Keynote Abstract

Shu-fen Liu 劉淑芬

Adjunct Research Fellow, Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica

The Arhat Cave Belief in Four Stele Inscriptions and the Daitokuji Paintings of Five Hundred Arhats

While we know that arhats were widely worshiped in the Tang and Song dynasties, the reason for their popularity remains unclear. The hundred-piece “Portraits of the Five Hundred Arhats of Dade Shrine,” painted at Ningbo, Zhejiang between 1178 to 1188AD, is pivotal for addressing this lacuna. It reveals  modes of providing offerings to Arhats: The first portrait, “Offerings to the Arhat,” depicts domestic offerings. The contents of other portraits, many of which show activities conducted in cave temples, are difficult to decipher. However, an inscription in a cave at Duqiao Mountain, Rong County, Guangxi, dated to 946AD, documents the process by which Arhats are worshiped in caves and temples constructed for them in late Tang, during the Five Dynasties period. This ascertains that Arhat cave temples in the countryside are among the places where people worship Arhats. The “New Records of  Mountain Kaiyan” stele, built at Guangxi in 959AD, describes the inner workings of these cave temples, and are of invaluable importance for understanding the Portraits of the Five Hundred Arhats of Dade Shrine. Moreover, the “Five Hundred Arhats Cave Records” stele, built in 1102AD at Henan’s Songyue Shrine, narrates precious legends on the shrine where the Arhats resided. These legends led the shrine’s monks to construct and reproduce Arhat shrines in cave temples. We could therefore posit that the legends on Arhat shrines are fundamental to the popularization of Arhat worship, and that these shrines are similar to ordinary ones that provide food, tea, and scriptural lectures among other things–themes that also appear in the Portraits of the Five Hundred Arhats of Dade Shrine.

Paper Abstracts

David C. Andolfatto, The Tsha Tsha and the Microscope. Archaeometric and Ethno-archaeological Study of Buddhist Clay Objects 
Tsha tshas are small objects made of raw or baked clay, produced between India and Mongolia since the second half of the first millennium. Made during Buddhist rituals generally aimed at the accumulation of merit, tsha tshas (Tibetan term) can also be made in a funerary context. In the latter, fragments of crushed bones, ashes from a pyre or nails can be incorporated into the clay during its preparation. Easily transportable because of their small size, tsha tshas are nomadic objects that can be found in the collections of many Western museums. However, the precise origin of these objects is largely unknown. Furthermore, certain objects’ notices indicate that the latter are made of clay and human bone powder. It is therefore interesting to question whether archaeometric analyses, combined with an ethno-archaeological approach, can provide new information on the contexts of manufacture. Are these objects ‘merely’ votive objects or are they also funerary, and thus contain human remains? Is it possible to learn more about the contexts of deposit of tsha tshas and, by extension, the contexts of collect? These interrogations are intrinsically tied to the concepts of ritual and materiality. In order to address them, I will present the preliminary results of non-invasive analyses made on tsha tshas from the collections of the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Paris. These analyses include radiology (tomodensitometry), 3D microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and X-ray fluorescence. The results will then be contextualized with ethno-archaeological work carried in Nepal since 2015.

Megan Culbertson Bryson, Ritual Fabulations: Imagining Dali-Kingdom Ritual through Text, Image and Object
Even when texts survive, absence plagues historical studies of ritual: not only have we lost most of the objects and extratextual knowledge necessary for the ritual, we have lost the critical fourth dimension of time. This paper adopts the method of “critical fabulation” developed by Saidiya Hartman to tell a story about ritual in the Dali kingdom as a way of navigating absence and restoring a sense of temporality to historical ritual through narrative. Critical fabulation draws on that which is documented or known (the critical part) to imagine that which is absent (the fabulous part), thereby underscoring both the possibilities and impossibilities of knowing stories that have not survived. The basis for this particular story is the 1136 Dali-kingdom ritual text, Ritual Procedures for Inviting Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Vajra Beings, Etc. (Zhu fo pusa jingang deng qiqing yigui), as well as related images and objects from the Dali kingdom. I use these documented sources along with available historical information to narrate how the ācārya Yang Longjun led a ritual that invoked the god Mahākāla to protect the Dali kingdom against uprisings of the “four yi and eight man [barbarians]” in the late twelfth century. In adopting the method of “critical fabulation,” I argue that literary writing allows for a reconstruction of the holistic ritual assemblage, including the material and performative dimensions, in a way that conventional academic writing does not.

Wen-shing Chou, Beneficial to Behold: Buddhist Vision and Efficacy in the Qing Empire
The Qing Qianlong emperor (1711-1799) is portrayed as a Tibetan monk and an emanation of Manjushri-Cakravartin in a group of thangkas and multimedia shrine panels from the 18th century Qing court. This image of Qianlong has often served as a poster child of Qing imperial pluralism, yet very little is known about the group of objects themselves. How were the thangkas and shrine panels created and received? Why were they produced in such abundance, and using such a multiplicity of visual and material idioms? How did they function as objects and as images in the creation of kingship and authority in the Qing? By examining the objects within the visual, material, and liturgical world of Tibetan Buddhist devotional practices, and by locating archival sources regarding their production and reception, this paper uncovers a sophisticated play of ritual conventions in kingship and diplomacy under the Qianlong reign. I argue that the transformative power of a host of important Buddhist ritual practices, including guru devotion, long-life rituals, deity mandalas, and the creation and veneration of icons, was creatively harnessed in the making of the thangkas and shrine panels in order to deliver efficacy to a Tibetan Buddhist audience. As a case study, the Qing thangkas and shrine panels reveal the generative process of image-making and the fluidity and versatility of ritual and iconography.

Susan Dine, Object as Nexus: Buddhist Ritual, Art, and Materiality in 13th Century Japan
New forms of Buddhist art in 13th century Japan emphasized the materiality of ritual practices—specifically the nenbutsu 念仏 (Chinese niànfó 念佛), a practice in which one pays homage to Amida 阿弥陀 (Skt. Amitābha) Buddha. This manifested as spoken word formed into shining anthropomorphic bodies, narratives of golden light emitting from the mouth, and phrases of written script enthroned on lotus pedestals. While each carries significance individually, these depictions reference one another in a network of meaning, memory, and ritual at individual and community levels. Visual works of the time were nexuses wherein these layered meanings and references converged, drawing from antecedents even as new imagery was conceptualized. As referents in intertextual and intervisual networks, works related to Pure Land Buddhist nenbutsu practices have the potential to illustrate ways that the materiality of ritual was perceived in early medieval Japan. In this talk, I explore painted and sculpted works depicting nenbutsu-speaking monks as well as a hanging scroll genre that quite literally centers a nenbutsu as a central icon (kōmyō honzon 光明本尊). I argue that the material qualities of nenbutsu imagery mirror the ways the nenbutsu as an individual ritual created “objects” that were simultaneously auditory and visual, engaging various perceptive faculties to layer meaning and increase the recitation’s ritual efficacy.

Caroline Hirasawa, Bodies of Evidence: Illustrating the Effects of Ritual in a Medieval Japanese Handscroll Set
The 14th century painted handscroll set Kōmyō Shingon Kudoku Emaki (three scrolls), promotes the manifold efficacies of the Kōmyō Shingon (the Mantra of Light), based on esoteric texts such as Fukū kenjaku Birushana-butsu dai-kanjō kō shingon. The scrolls depict a succession of clerical and lay practitioners intoning or otherwise employing the mantra, indicated by rays of five-colored light fanning out from their mouths or hands. Instances of ritual engagement—conducted before altars, graves, and even in the Netherworld—are followed by the pictorialization of their results, including wealth, restored health, and salvation from the four evil realms. In one scene, for example, a monk ritually empowers sand on an altar; in another, sand is sprinkled on an abandoned grave, transforming the afterlives of the long-forgotten dead buried there, who float away on clouds to better existences. The scroll set is a Shingon-school response to the popular appeal of salvation through nenbutsu practice in Pure Land teachings and imagery. It demonstrates the accessible soteriological reach of a powerful Shingon spell, while at the same time asserting dependence on a hierarchy of professional practitioners. Every example of a subject’s transformation or salvation originates with the body of a practitioner employing the mantra, and every miracle wrought by the mantra plays out on a sample recipient’s body. This paper analyzes the network of monks, constituents, mantras, and objects that participated in the ritual exchanges suggested by these paintings and their medieval context.

Yoonah Hwang, The Materiality of the Long Banners from Cave 17 of the Mogao Caves and Salvation Rituals in Dunhuang 
Among the pictorial materials discovered in Cave 17 (the Library Cave) at the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang, an unusual group of painted banners was found. They are so-called long banners, or forty-nine-chi banners, which are characterized by their significant length. The longest one (Long Banner of Bodhisattva, EO 3648) from the cave measures 915 cm. Besides their extensive length, the long banners have line drawings of bodhisattvas or buddhas on dyed silk in solid primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. The pigments used for those paintings are simple yet significant in the sense that they were meant to symbolize and express the containment of precious and efficacious materials, such as allegedly claimed blood, silver, and gold. The long banners’ materiality, which can be characterized by its length, reflective lined images painted on contrasting backgrounds, portability, and mobility, contributes to its ritualistic efficacy. Similar examples are found in the Daoist ritual paraphernalia, from which banners in specific colors are assigned to cardinal directions during a salvation ritual. However, the Buddhist long banners in various colors have not received intensive scholarly attention. Therefore, in this paper, I will explore how long banners’ religious potency is activated based on the types of artistic media utilized. Analysis of pictorial format and dedicatory writings discovered in the Library Cave will shed new light on the interdependent relationship between the long banners’ materiality and their functionality in Buddhist salvation rituals.

Sujung Kim, Wearable Technology is Not New: The Twenty-Four Talismans in Korean Buddhist Rituals 
As a state-of-the-art “wearable technology” of the time, talismans provided protection, perquisites, and prescriptions for the devotees of premodern Korean Buddhism. Numerous kinds of talismans discovered inside Buddhist icons, ritual manual books, and tombs of the Koryŏ (918–1392) and Chosŏn (1392–1910) periods reveal that talismans were often worn, pasted, and consumed in various Buddhist ritual settings. Among this varied array of talismans, this paper focuses on a collage of the twenty-four “Buddhist” talismans to illustrate how the materiality and performativity of talismans provided vocabulary and structure to express and transform believers’ soteriological concerns, cosmological views, and social and personal emotions. Each talisman in the set was introduced from China and circulated independently from the early Koryŏ. But once combined as a set, first assembled in the mid-Chosŏn period, the twenty-four talismans functioned as one giant talisman communicating a complex vision and comprehensive benefits. Building upon Bynum’s (2011) emphasis on the transformative quality of material objects and Bell’s (2006) discussion of the multiplicity of ritual, the paper examines the materiality of the talismans, their various uses in Buddhist rituals, including a funerary ritual, and their conceptual dimensions. My findings ultimately suggest that multiple layers of ambiguities built around talismans, such as tensions between text and image, legibility and illegibility, as well as accessibility and inaccessibility, played a key role in enacting the efficacy and potency of talismans, and that the twenty-four talismans occupied a central place in sustaining Chosŏn Buddhist devotionalism.

Youn-mi Kim, Fu-Talismans for Rebirth in Chosŏn Religious Practice and Its Afterlife
This paper focus on the talismans used for rebirth in the Pure Land (Chŏngt’o 淨土, Ch. Jingtu), a paradisiac realm where the great majority of Buddhists wanted to be reborn. These talismans were continuously made and circulated throughout the Chosŏn period. While focusing on the talismans for rebirth, this paper will also attempt to broadly examine the production, circulation, and ritual function of Buddhist talismans of Chosŏn. This paper’s examination eventually traces their links to medieval Dunhuang, while tracing their continued circulation with modification up to contemporary Korea where they are still being used not only in Buddhism but also in Korean folk religion. Therefore, the exploration of the seemingly trivial objects—simple talismans printed on paper, leads us towards disclosure of an unexpectedly enormous landscape of Buddhist practice that geographically encompassed west China up to the Korean peninsula and temporally from medieval to contemporary times.

Seunghye Lee 李勝慧, Unraveling the Dharma Relics of Liao China 
What aspect of the written teachings of the Buddha, beyond their physical properties, makes them sacred relics? Historically speaking, their transformation into relics took place through the very act of enshrinement. Once securely ensconced inside reliquaries and placed within a pagoda, Buddhist texts were believed to become equivalent to the bodily relics of the Buddha. The cult of dharma relics reached East Asia by the seventh and eighth centuries through pilgrim monks. It was not until the Liao dynasty, however, that texts were deposited together with, or in place of, corporeal relics inside Chinese pagodas. Given that much of Liao Buddhism and its material culture developed from the Tang tradition, the sudden emergence of the dharma relic cult presents a conundrum that needs to be unraveled. This paper rethinks this issue through a case study of a cycle of texts—collectively known as Records on the Installation of the Dharma Relics inside Buddhist Images—from the upper relic depository of the Qingzhou White Pagoda. This collection of Buddhist spells and incantations, not to be found in canonical Buddhist literature, raises a number of questions in terms of its compilation, context of usage, material forms, and ritualized treatment. What function was served by xylographs of the texts in miniature pagodas that in turn were placed within the monumental pagoda? Through a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary approach, this study situates the finds from the Qingzhou White Pagoda within the historical trajectory of textual relic practice that stretches from Pala India to Liao China.

Ching-chih Lin, Foundations of an Incense-Centric Society: Annual Rotation and Ritual Alliance of AngGong 尪Worship in North Taiwan 
Incense-burning has played a very critical role in Chinese Popular Religion. Chinese society is rather incense-centric than temple-centric. The worship of AngGong in North Taiwan typically manifests an incense-centric society. This study explores an incense-centric society, by investigating the annual rotating sacrificial network and village ritual alliance of AngGong, via interdisciplinary approaches of historical study, fieldwork and digital humanities. AngGong, also known as Baoyi Dafu 保儀大夫, has been the most significant deity in North Taiwan, but the embodiments of AngGong vary, from an incense bag, an incense burner, through a talisman or a statue, to a temple, depending on the economic conditions or wills of each village. Most villages do not possess a temple of AngGong, but an incense burner. AngGong is regarded as the main deity and farmer's protector who can prevent their grain or tea harvest from insect pests. Villagers could relate to AngGong’s spirit-medium via the incense burner in their own villages. For each village, villagers celebrate AngGong’s birthday, also known as annual calendrical sacrificial ceremony 年例祭典, on different dates. The AngGong statue would be borrowed from the chief temple, Zhongshun Temple 忠順廟, back to their own villages to hold procession. Daoist masters offer sacrifices and rituals, while opera troupes entertain AngGong and his followers. The celebration ends with feasts serving family members, relatives, friends and neighbors. Adjacent villages amalgamate regional ritual alliances to celebrate the annual ceremonies day by day in sequence. Such communal incense-centric ceremonies contribute to the formation of local societies and interpersonal networks.

Kate Lingley, Against Impermanence: Women, Ritual, and Materiality in Medieval China
The patrons of early medieval Chinese Buddhism commissioned thousands of votive images and monuments, many including inscriptions justifying their gift and even donor figures depicting them in the act of offering worship. Buddhist practice and patronage, both individual and collective, were open more or less equally to women and to men, and limited mostly by the devotee’s access to resources and funds. The production and dedication of such monuments involved a complex of ritual practices, including formal vows, dedication ceremonies, vegetarian feasts, offerings, and other activities, which are not always well accounted for in more prescriptive texts of the time. The ephemerality of the ritual practices surrounding the patronage of such monuments contrasts with the rhetoric of permanence found in the dedication inscriptions attached to the same monuments, especially those carved in stone, during this period. Nevertheless, some such inscriptions are closely concerned to record the specific actions of the patrons and emphasize the correctness of the rituals they performed, while images of the patrons depict them in an attitude of reverence, as participants in those or related rituals. This paper will consider such monuments as material traces of ritual practice in sixth century China, with particular attention to women patrons (both laywomen and nuns) as ritual participants. 

Jingyu Liu, Altar Construction in the Water-Land Ritual and A Visualized Buddhist Promise for Salvation 
This study examines the configuration of different altars in the Buddhist Water-Land ritual, the grandest Buddhist postmortem ceremony aiming at delivering the souls of the dead and conferring blessings to the living. In this paper, I will look at the altar settings in Tiandi mingyang shuilu yiwen 天地冥陽水陸儀文 (TDMY), a Ming-dynasty version of the ritual manual for the Water-Land ritual, with a comparison with the altar construction in another ritual manual called Shuilu yigui huiben 水陸儀軌會本 (Huiben). Emerging in the ninth century, the Water-Land ritual became prominent during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and spread widely across China, thus deriving regional practices, of which TDMY and Huiben are the textual embodiments. TDMY reveals a variant version of the liturgy that was once popular in northern China, the Shanxi 山西 region in particular, but unfortunately did not survive today. On the other hand, Huiben represents a regional tradition of the Water-Land ritual that originated in southeastern China, the Zhejiang 浙江 region in particular, and has become widely practiced nowadays in the greater Chinese communities. By exploring the division and decoration of the ritual space, the placement of ritual devices, as well as the movement of ritual specialists within the space, this study aims to trace the developmental trajectories of the regional practices of the Water-Land ritual and attempt to investigate their different fates: one declined to extinction, while the other continues to prosper to this day.

David Mozina, The Sensuousness of Death: Space, Materiality, and Ritual Experience of the Daoist Fengdu Landscape during the Southern Song
In the late 12th and 13th centuries, a barely studied lineage of Daoist practitioners from Sichuan developed a ritual tradition designed to deal with the demonic forces of the Fengdu underworld—the realm of the unhappy dead. Forcefully arguing against Buddhists who had, since at least the eighth century, claimed jurisdiction over the underworld courts that meted out karmic punishment during the time between death and rebirth, these Fengdu “liturgical officials” (faguan) professed to have mastered ancient Daoist rites delineated in a revealed Black Code (heilü) prescribing exactly how Fengdu practitioners and denizens of the underworld ought to behave and deal with one another. This paper explores how these Daoist Fengdu practitioners envisioned the underworld in a way that allowed them to challenge their Buddhist rivals. It explores how Daoist practitioners saw Fengdu as a certain kind of landscape. Thinking with Denis Cosgrove, Derek Gregory, and other cultural geographers, I show how practitioners developed a particular way of seeing the realm of Fengdu as both an aesthetic experience of awe and as a kind of property expressing authority and ownership. Fengdu texts drip with vivid prescriptions of how esoteric rituals constitute ways to experience the sensuousness of the Fengdu landscape. The texts wax, almost poetically, about how the ritual altar space (tan) and use of certain ritual objects within it create a portal through which to feel the cold and bleakness of the Fengdu realm, and so to interact personally and effectively with its ghostly souls and demon kings.

Chihiro Saka 坂 知尋, Embedding Prayers in Cotton, Ramie, and Silk: The Symbolism of Textiles in Datsueba Worship 
This paper will explore the function and significance of cloth in rituals devoted to Datsueba, focusing in particular on its symbolism. The Japanese Buddhist folk deity Datsueba is well known as the ugly old woman who takes away the clothes from the deceased by the Sanzu River, which people are supposed to cross after death. Although the description of her is brief in religious texts from the 11th and 12th century, she gained in status and by the 13th century had become a distinctive element of Japanese hell imagery. Her persona and roles were variously interpreted, and by the Edo period she came to be worshipped as a border-marker, a savior of women, and a miraculous deity who grants various worldly benefits including safe childbirth and curing of illness. Cloth has long been associated with Datsueba. In addition to her role of taking clothes of the deceased, some religious texts relate that Datsueba allows the deceased to keep their clothing if they make a cloth-offering while living. Inspired by such narratives, the rituals and worship practices dedicated to her often involve fabric. For example, cloth is offered to her at a consecration ritual ensuring women’s salvation, Datsueba sculptures sometimes hold a piece of cloth in their hand or are dressed in real fabric clothing, and on occasion layers of floss silk are placed on Datsueba’s head. The types of fabric utilized in such practices include cotton, ramie, and silk, which represent diverse aspects of the deity.

Maya Stiller, Buddhist Temple Murals from Chosŏn (1392-1910) Korea: Reflections of Zen, Pure Land, Tiantai
This paper attends to the modalities of display and reception in material forms of Korean Buddhist practice. Focusing on Chosŏn period (1392-1910) Buddhist temple murals, I argue that the meaning and function of these murals have more to do with the ritual and doctrinal concerns of local practitioners than to the prescriptive texts that have historically served as the hermeneutic lens for Buddhist art. This paper thus demonstrates the variability and flexibility of Chosŏn period Buddhist iconography in response to patrons’ ritual preferences and doctrinal interests.

Trent Walker, Reconstructing Victories Great and Small: Material Evidence for the Musical Performance of Siamese Pali Chants from Ayutthaya
Among the many Pali texts composed in Siam (today’s central Thailand) during the Ayutthaya period (1351–1767) are a suite of blessing chants collectively known as the Mahādibbamanta. Though their recitation fell out of fashion by the middle of the nineteenth century, these compositions are some of the most influential ritual chants in mainland Southeast Asia, spurring the creation of dozens of Pali and vernacular imitations in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and beyond. This paper focuses on two closely related texts from the Mahādibbamanta suite, the Cullajayamaṅgala (“Small Victory Blessing”) and the Mahājaya (“Great Victory”). Drawing on recently discovered manuscript evidence from central Thailand as well as audio recordings from Lanna (northern Thailand) and Cambodia, this paper explores the contemporary and historical material evidence for how these two texts were performed in practice, including in deathbed rites and Buddha-image consecrations. This evidence situates the Cullajayamaṅgala and the Mahājaya as key nodes for understanding the relationship between local ritual traditions, Buddhist approaches to melody, and the evolving sphere of Pali textual production in Southeast Asia. Drawing inspiration from Stephen Nichols’ calls for a “material philology,” as well as recent work by Michaela Mross on Sōtō Zen kōshiki manuscripts, by Woramat Malasart on Thai consecration practices, and by Kris Anderson, Amanda Goodman, and Meghan Howard on ritual texts within the Dunhuang corpus, this paper aims to ground the musical history of Pali ritual chant in Southeast Asia within the material insights afforded by the manuscript tradition. 

Mengxiao Wang 王萌筱, Embodied Visions: Performing Buddhist Ritual in a Qing Drama
This paper investigates the theatrical representation of a Buddhist liturgy in a 17th-century Chinese drama. Existing scholarship shows that religious rituals often feature musical and operatic qualities, but it pays little attention to how theater reshaped rituals. Guiyuanjing 歸元鏡 (Mirror of the Return to the Origin), a drama by the monastic playwright Zhida 智達 (fl.1650), provides a striking case in point. One episode in the play dramatizes the liturgy of feeding hungry ghosts conducted by the eminent monk Yunqi Zhuhong 雲棲袾宏 (1535–1615). My study juxtaposes woodblock printed texts and illustrations of the play with ritual manuals compiled by Zhuhong and other clerics. One remarkable adaptation in the play is the way the celebrant’s visions during his contemplation are reified on stage. The actors’ physical performances and use of props transform the master’s meditation into theatrical spectacle. The audience can see Zhuhong’s marvelous bodily form and a golden bridge that delivers ghosts to the Pure Land, neither of which are normally visible to participants in actual rituals. I argue that, by staging a full liturgical scene, the monk dramatist intended to testify to the efficacy of the ritual. The force and effect of Buddhist ritual was in this case realized through the popular medium of theater. Taking an interdisciplinary approach that integrates studies of literature, religions, performance, and material culture, this paper provides a fresh research perspective on the significant role of body and object in ritual.

Carolyn Wargula, Enacting Enlightenment: The Material Imagination of Sanskrit Seed-Syllables in Japanese Buddhist Embroideries
Recent scholarship has drawn attention to the power of sacred words in Japanese Buddhism, and the ways in which the multivalency of text both complicates and expands our understanding of the written script beyond the semantic into the alegible, apotropaic, and the salvific. This work, however, has overlooked the performative aspects of Sanskrit seed-syllable imagery, in which two visualizations are often shown: not only the body of the Buddha, depicted as all-encompassing syllabary, but also the moon disk, visualized atop a lotus flower. Such seed-syllables appear with startling frequency on images embroidered with human hair and other funerary works, such as itabi 板碑 stone stele, that are intended to evoke one’s somatic presence and yet also conflate and materially transform the corporeal body into sacred word. This paper turns to objects to examine the visual and material engagement of practitioners with deathbed rituals such as the ajikan 阿字観and the gachirinkan月輪観. The focus is on the materiality, design, and inscriptions of Kamakura- (1185-1333) and Muromachi-period (1336-1573) hair embroideries, a corpus of textiles featuring the ubiquitous letter A, along with rarer syllabary including Amida pentads, to explore its interaction with the viewer. By also considering seed-syllable moon disks interred within the bodies of Buddhist images that do not correspond to the syllable of the deity which they inhabit, this paper expands our understanding of written sacred word beyond signification and offers a new perspective on the imaginative associations and responses conveyed through embodied materials.

Aleksandra Wenta, The Vajrabhairavatantra: Materia Magica and Circulation of Tantric Magical Recipes 
This presentation deals with the emergence of early tantric Buddhism in India and its transmission to Tibet through the lenses of the widespread and little-investigated phenomenon of materiality in the tantric technology across Buddhist and Śaiva (Hindu) sectarian boundaries. I focus on the magical technologies employed in the Vajrabhairavatantra—a seminal Buddhist yogatantra dedicated to the Buffalo-headed tantric Buddhist deity Vajrabhairava, whose cult spread to Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, and China. Based on my own critical edition, study, and translation of the Vajrabhairavatantra and other early tantric texts, I reconstruct the mechanics of these scriptures deemed efficacious to bring about ritual results. In large part, the magical technology of early tantric texts relies on the manipulation of a wide range of material objects or substances—grains, minerals, chemicals, plants, sweets, dolls, animals, items retrieved from the cremation ground, etc. My aim is to examine the available evidence for the recourse to different magical technologies in the early tantric milieu, and classify them on the basis of the various material objects they use. For example, in aggressive magic, the whole group of “terrible” substances is used that include a black mustard seed, salt, blood, poison, etc. These substances appear across early tantric Buddhist and Śaiva texts and thus suggest a shared magical worldview and technology that crossed linguistic, geographical, and socio-cultural milieu. While situating magical technology of the Vajrabhairava corpus in the intertextual context, I argue that magical recipes offer a proof for the existence of highly standardized materia magica that had been copied, recycled and adopted into different tantric systems. I therefore take a material approach to the conceptualization of tantric technology as it intends to develop a comprehensive typology of material objects as part of an early tantric milieu.

Chuck Wooldridge, Maintenance as Religious Practice in Contemporary Taiwan 
As anthropologist Birgit Meyer has observed, a feature of some forms of religious practice is to manipulate material objects to invoke unseen forces. Being material, the stuff of religion is subject to decay. If a group wants to use religious objects for an extended period of time, it must plan for the care necessary to allow material things to continue to function, that is to say, for maintenance. In contemporary Taiwan, temple managers concern themselves with repairs to temple buildings and god statues. They balance concerns for preserving artisan construction against the utility of resins and machines. Certain repairs are treated as routine, but others are ritualized, involving ceremonies that directly invoke deities and their worshippers. Using records of temple renovations, reports on repairs of god images, stele inscriptions, press accounts, and social media posts, this paper shows different ways that Taiwanese invest such acts with meaning. Maintenance in Taiwan temples has been both a necessity in the face of decay and an opportunity for bodily enactment of religious experience. Temple managers seek to secure access to networks of skill and materials. For temple-goers, actions like donating, mending, cleaning, planting, building, and fixing have served as occasions for personal devotion, often described as “sincerity” (cheng 誠). Maintenance also creates a sense of continuity; repairs and renovations preserve a relationship to deities, one connected to the past and capable of lasting indefinitely. In each of these senses, maintenance is religious practice.

Keping Wu, Rituals of Physicality: Body, Place, and Piety in Urbanizing China
China’s fast urbanization takes place concomitantly with drastic spatial alteration and rearrangement.  How do people respond to the changing physical forms of space and recreate ritual through the (lack of) material objects?  In Suzhou, where the current ethnographic research is conducted, rituals have emerged on the most unexpected spots: on a bridge, outside of a factory and by the gate of a university, etc.  All those locations stood former temple/shrines where the gods and ghosts used to occupy but were demolished to make way for urban infrastructure.  Despite repeated banning and purging of deities and temples, worshippers – the dispossessed former villagers navigating the uncertainty of urban worlds – burn incense and paper money, make offerings, and hold spirit possessions in those specific places.  The absence of physical statues of deities does not rid the place of its sacrality or the ritual of its efficacy.  Where does the efficacy lie then?  What sustains the piety of people despite the transformation of material aspects of ritual space?  Rather than simply interpreting this as resistance against modern urbanism and sabotage against the urban infrastructure, this study focuses on the subjectivity of gods (and ghosts) and explores how the human body, physical space, as well other objects together produce the materiality of rituals of efficacy.  Echoing the literature on the emplacement of religion, this study explores the relationships among physical location, the human body and the materiality of piety.