Speaker: Paul Harrison, George Edwin Burnell Professor of Religious Studies, Stanford University
The Buddhist practice of replicating sacred sites in multiple locations is a well-known feature of the history of the religion, as is the readiness of Buddhists to keep finding new places blessed by the presence of Buddhas, bodhisattvas and other such beings. Thus in China, for example, Wutai Shan in the north was identified as the residence of the great bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, while, in other parts of the country, we find the island of Putuo Shan in the east recognized as Potalaka, the abode of Avalokiteśvara, Jiuhua Shan, also to the east, seen as the dwelling place of Kṣitigarbha, and Emei Shan in the south singled out as the home of Samantabhadra, thus yielding the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhist China. The way in which such identifications as these proliferated was foundational to patterns of pilgrimage across the premodern Buddhist world. This paper addresses one small aspect of this broad topic, and investigates the lore surrounding the linkage of Mañjuśrī and Wutai Shan, using as its point of departure an early Tantric text for which until recently we had no Sanskrit version. This short work, the Viśeṣavatī-dhāraṇī, opens up some new perspectives on the cult of Mañjuśrī and its transnational manifestations. It also raises the question whether the flow of influence was always from the imagined center to the periphery, that is, whether we have any solid evidence that in India it was accepted or even known that Mañjuśrī had become a permanent resident of China.
Paul Harrison is the George Edwin Burnell Professor of Religious Studies. Educated in his native New Zealand and in Australia, he specializes in Buddhist literature and history, especially that of the Mahāyāna, and in the study of Buddhist manuscripts in Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan. He is the author of The Samādhi of Direct Encounter with the Buddhas of the Present, and of numerous journal articles on Buddhist sacred texts and their interpretation. He is also one of the editors of the series “Buddhist Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection.”
Paul’s current projects include editions and translations of a number of Mahāyāna and Mainstream Buddhist sūtras and śāstras, including the Vajracchedikā (Diamond Sutra) and the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, as well as a general study of issues of authority, textual transmission and innovation in Mahayana Buddhism.
Paul serves as Co-Director of the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford.