The intense piety of late T’ang essays on Buddhism by literati has helped earn the T’ang its title of the “golden age of Chinese Buddhism.” In contrast, the Sung is often seen as an age in which the literati distanced themselves from Buddhism. This study of Sung devotional texts shows, however, that many literati participated in intra-Buddhist debates. Others were drawn to Buddhism because of its power, which found expression and reinforcement in its ties with the state. For some, monasteries were extravagant houses of worship that reflected the corruption of the age; for others, the sacrifice and industry demanded by such projects were exemplars worthy of emulation. Finally, Buddhist temples could evoke highly personal feelings of filial piety and nostalgia.
This book demonstrates that representations of Buddhism by lay people underwent a major change during the T’ang–Sung transition. These changes built on basic transformations within the Buddhist and classicist traditions and sometimes resulted in the use of Buddhism and Buddhist temples as frames of reference to evaluate aspects of lay society. Buddhism, far from being pushed to the margins of Chinese culture, became even more a part of everyday elite Chinese life.