The early Sinification of the Buddha’s relics and the case in which Kang Senghui prayed for those sacred relics by Dr. Trung Huynh

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The early Sinification of the Buddha’s relics and the case in which Kang Senghui prayed for those sacred relics by Dr. Trung Huynh

Dr. Trung Huynh

Abstract—In India, the Śākyamuni Buddha’s relics represent the spiritual embodiment of all enlightened qualities. When Buddhism spread to China, early Buddhist apologists “Sinicized” Buddha distinctively through his relics to establish the Buddha’s superior status over the Chinese sages, and bridge the temporal and spatial disparity between the adherents and the locations and periods of their religious forefathers as well. This paper appraises the philosophical context of this “Sinicization” process and argues that early Buddhist apologists installed a “homecoming” Buddha by establishing sacred places to venerate his relics in the Famen monastery 法門寺, the imperial palaces of Emperor Ming of the Wei, 魏明帝 (r. 227-239 AD), and Emperor Sui Wendi, 隋文帝 (r. 581-604 AD), the story of Liu Sahe 劉薩訶, the Wei Shu 魏書, the reference to the Mahāparinirvāṇa sutra, and Kang Senghui’s devotional prayer.

Keywords: Kang Senghui, Buddha’s relics, Sinification, Three Kingdoms period

Introduction: In approximately the first millennium, during Buddhism’s advent in China, which its people arrogantly considered a “central and flowering” nationAround the first millennium, Buddhism the religion confronted various challenges, especially with because of the deeply-rooted establishments of the Chinese indigenous traditions, such as Confucianism and Taoism, during its early advent to China, which its people arrogantly considered it as a “central and flowering” nation with a superior attitude. To counter those challenges, the early Chinese Buddhist apologists attempted to authenticate their newly converted religion through the “Sinification” process, which entailed includes the blending of Indic beliefs and Chinese indigenous traditions, such as “the way” in Taoism, and “suchness” in Buddhism; the compositions of the Chinese Buddhist apocrypha texts, such as the Sutra of Filial Child; the creation of special Chinese Buddhist pantheons, such as Guan Yin, ; the Compassionate Bodhisattva in female form,; and the establishment of Chinese Buddhist pilgrimages sites, such as Mount Putou. This paper focuses on the Sinification process through veneration of the early Buddha’s relics veneration ofin the “home coming” Indian Buddha by pointing illustratingout the way in which the uniqueness of his relics granted him superiority overthe superior notion of the Buddha over Chinese sages through and served his relic uniqueness as a the powerful tools for in Buddhism’s propagation. AlsoFurther, in this Sinification process, they apologists attempted to bridge the temporal and spatial differences between the adherents and the sites and periods of their religious founder, the Śākyamuni Buddha. In fact, they viewed China as a part of Jambudvipa, and thus, belonging to the previous Aśoka’s Buddhist Aśoka’s Buddhist empire, which previously that might have some contained remnants of the sacred relics, which signifiedincluding one of the Triple Jewels, Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, as the “Buddhist everlasting elements,” the “visible representation of the immortal nirvana state,” and “the expressions and extensions of the Buddha’s biographical process.” Consequently, they validated the existences of Buddhism in China via the Buddha’s relics, which that could teach the believers, perform miracles, and inspire followers on the behalf of his physical appearance. Obviously, tThey also pointed outemphasized the evidence that supported Sinicizationed evidences: the Famen monastery, 法門寺, as a well-known host siteing place of the Buddha’s precious finger-bone relic; a popular story of that Liu Sahe, 劉薩訶, was one of the first Chinese monks to find Buddha’s relics; the Wei Ming Emperor’s, 魏明帝, (r. 227-239 AD) admiration of the relic admiration of Wei Ming Emperor 魏明帝 (r. 227-239 AD); the nineteen-relic archaeological discovery in the fourth and fifth centuries; the Wei Shu, 魏書, as the earliest chronological record regarding of the Aśoka legend and the Buddha’'s relics; the recognition of the actual relic tooth listed in the Mahāparinirvāṇa sutra,; and Kang Senghui’s the acquisition of Buddha’s relics acquisition through the prayer of Kang Senghui.

A spiritual tradition’s The continuity demonstrof a spiritual tradition indicates its authenticity. As a result, when Buddhism firstjust spread to China, the newly- converted Chinese Buddhists attempted to find a way to legitimizate their newly converted religion exclusively as an exclusively Chinese religion through the veneration of the Buddha’s indestructible relics.

The Buddhist apologists argued that the Chinese people could produce images and sculptures of their great sages and sage-kings, but they could not make create thoseeir sages’ and sage-kings’ relics. In early times, Chinese sages and sage-kings, including three emperors, five kings, the kings of Xia, 夏帝, and the Shang Dynasty and Zhou Dynastiesy, Confucius, Laozi, and Zhuangzi, were all respected and venerated. However, Buddhist apologists argued that after their deaths, their bodies were buried underground and would be forgotten. As a result, without the transmission of relics, the virtue of the Chinese sages and sage-kings cannot be transmittedhanded down to the later generations, Buddhist apologists argued. On the other hand, after the Buddha’s nirvāṇa, his relics, including his bones, hair, teeth, and other substances of his corporeal substances, or stūpas, turned out to became the essential emphasis of religious zeal. According to the Buddhist apologists, the Buddha’s relics could be passed down from generation to generation because of their indestructible and transcendental nature,s and could serve as well as the as powerful tools for to propagatdisseminateion of the Buddha’s teachings, beside in addition to the sacred scriptures, paintings, and sculptures that can be created and reproduced.

In fact, in the early development of Chinese Buddhism, the Buddhist apologists strived to establish a direct connection to the Śākyamuni Buddha through the worshipping of his statues and relics, and the foreign clergy also besides being supported by them the foreign clergy in their formation of aing the monastic community and translationng ofthe Buddhist texts. The reverence of Buddhist relics in China constituted served numerous purposes, including: performing merit-creating deeds, encouraging material transactions, proliferating the construction of memorial monuments, and promoting the formation of political relations between the court and the monastic community. Essentially, the Buddha’s corporeal and personal remains, i.e., relics, utensils, and objects constructed used toin honoring him, offered Chinese Buddhists the opportunity to have a direct physical contact with those sacred objects, and. They conjoined the Chinese Buddhists with their Indian religious founder, the Buddha. Specifically, they could served to support the formation of a Buddhist world in a foreign land.

BesidesFurther, the Chinese Buddhists intuitively viewed perceived the following intuitivelyas followings. First, since as China being was a part of Jambudvipa, it had belonged tobeen in Aśoka’s empire previously, and consequently it had followed Buddhism under this king. Second, China might have some remnants of the Buddhist golden age, i.e., the remains of the stūpas or even the sacred relics. According to some records, there was an “Aśoka monastery” at Pengcheng, 彭城, the capital of the kingdom of Chu, 楚, and one of the earliest Chinese Buddhist centers during the first century AD. Liu Ying, king of Chu, might have established Tthis monastery, might have been established by Liu Ying, king of Chuand. Surely, thisits name impliesnfers unquestionably that it was constructed at the stūpa’s ancient site during Aśoka’s time.

AsPresently modern scholarship supported byconfirms modern scholarship, the Chinese Buddhists viewed the relics as the Buddha himself, not merely as symbols ofizing him. According to Daoxuan, the Buddha himself was spiritually involved spiritually in the creation of Chinese-style monasteries that possess his relics. The emergence and wide spread of the Buddha’s relics in China implied that Chinese Buddhists could connect with the Buddhahim directly without going to visiting the sacred sites in northwest India. Because he Aappeareding in the form of his relics, Buddha then became easily accessible easily to common monks, nuns, and lay people in China. Chinese Buddhists could receive immediate spiritual help and benefits from Buddha by going to visiting his relics at the temples, th.e The architectural design of which was then associated with Buddhist doctrine (i.e., the relationship between Buddha and Saṅgha, the Buddhist community). Thus, the center of a monastery always held the relics, either in the stūpa or the Buddha Hall. AlsoFurther, in the form of his relics, the Buddha in the form of his relics became the symbolic sacred object that connected most Chinese monasteries. Since Because there was no supreme church and leader governeding all monastic communities, Chinese Buddhist society seemed aswas a network of monasteries linked together by possession and veneration of relics from the same historical Buddha, who remained an indispensable presence within the Chinese Buddhist monastic network.

The archaeological discoveries of the deposited Buddha’s relics in China dissolved any temporal and spatial barriers between medieval China and India. Indeed, the finding of Buddhist relics and sacred images in China went dated back to the Zhou Dynasty (1000-256 BCE) that and validated “the early existence of Buddhism on Chinese soil,” which has plenty ofmultiple sacred places that the believers could find by themselves.

The Famen monastery, 法門寺, was well-known well throughout medieval times as the hosting site place of the Buddha’s precious finger-bone relic. According to the legend, Emperor Aśoka (r. 273-232 BCE) offered the sacred relic as a gift, and he requestedasked to build the Famen Si temple for to enshrineing this sacred treasure. Regardless of the legend, not muchlittle of the original information of about either the monastery or its relic is available.

Politically, since their appearance in China, the Buddha’s bodily relics are have been powerfully related powerfully to with the imperial courts since their appearances in China. As mMany Chinese emperors were charmed by these relicsm, and their obsession with themse relics motivatedinduced them to devote the highest veneration to these magical entities. As a result, few of them sensed the need to inquire the timeswhen and ways how these relics came to the country, and. Aapparently, they accepted any available versionstory available about themse mystic relics. Thus, these sacred relics remained continued to attract the Chinese imperial authorities.

An One account relates to Emperor Ming of the Wei, 魏明帝, (r. 227-239 AD), who attempted to demolish a temple in an imperial palace. A foreign monk put sarīra, 佛舍利, into a golden alms bowl filled with water and positioned it in front of the palace. When the relics emitted magnificent five-colored lights, the emperor exclaimed that it was magnificent since because it was a divine object, it was so magnificent. ThereaAfterward, the emperor relocated the sanctuary to the eastern part of the court and enclosed it with several towers.

Several incidents in associatedion with the relics’ auspicious function of the relics had beenwere recorded by in the later Buddhist literatures, such as that of Huijiao, 慧皎, (540-550 AD). Among these accounts, a well-known story related to Liu Sahe, 劉薩訶, who was one of the early groups of Chinese monks to find the Buddha’s relics in China.

In principle, both monastics and lay people could find relics. However, according to Daoxuan’s sources, in early Chinese Buddhism, at first only enlightened monks found relics and reported their discoveries, and although ordinary monks were able to find them later the ordinary monks could find them tooas well. Only monastic members having have the privilege to access and obtain the relics, which indicates a the system of superiority over the lay followers that the monks system instituted by monks over the lay followers. Nonetheless, lay devotees could acquire the relics through their sincere devotion and prayer. However, but only the monastic clergy could verify their authenticity of the relics. For instanceexample, Emperor Sui Wendi, 隋文帝, (r. 581-604 AD) deliberately followed the model of the great Emperor Aśoka deliberately, a well-known monastic supporter known well in India. Thus, Emperor Sui Wendi provided financial support for the construction of monasteriesc constructions all over China and ordered continuous prayers at those Buddhist centers. About Approximately one hundred-twenty new Buddhist monasteries were built in his new Chang’an, 長安, capital alone. In 601 AD, Wwhen the emperor was sixty years old in 601 AD, he openly followed Aśoka’s prototype openly and ordered to the construction ofbuild stūpas for Buddhist relics throughout the empire. Spiritually and legendarily, due tobecause of the Sui emperor’s merits of in receiving accepting the Bodhisattva precepts, distributing relics, and building stūpas and monasteries, he and his royal members found nineteen relics at the imperial court. This story of Emperor Sui Wen illustratesd that relics manifested themselves in response to sincere prayer, meditation, recitation of sūtras, and so on.

The earliest accounts of the nineteen-relic archaeological discovery in China dates in to the fourth and fifth centuries, and they were formally recorded formally as the sacred objects of admiration in southern China during the sixth century AD in southern China. Wei Shou, 魏收, (506-572 AD), composed wrote the Wei Shu, 魏書, the earliest chronological record regarding of the Aśoka legend and the Buddha’'s relics. Wei Shou mentions mentioned that Emperor Aśoka induced invoked his deific supremacy to separate distribute the Buddha’'s relics. By his command, invisible spirits constructed 84,000 stūpas everywhere around the world within aone day. Wei Shou cited four 阿育王 A You Wang, 阿育王, (Aśoka) temples that houseding Buddha’s relics in different locations. His agreement to with the legend shows his recognition of the relics’ supernatural qualitiescharacteristic of the relics.

According to Daoxuan, 道宣, (596-677 AD), the alleged patriarch of the Chinese Vinaya School, another tooth relic listed in the Mahāparinirvāṇa sūtra that went to Indra’s heaven became the most sacred object recognizedtion in China. Daoxuan He seemingapparently obtained this sacred tooth during a nightly visitation from an Indra divinity.

While it is was valuable for the Chinese Buddhists to obtain the Buddha’s relics through discoveries of holy sites around throughout China, where Asoka’s missionaries might have placed the Buddha’s relics, some of them, such as Kang Senghui, might have acquired the Buddha’s relics through their own means of prayingers such as Kang Senghui. This monk obtained the Buddha’s relics through his devotional prayers and later won the support from the Wu emperor. The biography of Kang Senghui contains one of the earliest accounts of the appearance of Buddha’s relics in China. Chu Sanzang Ji Ji puts states that as early as during the Wu kingdom (222-280 AD), the Chinese started began to know hear the story of Aśoka’s story erecting 84,000 stūpas.

In the historical account of Chinese Buddhism, the first of the Buddha’s relics to appear in the Wu Kingdom in the third century AD was not one from the King Aśoka. The mythical appearance of the Buddha’s relics corresponded to the construction of the first monastery in southern China of during the Wu kingdom. There are several accounts about earlier relics and monasteries in China, but they could not identify the origins of those relics or if whether the monasteries were built to house thosem relics.

Miraculously, Kang Senghui’s Buddha relics emerged in southern China, rather than in Luoyang or other parts of northern China, whichere usually were considered as the centers of Buddhism at the time. Furthermore, a Sogdian-Jiaozhi monk, Kang Senghui, rather than a Chinese monk, found this relic in Jianye, 建鄴, of Jiang zuo, 江左, in 247 AD was acquired by a Sogdian-Jiaozhi monk, Kang Senghui, rather than a Chinese monk, during the Three Kingdoms period, in Jianye 建鄴 of Jiang zuo 江左 in 247 AD while he was onith thea mission toof propagateing Buddhism in the area.

According to Gaosengzhuan,

While Kang Senghui was in Jianye, he encamped and erected a grass and thatch house, displayed the [Buddha] image, and propagated the Way [Buddhism]. At that time, [the people of] the Wu country just saw śramaṇa, 沙門, they looked at the śramaṇas’ appearance, but they had not understood the Way [Buddhism]. As a result, they were suspicious about the strange manners of [the monks]. The responsible authority, 有司, dutifully reported to the emperor: “There were the Western people (hu ren, 胡人), who entered the country and claimed themselves as śramaṇas. Their appearances and clothes were not usual. These matters should be examined.

Kang Senghui’s spiritual practice drew the suspicion from the Wu Dynasty due tobecause of his unaccustomed appearance, in which he of shaved his the head andin wore monkish robes, burneding incense, boweding to the Buddhist icons, reciteding the scriptures, saitting in meditation, andor probably wentgoing into the city with his alms-bowl, etc. His These practices on his part might have arousttracted the local people’s curiosity and gained earned their respect from the local people. Contemporary to At the same time that Kang Senghui’s appearedance in the Wu area, there was a widespread belief in spirits and magicians was widespread, as recorded in the Baopuzi, 抱樸子, “Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity,” and 抱朴子內篇 and Bao Pozi Neipan, composed by Ge Hong, 葛洪, (283-343 AD).

Emperor Sun Quan, 孫權, also was a believer of in the Chinese indigenous religion. Hence, in thebecause the emperor shared situation of athe widespread belief in spirits and magicians, especially emperor Sun Quan, at first Kang Senghui’s unaccustomed appearance in the Wu area initially drew more greater suspicion from the Wu Dynasty than the indigenous belief. Later, Sun Quan 孫權 told his officials:

Previously Han Ming Di 漢明帝 (28-75 AD) dreamed of a supernatural being, who addressed himself as Buddha. Could it be that the worshiping of those people were the descendent custom of that religion?

ThereAafterward, Sun Quan 孫權 summoned Kang Senghui to question him: “What kind of auspicious response does [your religion] have?” Kang Senghui replied: “The Thus Come One has passed away which was promptly already thousand years. However, he left behind His bone relics (śarīra), which were glorious and supernatural without comparison. Formerly, the king Aśoka erected eighty-four thousand pagodas, to build the pagoda and monasteries were considered as the representation of that religion.”

Since Because Sun Quan 孫權 tookbelieved Kang Senghui’s explanation was merely boasting and exaggeration, he told Kang Senghuihim: “If you can obtain the śarīra, then I will erect the pagoda. If it is a false claim, the country has the regulation of punishment.” Thusen, Kang Senghui requested seven days [to obtain śarīra].

The story of the Emperor Ming’s quest for the Dharma, that was put into Sun Quan’s mouth probably, is probably just a popular tale that, which was circulated during the Jin or Sung times (i.e., sometime in the first half of the fifth century). If Sun Quan really did utter these words, the story of Emperor Ming’s quest for the Dharma in response to a dream in the Latter Han times was then current in Sun Quan’s day. When Sun Quan summoned Kang Senghui to the court, instead ofrather than inquiring about the new religion’s philosophy and practice, Sun Quanhe just was had an interested only in the its auspicious responses of it. This clearly indicates clearly that, even at the highest level of the Wu Dynasty, the belief in spirits and magicians gained commanded more respect and interest. In replying to Sun Quan’s inquiry, Kang Senghui stated that the supernatural aspect of Buddhism was the Buddha’s relics, which were distributed by the king Aśoka’s missionaries all around India and other neighboring countries, and these relics represented the Buddhist religion. Expressing his Ddoubtfully, Sun Quan put the conditions: “If your claim (is) true, I will build a temple for you; otherwise, you will be punished in accordance with the law.” To prove his claim, Kang Senghui requested asked the emperor to allowing him seven days to obtain the Buddha’s relics through his prayers.

ThereaAfterward, Kang Senghui called in his followers and said, “Buddhism either flourishes or terminates with this event. Now, if we are not sincere, then later it is too late to regret.” Subsequently, together withhe and his followers, he purified quiescently the chamber quiescently and started to dobegan to the fasting. He used the copper jar, burned the incense, bowed, and requested [the śarīra to appear]. After seven days of praying, there was a silent pledge, but no without any auspicious response. He requested asked to for an extension ofd another seven days, but there was the outcome was the same. When Sun Quan thought believed Kang Senghui wit as a deceitful act, heand almost ordered the monks to be punished the monks. Kang Senghui again asked for another seven-days extension, and Sun Qian accepted granted this his request. Kang Senghui reminded his followers about Confucius’s dedication: The King Wen, 文王帝 (248-210 BC), has passed away, but is there the literature not here anymore? The auspicious response of Dharma has descended. But we have not received any response. Thus, how could we rely on the emperor to establish the law [Buddhism]. We should vow to die within this week.

Approaching to theBy evening of the twenty-first day, they again still did had not received any auspicious sign, and it waswere frightened for them. At the beginning of the fifth watch of the night, 五更, suddenly they suddenly heard the a rattlinge sound inside the copper jar. Kang Senghui approached and inspected it personally, and he certainly recognized the authentic śarīra clearly. In tThe next morning, Kang Senghui presented [the śarīra] to Sun Quan, who summoned all the court officials to observe. [They saw] the five bright flames of colors, which shined and sparkled on the top of the copper jar. Sun Quan 孫權 held the copper jar by himself and poured [the śarīra] on the copper tray;. Wwherever they śarīra rolled, the copper tray was broken. Sun Quan 孫權 was greatly frightened greatly, stood up, and said: “It is an inconceivably felicitous omen.” Kang Senghui stepped forward and said: “Is the powerful supernatural sign of śarīra limited only with the bright light appearance? Just use the fire to burn it. The fire cannot burn it. The diamond pestle cannot smash it.” Thus, Sun Quan 孫權 ordered the test. At that time, Kang Senghui made the pledge: “The Dharma cloud just covers. Sentient beings look up to the grace. Please again let down the supernatural trace in order [to] display greatly the auspicious and powerful signs.” Then, he put the śarīra on the iron anvil radrod, and ordered the a strong man to strike it. However, the iron anvil and rod both sank down, but the śarīra was not damaged, which. Sun Quan 孫權 greatly admired and respected thisgreatly. ThereAafterward, he ordered to build that a temple be built for Kang Senghui. Because it was the first Buddhist temple, it was named as the First Established Temple Jian Chu Si, 建初寺, and. Tthat area was called the Buddhist village Fotuo li, 佛陀里, and. Tafterwardupon, the great dharma flourished around the Jiang Zuo, 江左.

Generally, bBy recognizing the seriousness of the work (to praying to obtain for having the Buddha’s relics), Kang Senghui sternly remindedtold his followers sternly that following this event that it it was a critical moment time for them to spread Buddhism or to die for its cause after this occasion. Hence, all of them must pray have sincerelity in praying for the relics to appearance of the relics. However, after they had no response in the first week as well as that of the extendedand second weeks, Kang Senghui particularly encouraged his followers particularly to remember the existence of the King Wen’s literature, the auspicious response of Dharma, and the emperor’s support, of the emperor with theand pray sincerely mind of praying, as it was a matter of life and death. After being allowed to havegiven another week of to praying, they still had receivedre was no response at all on by the last day of the third week. As aAll of them were frightened, but with because of their sincere prayers, on during the fifth watch of the twenty-first day, they got received the diamond-like, and five bright light relics that, which melted down the copper tray, and were not burned by the fire or smashed by the large hammer. Having Because of his the admiration and veneration of this supernatural response (throughto the prayering), Sun Quan kept his promise to build the First Established Temple in Jianye for Kang Senghui and his followers. Thus, after that event, Buddhism was allowed to be practiced and spread in Jianye and its vicinityies. In short, being although he was influenced by the widespread belief in spirits and magicians, Sun Quan supported Kang Senghui in by erecting the first temple in the capital after witnessing the auspicious response of the Buddha’s supernatural power and the indestructible, diamond-like, and the five- colored light relics.

The miracle- story of obtaining relics stresses the early transmission of the stūpa or pagoda worship in China, and the fact that magical power was regarded as a quite highly important quality of the Buddhist monks. Due toBecause of Kang Senghui’s sincere prayers, the miracle of the appearance of the Buddha’s relics helped Kang Senghuihim win the trust from Sun Quan’s trust, who and he built the first state-sponsored temple in Jianye for him. Since As there is no archaeological evidence about of the Buddha relics that for which Kang Senghui had prayed for, we are still awaiting for further discovery to determine their authenticity.

In conclusion, within during the process of Sinification during in the early development of Chinese Buddhism, the Chinese Buddhist apologists attempted to provide an uninterrupted connection to the Śākyamuni Buddha through the worshipping of his relics, the his enlightened embodiment, without going to visiting the sacred sites in India. Thus, there it waswere urgent for them to acquire the Buddha’s relics through either discoveries or prayer for the Buddha’s relics. This Sinification of the relics has facilitatedallowed them to have establish a Sinicized Buddha here at home to bless and guide them directly.

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