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Surviving NirvanaDeath of the Buddha in Chinese Visual Culture$
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Sonya S. Lee

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9789622091252

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789622091252.001.0001

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Transformation: Pictorial Narratives

Transformation: Pictorial Narratives

(p.82) (p.83) Chapter Two Transformation: Pictorial Narratives
Surviving Nirvana

Sonya S. Lee

Hong Kong University Press

This chapter discusses one of the most elaborate pictorial narratives on Buddha's nirvana from the medieval China of the Dayun Monastery in Yishin governed by Empress Wu. This stele was moved to the local Confucian temple and later to the provincial museum in Taiyuan. Its compositional program was labelled as niepan bian or literally “nirvana transformation.” The material and inscriptional evidence supports an interpretation of the pictorial nirvana narrative that decorated the stele as a localized response to the Wu Zhou regime, whose political ideology built on a particular understanding of Buddhist metaphysics prevalent in the seventh century. The pictorial narrative on the Shanxi stele tells the story of the transformation of the Buddha in three stages through the course of attaining nirvana. The story had its roots in scriptures, biographies, miracle tales, and prose compilations. This chapter also presents a narrative structure of Buddha's death.

Keywords:   Buddha's nirvana, medieval China, Dayun Monastery, Yishin, Shanxi stele, Wu Zhou regime, nirvana transformation, niepan bian, Empress Wu

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