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1.2 (Tsai no.2) An Ling-shou
The nun An Ling-shou (Esteemed Leader) (in the lineage of a Parthian monk) of Founding of Wisdom Convent of the Northern, non-Chinese dynasty of Chao 1
An Ling-shou's secular surname was Hsü. Her family was originally from Tung-huan [in northeastern China]. Her father Hsü Ch'ung served the non-Chinese dynasty of Latter Chao (319-350) as an undersecretary of the provincial forces. 2
When she was young, Ling-shou was intelligent and fond of study. Her speech was clear and beautiful; her nature modest and unassuming. Taking no pleasure in worldly affairs, she was at ease in secluded quiet. She delighted in the Buddhist teachings and did not wish for her parents to arrange her betrothal.
Her father said, "You ought to marry. How can you be so unfilial?"
Ling-shou said, "My mind is concentrated on the work of religion, and my thought dwells exclusively on spiritual matters. Neither blame nor praise moves me; purity and uprightness are sufficient in themselves. Why must I submit thrice [to father, husband, and son], before I am considered a woman of propriety?" 3
Her father said, "You want to benefit only one person—yourself. How can you help your father and mother at the same time?"
Ling-shou said, "I am setting myself to cultivate the Way exactly because I want to free all living beings from suffering. How much more, then, do I want to free my two parents!" 4
Hsü Ch'ung consulted the Buddhist magician monk from Kucha, 5 Fo-t'u-teng, who said, "You return home and keep a vegetarian fast, and after three days you may come back to see me again." 6 Hsü Ch'ung obeyed him. At the end of the three days, Fo-t'u-teng spread Hsü Ch'ung's palm with the oil of sesame ground together with safflower. 7 When he ordered Hsü Ch'ung to look at it, Ch'ung saw a person who resembled his daughter dressed in Buddhist monastic robes preaching the Buddhist teachings in the midst of a large assembly.
When he told all of this to Fo-t'u-teng, the monk said, "This is a former incarnation of your daughter, in which she left the household life and benefited living beings—such were her deeds. If you consent to her plan, she indeed shall raise her family to glory and bring you blessings and honor; and she shall guide you [to nirvana] on the far shore of the great ocean of suffering known as the incessant round of birth and death."
Hsü Ch'ung returned home and permitted his daughter to become a nun. Ling-shou thereupon cut off her hair, discarded secular ornaments, and received the rules of monastic life from Fo-t'u-teng and the nun Ching-chien. She established Founding of Wisdom Convent, and Fo-t'u-teng presented her with a cut-flower embroidered vestment, a seven-strip monastic robe, 8 and an elephant-trunk-shaped water ewer 9 that Shih Lo (274-319-333), 10 first emperor of the Latter Chao dynasty, had given him. 11
Ling-shou widely perused all kinds of books, and, having read a book through only once, she was always able to chant it by heart. Her thought extended to the depths of the profound; her spirit intuited the subtle and divine. In the religious communities of that time there was no one who did not honor her. Those who left the household life because of her numbered more than two hundred. Furthermore, she built five or six monastic retreats. 12 She had no fear of hard work and brought her projects to completion.
The Emperor Shih Hu (?-335-349), 13 nephew of the late Emperor Shih Lo, honored her and promoted her father Hsü Ch'ung to the official court position of undersecretary of the Yellow Gate and administrator of Ch'ing-ho Commandery. 14
1. This biography has been translated by Wright, "Biography of the Nun An Ling-shou."
2. Non-Chinese—lit. "illegitimate dynasty of Latter Chao."
3. The traditional conception of a woman's duty was to obey first her father or elder brother, then her husband, and finally her son. See Wright, "Biography of An Ling-shou," p. 195, where he quotes James Legge's translation of the Li Chi: ". . . In her youth, she follows her father and elder brother, when married, she follows her husband; when her husband is dead, she follows her son." This describes an ideal situation. An Ling-shou was obeying a higher authority that included her duty to her parents.
4. Buddhist monastic life ran counter to traditional values and was the biggest obstacle to Chinese acceptance of Buddhism. This is standard Buddhist apology. The theme is central to Dudbridge, The Legend of Miao-shan, pp. 89-91.
5. Kucha was an oasis city kingdom of central Asia along the Silk Road some distance from northwest China.
6. See biography 1. In reading his reply to Chung, one must keep in mind that he was a magician as well as a monk and used this very successful expedient means to influence the rulers in north China at the time, Shih Lo and Shih Hu. Evidence indicates that he ameliorated some of the very harsh aspects of the rule of these two. See Wright, "Fo-t'u-teng."
7. See Wright, "Fo-t'u-teng," pp. 337-338. Fo-t'u-teng could also hear prophesies from the sound of bells and could interpret dreams. The early Buddhist missionaries to China often were wonder workers and healers.
8. Traditionally a garment made from rags collected from the dustheap and patched together. The Chinese passage could also be interpreted to mean that the vestment and the robe were the same garment.
9. There is also a vestment tie known as a hsiang-pi (elephant trunk), which would make the sentence read "elephant-trunk tie, and a water ewer." The interpretation in the translation was chosen because of the structure of the sentence.
10. Emperor Shih Lo (Chin shu, chap. 104; Wei shu, chap. 95).
11. The Latter Chao, 319-350, was one of many non-Chinese dynasties that rose and fell in the north after the legitimate Chinese dynasty was forced to flee south in a.d. 317. This dynasty, under Shih Lo, and especially under his nephew Shih Hu, (who killed Shih Lo's son) has been described as a reign of terror and Shih Hu in particular as a psychopath. Their capital sites were Hsiang-kuo and Yeh in north China. See Zürcher, Buddhist Conquest, pp. 85, 181.
12. Ching-sheh was not originally a Buddhist term. It derived from Han times and was used by both Confucianists and Taoists. There are several alternate combinations of characters. See Stein, "Remarques," p. 38.
13. Shih Hu (r. 335-349) (Chin shu, chap. 106; Wei shu, chap. 95).
14. Ch'ing-ho, in present-day Hopei Province, Ch'ing-ho County. See map.
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|Published by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia|