Decline of the Law, death of the monk: Buddhist texts and images in the Anyang Caves of late sixth-century China
This dissertation explores how cave sanctuaries in sixth century China became the center stage for the public assertion of spiritual legitimacy in the age of mofa, the period of the Buddhist temporal scheme known as the "Decline of the Law." Constructed during one of the most tumultuous periods in Chinese history, the Anyang Caves operated as a visual memento of the mofa ideology and an embodiment of the monastic ideals of both life and death for such celebrated monastic elites as Daoping (d. 559), Sengchou (480-560) and Lingyu (518-605). As a retreat to return to after declining imperial invitations and as a burial site, the Anyang Caves and their mountainous setting incarnated an idealized notion of monastics, a collective concept recapitulated in the biography of eminent monks.
Through the activity of carving not only sutra passages but also the most innovative imagery of the time, the Anyang Caves challenge the prevailing canon of knowledge regarding Chinese Buddhist caves in the field of art history. By analyzing contemporaneous textual documents, visual materials and their interrelationship, this study has shown how these caves stand as a surprisingly complex and layered site of meaning, most specifically as an exemplary case showing how a conventional changuanku or a "meditation-visualization cave" incorporated a variety of visual experiences, repentance rituals, and mortuary practices while also serving as an efficient device for asserting a rhetorical claim of spiritual and doctrinal orthodoxy.
0320: Religious history