In the study of pilgrimage and peace-building, case studies deemed to be influential in initiating positive change in the world are in the spotlight. A novel example in which people with different ethnicities, cultures and walks of life have come together with a common purpose is associated with the spread of Buddhism from India to China beginning in the early centuries of the Common Era. Unlike other instances of the expansion of a world religion beyond its homeland, the spread of Buddhism along the maritime and overland ‘silk roads’ was not linked to domination or conquest. Rather, it was linked to the uplifting of the human spirit, the search for enlightenment, and the betterment of society. Facilitated by ‘dharma-seeking’ and ‘preaching’ monks, commercial caravans, and diplomats, bridges of understanding and cooperation were forged between India and China that, despite the decline in Buddhism in later years, would last well into the 20th century. In this paper, attention is focused on two astonishing figures from this period of economic, cultural and religious exchange - Chinese scholar-monk Xuanzang (602-664 CE) and Indian Chan/Zen master Bodhidharma (~6th century CE). I examine both their lives and contributions as peacebuilders, and also the work of bricoleurs (or myth-makers) who have transformed their earthly pilgrimages into fantastic odysseys. Why the need for mythopoesis? Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss coined the term ‘intellectual bricolage’ to describe this process of myth-making; just as a handyman (or bricoleur) will draw upon ‘odds and ends’ to construct ‘things’, so too does the myth-maker. My goal is to analyse a sample of narratives and related pilgrimage sites associated with Xuanzang and Bodhidharma in order to show how the bricoleur (by incorporating in myth the ruminations of countless pilgrims) inspired generations to travel to places associated with our ‘hero monks’ and to pursue the ideals they embraced. Myth-enhancement has empowered and given meaning to the lives of pilgrims and, in so doing, helped build a transnational relationship that has endured for more than a thousand years.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.





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