Lecture: UofT/McMaster University Yehan Numata Program in Buddhist Studies
This talk examines the association between Wu Zhao of Great Zhou (Empress Wu Zetian) and Maitreya Buddha in a commentary on the Scripture of the Great Cloud (Dayun jing 大雲經, T. no. 387) presented to the throne in 690 just prior to her being declared emperor. The Commentary quotes from Attesting Illumination (Zhengmingjing 證明經, T. no. 2879), a non-canonical apocalyptic scripture in which Maitreya appears during the chaos of the apocalypse in order to fight demons and save the wholesome. This apocalyptic savior Maitreya rules over his terrestrial utopia without a Wheel-Turning King—thus he is simultaneously a religious teacher and a political ruler. Hughes argues that by associating Wu Zhao with this particular depiction of Maitreya, she can be seen as a worldly savior that also embodies both roles.
April D. Hughes is Associate Professor of Religion at Boston University. She received her Ph.D. in Religion from Princeton University and she completed M.A. degrees in East Asian Studies at UC Berkeley and UCLA. Her research situates medieval Chinese religion within broader cultural and social contexts. She is especially interested in medieval Buddhist manuscripts and mural paintings discovered near Dunhuang, where she spent six months in residence during her doctoral training. Her first book, Worldly Saviors and Imperial Authority in Medieval Chinese Buddhism, was published with University of Hawai‘i Press in 2021.