Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face: Scripture, Ritual, and Iconographic Exchange in Medieval China
256pp. January 2008
Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face: Scripture, Ritual, and Iconographic Exchange in Medieval China
Author: Mollier, Christine;
Winner of the Stanislas Julien Prize for Asian Studies, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres

"This book exemplifies the best sort of work being done on Chinese religions today. Christine Mollier expertly draws not only on published canonical sources but also on manuscript and visual material, as well as worldwide modern scholarship, to give us the most sophisticated book-length study yet produced on the textual relations between the Buddhist and Taoist traditions. She pushes past the tired, vague, and rather innocent-sounding trope of ‘influence’ to pinpoint much more complex—and fascinating—processes of textual repackaging, hybridization, adaptation, appropriation, reframing, pirating, remodeling, and transposing. Throughout, the urgent concerns of medieval Chinese people—life, health, protection, salvation—are sensitively and elegantly evoked. Anyone interested in Chinese religions, in the ways in which religious texts are formed, and in cross-religious interactions should want to read this book."—Robert Ford Campany, University of Southern California

"Since the inception of Taoism and the transplantation of Buddhism in China in the first few centuries of the common era, proponents of Taoism and Buddhism have engaged in shrill debate and sly mimesis. In the 1950s modern scholars began to insist that the two ‘higher’ religions of China could not be understood except in relation to each other. With Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face, Christine Mollier advances the debate and effectively proposes new methods, new sources, and new conclusions. Mollier demonstrates that mutual self-fashioning in the history of religion ought best be understood through the sustained study of the concrete and practical aspects of religious life. Utilizing a dazzling array of sources—including medieval manuscripts, liturgies, canonical texts, statues, and hagiography—this eloquent intervention sets the standard for many decades to come. Her book alerts us to the existence and sophistication of a third tradition, one plying the shifting boundaries between Taoism and Buddhism."—Stephen F. Teiser, Princeton University

Christine Mollier reveals in this volume previously unexplored dimensions of the interaction between Buddhism and Taoism in medieval China. While scholars of Chinese religions have long recognized the mutual influences linking the two traditions, Mollier here brings to light their intense contest for hegemony in the domains of scripture and ritual. Drawing on a far-reaching investigation of canonical texts, together with manuscript sources from Dunhuang and the monastic libraries of Japan—many of them studied here for the first time—she demonstrates the competition and complementarity of the two great Chinese religions in their quest to address personal and collective fears of diverse ills, including sorcery, famine, and untimely death. In this context, Buddhist apocrypha and Taoist scriptures were composed through a process of mutual borrowing, yielding parallel texts, Mollier argues, that closely mirrored one another. Life-extending techniques, astrological observances, talismans, spells, and the use of effigies and icons to resolve the fundamental preoccupations of medieval society were similarly incorporated in both religions. In many cases, as a result, one and the same body of material can be found in both Buddhist and Taoist guises.

Among the exorcistic, prophylactic, and therapeutic ritual methods explored here in detail are the "Heavenly Kitchens" that grant divine nutrition to their adepts, incantations that were promoted to counteract bewitchment, as well as talismans for attaining longevity and the protection of stellar deities. The destiny of the Jiuku Tianzun, the Taoist bodhisattva whose salvific mission and iconography were modeled on Guanyin (Avalokitesvara), is examined at length. Through the case-studies set forth here, the patterns whereby medieval Buddhists and Taoists each appropriated and transformed for their own use the rites and scriptures oftheir rivals are revealed with unprecedented precision.

Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face is abundantly illustrated with drawings and diagrams from canonical and manuscript sources, together with art and artifacts photographed by the author in the course of her field research in China. Sophisticated in its analysis, broad in its synthesis of a variety of difficult material, and original in its interpretations, it will be required reading for those interested in East Asian religions and in the history of the medieval Chinese sciences, including astrology, medicine and divination.

35 illus.

"Mollier’s work is a fascinating and profound exploration, often of material that has until now received little if any attention from scholars. Her study of ‘sorcery’ as it was constructed in Daoist and Buddhist traditions, for example—which like other chapters makes ample use of vivid pictorial and manuscript evidence—is a landmark study." —Journal of Chinese Religions (36, 2008)

"This volume, handsomely produced by the University of Hawai‘i Press, significantly advances our understandings of the complex and shifting interfaces between medieval Buddhism and Daoism and provides a standard against which future research will be judged." —Journal of Chinese Studies (2009)

"In Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face, Christine Mollier undertakes five detailed case studies, each one illuminating a different dimension of the ritual, iconographic, and scriptural interactions of Buddhists and Taoists in medieval China. Mollier does not simply assert that these traditions influenced one another; she reveals in breathtaking detail the wide array of techniques used by Buddhists and Taoists as they appropriated and transformed the texts and icons of their rivals. . . . Mollier’s work in this volume is brilliant. She deftly navigates through manuscripts, canonical texts, archaeological remains, and art-historical evidence. . . . Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face is an exhilarating display of Sinological erudition." —H-Buddhism (June 2008)

Author: Mollier, Christine;
Christine Mollier is a research scholar specializing in the history of medieval Taoism at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).
Read the introduction (PDF).