Postgraduate students

Phra Kiattisak BA (Hsuan Chuang University, Taiwan), MA

"Mission, Meditation and Miracles: An Shigao in Chinese Tradition"

An Shigao is well known for the important role he played in the early transmission of Buddhism into China, and Chinese Buddhists have considered him to be a meditation master for centuries. However, recent scholarship on An Shigao (Zürcher, 2007; Forte, 1995; Zacchetti, 2002; Nattier, 2008) has focused on his role as a precursor of the Mahāyāna, his ordination status, and the authenticity of the texts attributed to him rather than the meditation techniques he used and taught to his followers in China. One reason for this is because his biographies are full of supernatural details, and many of the texts attributed to An Shigao are pseudepigraphia.

In the first part of this MA thesis, I explore the biographical traditions about An Shigao. The close reading of the oldest biographies of An Shigao shows that during the time he was active in China, An Shigao was respected as a missionary, a meditation master and a miracle worker as well as a translator. This reputation continued to be important for Chinese Buddhists long after his death. Despite his reputation, his biographies contain almost no information about the form of meditation that he practiced and taught. However they contain much information about his supernatural abilities.

In the second part of this MA thesis, I make a statistical analysis of all the meditation sūtras attributed to An Shigao and his school. My analysis shows that a significant number are concerned with Buddhist concepts such as skandha, dhātu, āyatana, the Four Noble Truths, the pratītyasamutpāda, etc. and can be explained as the parallel incorporation of a layer of early Abhidharmic material. Some of these sūtras are also concerned with texts associated with An Shigao, suggests the practitioner should concentrate the mind in association with the breath.

I conclude that while the firm identification of An Shigao’s meditation technique remains beyond the scope of this MA thesis, his biographies and the sutras attributed to An Shigao and his school show the importance of An Shigao for Chinese Buddhists over many centuries.

The thesis includes a translation of the text of Seng You's Chu-san-zang Ji-ji (T.2145) from classical Chinese into English.

Supervisors: Dr Elizabeth Guthrie, Dr Xiaohuan Zhao, and Associate Professor Will Sweetman

University of Otago Religious Studies Programme