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1.1 (Tsai no.1) Chu Ching-chien
The nun Chu Ching-chien (Pure Example) (in the lineage of an Indian monk) (ca. 292-ca. 361) 1 of Bamboo Grove Convent of Lo-yang in the Chin dynasty 2
Ching-chien's secular surname was Chung and her given name was Ling-i. Her family was originally from P'eng-ch'eng in northeastern China. 3 Her father, Chung Tan, served as administrator of Wu-wei Commandery [in far northwestern China]. 4 As a small child Ching-chien had been very fond of learning. She was still quite young when the death of her husband left the family impoverished, and to earn a living she often taught lute and calligraphy to the children of noble families.
When Ching-chien first heard about the Buddhist teaching she felt faith and joy, but there was no one from whom to receive detailed instruction. Later she met the Buddhist monk Fa-shih who was thoroughly versed in scripture and practice. In the chien-hsing reign period (313-317) of Western Chin he established a monastery at the West Gate of the imperial city [of Lo-yang]. 5 When Ching-chien visited there, Fa-shih explained the teachings to her. As a result she had a great awakening and grew firm in her resolve to seek the benefits of the religion of the Buddha. Borrowing a scriptural text from Fa-shih to study, she proceeded to master its contents.
On another day she said to Fa-shih, "In the scriptures it says, ` Bhikshu and bhikshunī aspire to deliverance.' [What are bhikshu and bhikshunī? ]"
Fa-shih replied, "In the western regions there are two monastic assemblies, that of bhikshu, or monks, for men and that of bhikshunī, or nuns, for women; but in this country the books of rules for the monastic life are not complete."
Ching-chien asked, "Because the scripture speaks of the two terms, monk and nun, can it be that the rules for each group are different?"
Fa-shih said, "Foreign Buddhists say that nuns have five hundred rules to follow as compared to fewer for monks, and that must be the difference. 6 I asked the instructor about this, and he said that the rules for nuns are highly similar and only slightly different from the monks' regulations, but, if I cannot get the complete texts of these rules, then I certainly cannot bestow on women the obligation to observe them. A woman aspiring eventually to become a nun may, however, receive the ten fundamental precepts from the Assembly of Monks only, but, without a [female] monastic instructor to train her in the practice of all the rules, a woman has no one on whom to rely [for that training which prepares her to accept the obligation to observe all the rules of monastic life]." 7
Ching-chien, nevertheless, received the tonsure [required of all who leave the household life], cast off secular garb and accepted the ten fundamental precepts from the instructor. There were twenty-four other women of like mind, and together they established Bamboo Grove Convent at the West Gate of the imperial city. They had as yet no female teacher, so they all consulted Ching-chien, whose instruction and advice were superior to those already recognized as accomplished [in religious thought and practice].
The instructor [who had bestowed the ten fundamental precepts] was the Buddhist monk Chih-shan from Kashmir [in the western regions of central Asia]. 8 Gentle in wisdom and elegant in thought, he cultivated both meditation and chanting. He supported himself by begging for alms, and his preaching surely spread the Buddhist Way. At that time in China, however, faith was shallow, and no one knew enough to request instruction from him. Therefore, in the first year of chien-wu (317) he returned to Kashmir. 9 Later, when [the Buddhist magician monk from Kucha, Chu] Fo-t'u-teng, returned [to the Lo-yang region], he recounted Chih-shan's virtues; everyone felt great remorse [for having lost the opportunity to learn from the monk of Kashmir]. 10
Ching-chien supported and cared for her community of disciples; she observed the monastic rules with purity and distinction. The influence of her preaching of the Buddhist teaching was [in Mencius' words], like wind moving grass. 11
In the hsien-k'ang reign period (335-342) of Eastern Chin the Buddhist monk Seng-chien, 12 when in the land of the Scythians in central Asia, got hold of a nuns' rites and rules book of the Mahāsānghika Buddhist sect. 13 In the first year of the sheng-p'ing reign period (357), the translation of the text was completed in Lo-yang 14 on the eighth day of the second month [in honor of the Buddha's entry into final nirvana]. 15 The foreign Buddhist monk T'an-mo-chieh-to set up a ceremonial dais [on which Ching-chien and her disciples were to accept all of the monastic rules for women as found in the newly translated text]. The Chinese monk Shih Tao-ch'ang objected to this action, however, on the basis of scriptures on the origins of monastic rules that said that, because there was no Assembly of Nuns in China to bestow the rules on the women as the scriptures required, the ritual should not be carried out. 16 His objections were not acknowledged and, as a result, [Shih Tao-ch'ang] took a boat down the Ssu River to the south. 17 Ching-chien and the others, four altogether, became Buddhist nuns by accepting, from the Assembly of Monks only, the obligation to observe all the monastic rules. Ching-chien is thus the first of the Buddhist nuns in China.
On the day of that ritual, remarkable fragrance and perfume [filled the air]. Everyone smelled it, and there was none who did not rejoice and marvel; respect for her increased all the more. Ching-chien well cultivated the monastic rules and resolutely studied without ceasing. Although the gifts of the faithful were many, she distributed everything she received, always putting herself last and others first.
At the end of the sheng-p'ing reign period (357-361) Ching-chien once again smelled the same fragrance [that had graced the ritual of her becoming a nun], and she saw a red, misty cloud. Out of that cloud a woman holding a five-colored flower in her hands descended from the sky. Ching-chien was delighted to see her and said to the nuns, "Manage your affairs well in the future. I am taking leave of you now." Clasping their hands she bid them farewell and then rose up into the air. 18 The path she traveled looked like a rainbow going straight up to heaven. At that time she was seventy years old. 19
1. The early Buddhist missionaries from India and central Asia were given surnames in China that indicated the country of their origin: Chu for India, An for Parthia, K'ang for Sogdia, and Chih for Scythia. For several centuries their Chinese disciples took religious surnames from their masters until the custom arose of using the first character of the Buddha's own name, Shā-kyamuni—or Shih-chia-mou-ni in Chinese transcription—thus giving rise to the practice of all monks and nuns taking the religious surname of Shih.
2. Ching-chien's biography has been translated in Buddhist Texts through the Ages, pp. 291-292.
3. P'eng-ch'eng was in the present-day region of northwest Chiangsu Province and southern Shantung Province. P'eng-ch'eng was a very early and important center of Buddhism in China, with evidence for Buddhist practice, of a sort, dating to mid-first century a.d. It remained a flourishing center lying as it did in a pivotal section of a trade route that connected the Silk Road, with P'eng-ch'eng lying at the extreme eastern end, and southern China, the areas of Kuei-chi and modern-day Nanjing, the capital, under different names, of the succession of Southern dynasties beginning with the Eastern Chin dynasty (a.d. 317). See Maspero, "Les Origins," pp. 87-92.
4. Present-day Wu-wei County in central Kansu Province. See map.
5. Lo-yang served as the capital of the Chin dynasty until the fall of Western Chin in 317. See map.
6. This means only that the nuns have more rules than the monks. The number of rules for nuns in the various schools: Dharmaguptaka, 348; Mahīshāsaka, 373; Sarvāstivāda, 354; Mahāsāmghika, 290; Pali canon, 311; Tibetan canon, 364; Mūlasarvāstivāda, 309. See Mochizuki, Bukkyō-daijiten 5:4292.
7. These are the ten basic rules that the novice in training is to observe— namely, to refrain from (1) harming living beings; (2) stealing; (3) wrong sexual conduct; (4) false speech; (5) intoxicating substances; (6) wearing perfumes or garlands; (7) participating in entertainments or going to observe them; (8) using a high or wide bed; (9) eating at improper times; and (10) carrying or using silver, gold, or other precious objects (which prohibits the use of money).
8. Chih-shan from Kashmir: The table of contents to the Ming seng chuan (Lives of famous monks) (of which only fragments remain) lists in chap. 19 a Chih-shan in the category of foreign meditation masters. Because he is listed as having been active in the Sung dynasty (420-479), it is questionable whether he is the same as Ching-chien's instructor. The book Lives of Famous Monks was also compiled by Pao-ch'ang. See appendix A.
9. This is the most likely date because it refers to the chien-wu reign period of Chin (317), rather than to the chien-wu reign period of the Latter Chao (335). The biographies are dated according to the reign periods of the Southern dynasties. This means he left the same year that the Chinese dynasty of Chin had to flee south from the non-Chinese invaders.
10. According to the records Chu Fo-t'u-teng lived from the year 232 to the year 348. He has a biography not only in the Buddhist collection of biographies, Kao seng chuan, vol. 50, chap. 9:383.b-387.a, but also in the official history of the dynasty, the Chin shu, chap. 95. His biography from Kao seng chuan has been translated by Wright, "Fo-t'u-teng." Fo-t'u-teng, a central Asian of Indian ancestry and hence surnamed Chu, carried out his missionary work in northern China, arriving from Kucha in a.d. 310 in time for the calamitous loss of north China to invading non-Chinese tribes. He remained in north China using his considerable magical powers to ameliorate the harsh rule of the barbarian emperors. His Chinese disciples, in particular the monk Shih Tao-an (whose biography appears in Kao seng chuan, 5:351.c-354.a, and has been translated into English by Link, "Biography of Shih Tao-an"), established the intellectual and institutional foundations not merely of Buddhism in China but also of Chinese Buddhism.
11. The allusion is to Mencius, book 3, part A: "The virtue of the gentleman is like the wind. The virtue of the common man is like the grass. When the wind blows the grass will surely bend." See also the translation by Lau in Mencius.
12. In the year a.d. 317 barbarians took control of north China, forcing the imperial court to flee south where it set up another capital city at Chien-k'ang (present-day Nanjing), on the south bank of the Yangtze River. Many refugees, especially among the upper classes, fled south at the same time. Ching-chien, however, was not among them, remaining instead in or near Lo-yang. The city of Lo-yang had been sacked in a.d. 311 (Ch'en, Buddhism in China, p. 57; Zürcher, Buddhist Conquest, pp. 59, 84).
13. Land of the Scythians, lit. Yüeh-chih people, in present-day Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Pamir. The Yüeh-chih are known in the west as Scythians. The Yüeh-chih Buddhist missionaries were very active in bringing Buddhism to China, and colonies of Yüeh-chih lived in the northwest section of China, e.g., Kansu and the Tun-huang region. The translator monk Dharmaraksha, the "bodhisattva from Tun-huang," for example, was of Yüeh-chih ancestry. The importance of central Asians of several groups such as the Kucheans, Khotanese, and Sogdians in transmitting the Buddha's law from India to China cannot be overemphasized.
14. We have used the variant reading as it appears in the Sung, Yüan, and Ming editions of the Buddhist canon. This makes our interpretation somewhat different from others. For example, Tsukamoto Zenryū, Chūgokubukkyō-tsūshi, p. 438, states, "The foreign monk T'an-mo-chieh-to set up an ordination platform in Lo-yang using the Mahāsānghika Ritual and Rule book brought back from Yüeh-chih by Seng-ching." In Mochizuki, Bukkyō daijiten, p. 4292b., we read, "In the hsien-k'ang period of Latter Chin, Seng-ching got the Mahāsānghika Ritual and Rule book, and in the first year, second month of the sheng-p'ing period requested T'an-mo-chieh-to to set up a bhiksunī ordination platform." We do not see any way to reconcile these differing versions, and we have chosen our interpretation for the reason that the date of the completion of the translation is given.
15. The eighth day of the second month (or, according to some sources, the fifteenth day of the month) was celebrated as the Buddha's nirvana day; i.e., the day he passed into final nirvana. See, e.g., Fa yüan chu lin [Forest of pearls in the garden of the law] T. 53, 371.c.-372.c.; and Nirvāna Scripture, T. 12, 365.c.8-9.
16. The Chinese text for the phrase "scriptures on the origins of monastic rules" could also be interpreted as the title of a specific book. There is such a book, the Origin of Monastic Rules Scripture, translated in the northern capital of Ch'ang-an (see map) between 379 and 385. This date, however, places the translation too late for use by the monk Shih Tao-ch'ang because the nun Ching-chien died no later than 361. It is always possible that an earlier, but now-lost, translation that used the same title could have been available. A text called Pi-nai-yeh (i.e., Vinaya) in ten chüan was translated by Chu Fo-nien of the Yao Ch'in. He went to Ch'ang-an in the chien-yüan reign period (365384) and was part of the translation team headed by Tao-an who had been taken by force to Ch'ang-an in 379. The text was translated between 379 and 385. See Hirakawa Akira, Ritsuzō-no-kenkyū, pp. 155-160, for a discussion of the date of translation. This date means that the text was translated some years after Ching-ch'ien's full ordination and therefore could not be the one specified in the biography. It is possible that the words chieh yin-yüan ching refer to Vinaya texts in general because in the body of these texts the circumstances that lead to the creation of a new rule are referred to as yin-yüan. See, e.g., T. 22, no. 1425, 522.a.10, 522.c.17. Waley, in Buddhist Texts through the Ages, p. 292 n.3, suggests that it is referring to the Ta-ai-tao pi-ch'iu-ni ching (The scripture of Mahāprajāpatī's Vinaya). But the date of translation of this text is approximately 412-439, thus being too late. See Répertoire, p. 126. Another possibility is that it is the title for a text now lost.
17. This sentence is admittedly difficult to interpret. Tsukamoto Zenryū in his book Chūgoku bukkyō tsūshi, p. 438, says that Ching-chien and her companions received the precepts on an ordination platform on the boat. Although this practice of using a floating ordination platform was carried out at times, the circumstances in this instance seem not to warrant that interpretation. The Ssu River was not located conveniently near Lo-yang. Waley, in Buddhist Texts through the Ages, p. 242, says that the foreign monk went south on the river. Regardless of who went south, the goal of such a trip might well have been P'eng-ch'eng, a thriving center of Buddhism since at least the first century (see Zürcher, Buddhist Conquest, pp. 26-28), or even Chien-k'ang. The lower reaches of the Ssu River were "stolen" when the Yellow River changed course in the late twelfth century and flowed into the Yellow Sea south of the Shantung peninsula until the mid-nineteenth century when the Yellow River once again changed course to flow north of the Shantung peninsula. The Ssu River was not restored.
18. Rising bodily to the sky is a Taoist way of death. See Le Lie-sien tchouan, p. 112; Yün chi ch'i ch'ien (Seven tallies in a cloud satchel), e.g., pp. 1619-1620.
19. Thus she was in her late twenties when she received the ten precepts and in her late sixties when she finally received full admission to the Assembly of Nuns.
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