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1.4 (Tsai no.4) Miao-hsiang
The nun Miao-hsiang (Subtle Characteristic) of North Peak Convent of Hung-nung [Commandery in north China, west of Lo-yang along the Yellow River]
Miao-hsiang's secular surname was Chang, and her given name was P'ai-hua. She was from Hung-nung, 1 and the family of her father, Chang Mao, was very wealthy. 2 While yet very young, Miao-hsiang became well versed in the teachings of the [Confucian] classics, and this set the tone of her character. She was married at age 15 to Huang-fu Ta of Pei-ti in northwest China, 3 who was a secretary in the crown prince's grand secretariat of the right. 4 When her husband was mourning for his parents, he did not behave according to [Confucian propriety]. 5 [Because of his lack of filial piety] Miao-hsiang disliked him and sought to end the relationship and subsequently to become a Buddhist nun. Her father consented to both requests.
Miao-hsiang assiduously kept to a vegetarian diet. Her mind roamed in the scholarly explanations of the Buddha's discourses; she clearly understood the difficult Buddhist doctrine and analysis of the characteristics of existence.
She lived on North Peak in Hung-nung in a shady forest facing the open countryside, where she and her many disciples led a life of joyful resolve in the quiet retreat. [In this manner she withdrew from the world for] over twenty years, strengthening her ascetic practice more and more as the years passed by.
Whenever she preached the [Buddhist] teaching, she saved people. Because she often feared that those listening to her would be unable to concentrate their resolve to attain freedom from birth and death, she would at times weep to exhort them to greater efforts. Thus her preaching always brought about great benefits.
During the yung-ho reign period (345-356) of the Chin dynasty the administrator of Hung-nung Commandery requested her to carry out a seven-day vegetarian religious feast. A lay guest sitting on the dais for honored guests asked a question about the Buddha's teaching, but his words were presumptuous and his attitude disrespectful. Miao-hsiang, very serious, said, "Not only do you treat me arrogantly, but also you are showing contempt for an official of the country. How can you be so rude when appearing in public?" Thereupon, the man feigned illness and withdrew; both religious and laity marveled in admiration of her.
Later she was seriously ill for many days. As she neared death, she was in a joyful mood, and she advised her disciples, "Regardless of poverty or success, anyone who is born must also die. This very day I am leaving you." Having spoken, she died.
1. Hung-nung in north China. Probably the town located on the Yellow River to the west of Lo-yang, halfway between Lo-yang and the north bend of the Yellow River. See map.
2. Chang Mao, otherwise unknown. He is not likely to be one of the four persons whose names appear in the dynastic histories because the locations do not conform to the biography. Chin shu, chaps. 30, 78, 86, 107, refer to the four different individuals, and there is no evidence identifying any of them as Miao-hsiang's father.
3. Pei-ti, north of the capital of Ch'ang-an. See map.
4. Grand secretariat of the right. See des Rotours, Traité, p. 595. "Les quatre secrétaires du grand secrétariat de droit de l'héritier du trone (T'ai-tseucho-jen) etaiant mandarins du sixiéme degré, primiére classe."
5. Confucian propriety, i.e., observing all the rules and rites associated with the death of a parent. A clear explanation is given in Waley, Analects of Confucius, pp. 62-64; Thompson, Chinese Religion, pp. 51-52.
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|Published by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia|