Conceiving the Indian Buddhist Patriarchs in China

Conceiving the Indian Buddhist Patriarchs in China

Stuart H. Young

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780824841201

Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press


This book is a study of how medieval Chinese Buddhists represented their ancient Indian forebears as exemplars of Buddhist practice for a world without a Buddha. It focuses on the Chinese hagiographies of Aśvaghoṣa, Nāgārjuna, and Āryadeva in particular, who were celebrated in medieval China as the greatest Buddhist saints since Śākyamuni, and who have long captured the attention of modern Buddhist Studies scholars. In contrast to earlier studies of these figures, which attempt to situate them in ancient Indian history, this book examines Chinese accounts of their lives as means of illuminating the beliefs and concerns of Chinese Buddhists themselves. Through these hagiographies I explore broader issues concerning how Chinese Buddhists conceived Indian Buddhism as a whole, and how they thereby construed the problem of being Buddhist in latter-day China. I examine Chinese Buddhist appropriations of the ancient Indian patriarchs in order to elucidate medieval Chinese conceptions of Buddhist sanctity across the Sino-Indian divide.