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1.12 (Tsai no.12) Chih Miao-yin

The nun Chih Miao-yin (Subtle Voice) of Simple Tranquility Convent

No one knows where Miao-yin's family originally came from. Having set her will on the Way [of the Buddha] while yet a child, she lived in the capital city [of the Chin dynasty]. She studied extensively both Buddhist and non-Buddhist writings and was especially good at composing literary essays. Emperor Hsiao-wu (362-373-396) and the grand tutor, Tao-tzu, prince of Kuei-chi (364-402) [who was the emperor's brother], both treated her with great respect. Often she would hold discussions and write compositions in company with the emperor, grand tutor, and court scholars, whereby her considerable talent gained a widespread reputation.

In the tenth year of the t'ai-yüan reign period (385) the grand tutor built Simple Tranquility Convent for Miao-yin and appointed her to the position of abbess over her more than one hundred disciples. All those talented people, both within and without monastic circles, who wished to use her influence to advance themselves bestowed gifts on her without end until the convent became the richest in the capital. Both nobles and commoners revered her as their master, and every day outside the convent gate there would be over one hundred chariots of the people who had come to call on her.

At the death of Wang Ch'en (d. 392), who was the governor of Ching Province [in central China to the west of the national capital], the emperor wanted to select Wang Kung (d. 398) to take the vacated position. At the same time, a certain Huan Hsüan (369-404) in Chiang-ling [the provincial capital of Ching], who had always been blocked in his own plans by Wang Ch'en, heard that Wang Kung would be the replacement, and he was already afraid of Kung. Wang Kung, however, had a partisan named Yin Chung-k'an (d. 399/ 400), an imperial attendant, who, as Huan Hsüan knew, was weak and easy to manage. Therefore Huan Hsüan wanted [Yin Chung-k'an] to be appointed as governor [to replace the deceased Wang Ch'en]. He sent a messenger to the nun Miao-yin to prevail on her to arrange the governorship for Yin Chung-k'an. Before long, the emperor consulted Miao-yin on this very matter.

He said, "The position in Ching Province is vacant. Those outside monastic circles are asking who should fill it."

Miao-yin responded, "How can I, a woman of religion, have the freedom to discuss worldly matters. Nevertheless, I have heard those both within and without talking about it, and all are saying that no one surpasses Yin Chung-k'an. Because he takes a broad view of things, he is the one needed in the territory of Ching and Ch'u." The emperor went along with this and replaced [Wang Ch'en] with [Yin Chung-k'an].

Thus did [the nun Miao-yin's] power overrule the whole court, and her authority extend both within and without Buddhist circles.

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IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia