Tag Archive | China

The Women’s Kingdom

This is an interesting film about the Mosuo, a matrilinear society in China.

A fair part of the film is about their unusual sexual life, as Mosuo women do not marry, but have walking – or should it be walk-in? – marraiges, in which a male is allowed into their room for the night and has to leave in the morning.

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The First Chinese Bhikkhunis 3

“Lives of the Bhikkhunis” by Bao Chang, Liang Dynasty: A biography of Pu-Xian Temple Bhikkhuni Bao-Xianiv 1

Bhante Sujāto

Bhante Sujāto

Bao-Xian; Lay family name Chen; Chen city citizen.

At age sixteen her mother passed away. In memory of her, Bao-Xian did not eat rice for 3 years, surviving on beans and taro. She did not wear silk fabrics or cotton; neither did she use a bed and woven mat.

Aged nineteen she renounced and resided at Jian-An Temple. Her conduct in devel­oping her practice was very refined; she had a broad under­standing of medit­ation and Vinaya. Emperor Wen of the Song dynasty paid respects to Bao-Xian by making offerings of clothing and food requisites. Subsequently, emperor Xiao-Wu honored her with an allowance of ten thousand chen monthly. When emperor Ming ascended the throne, he received her with great respect and offerings. By the first year of emperor Tai-Shi she was made abbess of Pu-Xian Temple by imperial decree. In the second year of Tai-Shi’s reign she was again honored by imperial decree being made a Sangha judge in the capital city of the province.

She was a greatly impressive, determined character, with brilliant judgement, as if she had psychic powers. Skilled in the logic of debate, she was certainly capable of releasing any person who was wrongly accused. Her temperament was upright and forth­right, she would never compromise on what she knew was right.

In the early peaceful period of the Jin dynasty [335 – 342 C.E.], the nun Jing-Jian was the first Chinese Bhikkhuni. Initially, they received the ordin­ation from the monks only. The nuns Hui-Guo and Jing-Yin from Ying-Fu temple once questioned Ven. Gunav­arman regarding this, Ven. Gunav­arman said: ‘In this country, in this territory there is no two-fold assembly. However, receiving the ordin­ation from the monks only is adequate.’

Later, nuns Hui-Guo and others encountered foreign Bhikkhunis when they arrived [in China], Ayyā Sārā and others. In the eleventh year of the reign of emperor Yuan-Jia [434 C.E.] they re-received full ordin­ation at Nan-Lin Temple from Ven. Sanghav­arman. This does not mean that the former one-fold assembly ordin­ation was not allowable. It is said that re-ordination was for the sake of improving their Vinaya. Later, many of those who were inter­ested re-ordained.

However, problems arose when they ordained without invest­ig­ating. In the time of emperor Yong-Hui, in the second year of his reign [650 C.E.], Vinaya master Ven. Fa-Ying at Jin-Xing Temple started to explain the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya. That day there were more than 10 nuns wishing to receive ordin­ation again. Bhikkhuni Bao-Xian dispatched the head of the Sangha Bureau with an order to assemble the nuns in the Dharma hall. They made an announcement with the wooden knocker and commanded that all nuns not be allowed to receive a second ordin­ation without official approval. [The problem arose because] some of those who were ordained, when invest­igated, were not old enough to be ordained. Their upajjhāyinīs were told to assemble in advance and confess in front of the Sangha. In future those seeking reordin­ation were made to report to the Sangha Bureau to check that they were qualified. Ven. Bao-Xian also requested a person to supervise and examine the candidates to ascertain whether they are able to re-ordain. If they disobeyed or resisted, it was commanded to dismiss them and not [allow] them to remain in the community. After this, the wave of re-ordination was controlled.

In her duties as a Sangha Judge she was incor­ruptible and discerning. She gave comfort to the multitude and bestowed kindness on disciples. She was sober, with few desires, and was highly respected in the world. In the first year of the reign of emperor Sheng-Ming, aged 77, she passed away.

End Notes

1 CBETA, T50, no. 2063, p. 941, a8-b2.


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.

The First Chinese Bhikkhunis 2

“Lives of the Bhikkhunis” by Bao Chang, Liang Dynasty: A biography of Bhikkhuni Seng-Guo of Kuang-Ling city 1

Bhante Sujāto

Bhante Sujāto

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.

End Notes

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.

The First Chinese Bhikkhunis 1

“Eminent Monks of the Liang Dynasty” by Hui Jao: The Life of Sanghav­arman 1

Bhante Sujāto

Bhante Sujāto

Sanghav­arman (in Chinese named Zhang-Kai) was an Indian by birth. As a young man he renounced society and was well-known and respected for his morality (Vinaya) and virtue. He was partic­u­larly knowledgeable in the Tripitaka and specialised in the Saṁyuktābhidharmahṛdayaśāstra (雜阿毗 曇心論).

During the tenth year of the reign of emperor Yuan-Jia, Sanghav­arman travelled across quicksand to the capital city. He showed a solemn and refined person­ality. Both Taoist hermits and ordinary people regarded him with unusual honour, which led them to follow his teachings. He was known as a Tripitaka master. During the early period of the emperor Jing-Ping, a government official named Xu-Sang donated his house to build a temple. It was named Ping-Liu Temple after him.

Later, Ven. Hui-Guan regarded Sanghav­arman as pure and perfect in his conduct according to the discipline of a monastic. He requested him to dwell at this temple in honor of his virtue and character. Ven. Sanghav­arman with Ven. Hui-Guan built another three layers of the stupa, and this is how the structure is today. Ven. Sanghav­arman was sincere in his practice and recited sutras day and night with great diligence. Monastics gathered around him for his teachings and to practice the path he taught. During this time Buddhism flour­ished among the people in China.

The Tripitaka master Sanghav­arman, having great wisdom in regards to the Vinaya, intended to arrange the full Bhikkhuni ordin­ation for nuns [with the two assem­blies]. The nuns seeking reordin­ation included Ven. Hui-Guo from the Ying-Fu Temple. At that time the two-fold assembly was not yet completed, but the study of the Tripitaka was familiar among the monastic community.

Not long after the Sri Lankan Bhikkhuni Ayyā Sārā 2 arrived at Nanking. Ven. Sanghav­arman was requested as the teacher (ācariya) by the Sangha to continue teaching the Tripitaka. He indicated the continuity of the lineage and demon­strated an impressive knowledge of the Tripitaka.

At that time a monk called Hui-Yi from Qi-Huan Temple (Nibbana Temple) went to the capital city Nanking and accused Ven. Sanghav­arman of promoting distorted teachings with the wrong meaning. They debated face to face many times. Ven. Sanghav­arman brought forth evidence for his inter­pret­a­tions that Ven. Yi could not refute. Ven. Yi acknow­ledged this evidence, after which changed and softened his attitude towards Ven. Sanghav­arman. He praised Sanghavarman’s views and followed his teachings willingly. Moreover, he summoned his disciples including Ven. Hui-Ji to assist in the full Bhikkhuni ordin­ation in which several hundred nuns received the two-fold assembly ordination.

At the time of the Song dynasty the mayor of the city Peng named Yi-Kang honoured Ven. Sanghav­arman as a saint for setting a good example in Vinaya. Yi-Kang arranged a big offering. At that time the four fold assembly of the Sangha was flour­ishing at the capital city Nanking.

Ven. Hui-Guan believed that Ven. Sanghav­arman had surpassing under­standing, compre­hension, and memory of the Saṁyuktābhidharmahṛdayaśāstra. Although at this time the Tripitaka had been trans­lated, it had not yet been formally written down. Promptly, that same year in September, scholars were convoked to Chang-Gan Temple to translate the text. Ven. Hui-Guan requested Ven. Sanghav­arman to lead the group of trans­lators. Sanghav­arman examined the research thoroughly with great dedic­ation and wrote down the trans­lation himself. Later on, he continually edited the trans­lation of the 分別業報略 (Karmaphalanirdesa-sūtra), the 勸發諸王要偈, and the 請聖僧浴文.

As his determ­in­ation to spread the Dhamma was strong, Ven. Sanghav­arman had the desire to travel and teach without being tied down to one place. After he had trans­mitted the sutras, he took leave and returned to his native country, India. The people together begged him to stay but their efforts were in vain as none of them could convince him to remain. At year 19, during the time of emperor Yuan-Jia, Ven. Sanghav­arman accom­panied a merchant ship abroad. There is no record about how his life ended.

End Notes

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.

2 鐵薩羅, tie-sa-luo. It is not sure how this name should be recon­structed. Sa-luo probably is a phonetic repres­ent­ation of sārā, or perhaps sarā, although it should be noted that the character 薩 at that time was probably pronounced sat. The first element is usually inter­preted as a phonetic character and the whole rendered (implausibly) as devasārā or (more plausibly) tessarā (this name does not seem to be attested in Pali, but is appar­ently known in Sinhalese with the meaning ‘swan’). However, the character 鐵 does not seem to be used anywhere else phonet­ically, but rather in its meaning of ‘iron’. The Pali for iron is ayas, which would give us ayassārā. This is an implausible name, but the usual term of address for Bhikkhunis is ayyā. I suggest that the Chinese trans­lator mistook the honorific (which, if these were the first Sinhalese bhikkhunis, he would have been unfamiliar with), and when the nun was referred to as ‘Ayyā Sārā’ (Venerable Sārā) he thought they were saying the nearly identical-sounding ayassārā.


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.

The Buddhist Nuns of Emei Mountain

In A.D. 67 or 10 Yongping, Han Dynasty, Buddhism was introduced to China.

At the end of the 3rd century Buddhism was transferred to Mt. Emei, a famous mountain for Buddhism in the southwest part of China.

At the end of the 9th century Master Nun Huixu came to Mt. Emei, and became the first nun residing on Mt. Emei in history.

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