Biographies

Biography Of The First Patriarch Of The Chinese Pure Land Tradition Great Master Huiyuan 中国净土宗初祖慧远大师传

出家法名:释慧远(大师)
地位:净土宗初祖
俗名:贾慧远
出生地:雁门郡楼烦县(今山西原平大芳乡茹岳村)
出生年:334 
往生年:416
代表作品:《大智论要略》二十卷【亦名《释论要钞》】、《沙门不敬王者论》一卷、《问大乘中深义十八科(并罗什答)》三卷、《大智论序》一卷、《阿毗昙心序》一卷、《三法度序》一卷、《妙法莲华经序》一卷、《明报应论》一卷、《修行方便禅经序》一卷、《辩心识论》一卷、《法性论》一卷、《沙门祖服法论》一卷、《释三报论》一卷、《佛影赞》一卷。

Monastic Dharma Name: Shi Hui Yuan (Great Master)
Status: First Patriarch Of The Pure Land Tradition (School) 
Family name: Jia Hui Yuan
Place of birth: Present day Shanxi, China
Year of birth: 334 
Year of rebirth: 416 

慧远大师是东晋时代人,出生于世代书香之家。从小资质聪颖,勤思敏学。十三岁时便随舅父游学,精通儒学。二十一岁时,偕同母弟慧持前往太行山聆听道安法师讲《般若经》。听后,大师悟彻真谛,感叹地说:⌈儒道九流学说,皆如糠秕。⌋ 于是发心舍俗出家,随从道安大师修行。二十四岁时,便开始讲经说法。道安大师常赞叹:⌈使道流东国者,其在远乎!⌋

Great Master Huiyuan was born during the Eastern Jin Dynasty, in a family with many generations of scholars. He was very intelligent and diligent in learning since young. At the age of 13, he went on a study tour with his uncle, through which he mastered Confucian teachings. At the age of 21, he went with his mother and younger brother Huichi to Mount Taihang to listen to Great Master Dao’an’s teaching on the Prajna Paramita Sutra. After listening, Great Master Huiyuan was able to completely understand the absolute truth, and exclaimed that ‘the nine streams of teachings, of Confucianism, Taoism [and others], are all like chaff.’ He thus gave rose to the aspiration to renounce the household life, to follow Great Master Dao’an for spiritual cultivation. At the age of 24, he began to speak on the sutras to preach the Dharma. Great Master Dao’an often exclaimed that, ‘The cause of spreading the Dharma to the East relies on Huiyuan!’ 

东晋太元四年(379年),大师率领弟子数十人打算去广东罗浮山,路过浔阳(今江西九江),见庐山清净,足可以息心敛影办道,于是驻锡庐山的龙泉精舍,发心建造东林寺。

In the year 379, Great Master Huiyuan led dozens of disciples to go to Guangdong Province’s Mount Luofu. On the way, passing Xunyang (now Jiangxi Jiujiang), he saw how serene Mount Lu was, and thought it would be restful and secluded enough for spiritual cultivation, thus, staying there at Longquan (Dragon Spring) Monastery, while aspiring to build Donglin (Eastern Forest) Monastery.

大师自此以东林为道场,修身弘道,著书立说。由于大师的德望,当时的东林寺成为南方佛教的中心。中外僧俗,望风遥仰。

Thereafter, the Great Master set Donglin Monastery to be his Bodhimanda, to practise and propagate the Dharma, and to write books to establish teachings. With the Great Master’s virtuous reputation, Donglin Monastery became the Buddhist centre of Southern China. Local and foreign monastics and laypeople from far and near all looked upon and respected the Great Master very much.

虽然佛法已不断的传入,然尚不完备。所以梵僧来华弘化者,仍然络绎不绝。大师感于法道有缺,曾派弟子法净、法领等西行取经,得到诸多梵本佛经,遂于庐山置般若台译经,成为中国翻译史上私立译场的第一人。庐山东林寺与长安逍遥园鸠摩罗什大师译场,作为南北二大佛教中心,遥相呼应。鸠摩罗什大师称慧远大师为⌈东方护法菩萨⌋。

Even though the Buddhist teachings were continually entering China, they were still not complete. This was why monks who knew Sanskrit kept coming to China to propagate the Dharma. Still, the Great Master felt that the teachings were in lack, and once sent his disciples Fajing, Faling and others to India to retrieve more sutras. Thus attaining many Sanskrit sutras, he set up the Prajna Peak for translating sutras at Mount Lu, becoming the first person in China’s history to privately establish a translation centre (without political assistance). Mount Lu’s Donglin Monastery and Chang’an’s ‘Park Of Freedom From Fetters’, which was Great Master Kumarajiva’s translation centre, became the two greatest Buddhist centres of Southern and Northern China, which corresponded with each other from afar. Great Master Kumarajiva even addressed Great Master Huiyuan as the ‘Eastern Dharma Protector Bodhisattva.’

大师率123人于精舍无量寿像前,建斋立誓,共期西方,结成⌈白莲社⌋,并让刘遗民作《西方发愿文》。大师所创的莲社,以修念佛三昧为主,其所依据的主要经典是《无量寿经》。《无量寿经》所示⌈发菩提心,一向专念阿弥陀佛⌋乃是大师及莲社诸贤共修的纲宗。

The Great Master led 123 people in the monastery before the image of Amitabha Buddha, to take the Eight Precepts, and vowed together to be born in the Western Pure Land, thus forming the White Lotus Society, also asking Liu Yiming (who was one of the 123 members) to write the ‘Verses For Giving Rise To Aspiration For Birth In The Western Pure Land’ (which became the manifesto of the White Lotus Society). The Lotus Society cultivated the Samadhi From Mindfulness Of Buddha as its focus, as mainly based upon the Immeasurable Life Sutra’s teaching to ‘give rise to Bodhicitta, and to wholeheartedly focus on mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha (Amituofo).’

大师以及莲社其他同伦,精进经行、礼拜、禅坐,修持念佛三昧,个个都有定中见佛的体验。不仅是一人的验证,而且是莲社作为团体的验证—莲社123位同仁,或定中、或梦中、或临命终时见到阿弥陀佛和西方极乐世界的胜境,与佛典所记载无二无别。

Everyone diligently practised during circumambulating, prostrating and being seated, to cultivate Samadhi From Mindfulness Of Buddha, with all experiencing sight of Amitabha Buddha when in concentration. Not only was it one person’s verification, but it was with the verification of the entire Lotus Society, that the 123 were able to, in concentration, dreams, or when approaching the end of life, see Amitabha Buddha and the supreme environment of Pure Land, which were without differences from that recorded in the sutras.

史料记载,大师禅定中三次见佛。刘遗民因其慧根深厚,修学得力,随大师修学念佛仅半年,即于定中见佛光照地,皆作金色。大师这种别具一格的念佛思想与实践,在当时的佛学界引起了巨大的反响,为净宗传播作出了重大贡献。庐山东林寺也以净土宗第一祖庭的地位屹立于佛教之林,开山祖师慧远大师被尊为净土宗初祖。

According to historical records, the Great Master saw Amitabha Buddha thrice when he was in samadhi. Due to Liu Yiming’s deep roots of wisdom and good cultivation of practice, following the Great Master’s practice of mindfulness of Buddha for only six months, he was able to see Amitabha Buddha within concentration, with the Buddha’s golden light illuminating the ground. With the Great Master’s unique thinking and practice (of setting up a society) for mindfulness of Buddha then in the Buddhist community, this gave rose to great responses, and for the propagation of the Pure Land Tradition, made a very important contribution (in establishing faith in the masses). Mount Lu’s Donglin Monastery also became established as the first patriarchal monastery of the Pure Land Tradition in the Buddhist community. The founder of the monastery, the Great Master Huiyuan, was posthumously conferred the title of the Pure Land Tradition’s First Patriarch.

大师净土思想的产生,亦与当时社会苦难现实的催化有关。从汉末到晋末,政治失轨,从王族贵绅到庶民百姓,无一不处境极危 。加上天灾饥疫,苦难的境遇激发着人们的出离心,这种社会心态恰与净宗求生净土的出世理念耦合,由是,古印度的净土教便在当时的社会文化土壤中找到了生长点。大师融汇老庄与佛教思想, 念佛求生西方净土,一呼百应, 揭开弘传净宗的序幕。

The birth of the Great Master’s thought on Pure Land Buddhism was also catalysed by society’s suffering. From the end of the Han Dynasty to the end of the Jin Dynasty, with political upheaval, royals, nobles and commoners all had to face extreme danger. In addition was natural disasters and famine. Such suffering and difficulties stimulated people to have the thought of renunciation (from suffering). This kind of social attitude appropriately coincided with the Pure Land Tradition’s philosophy of transcending the world. Therefore, ancient India’s Pure Land teachings were able to find an entry point for growth. The Great Master was also able to integrate (the already present) philosophy of Laozi and Zhuangzi with the Buddhist thought of practising mindfulness of Buddha to seek birth in the Western Pure Land. With his call, hundreds responded, thus beginning the prelude of the Pure Land Tradition’s propagation.

在《净土圣贤录》慧远大师一章中有如是记载:「义熙十二年(西元416年)七月晦夕,于般若台之东龛,方从定起,见阿弥陀佛,身满虚空,圆光之中,有诸化佛,观音势至左右侍立。又见水流光明,分十四支,回注上下,演说苦空无常无我之音。佛告远曰:『我以本愿力故,来安慰汝,汝后七日,当生我国。』」

In ‘Record Of Pure Land Saints And Sages’, the chapter on Great Master Huiyuan says, ‘In the year 416, on a seventh month’s evening, at the Prajna Peak’s eastern shrine, after arising from concentration then, the Great Master saw Amitabha Buddha, whose body filled space, and within his aura of light, there were many manifested Buddhas, with Guanyin Bodhisattva and Dashizhi Bodhisattva standing on his left and right. He also saw water with bright light, that divided into fourteen parts, that flowed up and down, with sounds that expounded on suffering, emptiness, impermanence and non-self (as described in the Immeasurable Life Sutra). Amitabha Buddha from afar told the Great Master, “I with my great vows’ power thus, have came to comfort you, and you seven days after, will be born in my land.”‘

之后大师对侍立两旁的弟子法净、惠宝说:「吾始居此,十一年中,三睹圣呤相,今复再见,吾生净土必矣!」果然事应其言,大师临终预知时至,于八月六日端坐而化,上品上生,享寿八十三。

After that, the Great Master told two of his assisting disciples by his sides, Fajing and Huibao, “Since I began residing here, within 11 years, I have thrice seen Amitabha Buddha’s pure form. Now again seeing him, I shall be born in his Pure Land!” As expected, the Great Master, when approaching the end of life, foretold in advance the time of his departure, on the sixth day of the eighth month, while seated upright, he reached Pure Land, attaining the highest birth of the highest grade. He was then 83 years old.

大师以亲身经历,验证念佛可生净土之不虚,感召后世依从净土教理,信愿念佛求生净土之僧俗人等,不计其数。弥陀净土之信仰日后能够得以广泛地流行,净土一教得以日益兴盛,实出于大师之功。大师一生志心弘教,德感朝野,晋安帝义熙年间,帝室下诏赐号⌈庐山尊者⌋、⌈鸿胪大师⌋及⌈白莲社主⌋。基于大师对佛教作的巨大贡献,及其对后世的影响,得到数朝帝王追封谥号,也可谓是在情在理。

The Great Master used his personal experience to prove and verify that mindfulness of Buddha can without doubt lead to birth in Pure Land, which inspired later generations to follow the Pure Land teachings. Countless monastics and laypeople, with faith and aspiration practised mindfulness of Buddha to seek birth in Pure Land. The practice to be born in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land thereafter was able to be widely popular, to be increasingly popular. This truly came from the Great Master’s tremendous efforts. With his lifelong sincerity to propagate Buddhism, his virtues touched the court and the commonalty. The Jin Emperor An in the Yixi years (between 405 – 419) sent out an imperial decree to confer the honorific titles of ‘Noble One Of Mount Lu’, ‘Great Master Of Great Display (Honglu)’ and ‘Master Of The White Lotus Society’ to him. Due to the Great Master’s great contributions to Buddhism, and their impact upon later generations, to attain many dynasties’ emperors’ conferment of posthumous titles, thus can also be said to be both logical and reasonable.

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Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!