By Natasha Heller
A groundbreaking monograph on Yuan dynasty Buddhism, Illusory Abiding offers a cultural history of Buddhism through a case study of the eminent Chan master Zhongfeng Mingben. Natasha Heller
demonstrates that Mingben, and other monks of his stature, developed a
range of cultural competencies through which they navigated social and
intellectual relationships. They mastered repertoires internal to their
tradition—for example, guidelines for monastic life—as well as those
that allowed them to interact with broader elite audiences, such as the
ability to compose verses on plum blossoms. These cultural exchanges
took place within local, religious, and social networks—and at the same
time, they comprised some of the very forces that formed these networks
in the first place. This monograph contributes to a more robust account
of Chinese Buddhism in late imperial China, and demonstrates the
importance of situating monks as actors within broader sociocultural
fields of practice and exchange.
Natasha Heller was formerly Associate Professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at UCLA, specializing in Chinese Religions. She is currently Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.
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