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2.1 (Tsai no.14) Hui-kuo

The nun Hui-kuo (Fruit of Wisdom) (ca. 364-433) of Luminous Blessings Convent

Hui-kuo's secular surname was P'an. Her family was originally from Huai-nan [on the south bank of the Huai River to the west and north of the capital of Sung].

Hui-kuo, never dressing in fine silks, lived an ascetically disciplined life and took sincere delight in the pure and unsullied observation of the monastic rules. Her reputation was known far and wide to monastics and householders, who alike praised and admired her. The governor of [the northeastern province of] Ch'ing of the Sung dynasty, a certain Chuan Hung-jen whose family had originally come from Pei-ti [in north China], greatly praised her noble character and lavishly bestowed on her gift after gift. In the third year of the yung-ch'u reign period (422) (I, the biographer, was told by my fellow monk T'an-tsung that it was the seventh year of the yüan-chia reign period [430], but the abbess of Luminous Blessings Convent, the nun Hung-an, let me see the land deed, which shows the date to be the third year of yung-ch'u), the governor donated a plot of land to the east of his own mansion to build a monastic residence for her, naming it Luminous Blessings, and appointed Hui-kuo to oversee it. Everything that was donated to Hui-kuo herself she gave to the Assembly of Nuns as a whole. Her community flourished, and both elite and ordinary happily submitted to her spiritual authority.

In the sixth year of the yüan-chia reign period (429), the central Asian missionary monk Gunavarman (367-431) arrived. [Hui-kuo questioned him about the validity of the status of Buddhist nuns in China, whether the proper transmission of the rules for women from the time of the Buddha had been carried out in China.]

She said, "All the Buddhist nuns here in China who earlier received the obligation to keep the rules did not receive it according to the fundamentals of the rituals. [That is, they accepted the rules, incomplete though the ceremony may have been, from the Assembly of Monks only] and they had as their eminent precedent the Buddha's stepmother, Mahāprajāpatī [who received the rules from the Buddha only; at that time, when the Buddha's stepmother sought to enter the homeless life, there was in fact no Assembly of Nuns from whom to receive the rules because Mahāprajāpatī was the first Buddhist nun in the whole world]. But those first Chinese nuns did not know, and neither do I, whether there is any difference [between Mahāprajāpatī's situation and that of the nuns who came after her]."

Gunavarman replied, "There is no difference."

Hui-kuo continued, "According to the literature of the monastic regulations that I have read, the teacher who administers the rules and the obligation to follow them has committed an offense by permitting women to receive the rules from the Assembly of Monks only. [Therefore, how can there be no difference?"]

Gunavarman replied, "If a nun lives in a monastic community without having first trained in the rules for two years as a novice before accepting the full obligation to keep all the rules, then one may speak of an offence."

Hui-kuo asked again, "Then is it possible that formerly, when there were as yet no nuns here in China, there were certainly some in India?"

Gunavarman replied, "According to the disciplinary regulations [a candidate for the Assembly of Nuns must receive the obligation to observe all the rules from a minimum of] ten members of the assembly who themselves have received the full obligation. [In certain circumstances] such as in a frontier country, only five such members are required. The correct view is that, if there is an established assembly present, one cannot but go along with all the requirements."

Again Hui-kuo asked, "How far away must a place be before it is considered a frontier?"

Gunavarman replied, "Beyond a thousand Chinese miles or where oceans and mountains create a barrier."

In the ninth year (432), Hui-kuo took her disciples Hui-i, Hui-k'ai, and others—five in all—to receive the full monastic obligation from the Indian missionary monk Sanghavarman. They respectfully received this obligation as their most precious possession.

Hui-kuo was seventy-some years old when she died in the tenth year of the yüan-chia reign period (433).

Her disciples Hui-i and Hui-k'ai were also well known in their day for their strict practice in keeping the monastic rules.

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