|<Previous Section>||<Next Section>|
1.5 (Tsai no.5) K'ang Ming-kan
The nun K'ang Ming-kan (Bright Influence) (in the lineage of a Sogdian monk) of Establishing Blessings Convent
Ming-kan's secular surname was Chu, and her family was from Kao-p'ing [in northeast China]. 1 For generations the family had venerated the [Buddhist] teachings known as the Great Vehicle. 2
A bandit who wanted to make her his wife abducted her, but, even though she suffered increasing torment, she vowed not to give in to him. She was forced to serve as a shepherdess far from her native home. Ten years went by and her longing for her home and family grew more and more intense, but there seemed to be no way back. During all this she kept her mind fixed on the Three Treasures, and she herself wished to become a nun. 3
One day she happened to meet a Buddhist monk, and she asked him to bestow on her the five fundamental precepts [of a Buddhist householder]. 4 He granted her request and also presented her with a copy of the Bodhisattva Kuan-shih-yin Scripture, which she then practiced chanting day and night without pause. 5
Deciding to return home to build a five-story pagoda, she fled to the east in great anxiety and distress. At first she did not know the road but kept traveling both day and night. When crossing over a mountain she saw a tiger lying only a few steps away from her. After momentary terror she composed her mind, and her hopes were more than met, for the tiger led the way for her, and, after the days had grown into weeks, she finally arrived in her home territory of Ch'ing Province [in the northeast]. As she was about to enter the village, the tiger disappeared, but at that moment, having arrived in the province, Ming-kan was again abducted, this time by Ming Po-lien. When word reached her family, her husband and son ransomed her, but the family did not let her carry out her wishes [to enter the life of a Buddhist nun]. Only after three years of cultivating stringent religious practices was she able to follow her intention. As a nun, she especially concentrated on the cultivation of meditation, and she kept all the regulations of a monastic life without any transgressions. If she happened to commit a minor fault, she would confess it several mornings in a row, ceasing only after she received a sign or a good omen. Sometimes as a good omen she saw flowers rain down from the sky or she heard a voice in the sky or she saw a Buddha image or she had auspicious dreams.
As Ming-kan approached old age, her moral cultivation was even more strict and lofty. All the men and women north of the Yangtze River honored her as their spiritual teacher in whom they could take refuge.
In the spring of the fourth year of the yung-ho reign period (348) of the Chin dynasty, 6 she, together with Hui-chan (no. 7) and others— ten in all—traveled south, crossed the Yangtze River, and went to see the minister of public works, Ho Ch'ung (292-346), in the capital of the Eastern Chin dynasty. 7 As soon as he met them, he showed them great respect. Because at that time there were no convents in the capital region Ho Ch'ung converted one of his private residences into a convent for them.
He asked Ming-kan, "What should the convent be named?"
She replied, "In the great realm of the Chin dynasty all the four Buddhist assemblies of monks, nuns, and male and female householders are now established for the first time. 8 Furthermore, that which you as donor have established will bestow blessings and merit. Therefore, let us call the convent Establishing Blessings Convent." Ho Ch'ung agreed to her suggestion. Not long afterward Ming-kan took sick and died.
1. Kao-p'ing, in present-day Shantung Province. See map.
2. This refers to Mahāyāna, or Great Vehicle, Buddhism, the type of Buddhism prevalent in East Asia. Great Vehicle Buddhism teaches that the religious ideal is the bodhisattva, or Buddha to be, who helps living beings attain final nirvana ahead of them by accumulating vast stores of spiritual merit and donating that merit to any and all who ask. The followers of the Great Vehicle contrast this ideal with that of the Small Vehicle, which holds that the religious ideal is the arhat or enlightened individual who, after death, will be reborn no more, having attained final nirvana, and who is not, according to the teachings of the Small Vehicle, able to grant spiritual merit to another. These two main branches of Buddhism are distinguished by many other features, an important one of which is the collections of scriptures. Great Vehicle Buddhism has vast numbers of texts claiming to be the word of the Buddha as compared to the relatively modest number of texts belonging to the Small Vehicle. Adherents of the Small Vehicle, or Disciples' Vehicle, naturally enough do not consider their Buddhism to be a lesser teaching at all, and the Great Vehicle is something that, traditionally, they simply ignored. The one remaining Disciples' Vehicle school, the Theravāda (Way of the Elders), is prevalent in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand. See, e.g., Robinson and Johnson, Buddhist Religion, pp. 65ff.
3. These are the Buddha, his teaching, and the monastic assemblies.
4. These five are refraining from harming any living beings, from lying, from wrong sexual conduct, from stealing, and from intoxicating substances. Robinson and Johnson, Buddhist Religion, pp. 59-60. Also, e.g., Tseng i a-han ching (Ekottarāgama), T. 2, no. 125, pp. 576-577.
5. This scripture is chap. 25 of Kumārajīva's translation of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law (Saddharma-pundarīka-sūtra) (Miao fa lien-hua ching), T. 9, no. 262; and chap. 23 of Chu Fa-hu (Dharmaraksha), Cheng fa hua ching (Flower of the true law scripture), T. 9, no. 263. It is also known as the Universal Gate chapter (P'u men p'in), and it enjoyed wide circulation and popularity as a separate text. Chu Fa-hu's version is the one she would have had as Kumārajīva's was not translated until about half a century later. See Bibliography, Flower of the Law Scripture.
6. This date cannot be reconciled with the dates of Ho Ch'ung. In the biography of Hui-chan (biography 7), the date given for the nuns crossing the Yangtze River is 344.
7. Ho Ch'ung (292-346) (Chin shu, chap. 77). Ho Ch'ung was an upper-class influential man who promoted Buddhist interests, and he was likely a Buddhist himself. See Zürcher, Buddhist Conquest, p. 86, passim, especially pp. 96-97.
8. "For the first time" probably means that this is the first time since the flight of the Chinese court to the south in a.d. 317 that there were nuns in the south. Ming-kan's arrival in the south is at least a decade before Ching-chien (biography 1) was fully admitted to the assembly in 357 in Lo-yang. Ming-kan is treated as one who has received all the rules for a member of the Assembly of Nuns.
|<Previous Section>||<Next Section>|
|Published by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia|