Han tombs and Jingtu Buddhism – 1

buckens

Qinghua Guo in his “The Mingqi Pottery Buildings of Han Dynasty China, 206 BC-AD 220, Architectural Representations and Represented Architecture”, p. 183 (Sussex Academic Press 2010) speaks of hollow bricks belonging to “tombs of the Han culture from the mid-western Han phase” that were “perhaps unearthed soon after 1910, during the construction of the Longhai railway between Zhengzhou and Luoyang conducted by Belgian engineers.”

Between the years 1911 and 1917 a Belgian physician by the name of Fernand Buckens, in this capacity hired by the Chinese Railroad Company that built the Beijing-Hankou line in coöperation with Belgian engineers, spent considerable time unearthing and documenting a number of tombs of the Hou Han period in Northern China. Settled in Zhengzhou in the Henan-province Buckens supervised a section of the Beijing-Hankou line, more specifically the line that starts at Zhengzhou and ends at Xian. In 1909 China nationalized all railroads that were built by foreign companies, and it seems that the Zhengzhou-Xian line had the honour to be the first as it was already partly state-owned.

Halfway this line is the ancient capital of Northern China, Luoyang, near the river Luo (called Lo Ho in pre-revolutionary days). Luoyang has been one of the most important places for Buddhism entering China. Here we find the Baima Sze, the tempel of the White Horse that carried the first Buddhist text on his back to China, the Sutra in 42 Sections.

Some of the late Han tombs –- according to Fernand Buckens’ estimation dating from the first upto and including the fourth century –- show characteristics that reveal Amidist Buddhist influences.

Amidism or Jingtu has for a long time been the step-child of western studies into Buddhism; we come across many studies into the manuscripts found at the “library” in the Mogao caves and at Gilgit, a western region that centuries ago lived under the influence of Chinese garrisons, but for a long time little attention has been given to the three scriptures woven around the character of Amitábha Buddha, Omitofo in Chinese.
The Japanese could have been the first to give scholarly attention to these Sutras, but in China the Amidist teachings were for a long time put into practice though not subject to linguistic studies or otherwise.
Those scriptures are the Larger Sutra on Amitayus, also called the Sutra on the Buddha of Infinite Life or the Sukhávati vyúha in Hybrid Sanskrit, the Smaller Sutra on Amitayus, also known as the Smaller Sukhávatí vyúha, and the Sutra on contemplation of Amitayus, in equally Hybrid Sanskrit the Amitáyurdhyána Sutra, in Chinese the Guan wu-liang-shou jing.

Although familiar with the main principles of Buddhism, studies that he conducted with Édouard Chavannes’ (1865-1918) publications at hand, as well as those of others, for instance publications by the hand of Léon Wieger SJ (1856- Xi’an 1933), Fernand Buckens resorted solely to the Confucianist Liji (The Book of Rites ) and Yi Li (Etiquette and Rites). Generally speaking this approach has proven to be correct. In these scriptures one finds the rules and regulations concerning the gifts that should accompany the dead, and how they ought to be offered. Nevertheless, with the advent of Buddhism in the early years of the Christian era these regulations were to be enhanced and embellished, and those who enhanced them found justification in certain passages in specifically the Smaller Sukhávatí vyúha, which is the text Amidist temple-societies recite twice-a-day.

To be cont’d

Een gedachte over “Han tombs and Jingtu Buddhism – 1

  1. Marie-Martine BUCKENS zegt:

    Thanks for this interesting and pared-down blog. Though not at all specialist in Buddhism (while meditating) and other Asian philosophies, I wes very pleased to read your article on Fernand Buckens, my grand-father. I guess it is based on his book “Les antiquités funéraires du Honan central”. I would like to know if you had any other publication of him, as I am trying to gather information on him and his relatives – a quite arduous task :-). Many thanks in advance for your response.

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