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3.4 (Tsai no.40) Seng-meng

The nun Seng-meng (Courageous in the Sangha) (418-489) of Brightness of Ch'i Convent of Yen-kuan County

Seng-meng's secular surname was Ts'en. Her family was originally from Nan-yang [near the old northern capital of Lo-yang], but they had removed to Yen-kuan County [on the seacoast some distance southeast of the Ch'i dynastic capital of Chien-k'ang] and, by the time Seng-meng was born, had lived there for five generations. Her great-grandfather Ts'en Shuai, in the Eastern Chin dynasty (317-420), was the secretary to the head of the subprefectural personnel and magistrate of Yü-hang [which lay to the west of Yen-kuan].

For generations the family had followed the Taoist religion of the Yellow Emperor and Lao-tzu and had also believed in and worshipped demonic spirits. Nevertheless, Seng-meng, even as a child, resolutely determined to uproot these vulgar practices.

When she was twelve, her father died. Weeping bitterly until she vomited blood, she died and then revived. After the three-year mourning period was completed, she demonstrated her unquenchable spirit by taking leave of her mother and going forth into the homeless life.

Seng-meng's conduct was already pure, and she respectfully served her teacher. Her food of plain vegetables and coarse rice was sufficient just to preserve life and limb. In practicing the ritual of confession she was never weary nor remiss, and, when she was repenting her former sins, her tears flowed in utmost sincerity. She was able to do what others could not do.

When the governor of I Province, Chang Tai (413-483) of Wu Commandery, heard of her good reputation, he highly honored her and requested her to become his family teacher.

In the first year of the yüan-hui reign period (473) of the Sung dynasty the nun Ching-tu entered the region of Wu and took Seng-meng to the capital city of Chien-k'ang to live in Establishing Blessings Convent. Seng-meng read through many scriptures day and night; when she followed lectures her mind was never weary; she learned much and remembered well, always able to recall whatever she had heard. Thus she studied and comprehended all the scriptures and books of monastic discipline, and with pure desires she sat quietly in meditation, immeasurably tranquil.

In the fourth year of the chien-yüan reign period (482) of the Ch'i dynasty when her mother became ill, Seng-meng returned east to her home in Yen-kuan County and made the house there into a convent that she called Brightness of Ch'i. She built shrine rooms and halls and planted rows of bamboo. Tranquil both within and without, it looked like the dwelling place of the immortals. She gave her food to the hungry and her clothes to those suffering from the cold.

Once a hunter approached the convent from the south. The flying birds and running beasts rushed to Seng-meng for refuge with the pursuing falcons and dogs very close behind. Seng-meng blocked them with her body and arms, and, although she was pecked and bitten, the creatures who had fled to her escaped from harm.

Several dozen persons lived together with her for more than thirty years without once seeing her angry. She was seventy-two years old when she died in the seventh year of the yung-ming reign period (489) of the Ch'i dynasty.

At that time there was also the nun Seng-yüan who was the daughter of Seng-meng's cousin on her father's side. Seng-yüan was also known for her filial behavior. Her conduct was exalted and her wisdom deep.

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