Genuine anguish, genuine mind: 'loyal' Buddhist monks, poetics and soteriology in Ming-Qing transition-era Southern China
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2016 Dr. Corey Bell
The best known genre of Chinese Buddhist poetry is the ‘nature’ or ‘landscape’ poems, which were seen to have religious value because they promoted ‘detachment’ from society and used the tranquillity of a secluded scene to reveal the monastic author’s inner calm. However, during the tumultuous period of dynastic decline and transition in seventeenth-century China, some monks saw religious value in poems that reflected their ‘entanglement’ with a crisis-ridden society, poems that even expressed agitated emotional states prompted by the moral and political disorder of their era. The monks who developed this type of poetry and the literary theory which justified it did so while serving in temples in southern China. These clerics shared an important attribute – they were ‘loyal’ to the ill-fated Ming dynasty (which ruled China until 1644, after which it was replaced by the Manchu Qing), a loyalty that was manifest during the period of the dynasty’s decline and after its fall. A distinctive characteristic of the poems of these monks and of their writings on poetry is that the authors affirmed in different ways the use of poetry to express ‘indignation’ (yuan 怨), particularly indignation at political injustice and social and moral disorder. This endorsement of the poetic expression of indignation carried the condition that indignation had to be ‘genuine’, a concept generally conveyed by the word zhen (真) which may be translated as ‘authenticity’ or ‘genuineness’ but which can also imply ‘truth’, ‘reality’ and ‘the real’. I argue that monastic writers loyal to the Ming cause contended that poetry expressing genuine indignation could help Buddhist disciples come to terms with the ‘reality’ of living through tumultuous times, and could enlighten them. ‘Genuine’ poetic indignation could help disciples attain insight into what some of these monks called the ‘genuine mind’ (真心). This dissertation focuses on the writings and ideas on poetry of three such ‘loyal’ authors: Hanshan Deqing (憨山德清) from the late Ming, Juelang Daosheng (覺浪道盛) from the Ming-Qing transition era and Tianran Hanshi (天然函昰) from the early Qing. It will show how each author developed new Buddhist interpretations of genuineness to bring emotional ‘engagement’ with a troubled world into the purview of Buddhist practice. I suggest that their ideas drew on late-Ming intellectual innovations and on the new forms of socially-engaged Buddhism that emerged at this time. Each of the three writers (and his associates) responded to a different context within the larger historical process of the decline of the Ming and the rise of the Qing. However, we can argue that the common feature in their work was that they took an approach to literature and its place in religious practice which differed from that of earlier Buddhist thinkers. In shifting from the eremitic ‘ideal’ of detachment and tranquillity to the ‘reality’ of engagement and emotional honesty, their work marked a new turn in monastic discourse on the relationship between poetry and Chan/Buddhism, a significant new development in Buddhist literary practice and a new phase in late imperial Buddhist intellectual history.
KeywordsChinese Buddhism; Buddhist intellectual history; Buddhist literary theory; Tianran Hanshi; Juelang Daosheng; Hanshan Deqing; Chan of poetry; poetry-Chan; zhen; genuineness in literature; yuan poetry; poetics; Ming loyalism; Qu Yuan
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