Transforming the Void

Embryological Discourse and Reproductive Imagery in East Asian Religions


Transforming the Void: Embryological Discourse and Reproductive Imagery in East Asian Religions considers paths to self-cultivation and salvation that are patterned on human embryological development or procreative imagery in the religions of China and Japan.
Focusing on Taoism, Esoteric Buddhism, Shinto, Shugendō, and local religious traditions, the contributors to the volume provide new insight into how the body’s generative processes are harnessed as powerful metaphors for spiritual attainment. This volume offers an in-depth examination of the religious dimensions of embryology and reproductive imagery, topics that have been hitherto solely approached through the lens of the history of medicine.
Contributors include: Brigitte Baptandier, Catherine Despeux, Grégoire Espesset, Christine Mollier, Fabrizio Pregadio, Dominic Steavu, Lucia Dolce, Bernard Faure, Iyanaga Nobumi, Anna Andreeva, Kigensan Licha, Gaynor Sekimori.
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Biographical Note

Anna Andreeva, Ph.D. (2007), is a Research Fellow in Japanese Religions and Cultural History at the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context,” at University of Heidelberg. She has published articles on Japanese esoteric Buddhism and Shinto and women’s health. Her monograph on medieval Shinto is forthcoming from Harvard University Asia Center Publications Program.

Dominic Steavu, Ph.D. (2010), is Assistant Professor of Chinese Religions and Chinese Buddhism at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has published articles on Taoism and Esoteric Buddhism and is the editor of a special issue of the Medieval History Journal on “The Literary Subversive: Writings of Resistance in East Asia” (2015).

Table of contents

Acknowledgements ix
List of Figures and Tables xi
Conventions and Abbreviations xiv
List of Contributors xviii

Introduction: Backdrops and Parallels to Embryological Discourse and Reproductive Imagery in East Asian Religions 1
Anna Andreeva and Dominic Steavu

Part 1: China

1 Prenatal Infancy Regained: Great Peace (Taiping) Views on Procreation and Life Cycles 53
Grégoire Espesset
2 Conceiving the Embryo of Immortality: “Seed-People” and Sexual Rites in Early Taoism 87
Christine Mollier
3 Cosmos, Body, and Gestation in Taoist Meditation 111
Dominic Steavu
4 Symbolic Pregnancy and the Sexual Identity of Taoist Adepts 147
Catherine Despeux
5 Creation and Its Inversion: Cosmos, Human Being, and Elixir in the Cantong Qi (The Seal of the Unity of the Three) 186
Fabrizio Pregadio
6 On the Efffectiveness of Symbols: Women’s Bodies as Mandalas 212
Brigitte Baptandier

Part 2: Japan
7 The Embryonic Generation of the Perfect Body: Ritual Embryology from Japanese Tantric Sources 253
Lucia Dolce
8 Buddhism Ab Ovo: Aspects of Embryological Discourse in Medieval Japanese Buddhism 311
Bernard Faure
9 “Human Yellow” and Magical Power in Japanese Medieval Tantrism and Culture 344
Nobumi Iyanaga
10 “Lost in the Womb”: Conception, Reproductive Imagery, and Gender in the Writings and Rituals of Japan’s Medieval Holy Men 420
Anna Andreeva
11 Embryology in Early Modern Sōtō Zen Buddhism 479
Kigensan Licha
12 Foetal Buddhahood: From Theory to Practice – Embryological Symbolism in the Autumn Peak Ritual of Haguro Shugendo 522
Gaynor Sekimori

Index 559


Those with interest in premodern East Asian religious traditions (Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, Shugendō), and all concerned with the history of medicine in East Asia.


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