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1. Chinese Meditation Texts of the Fifth Century (I)

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Chapter 1: Chinese Meditation Texts of the Fifth Century (I)of the early Chinese monks known as “practitioners of chan” (xi chan習禪), who were given an entire chapter in the early sixth-century Biographies of Eminent Monks.29 Studies of such sources by scholars interested in the early history of Buddhist meditation in China have appeared fairly regularly over the years.30 And indeed among these stories we do find records purporting to describe the lives and doings of famous practitioners of chan active prior to the fifth century.

However when we look more closely at these records a number of points emerge to suggest that, in fact, prior to the fifth century chan practice may not have occurred among Chinese Buddhists with any regularity or even at all. The poverty of our data—fewer than a dozen such biographies plus the names of a few more—makes any definitive historical statement impossible. Nonetheless what our sources reveal does seem to point, however tentatively, to areal historical change beginning in the early fifth century.The most significant point is a negative one—prior to the fifth century none of the famous Buddhist missionaries from India or the “western regions” (xi yu 西域) are mentioned a shaving any particular mastery of chan practice.

At least in the minds of those who recorded the biographies, miracle tales, or other stories eventually compiled into the three surviving sixth-century collections,31 prior to the fifth century foreign Buddhist monks in China were either translators or, more rarely, miracle workers (which in practice might have meant ritual masters).Moreover even though later Chinese Buddhist hagiography often highlights the connection between thaumaturgy and chan practice, this association is entirely lacking in the accounts of early foreign miracle workers such as Fotudeng 佛圖澄 (d. 348), whose biographies never imply that mastery of chan was the root of their powers. The training and skills of Fotudeng, the best documented of such monks, are described in the Biographies of Eminent Monks only as follows:He was a native of the Western regions.

His surname prior [to becoming a monk] wasBo. When he was young he ordained and devoted himself diligently to his studies. He could recite several hundreds of thousands of lines of scripture, and well understood their Judging from its surviving table of contents, the slightly earlier (and now largely lost) Biographies of Famous Monks (Ming seng zhuan 名僧傳) also had a chapter devoted to such monks. Mizuno 1957; Ōtani 1970, 1972; Murakami 1961; Furuta 1980; Sakamoto 1981, 1982; Mutō 2004.

The three principal sources for the lives of foreign Buddhist monks in China during this time are biographies inthe Records of the Canon (Chu san zang ji ji 出三藏記集), the Biographies of Famous Monks (Ming seng zhuan名僧傳), of which only the table of contents and a few selected and possibly abridged biographies survive, and the Biographies of Eminent Monks (Gao seng zhuan 高僧傳).

To these can be added miscellaneous sources such as stories from the Shi lao zhi 釋老誌 chapter of the Wei shu 魏書 (Tsukamoto [1964] 1974), and excerpts of now lost collections, preserved in sources such as Liu Jun’s 劉峻 (465–521) commentary to the Shi shuo xin yu世說新語 and, most importantly, the Forest of Pearls from the Garden of the Dharma (Fa yuan zhu lin 法苑珠林), a seventh-century Buddhist encyclopedia. In considering any of these sources it is difficult to know to what era we should assign their historical records. Strictly speaking any given story may be no earlier than the date of the compilation of the collection in which it appears. In practice, however, these collections drew most of their stories from other, earlier sources. Leaving aside the historical accuracy of the stories themselves, in a rough and general way we can likely date the tales to the eras in which their protagonists lived, although there are surely exceptions. On the sources of the Biographies of Eminent Monks, see Wright 1948, 415–424. For general observations on the source materials of these collections, see Shinohara 1988.

Chapter 1: Chinese Meditation Texts of the Fifth Century (I)meaning. Based on how they are described later in his biography, Fotudeng’s miraculous powers seem to have derived from rituals such as the recitation of spells. Obviously we cannot know to what extent the historical Fotudeng would have averred to chan as the root of his powers. But we can say that the Chinese public who recorded his exploits did not seem to make any such connection.In contrast to these foreign translators and magicians, all of the pre-fifth-century “chan practitioners” mentioned in the Biographies of Eminent Monks and the Biographies of Famous Monks appear to have been Chinese.

The Biographies of Famous Monks is explicit about this, asit divides each of its categories into “Chinese” and “foreign” exemplars, and from the surviving table of contents we can see that foreign specialists in chan first appear only in the early fifth century.33 More generally, within the biographies themselves even though texts pertaining tochan―notably those mentioned by Sengrui in his preface and Huijiao in his concluding comments—are named and discussed in association with their translators, the foreign monks who translated (or brought and/or recited) these texts are never themselves said to have been practitioners of chan, let alone specialists in this vocation.

The biographies of Chinese practitioners of chan active prior to the fifth century also share certain noteworthy features. Most importantly these monks are all portrayed as hermit figures living in mountain caves or other inaccessible locations. No mention is ever made of how they learned to practice chan, or of their study under Indian or even other Chinese masters.Usually these biographies devote only a few sentences to the monks’ backgrounds. Thus of Zhu Faxian 竺法顯 (fl. 318–322), we learn only that “he was from the north. He was resolute in his asceticism and enjoyed restraint. He did not eat meat, chanted the scriptures, and endeavored atchan as his major occupation.

He frequently lived alone in the mountains and forests, roaming beyond the reach of men.”34 Of Bo Sengguang 帛僧光 (d. ~376–396) we are told even less:“His origins are unknown. In his youth he cultivated the practice of chan.”35 None of these monks are portrayed as prominent or important members of the clergy, nor is there ever any discussion of their association with prominent laypersons, or of their having been patronized by officials or other persons of power.In contrast in the tales of chan practitioners active in the fifth century and beyond we find a mixture of both reclusive hermits and famous, often politically active monks. A clear model for32T.2059:50.383b18.

For a comprehensive study of the records pertaining to Fotudeng, see Wright 1948.33X.1523:77.348b22–c6. The categories in the Biographies of Famous Monks also resolve some ambiguous cases from the Biographies of Eminent Monks who bear foreign ethnikons such as Bo帛 or Zhi 支. Although these characters were used as surnames for foreign monks, Chinese Buddhists often took them on prior to the standardization of the surname Shi in the fourth century, and we can see from the table of contents in the Biographies of Famous Monks that the early chan practitioners who bear these surnames are classified as Chinese, not foreign.

Note also that the Biographies of Famous Monks includes in its list of foreign chan specialists a number of monks who in the Biographies of Eminent Monks are classified as translators. But these monks too all arrived in China only from the early fifth century onward.34T.2059:50.295b24–25. I here translate tou tuo 頭陀as “roaming.” This word transcribes dhūta, and technically refers to a set of twelve or thirteen ascetic practices permitted to Buddhist monks and nuns (Ray 1994). How everin Chinese hagiography tou tuo tends to refer specifically to monks and nuns without fixed abodes who live wandering, or hermit-like lives.35T.2059:50.295c623


Chapter 1: Chinese Meditation Texts of the Fifth Century (I)these new career possibilities is seen in the case of Xuangao 玄高 (d. 444), who studied chanwith Buddhabhadra in Chang’an in the early fifth century.36 Xuangao later served Juqu Mengsun 沮渠蒙遜 (r. 401–433), ruler of the Northern Liang 北涼 kingdom. When the Northern Liang was invaded by the Wei 魏 armies in 439, Xuangao was relocated to the Wei court, where he was eventually executed after plotting a rebellion with one of Emperor Taiwu’s 太武 sons.

But in addition to having led an illustrious, if ill-fated career as a court monk, Xuangao’s life as recorded in the Biographies of Eminent Monks is peppered with references to both his attainments in chan and, perhaps more interestingly, his discipleship under and confirmation by Indian meditation masters such as Buddhabhadra. Although Xuangao’s story is not necessarily typical, by the middle of the fifth century mastery of chan had apparently come to be seen as potentially the province not only of reclusive hermits, but also of famous monks sought out and employed by regional governments or other wealthy patrons. In this, at least, Xuangao was not anomalous.

The revival of Buddhism in Chang’an following the 446 suppression under the Wei emperor Taiwu 太武 was spearheaded by a certain Sengliang 僧亮, a disciple of the eminent chan practitioner Sengzhou 僧周, who had established a community in the mountains to the south-west of Chang’an during the suppression. Sengliang’s biography reports that when he returned to Chang’an he was greeted with great fanfare by the local magnate, the lord of Yongchang 永昌王:Before [Sengliang] arrived in Chang’an, the lord [of Yongchang] and the people [of the city] swept and cleaned the streets and alleys.

Arriving at [Sengliang’s] quarters so as to welcome him, the lord personally descended from his carriage and bowed his head to[Sengliang’s] feet so as to express his reverence. Historians have debated whether or not Xuangao actually studied with Buddhabhadra, as the dates of Xuangao’s life in the Biographies of Eminent Monks contradict the timetable of Buddhabhadra’s stay in Chang’an. Either the story was made up to bolster Xuangao’s legitimacy, or some of these dates have been incorrectly recorded(Xu 2004, 50–51). For my present purposes the historicity of Xuangao’s discipleship under Buddhabhadra is not particularly important. Chen Jinhua has recently suggested that Xuangao’s birth date is simply recorded incorrectly in the Biographies of Eminent Monks (Chen 2010).

Tang 2001, 2:98– Concerning Xuangao’s study with Buddhabhadra, the Biographies of Eminent Monks states: “[[[Xuangao]]] was bright and precocious, and learned [[[Buddhism]]] easily. At fifteen he was already lecturing to the other monks.After receiving the precepts he devoted himself assiduously to the study of chan and the monastic regulations.He then heard that chan master Buddhabhadra was transmitting the teachings at the Shiyang monastery near Chang’an. So Xuangao went there and took him as his teacher. After a dozen or so days he had reached a profound meditative attainment.

Buddhabhadra said to him: ‘Excellent indeed, oh child of the Buddha, is your profound awakening!’ Thereafter Buddhabhadra became deferential towards Xuangao and refused to be treatedas a teacher.” 聰敏生知學不加思。至年十五已為山僧說法。受戒已後專精禪律。聞關中有浮馱跋陀禪師在石羊寺弘法。高往師之。旬日之中妙通禪法。跋陀歎曰。善哉佛子。乃能深悟如此。於是卑顏推遜不受師禮。(T.2059:50.397a19–24). Later Xuangao studied with yet another foreign “chan master” named Dharmapriya (Tanwupi曇無毘), whose portrait survives in cave 169 at Binglingsi 炳靈寺(Wang 2005, 22,figure 1.11). On some questions concerning the identity of this Dharmapriya, see Mei 2005.39未至之頃,王及民人掃灑街巷。比室候迎,王親自抂道,接足致敬。(T.2059:50.398c1–2). Sengliang then rebuilds the temples in Chang’an, and I presume that shi 室here refers to Sengliang’s temporary quarters in Chang’an, not to his original temple in the Han 寒mountains.


Chapter 1: Chinese Meditation Texts of the Fifth Century (I)Such patronage was equally if not even more common in South China under the Song 宋(420–479) court, where by the mid fifth century numerous foreign and native Buddhist teachers were known for their mastery of chan.40 As a representative example of the stories surrounding these monks we may provisionally note Huilan 慧覽(d. ~457–464), a colleague of Xuangao who eventually ended up in the south. Born in Jiuquan 酒泉along the Gansu corridor, he traveled across Central Asia to somewhere in greater Gandhāra (Jibin罽賓), where he studied chan under Indian masters. Upon return to China he was invited by Song emperor Wen (r. 424–453) toreside at the imperially sponsored Dinglin 定林 temple on Mt.

Zhong . When emperor Xiaowu 孝武 (r. 453–464) had the Zhongxing 中興 temple built, Huilan moved there, and was known as the instructor of “all the chan monks in the capital region.”41 Two prominent laymen,Shen Yanzhi 沈演之 and Meng Yi孟顗, are further said to have been his patrons. Thus while not reaching the political heights attained by Xuangao, unlike the Chinese chan practitioners of the fourth century Huilan had a known pedigree of chan training, lived at various imperially-sponsored temples where he instructed disciples, and was patronized by aristocrats. In these respects Huilan was by no means unique, and causal references in other sources suggest that chan masters throughout the Song dynasty were regularly patronized by the upper echelons of society. Representations of Chinese-born practitioners of chan thus changed dramatically around the turn of the fifth century.

This change went hand in hand with the first appearance of Indian or Central Asian missionaries known for their skill in this practice, and as mentioned above prior to the early fifth century there were no such foreign monks at all, or at least none that were remembered. But beginning in the first half of the fifth century a wave of foreign missionaries claiming to be (or regarded as) teachers of chan arrived in China, most of whom became famous without recourse to traditional areas of specialization such as translation. At the same time that foreign masters of meditation were becoming an increasingly visible presence in China, actually studying chan under such a qualified “meditation master”(chan shi 禪師), as they came to be known, became an expected part of training for anyone who Tang 2001, 2:445–44641京邑禪僧皆隨踵受業 (Biographies of Eminent Monks,T.2059:50.399a11–22).

The surviving fragments of the Biographies of Famous Monks also contain some information about Huilan (X.1523:77.356a7–15). The Biographies of Eminent Monks thus mentions that Zhicheng 智稱(d. 501) studied in his youth with chanmaster Yin , who had been invited by emperor Xiaowu 孝武 (r. 453–464) from Yizhou 益州(modern Chengdu 成都in Sichuan) to the southern capital (T.2059:50.402b10–11). Zhicheng’s “record of conduct”(xing zhuang 行狀) preserved in the Extended Records of Proselytizing (Guang hong ming ji 廣弘明集) statesthat chan master Yin served as “imperial teacher” (di shi 帝師) during his time in the South (T.2103:50.269a2).

The table of contents to the Biographies of Famous Monks lists ten such foreign monks known for their practice of chan, the earliest being Puṇyatāra 弗若多羅 (X.1523:77.348b22–c4), better known as the first reciter of theSarvāstivāda-vinaya (Shi song lü十誦律) for Kumārajīva’s translation (Biographies of Eminent Monks,T.2059:50.333a13–24). That he is mentioned in the Biographies of Famous Monks as a chan specialist is not easily explained, perhaps the result of a confusion with another Puṇyatāra mentioned elsewhere as the teacher of the famous meditation master Buddhasena, the teacher of Buddhabhadra (Records of the Canon,T.2145:55.89b28). The known biographical sources for Puṇyatāra the reciter of the Sarvāstivāda-vinaya make no mention of chan practice (though they do say that he was held to have attained one of the four fruits).


Chapter 1: Chinese Meditation Texts of the Fifth Century (I)would later claim mastery of this subject. Mentioning a period of such discipleship becomes standard in hagiographies of Chinese chan practitioners, even in the very brief ones otherwise similar to those of the chan practitioners active in earlier times, such as that of Huitong 慧通:Shi Huitong was from the region around Chang’an. As a youth he stayed for a while at the Taihou temple in Chang’an. He did not eat meat, and knew spells. He could recite theEkottarāgama scripture.

He first received instruction in chan from chanmaster Huishaoof Liangzhou, and he roamed masterfully through many different contemplations.44Moreover it is not just that prior to the fifth century discipleship under an authorized teacher ofchan was rarely recorded—it does not even seem to have been considered a possibility, a point revealed by the striking fact that Buddhabhadara, who arrived in China in 406,45 is the first recorded person in Chinese history to bear the title “chan master” (chan shi 禪師).

Yet soon thereafter the Chinese Buddhist world was flooded with such monks, such as the Gandhāranchan master Dharmamitra 曇摩密多, who settled in the southern capital where he founded the famous Dinglin 定林 temple.47 There was also the chan master Dharmapriya, mentioned above as the second teacher of Xuangao.48 Not all such masters were famous, such as chan masterSaṅghānanda 僧伽難陀, mentioned but briefly in the biography of the Chinese monk Tanyi 曇翼44釋慧通關中人。少止長安太后寺,蔬食持呪,誦增一阿含經。初從涼州禪師慧紹諮受禪業,法門觀行多所遊刃。(T.2059:50.398c7–14). Huitong’s dates are unclear. The Taihou temple is mentioned in several sources as a prominent temple in Chang’an where Dao’an once lived (Biographies of Famous Monks,X.1523:77.357a24).

The Ekottarāgama (Zeng yi a han jing 増一阿含經) was translated in Chang’an in 384(Tsukamoto 1985, 744). Meanwhile Huishao 慧紹of Liangzhou had an entry in the Biographies of Famous Monks in the chapter on Chinese-born chan masters(X.1523:77.348c9), and apparently died in the Jin 晉, thus sometime before 420. Huitong was thus presumably active during the early fifth-century. Some have suggested that the Huishao in question may have actually been Xuanshao 玄紹, mentioned in the Biographies of Eminent Monks as a disciple of Xuangao (T.2059:50.397b11–16; Jan 1990, 18).

Although Buddhabhadra eventually settled in the south, he began his missionary career in Chang’an during the first decade of the fifth century, at the height of Kumārajīva’s translation activity. A number of other prominent Indian and Central Asia masters had also been assembled under the patronage of the warlord Yao Xing 姚興 (r.399–416). Buddhabhadra’s eventual departure from Chang’an in 411 has been explained in several ways.

His biography suggests that he was expelled (T.2145:55.103c25). Doctrinal rivalries between Buddhabhadra andKumārajīva may also have played a role, though we may presume that politics and patronage were the main sources of the tension. Kumārajīva died in the eighth month of 409, and Buddhabhadra left Chang’an shortly thereafter (Ōchō and Suwa 1982, 245).

For the early sources that assign Buddhabhadra this title, see below note 53. Concerning the rise in prominence of “chan masters” during this time we should also note a curious episode in the biography of Falang 法郎 (fl.mid fifth century), a monk from Liangzhou 涼州who eventually moved to the Silk Roads oasis Kucha (Qiuci龜茲). According to Falang’s biography: “The king of Kucha made an agreement with a great chan master of that country that if someone with attainment were to arrive there [in Kucha] the chan master would inform the king so that he might make offerings to him. When Falang arrived the chan master told the king, and the king treated [[[Falang]]] with the honor due to a saint.

”龜茲王與彼國大禪師結約,若有得道者至,當為我說,我當供養。及朗至,乃以白王,王待以聖禮。(T.2059:50.392c18–20). Biographies of Eminent Monks,T.2059:50.342c8–343a2948See note 38.26

Chapter 1: Chinese Meditation Texts of the Fifth Century (I)and unknown from other sources. Not only was Buddhabhadra the first person with the title “chan master,” the very notion of such a thing may have been unknown in China prior to this time. This word did not, for example, appear in translated Buddhist scriptures prior to Buddhabhadra’s time,50 and even those reclusive Chinese hermits known in theory for their practice of chan did not take on, or were not given, this title, at least as far as the meager records pertaining to them reveal.

Buddhabhadra is also the first person, foreign or Chinese, recorded unequivocally as giving actual instruction in the practice of chan to a Chinese audience, and we have at least one contemporaneous record of this, a letter written by Sengzhao 僧肇(384–414) stating that Buddhabhadra had several Biographies of Eminent Monks, T.2059:50.356a7– Even in later times the term is rare in translated texts. The earliest example may be Zhu Fonian’s 竺佛念translation of the Chu yao jing 出曜經, a commentary to the Dharmapāda.

The dates of the translation are difficult to pin down, though it probably did not take place until after Buddhabhadra’s arrival. According to the catalog section of the Records of the Canon the Chu yao jing was translated in Chang’an sometime between and 383 (T.2145:55.10c5–6. The Li dai san bao ji 歷代三寶紀gives 374; T.2034:49.77a12). But these dates are flatly contradicted by Zhu Fonian’s biography in the Records of the Canon, which explains that while Zhu Fonian first translated scriptures during the rule of the warlord Fujian 符堅(r. 357–384), the Chu yao jing wastranslated during a second period of activity during the reign of Yaoxing 姚興 (r. 399–415), after Kumārajīvaand others had arrived (T.2145:55.111b21–23; note that the biographies in the Records of the Canon were generally written earlier than the catalog section).

It thus seems quite likely that Zhu Fonian’s work on the Chuyao jing did not occur until after Buddhbhadra had become famous as the resident “chan master” (for some general comments on Zhu Fonian, the most prolific translator prior to Kumārajīva, see Zürcher 1972, 202). It is further noteworthy that the context in the Chu yao jing suggests that the passage may be a secondary commentary, perhaps added by the translators. The initial commentary explains the Dharmapāda verse “Be firmand do not be neglectful” 定則不放逸as referring to zealous practice of meditation. Within this commentary is the line “[Using] the chan tablet, the chan ball, and the Dharma-staff, control the mind and sit in meditation”(禪[睡]{鎮}禪毱法杖撿心坐禪). The word chan shi 禪師 occurs in a later section that explains the terms in the initial commentary: “The chan tablet is a rock placed on the head and fastened behind the ears with string. If one falls asleep [during meditation], [the falling rock] then wakes one up. As for the chan ball, the chan master holds the chan ball in his hands and throws it at anyone he notices sleeping.” [睡]{鎮}者,以珂著頭上,以繩屬耳,睡則自寤。禪毱者,禪師手執禪毱,伺於睡者,以毱往擊。(T.212:4.639c24–28; on these devices, which are discussed in vinaya literature, see Hirakawa 1975). A phrase very similar to the one here in the commentary occurs regularly in Buddhavarman’s translation of the Māhāvibhāṣā carried out in the 420s (頂安禪鎮行禪毱法杖; A pi tan pi po sha lun 阿毘曇毘婆沙論, T.1546:28.101b13–14; 163c15; 254c29), and thus may have been a stock phrase in Vaibhāṣika literature denoting zealous meditation practice.

This suggests that the explanation of terms such as “chan ball” (禪毱) may have been supplied to help explain their meaning to a Chinese audience, and if so “chan master” here might be Zhu Fonian’s own explanation in which he would have drawn from the terminology that was beginning to become common in Chinese circles. Thus we find, to take but one example, that the chan practitioner Zhu Tanyou 竺曇猷, active during the fourth century, is in his biography referred to by others as fa shi 法師, “Dharma master” (T.2059:50.396a6, b10), not“chan master.”

Dharma master” is of course a generic appellation for a Buddhist priest, but it still seems significant that the title “chan master” is not used in any of these early stories.52Sengrui’s comments (see p.15) that he “received the method of dhyāna” (從受禪法) from Kumārajīva might possibly indicate this as well, but since the context is the translation of a text, the emphasis appears to lie on the transmission of written instructions. Furthermore the absolute lack of other reference to Kumārajīva as personally trained in chan practice suggests that even if initially Sengrui looked to him as a teacher of meditation, this role was quickly forgotten once Buddhabhadra had arrived.


Chapter 1: Chinese Meditation Texts of the Fifth Century (I)hundred followers whom he “trained in the practice of chan” (教習禪道). To the extent that hagiography reflects ideals and expectations about what is possible, areal historical difference exists between the fourth century and the fifth century in terms of the presence and role of chan practice and chan masters in the lives of Chinese Buddhist monks and nuns. Prior to the fourth century chan practice was associated almost exclusively with mysterious Chinese recluses with hazy life stories.

These were not thought to be the kind of monks who interacted with major patrons or political figures. Simply put, chan practice was not associated with the monks that ordinary people might reasonably expect to encounter.54 Seen in this light we are, I believe, justified in taking as historically plausible Sengrui’s assertion, cited at the beginning of this chapter, that formerly even those who wanted to practice chan had no means of learning how.But beginning in the early fifth century a change occurred. Though mysterious chan practitioners living in caves and declining to interact with the world did not lose their place in social memory, there appeared an increasing number of stories about chan practitioners integrated into the larger Buddhist community, some of whom attained great fame and influence.

There similarly began to appear stories about Chinese monks actually learning chan from foreign and eventually Chinesechan masters.” Although how the title “chan master” was chosen or perhaps assigned remains unclear, that no Buddhist monk, Chinese or otherwise, is given this title prior to the early fifth century is a sign that devotion to or mastery of chan was not normally associated with Buddhist monks in China. But in the fifth century monks known aschan masters were famous teachers living in large temples in or near the capital, and such sites became known as active centers of chan training. The Zhihuan (祇洹; Jetavāna) temple, for example, the largest, most famous, and most powerful monastery in South China during the

The letter, written to Liu Yimin 劉遺民(d. 410) in south China, is preserved in the Zhao lun 肇論(T.1858:45.155c14–15; Tsukamoto 1955, 44–45). Liu Yimin died in 410, so the letter must have been written before then. According to the Tang dynasty Records of the Transmission of the Flower Ornament Scripture (Huayan jing chuan ji 華嚴經傳記), Buddhabhadra had “six hundred” followers in Chang’an whom he instructed inchan (T.2073:51.154b11). Other contemporaneous sources confirm that Buddhabhadra was called a “chanmaster” even while alive.

Slightly later than Sengzhao’s letter is the brief reference to Buddhabhadra under thetitle chan shi 禪師in Sengrui’s essay Clarifying Doubts (Yu yi 喻疑; Records of the Canon, T.2145:55.41b17–18). Similarly in a colophon to Buddhabhadra’s translation of the Hua yan jing 華嚴經, carried out between and 420, he is again titled the “Indian chan master” (天竺禪師; T.278:9.788b6), and this title also appears in apost-face to his translation of the Mahāsaṅghika-vinaya (Mo he seng qi lü 摩訶僧祇律; T.1425:22.548b9).54Though sources outside of hagiography are limited, there are other, vague indications that prior to the fifth century the actual practice of chan was rare or even nonexistent. Consider, for example, the monastic rules supposedly instituted by Dao’an in the fourth century.

Though the rules themselves do not survive, the topic scovered—procedures for lectures on Buddhist topics, daily liturgies, meals, and the fortnightly poṣadhaconfession ceremony—are mentioned in Dao’an’s biography (Biographies of Eminent Monks,T.2085:50.353b24–27; on Dao’an’s rules and scholars’ interpretations of them, see Yifa 2002, 8–13). While we can hardly derive from this a complete picture of fourth-century monastic life, we may say that chan practice, at least in an organized, ritualized form, was not considered an essential or even regular aspect of monastic life.

Precisely what entitled a monk or nun to use titles such as “dharma master” (法師) or “chan master” (禪師) is unclear. I know of one case in which the title “dharma master” was granted by the Wei emperor Xuanwu 宣武(r. 499–515) to a layman (Wei shu,84.1854), but it is not clear whether in general these titles were granted by secular or clerical authorities or simply chosen informally by local communities or individuals.


Chapter 1: Chinese Meditation Texts of the Fifth Century (I)early Song dynasty, was remembered (in the sixth century) as where foreign monks of all stripes came to both translate scriptures and “give instruction in the methods of chan” (訓授禪法).56 Even if these stories reflect historical reality but vaguely, they indicate that in general understanding chan practice had changed, from a mysterious discipline undertaken only by hermits into a training that well connected monks might expect to pursue if desired.

Templesbegin to be described as having a dedicated “chan cloister” (禪房), “chan hall” (禪堂), or “chanchamber” (禪閣), and meditation itself becomes more visible, as illustrated by the brief biography of the Indian monk Ratnamati (阿那摩低), who arrived in China between 454 and , and was known for meditating beneath a tree within the Waguan 瓦官temple in the southern capital.58 Encountering a monk meditating beneath a tree in a major temple thus seems to have been something that fifth-century readers would have found plausible. Finally there are indications the cultivation of chan was being promoted among the laity, and a fifth-century catalog of Chinese Buddhist compositions lists, within the imperial collection, a “Procedures forchan: instructions for cultivating concentration as a layman” (禪定義在家習定法).

Over a century ago, in one of the earliest critical studies of the history of the Chanschool, Mastumoto Bunzaburo 松本文三郎 proposed that before the fifth century the study of This is recorded in the biography of the famous Huiyi 慧義(372–444), who helped Liu Yu 劉裕overthrow theJin dynasty by obtaining favorable omens (Biographies of Eminent Monks, T.50:2059.368c18–20).

Huiyi was eventually installed at the abbot of the Zhihuan temple and given the full support of the imperial clan. On Huiyi and the Zhihuan temple, see Tsukamoto 1974, 77; 83–89. It is not always clear for what use these structures were intended and we have records of a “chan cloister” used for translation activity (Records of the Canon, T.2145:55.13a18–19). Some kind of ritual activity is implied forthe “chan chamber” (禪閣) constructed by Dharmamitra at the Changsha 長沙temple in Sichuan, where thisGandhāran chan master “prayed fervently for a relic” (翹誠懇惻祈請舍利;

Biographies of Eminent Monks,T.2059:50.342c27). However the word chan was also used more loosely as an architectural term. Huiyuan apparently constructed a “chan grove” (chan lin 禪林) on Mt. Lu, used as a garden or strolling park(Biographies of Eminent Monks, T.2059:50.358b6–7; Records of the Canon, T.2145:55.109c2). The earliest reference to a dedicated structure for chan may be a passage in the Wei shu 魏書 describing the early dynastic history. In 398, shortly after establishing his capital at Datong 大同, the founding emperor Taizu 太祖 (r. 386–409) began to promote Buddhism, and built a major temple within the city that included a five-story pagoda,“Vulture-peak” and “Sumeru” halls (this presumably refers to the basic pagoda/Buddha-hall arrangement), “a lecture hall, a chan hall, and a śramaṇa seat” (別構講堂、禪堂、及沙門座; Wei shu,114.3030;

Tsukamoto 1974, 151). The version of this passage cited in Falin’s 法林 (570–640) Refutation of Heresies (Po xie lun 破邪論) reads chan shi 禪室(T.2104:52.368a15–16), while that cited in the Extended Record of Proselytizing giveschan fang 禪房(T.2103:52.101c29). Regardless, we do not know if this is an accurate record of the structures built in a temple during the late fourth century, or if the sixth-century author of the Wei shu used vocabulary from his own day to describe what had by then become the normal buildings of a Buddhist temple.biographies of Eminent Monks,T.2059:50.345a15–1759Fa lun mu lu 法論目錄(on this catalog, see below p.34), cited in Records of the Canon, T.2145:55.84b5. The complete title of the text is 聞慧思修禪定義在家習定法. The parsing of the title here is unclear.

This text is also listed in the Tang Catalog of Buddhist Scriptures (Da tang nei dian lu 大唐內典錄), with the slightly different title 問慧思修禪定義在家習定法 (T.2149:55.328c12). Neither of these readings makes sense of the first three characters. If 問is correct, then 慧思 might be the name of an interlocutor (though chronologically this could not be the famous Huisi 慧思 teacher of Zhiyi 智顗).29


Chapter 1: Chinese Meditation Texts of the Fifth Century (I)chan60by Chinese Buddhists had been entirely theoretical, and that its actual practice began only among the disciples of Kumārajīva and Buddhabhadra.61 When Mastumoto was working the basic chronology of the key primary sources for early Chinese Buddhism had not yet been firmly established, and the Dunhuang documents, which would fundamentally change scholarly study of early Chan, were not yet available. Moreover some of his explanations seem, from a more contemporary perspective, somewhat naïve.

As far as I have been able to determine Matsumoto’s conclusion have thus not been taken seriously by subsequent scholars.Nevertheless despite the limitations of the sources used to reach them, I believe that his basic contentions are sound, as I have tried to demonstrate more rigorously in the above pages. While the idea of mental tranquility was no doubt known and even endeavored for,63 and the theoretical

importance of chan along the path appreciated, prior to the fifth century organized meditation practice does not seem to have played even a minor role in Chinese Buddhism



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