Devouring impurities : myth, ritual and talisman in the cult of Ucchusma in Tang China
- Ucchuṣma, or the Vajra-being of Impure Traces (Huiji jin'gang), is a wrathful King of Magical Knowledge central to the Chinese tantric Buddhist tradition. Known as a scatological, obstetrical, and talismanic god, Ucchuṣma has been invoked in therapeutic, exorcistic, birth and spirit possession rituals in imperial China. Starting from the late Tang, he gradually stepped out of maṇḍalas, enjoyed his own cult, and penetrated into other traditions of Buddhism, as well as Daoism and popular religion. His increasing importance owes much to the composition, around 730, of two indigenous scriptures in Kucha, an oasis state on the northwestern borderland of the Tang Empire. Including an additional section as long as the two scriptures combined, the Dunhuang manuscript Pelliot chinois 3047V-2 departs significantly from the canonical norm. In Chapter 1, by examining the Dunhuang manuscript against four other medieval Japanese manuscript witnesses and nine later xylographical editions, I reveal a convoluted and contentious history of the transmission of the twin texts. The interpretative part of the dissertation revolves around a central problematic in the cult of Ucchusma: Chinese responses to the transgressive practices of Indian tantra, involving sex, violence, and the sacramental consumption of substances deemed contaminating. I argue in Chapters 2 and 3 that the authors in Kucha refashioned the myth and ritual of Ucchuṣma according to their expectations of the tastes of an imagined Chinese audience in the heartland. Not only did they tone down the violence, project sexual depravities onto the demon, and euphemize the scatophagous proclivities of Ucchuṣma, but they also appropriated indigenous practices and created new rituals to cater to the needs of the Tang Chinese. By drawing on the eschatological narratives developed previously in both Kuchean Buddhism and Chinese dhāraṇī-sūtras, they refashioned Ucchuṣma from an Indian scatological god to a Chinese eschatological protector. In Chapter 4, I analyze the Dunhuang exorcistic manual added in the latter half of the ninth century. The antinomian elements carefully covered up in the twin texts not only made their forceful return in this manual, but came back with new twists: a set of skull rituals are combined with Daoist practices; some curses pose more graphic intimidations than Sanskrit mantras; and the Indian scatological god stays in China to subdue indigenous scatological demons. In Chapter 5, I treat the Ucchuṣma seals and talismans, which were appended to the twin texts sometime between 730 and the latter half of the ninth century. Approaching from both the performative/pragmatic and hermeneutical/semantic perspectives, I show that Ucchuṣma practitioners developed a dynamic relationship with Daoists and shamans around these distinctively Chinese practices, marking the epitome of the indigenizing tendency in his cult. In conclusion, I argue for a see-sawing dynamics of transgression, domestication, and rehabilitation or further indigenization in this Dunhuang manuscript, and demonstrate that Tang Chinese were both repelled and impelled by antinomianism in the cult of Ucchuṣma, who constitutes a potent test stone of what the Chinese have conceived to be their civilization.
|Type of resource
|electronic; electronic resource; remote
|1 online resource.
|Stanford University, Department of Religious Studies.
|Statement of responsibility
|Submitted to the Department of Religious Studies.
|Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2013.
- © 2013 by Zhaohua Yang
- This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).
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