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Mediums In Esoteric Buddhism

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Chapter Summary

The term "medium" or "spirit-medium" translates the Chinese term, which has often been - problematically, in most cases - rendered as "shaman". Anthropologists have tried to provide some analytic clarity to a cluster of terms used to label similar phenomena involving the descent of a spirit or deity into a host. Raymond Firth understands "spirit possession" as designating "phenomena of abnormal behavior which are interpreted by other members of the society as evidence that a spirit is controlling the person's actions and probably inhabiting his body". Firth applies the term "shamanism" "to those phenomena where a person, either a spirit-medium or not, is regarded as controlling spirits exercising his mastery over them in socially recognized ways". There has been a general tendency, following the pejorative view of Confucians, to treat spirit-medium-ship as a debased form of religious practice, in opposition to what are perceived to be the refined traditions of Daoism and Buddhism.

Keywords: esoteric Buddhism; Raymond Firth; shamanism; spirit-medium

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