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3.3 (Tsai no.39) Seng-ching

The nun Seng-ching (Respect in the Sangha) (402-486) of Exalted Sanctity Convent

Seng-ching's secular surname was Li. Her family was originally from Kuei-chi [some distance to the southeast of the capital]. They resided, however [in the immediate vicinity of the capital] at Mo-ling.

When Seng-ching was still in her mother's womb, the family arranged a meeting, requesting the monk Seng-chao from Pottery Office Monastery and the nun T'an-chih from Western Convent each to point at the mother's belly and address the unborn baby as a disciple. The mother, on behalf of her unborn child, addressed the two monastics as teacher, thereby agreeing that the child, whether boy or girl, would be committed to the religious life.

On the day when she was about the give birth, the mother dreamed of a supernatural being who said to her, "You may sponsor a ceremony of taking the eight precepts of the householder." She forthwith gave orders to begin the preparations, but, before the monks and the statues had been gathered together, Seng-ching was born. A voice out of nowhere said, "You may give her as a disciple to the nun Pai of Establishing Peace Convent." The mother complied.

Seng-ching, by the age of five or six, was able to repeat from memory scriptures that she had heard others chant. She read several hundred scrolls of scripture, and her marvellous understanding of them increased daily. Practicing sacrificial vegetarianism her pure manner became more and more manifest.

In the yüan-chia reign period (424-453) [of the Sung dynasty], when K'ung Mo went out as an officer to keep order in Kuang Province [in south China], he took Seng-ching along in his retinue. Seng-ching happened to meet the foreign nun Tessara and the others who were on their way to the Sung capital. They were all of highly exceptional conduct and appearance, and [Seng-ching, in order to accord fully with the monastic regulations and tradition that required that she receive the monastic obligation from both the Assembly of Monks and Assembly of Nuns] went through a second ceremony [of receiving the complete monastic obligation, accepting the rules from the foreign nuns as well as from the monks].

Seng-ching, deeply awakened to the truth of impermanence, wanted to embark on a pilgrimage across the ocean to seek out the holy traces of the Buddha's life on earth. The monastics and householders prevented her, however, and she remained in the Ling-nan region in south China for more than thirty years. Her manner gradually changed the hearts of the barbarian peoples of the south among whom she lived. A total of thirteen families donated land and went together to build a convent for her at Ch'ao-t'ing, calling it Built by the Multitude.

Emperor Ming (439-465-472) of the Sung dynasty heard about Seng-ching and issued an invitation all that distance to her, to welcome her to his presence. The monastics and householders of P'an-yü [the region in south China where she lived] grieved at the thought of losing her.

When Seng-ching returned to the capital, she lived by imperial decree in Exalted Sanctity Convent, where monastics and householders alike submitted to her instruction. A certain Yüeh Tsun of Tan-yang donated land and built a convent for her to which she later moved.

The Ch'i heir apparent, Wen-hui (458-493) [who was the first son of Emperor Wu], and the prince of Ching-ling, Wen-hsüan (460-494) [who was the second son of Emperor Wu], both admiring her virtuous practice, personally made donations without fail.

Seng-ching died on the third day of the second month of the fourth year of the yung-ming reign period (486) at the age of eighty-four and was buried on the south side of Bell Mountain. Her disciples erected a memorial stone for which the vice president of the department of the imperial grand secretariat, Shen Yüeh of Wu-hsing County, wrote the inscription.

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