Personal Salvation and Filial Piety: Two Precious Scroll Narratives of Guanyin and Her Acolytes
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240pp. March 2008
Personal Salvation and Filial Piety: Two Precious Scroll Narratives of Guanyin and Her Acolytes
Translator: Idema, Wilt L.;
The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara was a handsome prince when he entered China. As Guanyin, the bodhisattva was venerated from the eleventh century onward in the shape of a beautiful woman who became a universal savior. Throughout the last millennium, the female Guanyin has enjoyed wide and fervid veneration throughout East Asia and has appeared as a major character in literature and legend. In one tale, Guanyin (as the princess Miaoshan) returns from the dead after being executed by the king, her father, for refusing to marry. The most popular version of this legend is The Precious Scroll of Incense Mountain (Xiangshan baojuan), a long narrative in prose and verse and a work of considerable literary merit. It emphasizes the conflict between father and daughter, in the course of which all conventional arguments against a religious lifestyle are paraded and rebutted. A lengthy description of Guanyin’s visit to the underworld, which focuses on the conflict between grace and justice, is also included.

Personal Salvation and Filial Piety offers a complete and fully annotated translation of The Precious Scroll, based on a nineteenth-century edition. The translation is preceded by a substantial introduction that discusses the origin of the text and the genre to which it belongs and highlights the similarities and differences between the scroll and female saints’ lives from medieval Europe. There follows a translation of the much-shorter Precious Scroll of Good-in-Talent and Dragon Daughter, which provides a humorous account of how Guanyin acquired the three acolytes—Sudhana, Nagakanya, and a white parrot—who are often shown surrounding her in popular prints.

As the first English-language translation of major "precious scrolls," Personal Salvation and Filial Piety will appeal to a wide range of readers—from scholars of Chinese literature to students of Buddhism. Beyond the field of East Asian studies, it will interest specialists in comparative religion and literature and feminist theologians. Because of its lively and moving narratives, the text is suitable for courses on popular Buddhist religiosity (particularly female religiosity) in Chinese society.


Classics in East Asian Buddhism Series
Published in association with the Kuroda Institute
"An excellent book and translation that deserves to be read by students of Buddhism and of cultural conflicts." —Journal of Chinese Religions (36, 2008)

"Offers a fascinating analysis of the legend, along with a well-annotated translation of one of its most popular tellings, The Precious Scroll of Incense Mountain. . . . Idema also addresses the issue of gender, reading the legend through some fairly provocative feminist theory." —Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly (winter 2008)

Translator: Idema, Wilt L.;
Wilt L. Idema teaches Chinese literature at Harvard University.
Read the introduction (PDF).
Published in association with the Kuroda Institute



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