Michael Radich: “The Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra in the Religion of Sixth-Century China, as Glimpsed through 'Sengchou's' Cave at Xiaonanhai”
The Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra (particularly in the version entitled Da banniepan jing 大般涅槃經 T374, translated by Dharmakṣema ca. 421-432) was one of the significant texts in fifth- and sixth-century Chinese Buddhism, and had a tremendous impact on the formation of distinctive currents in Chinese and East Asian Buddhism over a much longer term. However, too little is still known about the way the text was received, and the way it figured in the religious life of Chinese Buddhists during this period. The sūtra features centrally in the textual and iconographic programme of a remarkable cave at Xiaonanhai 小南海 in northern Henan 河南, which was rediscovered in the 1980s, and has close connections with Sengchou 僧稠 (480-560), a famous meditator, and one of the leading clerics in Northern China in the sixth century. In this talk, I will argue for a new interpretation of the programme of the cave, and consider what it tells us about religious life and practice in Sengchou’s time. I will also discuss some implications of the textual material featured at the cave for the nature and provenance of the bulky unique portions of Dharmakṣema’s version of the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra, that is, parts of the text that are unparalleled in our other three main independent witnesses to the sūtra.
Michael Radich is Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Heidelberg. From 2005-2017, he taught at Victoria University of Wellington, in his native New Zealand. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 2007 for a dissertation entitled “The Somatics of Liberation: Ideas about Embodiment in Buddhism from Its Origins to the Fifth Century C.E.”. He has authored two monographs: How Ajātaśatru Was Reformed: The Domestication of ‘Ajase’ and Stories in Buddhist History (Tokyo 2011), and The Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra and the Emergence of Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine (Hamburg 2015). He spent 2015 at the Numata Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of Hamburg, with the support of an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Fellowship for Experienced Researchers.