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The Images of Immortals and Eminent Monks: Religious Mentality in Early Medieval China (4-6 c. A.D.)

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This study seeks to investigate the religious mentality in early Medieval China. By comparing two types of characters, i.e., the immortals of the Taoist tradition, and the eminent monks of the Buddhist religion, we try to discover the special nature of both these types of characters, and to delineate their similarities as well as differences. Our analysis shows that the stories about the immortals and the eminent monks reflected a common mentality: a psychological need for an easy way to salvation; an attempt to control supernatural forces; an urge for solutions to some earthly problems concerning life and death. This common mentality, moreover, had existed among the Chinese people before the advancement of Buddhism and Taoism at the end of the Han dynasty, and continues to exist after the establishment of both religions. The successful development of Buddhism and Taoism, especially among the common people, should be seen not merely as the triumph of their teachings, but as the successful incorporation of this basic religious mentality. It was, therefore, an underlying bridge that logically connected the development of Chinese religious tradition from the pre-Buddhist and pre-Taoist era to the later period. It could also serve as one of the keys to the understanding of the formation and shape of popular religion in China in the subsequent era.

Affiliations: 1: Institute of History and Philology Academia Sinica Taipai, Taiwan, R.O.C.


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