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Distinguished Lectures on Chinese Culture and Religion - Demons of Perfection: Demons as literal and rhetorical tools in Chinese Buddhism

by Prof. John Kieschnick, The Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Professor of Buddhist Studies, Stanford University

Date                  15 September 2017
Time                 4:30pm-6:00pm
Venue               AG710
(The talk will be conducted in English.)

This talk takes as a point of departure a passage from an essay by the sixteenth-century monk Zhuhong (祩宏) entitled Mozhao (魔著) which warns of “demons of the mind” that instill attachment to sex, alcohol, poetry and painting. Comparison with the fourth-century Christian monk Evagrius suggests the possibility that these are literal, rather than metaphorical demons. In what follows, I explore references to demons in Chinese Buddhist literature in an attempt to pinpoint just what this sixteenth-century monk meant by “demons of the mind.” More generally, I pose the question of how we might determine whether such a reference is metaphorical or not, whether such a distinction is a modern imposition, and what role the discourse of demons played in the ascetic’s pursuit of self-perfection.

Biography of Speaker
John Kieschnick, formerly a professor in the Department of Chinese Culture at The Hong Kong Polytechnic, is now The Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Professor of Buddhist Studies at Stanford University. His area of expertise is the cultural history of Chinese Buddhism, and his research is represented by two books: The Eminent Monk (University of Hawaii, 1997), a study of Buddhist ideals in biographies of Chinese monks, and The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture (Princeton, 2007). He is currently writing a book on the interpretation of the past in Chinese Buddhism.

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