Postgraduate students

Tenzin Mullin BA, DipGrad, PGDipArts, MA

The Shifting Narratives and Circling Bodhisattvas of Baoguo Si: A Study of Lay Buddhist Ritual at an Historic Temple on Mt. Emei, Sichuan China

China has an ancient tradition of sacred mountain pilgrimage. One of these sacred mountains is Emei Shan 峨嵋山, located in Sichuan province. For the past 1500 years Emei Shan has been associated with the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra普贤菩萨, and many monasteries have been built on and along its pilgrimage route. My research focuses on lay Buddhist ritual at Baoguo Si 报国寺, an ancient and prestigious temple located at the foot of the Mt Emei Shan.

During the Ming Dynasty Baoguo Si was established under the name of the Huizong Tang 会总堂. Originally it served a different function; a temple established for dialogue and communal practice of Buddhists, Daoists and Confucians. During the Qing dynasty it was shifted to a new location, then was converted into a Buddhist temple, and Emperor Kangxi gave the temple its current name Baoguo Si. The temple was used by the Nationalist Army and then by Sichuan University during the Sino-Japanese wars. Like most Buddhist monasteries in China, Baoguo Si was "closed" during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) its monks were forced to return to lay life and many traditions fell into disuse. After 1979, Baoguo Si was permitted to reopen and there has been a revival of lay interest in this important monastery since that time.

Today Baoguo Si receives some two million visitors annually, as it is an important gateway along Emei Shan’s ancient pilgrimage route. While today there are such a large number of visitors to Baoguo Si, it is not possible to isolate them into two distinct groups of tourists and pilgrims. This is because most visitors engage in standard rituals that are performed at almost any Buddhist monastery (offering incense, lighting candles and prostrating to the buddhas and bodhisattvas). However there is a group of lay Buddhists known as laopusa 老普萨 (old bodhisattvas) who visit the monastery to engage in a circumambulatory procession and recitation that takes place in the Samantabhadra Hall.

This study first examines how narratives have played a role in making Baoguo Si so popular and creating an image for this temple as both an historic heritage site and a sacred temple. To do this I examine contemporary publications that promote Baoguo Si and Emei Shan. Then I present an ethnographic study of how laopusa use the temple today.

Supervisors: Dr Erica Baffelli and Dr Elizabeth Guthrie

University of Otago Religious Studies Programme