The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva: Dizang in Medieval China
328pp. August 2007
The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva: Dizang in Medieval China
Author: Zhiru;
In modern Chinese Buddhism, Dizang is especially popular as the sovereign of the underworld. Often represented as a monk wearing a royal crown, Dizang helps the deceased faithful navigate the complex underworld bureaucracy, avert the punitive terrors of hell, and arrive at the happy realm of rebirth. The author is concerned with the formative period of this important Buddhist deity, before his underworldly aspect eclipses his connections to other religious expressions and at a time when the art, mythology, practices, and texts of his cult were still replete with possibilities. She begins by problematizing the reigning model of Dizang, one that proposes an evolution of gradual sinicization and increasing vulgarization of a relatively unknown Indian bodhisattva, Ksitigarbha, into a Chinese deity of the underworld. Such a model, the author argues, obscures the many-faceted personality and iconography of Dizang. Rejecting it, she deploys a broad array of materials (art, epigraphy, ritual texts, scripture, and narrative literature) to recomplexify Dizang and restore (as much as possible from the fragmented historical sources) what this figure meant to Chinese Buddhists from the sixth to tenth centuries.

Rather than privilege any one genre of evidence, the author treats both material artifacts and literary works, canonical and noncanonical sources. Adopting an archaeological approach, she excavates motifs from and finds resonances across disparate genres to paint a vibrant, detailed picture of the medieval Dizang cult. Through her analysis, the cult, far from being an isolated phenomenon, is revealed as integrally woven into the entire fabric of Chinese Buddhism, functioning as a kaleidoscopic lens encompassing a multivalent religio-cultural assimilation that resists the usual bifurcation of doctrine and practice or "elite" and "popular" religion.

The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva presents a fascinating wealth of material on the personality, iconography, and lore associated with the medieval Dizang. It elucidates the complex cultural, religious, and social forces shaping the florescence of this savior cult in Tang China while simultaneously addressing several broader theoretical issues that have preoccupied the field. Zhiru not only questions the use of sinicization as a lens through which to view Chinese Buddhist history, she also brings both canonical and noncanonical literature into dialogue with a body of archaeological remains that has been ignored in the study of East Asian Buddhism.

32 illus.

Studies in East Asian Buddhism Series
Published in association with the Kuroda Institute
“An excellent work that contributes significantly to the fields of Buddhist studies and Chinese religion. It will be the standard work on the early history of Dizang. Its comprehensive contextualization of the Dizang cult results from a judicious use of a wealth of sources and astute reflections on the best of contemporary scholarship. Thoroughly researched and rich in details, the book has much to offer students and specialists in related disciplines.” —China Review International (16:4, 2009)

"A splendid book for advanced undergraduates and for graduate students and scholars in the fields of Buddhism and Chinese religion." —Journal of Chinese Religions (36, 2008)

"Zhiru explores the emergence of the blessed refuge as a distinct object of devotion and complex ritual life, and a crucial figure in Buddhist soteriology. Her analysis takes into consideration visual, archaeological, and textual sources in a remarkably well-integrated way, and she gets at the resulting critical religious studies questions most persuasively." —Religion and the Arts (13, 2009)

"The book stands out for the wealth of material (both canonical and non-canonical, textual and epigraphical, Buddhist and non-Buddhist), and for the delicate balance that is adroitly maintained between different disciplines. It is particularly commenable for its methodological inventiveness. . . . Well written and edited . . . the arguments are carefully advanced and well founded." —Journal of Asian Studies (68:2, 2009)

"This is a welcome, important, and very helpful study of a hitherto poorly understood topic, and will remain the standard work of reference on the distinctively Chinese development of this important bodhisattva figure for years to come." —Robert Campany, University of Southern California

"The bodhisattva Dizang’s place in Western-language scholarship has heretofore corresponded to the traditional position of his image in the dimly lit periphery of Chinese Buddhist temples. Zhiru’s groundbreaking work moves this cultic figure to the center of our attention, where she illuminates his medieval past, showing him to be much more than a sinicized folk divinity that oversees the underworld. Her study is a model of Buddhist scholarship, not simply for the richness of its content but especially for its interdisciplinary sophistication and theoretical balance." —Dan A. Getz, Bradley University

"The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva: Dizang in Medieval China examines Dizang during his formative period—before he settled into his modern role as the beneficent sovereign of the underworld, ensconced when above ground at Mount Jiuhua—back when his iconography and hagiography were still rife with possibilities. Shi Zhiru discusses all of the major sources for the history of Dizang from the sixth to the tenth centuries, including scripture, epigraphy, art, ritual texts, and narrative literature. The result is the most thorough treatment to date of one of the most important deities in Chinese Buddhism." —John Kieschnick, University of Bristol

Author: Zhiru;
Ordained as a Buddhist nun in the Chinese order, Zhiru is associate professor of religious studies at Pomona College.
Read the introduction (PDF).
Introduction: Problems and Perspectives

PART 1: Early Images: The Bodhisattva of This Defiled World
1. Early Scriptural Representations: Texts and Contexts
The Scripture on the Ten Wheels
The Section on the Sumeru Treasury
The Intellectual and Socio-Political Climate
2. Cultic Beginnings Reconsidered
Buddhist Records of Dizang Worship
The Sanjie Jiao Connection
The Work of the Translator and Exegete Sinbang
Icons of Dizang and the Six Paths in Shaanxi Art
Rethinking the Early Dissemination of Dizang Worship

PART 2: Multiple Images: This World, Hell, and Pure Land 
3. Indigenous and Accretionary Scriptures
The Scripture on Divination: From Karmic Divination to Philosophical Meditation
The Exorcism Method: A Buddho-Daoist Formula for Demonology
A Ritual Manual on the Bodhisattva Dizang: Dizang in Esoteric Rites
The Scripture on the Bodhisattva Dizang: From Hell to Pure Land
The Scripture on the Past Vows: A Canonization of Filial Piety and Afterlife Practices
New Scriptures, New Images of Dizang
4. Art and Epigraphy
A Princely Householder or Monk Bodhisattva?
Dizang and Guanyin as Saviors of This World
From Amitâbha Triads to Rebirth in the Pure Land
Glimpses of a Bhaisajyaguru Connection?
A Ray of Light in the Ten Kings’ Dark Courts
Guiding the Way in the Afterlife: The Bodhisattva Yinlu
Images of Dizang in Esoteric Buddhist Practices
Forgotten Images in Religious Artifacts
5. Narative Literature
The Earliest Dizang Miracle Tale
Non-Buddhist Records
A Buddhist Compilation of Dizang Miracle Tales
The Canonization of a Buddhist Cult

Conclusion: Reassessing Dizang, Lord of the Underworld
Afterlife Practices in China
Female Practice of Filial Piety
Ritual Divination, Exorcism, and Healing
The Daoist Savior of Hells
The Cult of Mount Jiuhua
Rethinking Tang Buddhism

Appendix 1: The Scripture on the Ten Wheels: Reevaluating the Traditional Dating
Appendix 2: Antecedents of Dizang? Ksitigarbha in India and Central Asia
Appendix 3: Translations of Scriptures
The Exorcism Method of Dizang’s Aspiration Toward Great Awakening
A Ritual Manual on the Bodhisattva Dizang
Scripture on the Bodhisattva Dizang
Works Cited