4. Spirituality and Wellbeing in Traditional China: Food, Self-sacrifice, and Spiritual Practice in a Chinese Buddhist Legend

Spirituality and Wellbeing - Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Religious Experience and Health - Bettina E. Schmidt

Thomas Jansen [+-]
University of Wales Trinity Saint David
Thomas Jansen is Associate Professor in Chinese Studies at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Lampeter. He has published Höfische Öffentlichkeit im frühmittelalterlichen China: Debatten im Salon des Prinzen Xiao Ziliang (Freiburg: Rombach, 2000) and several articles on early medieval China. He co-edited Globalization and the Making of Religious Modernity in China Transnational Religions, Local Agents, and the Study of Religion, 1800-Present (Leiden: Brill, 2014). His current project is entitled Religious Text Production in Late Imperial China: Social, Religious, and Performative Aspects of Chinese Sectarian Scriptures from the 16th to 19th Centuries and will explore the manifold interactions between religious texts and their users.

Description

This chapter examines the interrelationship between bodily nourishment, spirituality and wellbeing in traditional China, using the well-known Legend of Princess Miaoshan as an example. The Miaoshan story engages several interrelated themes that lie at the heart of Chinese ideas of wellbeing and spirituality: filial piety, spiritual cultivation, body, gender, and sexuality. Miaoshan symbolizes cultural characteristics—motherhood, spiritual aspirations, physicality, social engagement—that go beyond conventional gender-related dichotomies in favour of general human concerns. The chapter discusses different interpretations and uses of the legend and its religious imagery by men and women, utilizing Caroline Bynum’s work on religious imagery in spiritual writings of the later middle ages in Europe. The legend’s vision of spiritual transformation, it is argued, shows a remarkable similarity to modern ideals of evolving personhood, for example in the person-centred approach of psychotherapist Carl Rogers or the dialectical relationship between personalisation and socialisation in the thought of Teilhard de Chardin. The chapter concludes by suggesting that wellbeing could be construed not as a state of being (‘well-being’) but rather as a fluid process of becoming in which the different actors constantly negotiate the meaning of wellbeing from personal, inter-personal or societal perspectives.

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Citation

Jansen, Thomas. 4. Spirituality and Wellbeing in Traditional China: Food, Self-sacrifice, and Spiritual Practice in a Chinese Buddhist Legend. Spirituality and Wellbeing - Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Religious Experience and Health. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Feb 2020. ISBN 9781781797655. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=35869. Date accessed: 21 Aug 2019 doi: 10.1558/equinox.35869. Feb 2020

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