The Invention of the “Eminent Monk”: Understanding the Biographical Craft of the Gaoseng zhuan through the Mingseng zhuan

In: T'oung Pao
Sangyop Lee Stanford University

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This study investigates the compilation process of Huijiao’s (497-554) Gaoseng zhuan by utilizing the manuscript fragments of Baochang’s (ca. 466–?) Mingseng zhuan. I first question the long-standing assumption that the Mingseng zhuan was the “base text” of the Gaoseng zhuan, and propose to redefine the relationship between the two monastic biography collections more loosely by using the notion of “narrative community.” I then suggest that, despite the possible absence of a direct textual relation between the two collections, due to the Mingseng zhuan being more representative of the Buddhist narrative community of early medieval China, the comparison of the two collections is nonetheless germane to understanding the compilation process of the Gaoseng zhuan. Lastly, by comparing the lists of contents of the two collections I identify and analyze distinctive patterns in Huijiao’s selection and organization of monastic biographies that helped him perfect the idealized abstraction of the “eminent monk.”

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