Zhang Rijun, PhD student, Graduate School of Chinese Literature, National Taiwan University
According to historical records, Buddhism came to Taiwan during the Ming and Qing periods, and has deeply influenced Taiwanese culture. Buddhist stories, terms, and doctrines are deeply implanted in the people’s hearts, and groups and organizations propagating Buddhist thought can be found all over the island. The novel’s title, Temple of the Vow of the Ksitigarbha Earth-store Bodhisattva, was inspired by a passage in the The Sutra of the Fundamental Vows of the Ksitigarbha Earth-store Bodhisattva: “At dawn he sits immobile on the earth and meditates on the myriads of its beings.” The bodhisattva is like the earth, equitably accommodating all living things, offering limitless treasures to all sentient beings. The sutra is also known as the Buddhist “Classic of Filial Piety.” In addition to incorporating the Earth-store Bodhisattva’s image of filial piety and the bodhisattva 1 spirit into the novel, the title highlights the process by which the protagonist arrives at self-realization.
Temple of the Vow of the Ksitigarbha Earth-store Bodhisattva tells the story of Li Li, who was imprisoned for causing the wrongful death of another person. Seeking redemption for her son, Li’s mother goes to great lengths to find and apologize to the victim’s family. Moreover, in her will she expresses a wish that when Li Li is released from prison he atones for his sins by carving a Buddha image into the rock wall of Guanyin Mountain’s Original-vow Temple, a deed made possible by an arrangement with Buddhist master Jingyue. Intertwined descriptions – day and night, sleeping and waking, past realities, life and death – convey Li’s helplessness, demoralization, and perplexity after his release from prison. When childhood sweetheart Hun Lingyu appears, she becomes both a physical and spiritual refuge for Li, but only temporarily – ultimately Li must still find himself.
Can the intellectual Li Li’s strong sense of morality help him understand his own life and spirit? Judging from results, what he regards as righteousness is really just another kind of violence, full of paranoia and delusion – not only did he harm an innocent person, he also “sent himself to hell.” How can worldly knowledge be transformed into the wisdom of enlightenment? Li Li must seek the cause within himself rather than in others. Only by realizing that “This limited truth is my eternal bodhimanda 2 ” and being willing to “play [his] role and fulfill his vows as best [he] can” will he come to understand his own arrogance and abandon his prejudices, and only then will he have the opportunity to free himself and come out of his private hell.
Even though Li Li has a chance to redeem himself at the end of the novel, what Tung Nien is even more concerned with are the believers who are still drifting with the currents, having yet to find themselves. The novel celebrates Master Jingyue’s pure and unpretentious Buddhist practice, sharply contrasting it with that of the “Free and Easy Living Buddha,” who goes in for promotion and ostentation, boasting legions of followers. Still, how can who are still drifting with the currents find themselves? Perhaps by becoming one of Tung Nien’s readers, and in the course of perusing Temple of the Vow of the Ksitigarbha Earth-store Bodhisattava realize that they too are part of the great flow of life.
1In Mahayana Buddhism a bodhisattva is an enlightened being who foregoes nirvana until all sentient beings have been saved.
2Bodhimanda: a place of enlightenment.
Zhang Rijun, PhD student, National Taiwan University Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature
Tung Nien (1950- ) is the penname of Chen Shunxian, a native of Keelung. The writer studied at the University of Iowa International Writers’ Workshop. He has served as assistant general manager and assistant editor-in-chief at Linking Publishing Company (1977-2005), editor-in-chief of the Bulletin of the National Museum of History (2003-2009), president of History Think Tank Publishing Company (2005-2009), and chief executive officer of the Taoyuan County National Revolutionary Martyr’s Shrine Museum (2006-2010). He currently serves as social services consultant at Unitas Publishing Company, director of the New Taipei City Big River Cultural Association, and director of the Grassroots Renaissance Support Association of Taiwan.
Tung Nien commenced his forty-plus year writing carrier in 1971. While serving as chief executive officer of the Taoyuan County National Revolutionary Martyr’s Shrine Museum, in addition to overseeing publication of the Taoyuan County National Revolutionary Martyr’s Shrine Museum Visitors’ Brochure (Volumes I-V) he has largely devoted himself to writing fiction. He has received United Daily News and the China Times awards for fiction.
Tung Nien’s early works – the short-story collections A Rainy Town (1977), Conflagration (1979), Last Winter (1983), and his first novel Disappearance of Pacific No. 3 – have been called the forerunners of Chinese and Taiwanese maritime literature. Novels make up the bulk of his later works: A Model Citizen (1988), Maiden Voyage (1992), Ksitigarbha-Pranidhana Temple (1994), This Is What I Have Said – The Original Teaching of Siddartha (1996), and Love’s Banquet (2000). Written with an apparent air of childish innocence, these works expose the darker side of the world, borrowing concepts from Buddhism and Western philosophy to penetrate life’s everlasting emptiness and pain.
In recent years Tung Nien has written historical fiction, publishing a number of full-length novels, including the “The Holo Follies” trilogy: City Glimmer (2013), The Holo Follies (2013), and The Good Old Days (2014). Thematically, the trilogy is a follow-up to the novel Goodbye Formosa (1998) and an essay collection, A Letter to Formosa (2005), works that showcase the writer’s concern for all things Taiwanese. Rooted in the context of Taiwan’s historical development, “The Holo Follies” depicts the plight of modern people living in the material world. Tung Nien’s portraits of the lives ordinary Taiwanese affirm his love of life and his deep feelings for Taiwan.
|Work(English)：||Temple of the Vow of the Ksitigarbha Earth-store Bodhisattava|
|Anthology：||Temple of the Vow of the Ksitigarbha Earth-store Bodhisattava|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Unitas Publishing Co., Ltd.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://unitas.udngroup.com.tw|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Unitas Publishing Co., Ltd.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|