Fotudeng's "Magic": Dharani Practice and the Narrative of Omniscience

Koichi Shinohara, Yale University

A program in cooperation with the Department of Religious Studies supported by the Hwei Tai Fund for Buddhist Studies

In the sixth century biography of the monk Fotudeng (232-348), his extraordinary dharani practice is presented as a missionary strategy, and it is distinguished explicitly from "profound doctrines." Fotudeng's biography is accordingly placed in the section on miracle workers in the Biographies of Eminent Monks collection. Fotudeng is described as being skilled in the use of "divine spells" (shenzhou). A Chinese collection of dharani practices, "The Scripture of the Great Divine Spell Dharanis of the Seven Buddhas and Eight Bodhisattvas" (T. 1332), dated fifth to sixth century, presents a large number of "divine spells." These spells are identified as dharanis and attributed to the past Buddhas and a number of bodhisattvas. The explanations for these spells and their uses enable us to reconstruct how these spells were meant to work. In this presentation Shinohara first examines Fotudeng's use of spells in the light of the discussion of divine spells in this collection. The second part of the discussion will focus on the narrative that frames Fotudeng's practice. Shinohara argues that this frame story should be read as a narrative about omniscience rather than as an effort to present the use of spells as something secondary and inferior. As a story of omniscience it has well known parallels. Shinohara discusses the story of Srigupta's invitation to the Buddha as a popular example of an account of Omniscience, clearly a notion that troubled Buddhists of the time.

Thursday, February 04, 2010 | 5:15 pm — 7:00 pm
Encina Hall West - Room 208

Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford