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3.15 (Tsai no.51) Teh-leh

The nun Teh-leh (Joy in Virtue) (421-501) of Brightness of Ch'i Convent

Teh-leh's secular surname was Sun. Her family was from P'i-ling [to the southeast of the capital]. Her great-great-grandfather, Sun Yü, during the Chin dynasty, was the governor of Yü Province [which lay west of the capital on the north bank of the Yangtze River].

Teh-leh was born with two teeth in her mouth and, as she grew up, was often able to see clearly in a dark room without using either lamp or candle. She wished to leave the secular life, and her parents, who loved and cherished her, did nothing to stand in her way. When she reached the age of eight they gave permission for Teh-leh and her sister to enter the religious life together and become the disciples of the nun Kuang of Chin-ling.

After they had received the obligation to observe all the precepts of the monastic life, they both went to the capital [to pursue their study of Buddhism] and lived in Southern Eternal Peace Convent. Teh-leh, of steadfast determination, diligently labored at her studies day and night, thoroughly investigating both the scriptures and monastic rules, conversing about them in an elegant and refined way that gained the approval of Emperor Wen (407-424-453) of the Sung dynasty.

In the seventh year of the yüan-chia reign period (430), the foreign monk Gunavarman arrived in the capital. The grand general of the Sung [I-k'ang, prince of P'eng-ch'eng] (409-451), built Kingdom Convent (I, Pao-ch'ang, the complier, note that it was located north of Hedge Garden Monastery) and invited Teh-leh and other nuns to live there. In the eleventh year (434), more than ten nuns from Sri Lanka arrived and thus the Chinese nuns were able to receive from the foreign monk Sanghavarman the obligation to keep all the monastic precepts [in the proper form].

In the twenty-first year (444), the nuns Fa-ching and T'an-lan of that same convent, because of their involvement in K'ung Hsi-hsien's (d. 445) plots and intrigue against the government, brought about great harm to the Way [of Buddhism] and the destruction of their own convent, forcing all the nuns there to disperse. Teh-leh moved to Eastern Green Garden Convent, where she delved deeply into the practice of meditation, thoroughly investigating that marvellous realm.

After Emperor Wen died (453), she left the capital and traveled east toward Kuei-chi and took up residence in Reflecting Brightness Convent on White Mountain in the Yen region [to the southeast of Kuei-chi]. She taught easily and without fuss the students who gathered around her like clouds, causing [the Buddhist] religion to flourish in the southeast.

In the fifth year of the yung-ming reign period (487) of Ch'i, the devout [Buddhist] layman Yüan Chien, originally from Ch'en-liu [west of the capital], donated his own residence to set up Brightness of Ch'i Convent. The nuns, young and old alike, happily submitted to Teh-leh's leadership while those near and far, admiring her character, all wished to rely on her as their teacher, with the result that her disciples numbered over two hundred persons. She did not keep the donations made to her but rather, making no distinctions, distributed them equally to both monks and nuns who came to participate in the great gathering for lectures and preaching that she convened every year.

Teh-leh died in the third year of the yung-yüan reign period (501) at the age of eighty-one.

In the region of Yen there was also the nun Seng-mao, whose secular surname was Wang and whose family was originally from P'eng-ch'eng [in northeast China]. She kept a strict vegetarian diet and vigorously cultivated asceticism. Whatever was given to her she bequeathed to Bamboo Garden Convent.

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