Dunhuang Presentation at Princeton

Next week, I will be giving a presentation at the conference “Dunhuang Manuscripts: The Next 20 Years,” held at Princeton University, September 6-8, 2014. The conference is organized by Stephen F. Teiser (Princeton) and Takata Tokio 高田時雄 (Kyoto). The conference website is here.

My presentation is titled “Putting Tang Poetry to Work: Another Look at Guànxiū’s Poem Found in P.2104 and S.4037.” Here is the abstract:

The three Dūnhuáng 敦煌 manuscripts P.2104, S.4037, and P.2105 contain a sort of “ritual toolbox” – collections of spells (Ch.: zhòu 呪; Skt.: dhāraṇī), mantras (zhēnyán 真言), gāthās (jì 偈), and other ritual texts. There is only one major difference between these manuscripts. Two of them, P.2104 and S.4037, contain a bit of verse attributed to the great poet-monk Guànxiū 貫休 (832-912, a.k.a. Master Chányuè 禪月大師), called “In Praise of the Lotus Sūtra-chanting Monk” 讚念法華經僧. The other one, P.2105, lacks this piece. The purpose of this paper will be to explore this difference, and ask why a work by Guànxiū would have been added to or removed from this ritual repertoire. First, I will introduce the shared content of these three manuscripts, some of it in detail. Second, I will provide a close reading of Guànxiū’s piece, paying careful attention to its poetic qualities and its relationship to works in Guànxiū’s received corpus. On the basis of this analysis, I will claim that “In Praise of the Lotus Sūtra-chanting Monk” was very likely composed as a poem (shī 詩) of exchange with a monk and not as a ritual or didactic gāthā. Third, I will speculate on why this poem was included in a “ritual toolbox,” and especially what was at stake in reading such a work as either a poem or a gāthā.

I’m very honored to be invited to present among so many scholars whom I admire, such as Hao Chunwen 郝春文, Victor Mair, Huaiyu Chen 陳懷宇, Valerie Hansen, Imre Galambos, Cheng A-tsai 鄭阿財, Christopher Nugent, Paul Copp, and many others. Anyone interested in this paper is welcome to attend the conference or contact me via email.

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