To Prognosticate the Uncertain: Ruixiang-related Ideas and Practices in Medieval China

Prof. Dr. Jinhua Chen

This project aims to study one key aspect of Buddhist-inspired East Asian religious discourse concerning prognostication: ideas and practices related to ruixiang. Ruixiang, literally "propitious signs", refers to the miraculous and auspicious signs that result from efforts-usually ritual-supplicants perform. According to Chinese ruixiang ideas, human beings were not always passive recipients of propitious signs. They could also become agents in collaboration with the Buddha to produce these signs, typically through religious passion and piety. This basic supposition inspired a number of practices and correlating ideas related to ruixiang. This project proposes to investigate how one particular type of ruixiang, in conjunction with relic veneration, self-mortification, and fundraising efforts, was incorporated into a unique religious and political institution with origins in India, a kind of open-to-all dharma gathering or assembly, known in Chinese as wuzhe fahui and in Sanskrit as pañca-vārṣika. In an effort to systematically study how ruixiang was inextricably connected with these elements, especially self-mortification, this project will focus on the idea of ganying and how it influenced actors' interpretations of potential consequences of their religious and political activities.

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