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1.13 (Tsai no.13) Tao-i

The nun Tao-i (Dignity of the Way) of Empress Ho Convent

Tao-i's secular surname was Chia. Her family was originally from the town of Lou-fan in Yen-men Commandery [in north China]. She was the paternal aunt of the famous monk Hui-yüan.

Tao-i was married to a certain Hsieh Chih of the same commandery, who died when he was the administrator of Hsün-yang Commandery [on the Yangtze River some distance southwest of the Chin capital of Chien-k'ang]. Tao-i was then twenty-two years old. At that time she cast off secular bonds and donned the robe of religion.

The nun Tao-i was intelligent, bright, quick-witted, and wise; she was widely learned and had an excellent memory, being able to chant by heart the Flower of the Law Scripture and to expound the meaning of the Vimalakīrti and Smaller Perfection of Wisdom. She achieved enlightened understanding of the subtle points and transcendent principles of Buddhist doctrine by means of her own mind [without having to rely on teachers]. Her practice of the monastic regulations was eminent; her spiritual nature was profound.

When Tao-i heard that in the region of the capital of Chin the [Buddhist] doctrinal scriptures and the texts of monastic rules were gradually being collected, translated and given explanatory commentaries, she went there at the end of the t'ai-yüan reign period (376-396) and took up residence in Empress Ho Convent.

Once there Tao-i devoted herself to the study of the collection of texts of the monastic rules and regulations, investigating in a most marvellous way the subtlest of points. All the while she retained her usual humility and reverence, never relaxing her discipline even in solitude, wearing rough and ragged monastic robes and carrying with her own hands the begging bowl and staff [of a Buddhist religious mendicant]. Because of her total lack of arrogance and pride, both monastics and householders highly esteemed the nun.

When Tao-i was seventy-eight years old, she fell seriously ill. She even more fervently concentrated her mind and chanted the scriptures without becoming exhausted, but her disciples requested of her, "We wish that you would try to find a treatment for this disease so that you might overcome your debility."

Tao-i replied, "That is not a proper thing [for a Buddhist disciple] to say." As soon as she had spoken, she died.

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