THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
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Biography 

Of the Forth Hua Yen Patriarch, National Master Ch’ing Liang 

Translated and adapted by former Bhikshuni from Records of the Five Patriarchs of the School of the Dharma Realm, compile by Shramana Hsu  Fa of Ch’ien T’ang Tzu Yun, Hua Yen Ching Su Ch’ao, Taipei, 1966, and Records of Eminent Monks ) Kao Seng Chuan), edited by Mei Kuang Hsi. 

The Master’s left-home name was Ch’eng Kuan, his layname was Ta Hsiu, and his family name as Hsia Hou. He was a native of Hui Hsi, Yueh Chou Province. He has remarkably tall. His arms extended below his knees, and he had forty teeth (Two of the thirty-two marks of the Buddha which denote great nobility and rare genius). The sound of his voice was clear and sonorous, like a big bell. Each of his eyes glowed with light, but by day the light was not apparent. He could memorize 10,000 words a day and read seven lines of writing at a single glance. 

The Master was born in 738 A.D., on the 26th year of the reign of T’ang Emperor Hsuan Tsung. On the day of his birth, a celestial light filled the room and penetrated the neighboring houses. Even as a child, his favorite pastime was piling up sand and fashioning stupas out of it. At age nine, he bowed to Master T’i Chen Ch’an Te of Pao Lin Temple of Pen Chou as his teacher. After staying in the temple for about a year, he had become well-versed in the Tripitaka. At age eleven, the Master left the home life. Upon donning the precept sash, he deeply ruminated on the contemplation of Noumenon. By then he was able to lecture a total of fourteen Sutras – The Prajna, The Nirvana, The Dharma Flower (Lotus), the Vimalakirti, The Perfect Enlightenment, and other Sutras. He could also discourse on nine Shastras, including The Arisal of Faith, The Jeweled Nature, The Yoga, the Consciousness Only, The Abhidharma-Kosha, Madhyamika, The Hundred Dharmas, and The Hetuvidya Shastras. 

In 757, the Master received the full Bhikshu precepts under Great Master T’an I. Afterwards he traveled to Nan Shan to stay for awhile. There he lectured the Vinaya Store for the assembly. He also bowed to Ch’an Master Ch’ang Chao and received the Bodhisattva precepts from him. Upon that transmission, he brought forth vows to urge himself on in his practice:

  1. His body would not renounce the appearance of a Shramana.
  2. His mind would not oppose the regulations of the Thus Come Ones.
  3. He would not sit with his back to the Sutra of the Dharma Realm (The Flower Adornment Sutra).
  4. His nature would not be defiled by states of emotional love.
  5. His feet would not tread the ground of a nunnery.
  6. His ribs would not touch the bed of a layperson.
  7. His eyes would not gaze at improper spectacles.
  8. His tongue would not taste edibles after noon.
  9. His hand would not let loose the round, bright recitation beads.
  10. Not for a night would he be apart from his robe and bowl.

From Niu T’ou Chung and Ching Shan Ch’ing, he inquired about the purport of the Dharma transmitted from the West. He also went to bow to Ch’an Master Wu Ming, from whom he obtained the seal of fusion in stillness. Thereupon, the Master attained self master of functioning and exclaimed:

“Brightness is for throwing light on shadows. The Dharma is for penetrating confusion. And yet, that which has 10,000 doors interreflecting; which fuses and intermingles the myriad creations; which is vast, great, and all-inclusive; which exhausts everything in the Dharma Realm, is none other than the one, Great Flower Adornment.”

Moreover he went to study under Master Ta Shen of Tung Ching from whom he received the esoteric principles. His sharp roots opened an instantaneous enlightenment, and he was able to lecture the Dharma pervasively and with unimpeded eloquence. This prompted the Master Shen to say: “The School and Vehicle of the Dharma realm completely rests on you!”

By then, his renown had escalated, until in 768 the Emperor T’ai Tsung commissioned him to join in the translation of Sutras along with Tripitaka Master Pu K’ung (Amoghavajra) at Ta Hsing Shan Monastery. He was appointed as the Virtuous Master of Embellishing Letters. In 770, the Master presented to the Emperor 77 volumes of Sutras that were translated, totaling 20 scrolls.

Upon leaving the Translation Institute, he bade farewell to the Emperor and embarked upon a career of propagating the Flower Adornment Sutra. In the year 776, he made a pilgrimage to Wu T’ai Mountain, one of the Four Sacred Mountains of China and the Way Place dedicated to the Bodhisattva, Manjushri. From Wu T’ai he proceeded to O Mei Mountain to pay homage to Universal Worthy Bodhisattva, to whom that mountain was dedicated. Then he returned to Wu T’ai and stationed himself at Great Hua Yen Temple. There he specialized in the Hua Yen Repentance as a practice door. At that time, the Abbot, Hsien Li, requested the Master to lecture the Great Sutra and various other Shastras. Seeing that the language of the old commentaries was complex and not easily understood by most students, the Master lapsed into a melancholic meditation. He had this thought, “Manjushri represents Wisdom, while Universal Worthy personifies Noumenon. The two sages merge together as Vairochana Buddha. The complete penetration of the 10,000 conducts is the very meaning of the Hua Yen. Now that I have coursed in the states of Universal Worthy and joined in the realm of Wonderfully Lucky (Manjushri), if I didn’t proceed to compose a treatise on Vairochana – wouldn’t that be an act of ingratitude towards the two sages?” Henceforth, he began a stay at Great Hua Yen Temple, of Wu T’ai Mountain, for a period of ten years. The Sanghins on the mountain wholeheartedly joined in his efforts to propagate the Great Sutra.

The Master also pondered on the achievements of a Sage who has arrived on the Fifth Ground: “The Sage’s person abides in the state of the Buddha, while his mind has certified to True Suchness. And yet, even such a one gives rise to Wisdom of Subsequent Attainment and studies the knowledge of the world.” Thereupon the Master investigated extensively the Six Classics, the Histories, the nine classes of philosophies, theories of external ways, myriad commentaries on Chinese literature, as well as Sanskrit, the Vedas, the Five Sciences (literature, philosophy, medicine, arts and crafts, rhetoric and logic); holy teachings, as well as treatises on worldly doctrines. He became an exceptionally erudite and versatile scholar who covered nearly all the different branches of learning of his time.

In the year 784, at age 45, the Master conceived the idea of writing a commentary on the Flower Adornment Sutra. One night he dreamed of a golden man looming before him like a majestic mountain. That divinity was replete with the perfect features of the full moon and stood erect in empty space. The Master took hold of the golden man and swallowed his entire body. Upon awakening, he was enlightened. He knew he had obtained the portent of Universally Illumining Light, indicating that the Flower Adornment pervades the Dharma Realm. During that month, he held a great Dharma Assembly to celebrate the occasion. After that, he proceeded to compose the Prologue without pause. Words flowed from his brush without a second thought, and he was as if aided by transcendental grace. The Prologue required no revisions. At that time, the only extant commentary on the Sutra was the one written by the Third Hua Yen Patriach, National Master Hsien Shou. The Master further developed that line of doctrinal analysis. He divided the New Prologue into Ten Doors to explain the mysteries of the Hua Yen, and apportioned the actual Sutra text into Four Divisions (1. Faith, 2. Understanding, 3. Practice, 4. Certification) to facilitate study and investigation. By 787 he had completed 20 scrolls of the Prologue. On that night he dreamed he turned into a dragon whose head extended from the southern peak of Wu T’ai and whose tail stretched to the northern peak. The dragon’s bristles radiated a brilliance that lit up the sky, surpassing that of the noon-day of tiny dragons which pervasively illuminated the four directions and then disappeared into space. The Master recognized this as a sign that the Flower Adornment Prologue would disseminate to infinite reaches of the Dharma Realm. 

There were numerous other auspicious portents. From example, when he first embarked upon lecturing the Prologue and the Sutra to the assembly, an unusual cloud hung suspended in the air over the assembly like a canopy and didn’t disperse for a long time. Later on, for the benefit of over a hundred lecturers, like Sang Juei and company, the Master completed the Appended Commentary to the Prologue of forty scrolls, and the Mirror-Hand of Appended Essays of one hundred scrolls.
 

In 796, Li Shen, the Minister of Rites, entreated the Master to enter the Capitol City to aid Tripitaka Master Prajna, of Kucha, in translating a Sanskrit manuscript of the Flower Adornment Sutra, which was a present from the King of Orissa. The translation commenced on the fifth day of the sixth month, and the Emperor often personally visited the Translation Institute as a sign of his encouragement and approval. One the 24th day of the second month of the year 798, all forty rolls of the translation were presented to the Emperor. The extant version of that translation consists of Chapter 39, Entering the Dharma Realm (The Gandavyuha) and Chapter 40, The Conduct and Vows of Universal Worthy, the latter of which is often appended to the New Chinese Version of the Hua Yen in eighty scrolls. 

On the fourth month of the same year, the Emperor invited the Master to Unicorn Hall to lecture the new translation of the Sutra. Before an assembly of court ministers and officials, the Master ascended the high seat and set forth a discourse that inspired the Emperor to exclaim in praise, “How wonderful are your words; how subtle yet revealing!” thereupon he conferred upon the master the purple robe and bowed to him as the instructing Upadhyaya. On the fifth month of that same year, the Master was asked to enter the palace again and commissioned to compose a commentary on the recently translated Flower Adornment Sutra. He proceeded to write an Appended Commentary in ten scrolls, together with a one-scroll commentary on the Chapter of Universal Worthy’s Conduct and Vows. 

In the year 799, the Emperor further conferred upon him the title of the “Great Master Calming the Nation.” His name was also entered into the Records of Great Sanghins of China. 

On the fourth month of that year, to celebrate the Emperor’s Birthday, the Master, as instructing Upadhyaya, was welcomed into the Inner Palace to propound the Great Sutra. The Master ascended the Dharma seat and proclaimed: “Great in deed is the One true Realm, the resource of the myriad dharmas! It envelopes the void, yet is cut off from marks. It enters words and phenomena, and yet it leaves no trace. The Buddha upon attaining it, miraculously realized True Enlightenment and severed all habits of defilement. Bodies and kshetras fuse in mutual inclusion. Sounds and light irradiate afar. Our Emperor, upon attaining it, can mirror the void and guard and harmonize the peace to the utmost. The sagely writing hovers over a hundred rulers. Its virtuous atmosphere stirs up ten thousand lands. The Flower Adornment Sutra exhausts its purport and intent and fathoms the source of its flow. Therefore, it is vast, bright, magnificent, and far-reaching; all-inclusive, deep, and profound. It is inconceivable! Having lost its purport, one then cultivates causes throughout numerous kalpas in vain. Upon entering its door, one achieves equally all Buddhas in a single day. Contemplate a single dustmote: the Dharma Realm lies in your palm! Its principles are profound, its wisdom far-reaching. Consciousness obscures the flow of words; objective states tarnish divine wisdom.” 

Upon delivering this sermon, the Master sat down. At that time, the Emperor beheld in silence the Sea Seal Samadhi, Sending Forth Light, and became great awakened. He told his ministers, “The words of my teacher are refined and concise, his diction richly steeped in the classics. He stirs up an atmosphere of truth in the Heaven of Primary Meaning. He can cool my heart with the sagely Dharma. Whereupon the Emperor conferred upon the Master the title, Ch’ing Liang (“clear and cool”) and appointed him National Master. From then on, numerous high-ranking ministers and courtiers from local and foreign lands observed the requirements of the Eight Precepts and bowed to the Master as their teacher. 

At that time, Emperor Hsun Tsung was in the Eastern Palace. He sent an envoy to inquire after the Master. The Master replied in writing, “The Ultimate Way is basically One Mind. The Mind Dharma is fundamentally without dwelling. The substance of the Mind which has no dwelling is endowed with divine awareness and not obscured. Nature and marks are stilled; they embrace the function of virtue. When one is confused about one’s present capacities, delusions and suffering abound. When one enlightens to the true nature, then empty brightness radiates. Although it is said, “The Mind is just Buddha,” nevertheless, only those who certify to it can know this state.” 

The Master was also requested to explain one scroll of the “Understanding the Final Meaning,” and an essay called “The causes and Conditions of Creating Offenses from Eating Meat.”

In 805, Emperor Hsun Tung ascended the throne. He invited the Master to stay at Hsing T’ang Monastery and especially erected Universal Light Hall and Flower Adornment Pavillion for him. He commissioned the sculpting of a mural depicting the seas of kshetras of the worlds of the Flower Treasury and a painting on the Assemblies of the Dharma Realm, both significant themes in the Flower Adornment Sutra. 

In 810, Emperor Hsien Tsung invited the Master to enter the palace to discuss the Dharma. The Master propounded the principles of the Dharma Realm and enlightened the Emperor to bright understanding. Thereupon, the Emperor commanded the casting of a golden seal, bestowed upon the Master the position of Chief Sanghin of the Nation, and vested him with the power to overlook all religious matters of state.

The two following Emperors, Mu Tsung and Ching Tsung, also held the Master in immense respect and conferred on him the title of National Master Great Illumination. In the year 831, the ruling emperor, Wen Tsung, received the precepts of the mind from the Master and vowed from then on to abstain from shellfish. In 836, on the occasion of the Master’s 100th birthday, the Emperor granted him gifts of clothing, wealth, and food and the further honorific title of Chief Ruling National Master. To this day, his extant writings number over four hundred scrolls. 

The Master lectured the Great Flower Adornment Sutra on fifty separate occasions. In his lifetime, fifteen great Dharma Assemblies were held under his auspices. Of his disciples who themselves became masters, there were thirty-eight, Hai An and Chi Kuang being their leaders. Those who personally received instructions from him numbered 1,000. Only Sang Juei of Tung Ching and Tsung Mi of Kuei Shan (who subsequently became the Fifth Patriarch of the Hua Yen School), obtained his mysterious transmission. The others came with a humble mind and went away with concrete and substantial benefits. 

In the 839, the sixth day of the second month, the Master summoned the senior-seated leader of the Assembly, Pao En, together with Hai An and others, and enjoined them with these words: 

“I hear that sheer reliance on luck is of no merit, and something over which sages lament. To pledge one’s intent and yet not substantiate it in practice is a behavior that the ancients deplored. Do not shuttle back and forth from the Emperor’s temple; refrain from entangling yourselves with imperial decrees and business dealings. Take heed not to worm yourselves into bizarre tangents, and don’t go along with what’s wrong or false. Do not be confused or slide into a deviant frame of mind, nor fight and contend while clinging to you own stubbornness. Even brightness cannot dispel the darkness of the long night. Even a compassionate mother cannot vouch for her own son. You should vest your faith in the Buddha. Do not vest your faith in men. The Realm of Truth is profound and subtle and cannot be revealed by words. But by experiencing and understanding it with deed intent, it will manifest brightly before you. In coming face to face with states, entertain no thought; in encountering opposition, do not move – then you have not succeeded me in vain!” After imparting these final words, the Master sat in full lotus and departed. 

The Master survived nine reigning periods and was Precept Master of nine emperors. The nine emperors were: 

  1. T’ang Hsuan Tsung.
  2. T’ang Su Tsung.
  3. T’ang T’ai Tsung.
  4. T’ang Te Tsung.
  5. T’ang Hsun Tsung.
  6. T’ang Hsien Tsung.
  7. T’ang Mu Tsung.
  8. T’ang Ching Tsung.
  9. T’ang Wen Tsung. 

He lived to the chronological age of 102, his precept age then being eighty-three. His words and theories were fine and elegant, his demeanor – whether in movement or stillness – was exemplary in virtue. His erudition encompassed the nine classes of philosophies. While composing, his prodigious output was enough to keep two secretaries busy at the same time. Throughout his entire life he adhered to the practice of eating once a day at noon, and he never kept any personal possessions, except his robes and bowl. At the time of his passing, Emperor Wen Tsung honored him as the “Sagely Patriarch” and ordered the suspension of imperial affairs for three days as a sign of mourning and respect, an occasion for which all the ministers donned the white robes of mourning. Twenty-one days passed; the luster of the master’s body became even more bright. He sat erect like a lofty mountain. On the 27th day of the same month, the Emperor ordered that the Master be buried at the Stupa at Chung Nan Mountain. Later on, an Indian monk arrived at China and announced that, while in the Belaturgh Mountain Range in Chinese Turkestan, he had seen two youths flying across the sky. The monk has stopped them and asked them where they were heading, and the youths had replied, “We are guardian spirits of Manjushri’s temple in Northern India. We have come east to China to obtain Flower Adornment Bodhisattva’s teeth to bring back to our country to make offerings to them.” The Emperor ordered the Stupa to be opened. Everything was intact, except two of the Master’s teeth were missing. The National Master had been a transformation body of Flower Adornment Bodhisattva! His remains were found to be as if alive and glowed with a snow-like, iridescence. Upon cremation, several thousand sharira were obtained. They were gleaming, effulgent, and luminous. Of his remains, his tongue did not burn. It retained the shape of a red lotus, testifying to the fact that the Master’s writings had completely meshed with all the Buddhas’ Mind-Dharma. 

The Emperor reserved his posthumous title of National Master Ch’ing Liang and named the Stupa Niao Chiao, “Wonderful Enlightenment.”

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