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3.7 (Tsai no.43) Seng-kai

The nun Seng-kai (Canopy of the Sangha) (430-493) of Foundation for Meditation Convent

Seng-kai's secular surname was T'ien, and her family was originally from Chün-jen in the Chao region [north of the Yellow River]. Her father, T'ien Hung-liang, was administrator of T'ien-shui in [northwest China].

Seng-kai was still a child when she left secular life to become a disciple of the nun Seng-chih in Flower Grove Convent [of the northeastern city] of P'eng-ch'eng, where she forgot about gaining personal advantage and ignored slander or praise.

In the first year of the yüan-hui reign period (473), when the northern barbarians invaded the province, she, together with her fellow student Fa-chin, went south to the capital [Chien-k'ang], and took up residence in Wonderful Appearance Convent. Seng-kai listened extensively to the scriptures and to the texts of monastic discipline, inquiring deeply into their meanings. She especially cultivated the practice of meditation and [as the Classic of History says], "A single day was not enough." In cold weather or hot she did not change the amount of clothing she wore, and throughout the four seasons she did not vary her food or drink but sustained herself with only one dish of vegetables at the noon meal.

[Seng-kai received] instruction from the two masters of meditation Fa-yin and Seng-shen (416-490), both of whom marveled at her easy awakening. During the yung-ming reign period (483-493) of the Ch'i dynasty she moved to Foundation for Meditation Convent, where she wanted to propagate the way of contemplation, but monastics and laity alike came to consult her, greatly increasing the hubbub. Thereupon, on the left side of the convent she built a separate meditation hall wherein she remained in quietude. When she went out from the meditation hall, then she was apt in giving instructions and exhortation without growing weary.

Hsiao Tzu-liang, the prince of Ching-ling, Wen-hsüan (460-494) [second son of Emperor Wu], provided for her material needs throughout the year.

Although Seng-kai was already old, her determination had not weakened, for she was dispassionate throughout the day and alert throughout the night. In the eleventh year of the yung-ming reign period (493), she died at the age of sixty-four.

Also at that time in the same convent was the nun Fa-yen whose secular name was Hsü and whose family had come from Kao-yang [in north China]. Her vigorous practice produced results, and she, too [like Seng-kai], was known for her accomplishments in meditation.

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