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2.2 (Tsai no.15) Fa-sheng

The nun Fa-sheng (Flourishing Law) (368-439) of Establishing Blessings Convent

Fa-sheng's secular surname was Nieh. Her family was originally from Ch'ing-ho [in north China, north of the Yellow River], but, during the fighting when the [non-Chinese] dynasty of Latter Chao (319350) was coming to power, the family fled south to Chin-ling [that is, to the southern capital, on the Yangtze River].

In the fourteenth year of the yüan-chia reign period (437) of the Sung, Fa-sheng, who was talented, intelligent, and very quick to understand everything, became a nun [at the age of seventy] in Establishing Blessings Convent in the capital city. She had sojourned there in her old age, but, even though once again the imperial capital was peaceful and prosperous, she still longed for her old home. Only by delving deep into the mysteries [of Buddhism] was she able to leave behind sorrow and forget old age.

Fa-sheng accepted responsibility for keeping the vows of a bodhisattva [or Buddha to be] from the master of the law Ou who came from the Site of the Way Monastery [also in the capital]. By day, Fa-sheng set forth the profound fundamentals of Buddhism; by night she gave lucid discourses on the flavor of the principles. Continuously immersing herself in these activities she became, despite her old age, radiantly healthy, surpassing those in the prime of life.

Fa-sheng had always expressed the wish to be reborn in the Western Paradise [of Amita Buddha]. To her sisters in religion, T'an-ching and T'an-ai, she said, "I have devoted myself to following the [Buddhist] Way, and my will is fixed on the Western Paradise." Thus it happened that in the sixteenth year (439), ninth month, and twenty-seventh day, she worshipped the Buddha at the pagoda, and that evening she became ill. The illness grew worse, and on the evening of the night of the new moon, the last day of the month, as she lay asleep [Amita Buddha] the Tathāgata, appeared in the air together with his two bodhisattva attendants [Kuan-shih-yin on the left and Ta-shihchih on the right], with whom he discussed the two types of Buddhism [namely, the Mahāyāna, or Great Vehicle, and the Hīnayāna, or Small Vehicle]. Suddenly [Amita Buddha] with his entire entourage soared over in a fragrant mist, descending to visit the sick woman. Rays of light gleamed, filling the whole convent for all to see. When everyone came to Fa-sheng to ask about the light, she explained what it was, and as soon as she had finished speaking, she died. She was seventy-two years old.

The governor of Yü-chang, Chang Pien, a native of Wu Commandery [southeast of the capital], who from the first had had high regard for her narrated this account.

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