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A Transmission and Its Transformation: The Liqujing Shibahui Mantuluo in Daigoji

Harriet Hunter defended her thesis on 26 September 2018.

Harriet Jean Hunter
26 September 2018
Leiden Repository

To date, interpretations and assumptions by past and contemporary scholars of Japanese Shingon Buddhism have dominated studies of eighth- and ninth-century Chinese Esoteric Buddhism. They have been reflecting it through their own sectarian lens. This dissertation’s contribution to the field is threefold:

  1. It is the first to study the mandala set known as the Liqujing shibahui mantuluo (Mandalas of the Eighteen Assemblies of the Guiding Principle Scripture, hereafter the Daigoji exemplar). My comparison between text and image—the first ever— categorically dispels the Shingon school’s claim that the exemplar’s iconography is based on Amoghavajra’s (705–774) Liqushi, his commentary on the Liqujing. 
    Rather, I show the iconography derives from the late eighth-century Chinese prototype of the Shingon school’s Matrix Realm Mandala and Mandala of the Adamantine Realm (Genzu mandara), copies the pilgrim-monk Kūkai (774–835) introduced to Japan in 806.
  2. By critically examining Amoghavajra’s transmission, I demonstrate his religious priority as propagating a new Indian Esoteric Buddhist system of the Yoga of the Adamantine Crown, which he outlined in his Jingangding yuqie shibahui zhigui (Guide to the Eighteen Assemblies of the Yoga of the Adamantine Crown).
    After reconstructing the iconography of Amoghavajra’s version of the Liqujing shibahui mantuluo, I could confirm he used materials from a contemporaneous Indian Esoteric Buddhist corpus he called the Jingangding yuqie shibahui (Eighteen Assemblies of the Yoga of the Adamantine Crown).
    Additionally, investigating Amoghavajra’s transmission revealed an interpretation different from that of the post-Kūkai Shingon school and its scholars. I demonstrate that the ideology of the “dual category” of the Esoteric Buddhist teachings—that is, the amalgamation of the independent Indian traditions of the Sarvatathāgata-tattvasaṃgraha (adamantine realm) and Vairocanābdhisaṃbodhi sutra (matrix) into an interrelated system—actually postdates Amoghavajra.
  3. My investigation refutes the account of the Shingon school and of several contemporary Japanese Buddhist scholars that after Amoghavajra and his disciple Huiguo (746–805), Kūkai’s Chinese master, Esoteric Buddhism in China became stagnant and declined.
    My study is the first to present in some detail Faquan’s (c. 800–870) transmission. I demonstrate that Faquan transmitted a new tripartite system of Esoteric Buddhism. Significantly, I could verify that Faquan continued to use prototypes of the Shingon school mandalas, the Genzu mandara. Thus, I prove not only that the Chinese original of the Daigoji exemplar was a product of mid-ninth-century Chinese Esoteric Buddhism but also that it represented Faquan’s religious contributions to the further Sinification of Indian Esoteric Buddhism.


  • Prof.dr. W.J. Boot
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