Looting the Pantheon: On the Daoist Appropriation of Buddhist Divinities and Saints
Scholars working on different Christian cults in medieval Europe are wont to deal with the rather commonplace, although highly interesting, cases of relic thefts and the associated co-option of particular saints and their cults. Such cases reinforce our perception of the period as a dynamic and creative one in regard to the transfer and proliferation of Christian cultic practices to new areas and social contexts beyond their original locales. However, in the cases I shall discuss in the following, you will not be treated to cases of intra-religious take-overs or the simple borrowing or copying of relics within a single religious tradition, but you will be presented with cases in which one religion appropriated entire cults, divinities and saints from another religion.
What we shall see here concerns gods and saints in what we may term ``inter-religious transit" and their ultimate adoption and inclusion into different—and as I hope to demonstrate—entirely new spiritual contexts. This paper will deal with a major aspect of the religious exchange between Buddhism and Daoism in medieval China, namely that of Daoist appropriation of Buddhist divinities and saints.
The related and highly important issue concerning the typological copying of deities for similar, functional purposes that we see in both the Buddhist and Daoist material will not be dealt with here for practical reasons. Although it is of equal importance for our understanding of the inter-religious appropriations that took place in the meeting and co-existence in the same cultural space of the two religions, that issue is so extensive that it would require a separate discussion in its own right.
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