Insight and means in Chinese Manichaean texts

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It is evident from the preserved Manichaean texts in Chinese that Manichaean missionaries to China emphasized and based their mission on their universalist prophetological doctrine that Mani and the Buddha Śākyamuni were both Light-envoys who had brought the truth to humankind. In the official presentation of Mani and his religion to the Tang emperor Xuanzong by a Manichaean bishop in 731, i.e., the Compendium of the Teachings of Mani, the Buddha of Light (Moni guangfo jiaofa yilüe 摩尼光佛教法儀略), a copy of which was found in the famous Mogao “library” cave at Dunhuang in the first decade of the twentieth century (British Library, S.3969 and Bibliothèque Nationale, P.3884), Mani carries the title of “Buddha of Light” (guangfo 光佛, an epithet of Amitābha; col. 11; Haloun and Henning 1952: 189 and pl. 1; cf. Tajadod 1990: 88, 176–7) and is hailed as a “King of Law who has perfect insight (knowledge, gnosis)” (juzhi fawang 具智法王; cols. 6, 10; a dharmarāja who has jñāna [see ch. 26 ]) and a “Healing King,” distributor of the “remedy of the Law” (fa 法; Dharma) (cols. 12–13). His miraculous birth (emerging from his mother’s chest) in a royal palace in “Assuristan” is described in terms similar to that of the Buddha Śākyamuni (cols. 18ff.), who himself is referred to as a sage, who – just like the sages Mani and Laozi, China’s “Old Master” – had “perfected his nature” and “become awakened to the Way (Dao 道)” (cols. 14–15). Mani, the Buddha of Light, “understood the Way” and the “principles” of Light and Darkness, and, importantly, like the Buddha Śākyamuni he spent his life expounding the doctrine of skillful or expedient means (Chin. fangbian 方便; Sanskrit upāya): “For sixty years (Mani) elucidated (the meaning and practice of) skillful means” (col. 30; Haloun and Henning 1952: 191).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Gnostic world
EditorsGarry W. Trompf, Gunner B. Mikkelsen, Jay Johnston
Place of PublicationLondon ; New York
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis Group
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9781315561608, 9781317201854
ISBN (Print)9781138673939
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NameRoutledge Worlds Series

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    Mikkelsen, G. B. (2019). Insight and means in Chinese Manichaean texts. In G. W. Trompf, G. B. Mikkelsen, & J. Johnston (Eds.), The Gnostic world (pp. 246-252). (Routledge Worlds Series). London ; New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.