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The Practice of the Belief in Ascending to Heaven and Becoming an Immortal in the Northern Dynasty in Buddhist Grottoes: Re-use of "Heavenly" Motifs and Re-exploration of the Functions of Mogao Cave 285



Parallel abstracts

During the Western Xia dynasty, the Mogao Cave 285 built in Western Wei dynasty underwent space reconstruction and reuse. A five-story altar was built in the center of the main chamber. Eight smaller shrines were converted into the burial sites for Buddhist monks. Some of the shrines were blocked by pagodas, others had pagodas built inside. They depicted the characteristic of collective burial for Buddhist monks. There were fundamental differences in the methods between the restoration of Cave 285 by the Western Xia people and many other repainted caves in the Mogao Grottoes. These differences suggested a strong connection between the original cave function of Cave 285 and burial of monks' relics. This connection also coincided with the celestial images on the cave ceiling, which had strong traditional concepts of the Han and Jin dynasties, to show the pursuit of the ancients towards the eternal themes of ascending to heaven and becoming an immortal, rebirth in the heavenly realm, and entering the pure land of the gods, as expressed in the celestial motifs, heavenly realms, and images of heavenly beings depicted on the cave ceiling. By examining the spatial reconstruction methods used by the Western Xia people to repurpose the Cave and considering how they understood and utilized the original attributes and functions of the Cave, along with the eternal theme of the ancient understanding and pursuit of the afterlife expressed in the celestial images on the cave ceiling, and carefully observing the concept of regeneration expressed in the eight ornate shrines on the north and south walls, it could be inferred that the excavation of this cave was closely related to the enshrinement of the real bodies or relics of the Buddhist monks during the Northern Wei dynasty. It expressed the eternal theme of providers, the Lord of Merit, the Buddhists and the ordinary believers aspiring to reach the heavenly realms after death. The eight small shrines were the actual halls and shadow grottoes where the bodies or relics of the Buddhist monks were enshrined for worship.