Feeding Ghosts: A Study of the Yuqie Yankou Rite

Lye, Hun Yeow, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Germano, David, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Lang, Karen, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Shepherd, John, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Jones, Paul, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

In the year 1382, the founding-emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) issued a decree through the Ministry of Rites formally recognizing a category of Buddhist ritual-specialists known as jiao or yuqie monastics. This decree marks a significant shift in the history of Chinese Buddhism, occurring at a juncture in Chinese Buddhist history that saw an explosion in the production of liturgies meant for public performances and tailored to appeal to the laity. Chief among these rites is the Yuqie yankou (Yoga-Rite of the Flaming-Mouth). Inspired by translations of an Indian text in the seventh century, Chinese Buddhists have weaved together a historically and culturally diverse collection of liturgies, oral traditions, meditative techniques and operatic styles over a period of almost a millennium to produce this Yuqie yankou rite. Apart from its ancient Indian roots and unmistakable Chinese heritage, the Yuqie yankou also evinces Tibetan influences from the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries. This rite is one of the most colorful and complex Chinese Buddhist rites still performed today and it is regarded by Chinese Buddhists as an advanced "esoteric" rite. The stated aim of this rite is the liberation of hungry ghosts from their suffering by providing them physical and spiritual nourishment through the power of visualizations, spells and mudrās. Successful performance of the rite promises not only the liberation of these ghosts but also the increasing of the lifespan and merit of the sponsors. Methodologically speaking, this dissertation weaves together the two hitherto discrete bodies of material and distinctive perspectives of history and anthropology. In reconstructing a history for the Yuqie yankou and its liturgical development, this dissertation also attends to the rite's present-day lived and performed realities. While v issues such as the creation and negotiation of identity through ritual, the tensions between text and performance and between ritual fixity and creative adaptation are fore-grounded in the earlier chapters, issues like the production and dissemination of liturgical texts and ritual traditions, esotericization, construction and control of ritual power and liturgical hegemony and resistance dominate in the final two chapters of this dissertation.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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