Linggu Si

In 1407 the Fifth Karmapa, De bzhin gshegs pa or Helima/Halima, traveled to Linggu Si in Nanjing to perform a “mass of universal salvation” (pudu dazhai) at the request of the Ming Yongle emperor. This ceremony honored the Yongle emperor’s late father, the Hongwu emperor, and alleged mother, the Empress Ma. A handscroll of forty-nine scenes, created by the Yongle emperor’s court painters, recorded the auspicious visions and signs said to have been witnessed by all who attended the ceremony. The miraculous displays depicted include multicolored rays of light, rains of flowers, rainbows, and arhats, bodhisattvas and cranes congregating around monastery buildings. The buildings, which include the Linggu Monastery pagoda, a monastic hall that was the Karmapa’s resting place, and the Western Chapel, change position relative to one another and their surroundings in many of the scenes. Patricia Berger argues that the Karmapa’s visit to Linggu Monastery and the ensuing scrolls served to elevate the prestige and sacredness of the cleric, the monastery itself, and the imperial ancestors, as well as to shore up the legitimacy of the Yongle emperor (who, rumor had it, was not the true son of the Empress Ma). The representation of the ceremony and miracles, furthermore, links Linggu Monastery to similar images and events at Mount Wutai, and therefore “urges a utopian, unlocalized interpretation” of the bodhisattvas from Wutai Shan who “appear unbeckoned (and discreetly incognito) in the capital to prop up the Ming heavenly mandate” (Berger 160).

  • Berger, Patricia. 2001. “Miracles in Nanjing: An Imperial Record of the Fifth Karmapa’s Visit to the Chinese Capital.” In Cultural Intersections in Later Chinese Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i. Pp. 145-166.

Entry by Stacey Van Vleet, 2/20/07