“Lives of the Bhikkhunis” by Bao Chang, Liang Dynasty: A biography of Bhikkhuni Seng-Guo of Kuang-Ling city 1
Bhikkhuni Seng-Guo; Original lay family name Zhao, first name Fa-You; born in Ji region, Xiu-Wu city.
From her birth she had a sincere, honest, pure, and simple nature. As a baby girl when her mother breast fed her she would not suckle after midday. Her parents were both surprised and joyful about her exceptional qualities. When she grew up, even though her mind was devoted to Buddhism, there were many obstructive conditions that made it too difficult for her to ordain.
Only at twenty seven did she finally receive permission to renounce and follow her teacher Hui-Cong in Kuang-Ling city. Seng-Guo was firm in her practice of Vinaya, and her meditative insight was clear. Often when she entered samadhi she would sit from sunset to dawn, or from dawn to sunset. Her breath was soft like cotton, and she was always abiding in a pure state of mind. Her silhouette was like a dried out tree. Still those with little faith doubted her.
In the sixth year of emperor Yuan-Jia, a foreigner shipowner, called Nandi, brought Bhikkhunis from Sri Lanka. They arrived at Song capital city and the bhikkhunis resided at Jing-Fu temple. Soon after they arrived, they [the Sri Lankan Bhikkhunis] asked Ven. Seng-Guo: ‘Have any foreign nuns arrived here before?’ She answered: ‘Never!’ Again they asked: ‘When the first Bhikkhunis here received ordination, where did you receive the ordination from the two assemblies?’ She answered: ‘[The precepts] were received from the monks alone.’ The reason they ordained them with only the monks’ assembly was to give women the chance to ordain and inspire them with respect for living within the Vinaya — it was a skilful means. For example, Mahāprajāpatī, after accepting the eight garudhammas, was therefore allowed to ordain. The 500 Sakyan women then followed Mahāprajāpatī as upajjhāyinī and ordained. This is the earliest example.
Although Ven. Guo gave such an answer to the Sri Lanka nuns in her own mind she had doubt. Therefore she went and consulted the Tripitaka master, who gave the same opinion. But still she asked: ‘Should I renew the ordination?’ He answered: ‘Virtue, concentration, and wisdom are all gradual practices. So to renew the ordination would be better.’ Not until the year 10 (433 C.E.) did the ship owner, Nandi, again convey eleven Bhikkhunis from Sri Lanka, including Bhikkhuni Ayyā Sārā. By that time, the Bhikkhunis who had arrived previously could already speak the Song language [Chinese]. They requested Ven. Sanghavarman to set up the ordination altar at Nan-Ling temple. In succession, more than 300 Bhikkhunis took re-ordination.
During the eighteenth year of the reign of emperor Yuan-Jia, at age 34, once she meditated for several days. The Karmadana deliberately touched her and announced that she was dead. He was shocked and informed the temple administrators. They investigated her together. Ven. Guo’s body was cold but her muscles were still firm. However, her breath started to move slightly. As soon as they began to move her body she opened her eyes, smiled and talked as usual. Therefore, the people with little faith were surprised and became devoted to her. There is no record about her later life.
1 CBETA, T50, no. 2059, p. 342, b11-c7. The Liang Biographies (‘Lives of the Buddhist Monks’) was completed by Huijiao (497~554) in the Liang dynasty.
Editor’s note: This text has been translated from the Chinese by Bhikkhunī Samacittā, and edited by Bhikkhu Sujāto, who gave permission for the serialisation here.