China and Inner Asia
Beverley F. McGuire
University of North Carolina, Wilmington, United States
Ouyi Zhixu (1599–1655) engaged in a variety of religious practices to redress what he understood to be a heavy karmic inheritance. This paper examines Ouyi’s fear of filial failure, especially his anxiety about his mother’s postmortem status, his fear that he has not repaid the birth debt owed to her, and his dread that she may be suffering because of his own moral shortcomings. Even before her passing, Ouyi was concerned about his mother’s welfare, vowing to shorten his own life to lengthen hers after an astrologer predicted her death. Six years later he wrote a letter in his blood to repay his mother’s kindness but also sever his feelings of love for her. When his mother became gravely ill two years later, he cut his arms in an effort to save her, but she passed away. In the wake of her death Ouyi experienced an inner turmoil that he describes vividly in poems, votive texts, and other writings. He expresses intense feelings of regret for abandoning his mother, who was widowed when Ouyi was nineteen. Ouyi questions the progress he has made since becoming a monk and abandoning his mother. He not only doubts his ability to live up to the Buddhist ideal of filial piety – the example of Mulian who saved his mother from hell – but he also fears his own transgressions will have adverse karmic effects on his mother. This paper explores how such feelings of filial failure make him fixate on his moral development.