This is a comparative study of two advanced ordination rituals, Daoist chuanshou (conferral of ordination rank) and Buddhist abhiṣeka (guanding) in the mid-late Tang and Five Dynasties (763-979). I analyzed a number of not-well-studied Daoist ritual protocols in the early medieval period, and revealed that rituals recast gender and fostered monastic relations. On the other hand, relying on both canonical materials and a manuscript preserved in Japan that recorded an abhiṣeka performed during the Tang dynasty in 839 C.E., I demonstrated how the canonical prescriptions of Indian origin, with modified actions and reinterpreted meaning, were transformed to respond to the Chinese religious and social environment. Having examined the language of the texts and the step of the rituals, I interpreted how these rituals were made sense in their own religious context, and compared their frame, structure, modality, symbol, and meaning.
Ordination rite concerns the transmission of religious knowledge and authority, and the establishment of religious identity. It is in the relationship between the individual body and the community that Daoists and Buddhists found the form of apprenticeship that led to the embodiment of the community. The mastery of religious knowledge within the community––scriptures, register, mantras, and precepts, etc., was known only through the actual ritual practice. In other words, the ritual body became the locus for coordination of all levels of bodily, social, and cosmological experience via the dialectic of objectification and embodiment in the ordination rites. As the ritualized bodies, those who were ordained coherently comprised the community, which in turn remolded them with dynamically and diversely shaped identities.