Such spiritually awakened orperfected individuals are "nirvanized" at death-their mental pro-cesses are instantly, utterly, and permanently annihilated. But whetherenlightened sage or unenlightened fool, the corpse that remains behindis rendered a mere heap of decaying organic matter, to be quickly dis-posed of through cremation, burial, or by being cast to wild animals.The only lingering spiritual value to the corpse, according to this view,lies in its use as a reminder of the transience of life and the inevitabil-ity of decay anddeath.5
The term "icon of flesh" is a rough translation of the Chinese
chen-shen hsiang
(lit-erally, "true-body portrait") or
jou-shen hsiang
("flesh-body portrait").See Tz'u-hang Tang,
Tz'u-hang fa-shih shih-lueh
(Taiwan: Tz'u-hang fa-shih yung-chiu chi-nien-hui, n.d.); and Joseph Needham,
Science and Civilisation in China
(Cam-bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), vol.
Gregory Schopen's recent work on Indian Buddhist monastic funerals goes a long waytoward rectifying this situation. See esp. his "Burial
'Ad Sanctos'
and the Physical Presenceof the Buddha in Early Indian Buddhism: A Study in the Archeology of Religions,"
17 (1987): 193-225, "An Old Inscription from Amaravati and the Cult of the Local Monas-tic Dead in Indian Buddhist Monasteries,"
Journal of the International Association of Bud-dhist Studies
14 (1991): 281-329, and "On Avoiding Ghosts and Social Censure: MonasticFunerals in the MElasarv~stivada-vinaya,"
Journal of Indian Philosophj
(1992): 1-39.Tim Ward reports the case of a pious Thai Buddhist who donated the skeleton of herdeceased mother to a local wat where it was displayed publicly as a reminder of the fate

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