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Eschatological backgrounds of devotionalism in Buddhist China Nishi Goldstone, Jane

Abstract

Eschatology and devotionalism are dominant threads in the rich fabric of Chinese Buddhist history. Yet as in countless other areas of modern Buddhist studies, the investigation has barely begun. This paper analyses the dynamic interplay between eschatology and devotionalism in religious history by focussing on Northern China during the fourth to the eighth centuries A.D. when the intensely popular worship of Maitreya Buddha was overtaken by the worship of Amitabha Buddha. The wider implications of this shift include not only the change from an Abhidharma world-view to a Mahayana world-view but from a state of eschatological disappointment or despair to its resolution by salvation through faith. Thus the greatest and most enduring form of Buddhist devotionalism — the Pure Land movement — is rooted in an age permeated with the ethos of the eschaton. This phenomenon in China is set within the context of the overall development of devotionalism and eschatology from their origins in India to their continuity in present-day Japan and South East Asia. While specific textual, biographical, historical and archaeological data is utilized in supporting the main thesis, the various symbols of Buddhist eschatology and devotionalism are presented as variations on the universal themes of cosmic renewal and faith with mythic counterparts in all religious traditions.

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