Animals play crucial roles in Buddhist thought and practice. However, many symbolically or culturally significant animals found in India, where Buddhism originated, do not inhabit China, to which Buddhism spread in the medieval period. In order to adapt Buddhist ideas and imagery to the Chinese context, writers reinterpreted and modified the meanings different creatures possessed. Medieval sources tell stories of monks taming wild tigers, detail rituals for killing snakes, and even address the question of whether a parrot could achieve enlightenment.
Huaiyu Chen examines how Buddhist ideas about animals changed and were changed by medieval Chinese culture. He explores the entangled relations among animals, religions, the state, and local communities, considering both the multivalent meanings associated with animals and the daily experience of living with the natural world. Chen illustrates how Buddhism influenced Chinese knowledge and experience of animals as well as how Chinese state ideology, Daoism, and local cultic practices reshaped Buddhism. He shows how Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism developed doctrines, rituals, discourses, and practices to manage power relations between animals and humans.
Drawing on a wide range of sources, including traditional texts, stone inscriptions, manuscripts, and visual culture, this interdisciplinary book bridges history, religious studies, animal studies, and environmental studies. In examining how Buddhist depictions of the natural world and Chinese taxonomies of animals mutually enriched each other, In the Land of Tigers and Snakes offers a new perspective on how Buddhism took root in Chinese society.
List of Illustrations
1. Buddhists Categorizing Animals: Medieval Chinese Classification
2. Confucians Civilizing Unruly Beasts: Tigers and Pheasants
3. Buddhists Taming Felines: The Companionship of the Tiger
4. Daoists Transforming Ferocious Tigers: Practical Techniques and Rhetorical Strategies
5. Buddhists Killing Reptiles: Snakes in Religious Competition
6. Buddhists Enlightening Virtuous Birds: The Parrot as a Religious Agent
Huaiyu Chen is an associate professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. He is the author of The Revival of Buddhist Monasticism in Medieval China (2007) and co-editor of Great Journeys Across the Pamir Mountains: A Festschrift in Honor of Zhang Guangda on His Eighty-fifth Birthday (2018), among other books.
"In the Land of Tigers and Snakes is meticulously researched, richly documented, and well contextualized. Chen shows excellent command of his source materials, and I really learned a tremendous amount from reading this book. A must-read for anyone interested in animals and religion!"
– Barbara Ambros, author of Bones of Contention: Animals and Religion in Contemporary Japan
"An unprecedented survey of some very rich sources, In the Land of Tigers and Snakes is a major contribution to the study of the interactions between the human and animal realms in a pivotal period of Chinese history."
– T.H. Barrett, author of Taoism Under the T'ang: Religion and Empire during the Golden Age of Chinese History
"In this fascinating and important study, Huaiyu Chen overturns facile beliefs that Buddhism and Daoism have long promoted ecologically beneficent attitudes and practices toward wild animals. Instead, he shows the complex ways religious leaders and laypeople viewed, controlled, killed, and according to legends, tamed and converted wild animals, in processes producing religious hierarchies, involving interreligious competition, and contributing decisively to the spread of agricultural civilizations at the expense of wildlife and wildlands. Highly recommended."
– Bron Taylor, Author of Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future and editor of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature