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According to the Chinese Buddhist teacher T’ien-t’ai, who was active about the year 600, the dharma, or teachings, could be understood in terms of successive stages of refinement analogous to the stages by which ghee (clarified butter, or literally, “liberation”) is derived from milk. Just as milk comes from a cow, cream comes from milk, butter comes from cream, melted butter comes from butter, and ghee is liberated from melted butter, the 12 divisions of the canon come from the Buddha.

In Tang China, kumyss, clotted cream, and clarified butter were three stages in a hierarchy of products derived from milk. In Buddhist religious imagery, each of them symbolized a stage in the transformation of the soul. Clarified butter represented the ultimate development of the Buddha spirit.

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