Thirty-two Manifestations of Guanyin: Manifestations of Mind in Chan Meditation

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This thesis investigates the Thirty-two Manifestations of Guanyin (the Chinese name for Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara), a painting theme popularly copied by Chinese artists from the Ming dynasty (1358–1644). Focusing on the late Ming professional painter Miss Qiu’s (仇氏 Qiu shi, active ca. 1565–1585) album at the Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, this thesis attempts to explicate the meaning and role of Guanyin in artistic creations related to meditation in the tradition of Chan Buddhism. The thesis argues that the Guanyin album provides a new facet of interpreting Guanyin beyond what has traditionally been considered the bodhisattva’s messianic and feminine ideals. Rather, the imagery of Guanyin in the album symbolizes the optimization of Mind-cultivation, an interpretation resulting from the Chan-Huayan synthesis amidst Song to Ming Buddhist environments.In addition to the introduction and conclusion, which contextualize the analysis of the Guanyin album in scholarship and proposes future research directions, the thesis contains four chapters. The first chapter traces the possible original creators of the album from historical records: Li Gonglin and Zhongfeng Mingben. This act of historical tracing discusses the plausibility of these two possibilities and speculates the album’s original creator as Li Gonglin, whose Guanyin faith in the Northern Song Chan environment aligns well with the album. The second chapter delves into the contexts in which the album was reproduced – the late Ming Buddhist revival and the pro-Chan literati culture. This chapter discusses Miss Qiu’s potential engagement in the Buddhist lay movement due to her close association with lay Buddhists, including her patrons and collaborators. This chapter then examines the album’s association with Chan Buddhism through the references to Chan doctrines. The third chapter explores the possible scriptural bases of Guanyin’s manifestations in the album – the Lotus Sūtra, the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, and the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. An emphasis is put on the association between the album and the Śūraṅgama Sūtra to explain Guanyin’s connection with meditation in the Chan tradition. Finally, the fourth chapter analyzes the album’s iconographies in comparison with traditional representations and the Gaṇḍavyūha (Sudhana’s Pilgrimage) of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra in both visual and doctrinal aspects. My investigation of the Guanyin album marks the synthesis of Chan and Huayan teachings in the formation of the Guanyin faith from the Song to Ming dynasties, which puts forth an understanding of Guanyin as the embodiment of the full development of Mind in meditation.

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242 pages


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Pan, An-Yi

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Son, Suyoung

Degree Discipline

Asian Studies

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M.A., Asian Studies

Degree Level

Master of Arts

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dissertation or thesis

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