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Family ties to Buddhist monks and nuns in medieval China : a biographical and hagiographical study of the Southern Xiao family branch Phan, Cam Van Thi

Abstract

The roles of kinship and family ties have recently become recognized as a vital yet unexplored area in the study of medieval Buddhism. This is especially critical in restructuring the relationship between political and religious spheres, which for the Sinologist have always been intricately linked to one another. Although there are studies noting the prominence of family connection in the study of monks and nuns, past studies have focused mainly on the manipulation and modification of religion by political figures for solely secular purposes. Not many studies have turned the tables to analyze the significance of a monk or nun's family background and its intimate influence throughout his or her religious life; nor have they considered how a layman or laywoman's spiritual devotion greatly shapes his or her social life and political career. It is my aim to extend such research and explore on a larger scale the intricate relationship between monastic and lay family members, in this case Xiao Yu, his daughters, sons and relatives, ten in all, from the Southern Xiao family branch during the late Sui to early Tang period. This research serves to prove that the life of a monk or nun, while determined by that individual's vocation and endeavor, is to a degree also conditioned by his or her family background, kinship ties and secular acquaintance. This research, based upon hagiography, epigraphy and relevant materials from canonical and secular sources substantiates the belief that comprehensive study of the monastic order should involve analysis of factors beyond the spiritual sphere.

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