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2.16 (Tsai no.29) Fa-hsiang

The nun Fa-hsiang (Mark of the Law) (ca. 375-ca. 453) of Great Mysterious Terrace Convent of Wu Commandery [southeast of the capital]

Fa-hsiang's secular surname was Hou. Her family was originally from Tun-huang [an outpost in far-northwest China].

Fa-hsiang was outstanding in her excellence of both character and intellect. Zealous in her love of study, she would not slacken her efforts on account of scarcity; she was content in her poverty, and material prosperity did not sway her. Fa-hsiang married into the Fuh clan, but the family was beset by many troubles, and, when the ruler of the Former Ch'in dynasty, Fu Chien, suffered defeat (383), all her relatives disappeared or perished in the aftermath. She then left the household life and undertook the observance of the monastic rules. Her belief in and understanding of [the Buddhist religion] was profound.

Fa-hsiang often divided her clothing and food, giving the best to the nun Hui-su. The other nuns admonished Fa-hsiang saying, "The nun Hui-su is uncultivated and inarticulate. She has been totally unable to learn anything about Buddhist teaching, scriptures, or monastic rules. She wanted to study meditation, but no one would give her instruction, for she is a thorough dolt and the worst of idiots. Why is it that you do not try to harvest [greater merit for yourself by sowing the seeds of generosity] in a more spiritually worthy field instead of cultivating this very inferior one [that is unable to produce a good harvest of blessings?]"

Fa-hsiang responded [to the charge], "One would have to be a saint to know the spiritual accomplishments of the recipient of donations. I, however, because I am a very ordinary person, would rather do it this way. If I make a suitable donation, why should I be concerned with deliberately selecting [a so-called superior recipient]?"

Later, the nun Hui-su, whom the others thought to be hopeless, sponsored a seven-day meditation session. On the third night Hui-su sat down in meditation with the rest of the assembly, but she did not get up again with the others. When they observed her they saw that she was rigid like wood or stone. When they tugged at her, she did not move. Some said that she had died, but three days later she got up and was her usual self. It was only then that the whole assembly recognized Hui-su's extraordinary accomplishment in meditation, and for the first time they became aware of Fa-hsiang's profound insight and ability [to recognize the spiritual capacities of others]. Things like this happened more than once.

The years went by, and Fa-hsiang in her old age was even more rigorous in her practice of austerities. She was over ninety when she died at the end of the yüan-chia reign period (424-453).

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