[6] Biography Of The Chinese Pure Land Tradition’s Sixth Patriarch Great Master Yǒngmíng Yánshòu 净土宗六祖永明延寿大师传

作品:《宗镜录》一百卷、《万善同归集》六卷、《神栖安养赋》一卷、《受菩萨戒法》 、《唯心诀》一卷、《禅净四料简》等凡六十余部

Monastic Dharma Name: Shi Yanshou (Great Master)
Status: Third Patriarch of Chan’s Fayan Tradition, Sixth Patriarch Of The Pure Land Tradition (School)
Family Name: Wang (Surname), Chongyuan (style name)
Place Of Birth: Danyang, Jiangsu Province
Year Of Birth: 904 C.E.
Year Of Rebirth: 975 C.E.
Best Known Works: Record Of The Essential Mirror, Collection On Ten Thousand Goodnesses Returning Together, Essay On Divine Dwelling For Peaceful Nurturing, Method To Receive The Bodhisattva Precepts, Mind-Only Key, Chan & Pure Land’s Brief On Four Categories, etc.


Great Master Yongming Yanshou was born in 904 C.E., to a Wang family in Danyang, Jiangsu Province. He had innate talents and was intelligent. Having studied Confucianism, at the age of 16, he wrote ‘Essay On Equal To Heaven’s Talents’, which was presented to King Wenmu, Wang Qianyuan of Wuyue Kingdom, and attained commendations for it. When young, he also liked to read the Buddhist scriptures, and in only 60 days, was able to recite the entire [Dharma] Lotus [Flower] Sutra from memory.


When Great Master was a tax official, seeing fish, prawns, fowl and other animals, he would at once buy to liberate them. When his salary was used up, he used the government’s money to do so. After an accusation was lodged, he was sentenced to death, and was escorted to the marketplace for execution. King Wenmu sent someone to oversee, instructing the prison’s executioner, that if he sees the convict being fearful, the convict should be killed. If not afraid, the convict should be released.


Great Master, when approaching execution, was calm and self-composed. Without grief in his facial expression, he said, ‘I, of the treasury’s money, not in the least took for private use, exhausting it for buying to liberate lives, with their numbers not known. Now with death, is my path to be born in the Western Pure Land Of Ultimate Bliss, is that not a joy?’ King Wenmu, hearing this, thus exempted him from punishment and released him.


After being released, Great Master renounced the household life through Mingzhou’s Chan Master Cuiyan. Due to his respect and admiration for the Fayan Chan Tradition’s Second Patriarch and Tiantai Master Deshao, who was also the State Preceptor, he reached Mount Tiantai to study and practise Chan. Before long, he clearly understood the teachings, and was able to enter deep concentration to realise their essence. When he entered concentration for 90 days, birds even built nests on his robes. After presenting his insights to the State Preceptor, he received confirmation of enlightenment, thus succeeding as the Fayan Tradition’s Third Patriarch.


Great Master pondered, and decided to always have two vows. First, vowing to, for life, always recite the ‘Dharma [Lotus] Flower Sutra’. Second, vowing to, for all of his life, widely benefit sentient beings. Great Master sincerely practised the Dharma [Lotus] Flower Repentance, and diligently practised contemplative meditation, often receiving auspicious responses. Once, at midnight while circumambulating, he saw the lotus flower that was offered before the Samantabhadra Bodhisattva statue suddenly in his hand.

忆此第二愿,不知要以禅或净为主? 大师进退迟疑,莫能自决,遂上智者禅院作二阄。一是「一心禅定」阄,二是诵经「万善庄严净土」阄。

Recollecting this second vow, he did not know to take Chan or Pure Land as the main path. Great Master hesitated on how to advance, and was not able to personally decide. Hence, he ascended Great Master Zhizhe’s Chan hall to make two lots. On the first, ‘single-minded meditative concentration’ was written. On the second, was recitation of sutras and ‘ten thousand goodnesses adorning Pure Land’.


Great Master prayed before the Buddha with deep sincerity, and randomly drew a lot. For seven times, he drew the Pure Land lot. Thus, Great Master single-mindedly focusedupon cultivating Pure Land practice. After reciting sutras for three years, he saw Guanshiyin (Avalokiteshvara) Bodhisattva pour ambrosia into his mouth, after which his eloquence became unobstructed.


In the Song Dynasty’s Jianlong Yuan year (960 C.E.), Great Master was invited by King Zhongyi, Qian Hongchu of Wuyue Kingdom, to restore Hangzhou’s Lingyin Monastery, which was then restored to have as many as 1300 rooms. In the following year, Great Master moved to live at Yongming Court (which is presently Jingci Monastery), to receive and teach assemblies of disciples. Great Master’s daily practice routine consisted of 108 Buddhist practices. Important ones include upholding of mantras, mindfulness of Buddha’s name, prostration to Buddha, repentance, recitation of sutras, meditation and giving of Dharma talks. Every day, he would sincerely prostrate to ten Buddhas of the ten directions, Sakyamuni Buddha, Manjusri Bodhisattva, Universal Virtue (Samantabhadra) Bodhisattva, Maitreya Bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara (Guanshiyin) Bodhisattva, Great Power Arrived (Mahasthamaprapta) Bodhisattva etc. Every night, he would offer food to wandering spirits, gods and others in the wild.


Great Master’s aspiration to seek birth in the Western Pure Land was firm and unwavering, as he recited Amitabha Buddha’s name (Amituofo) a hundred thousand times daily. At sunset, he would meditatively walk to other peaks while practising mindfulness of Buddha, with several hundreds of practitioners following him. Upon hearing this, King Zhongyi, who deeply respected Great Master’s virtues, was greatly moved and exclaimed, ‘Since ancient times, of those who sought birth in the Western Pure Land, there has never been one with such sincerity.’ Thereupon, he built the Hall Of Western Adornment Of Fragrance for Great Master, to help him accomplish his aspiration, also conferring him the name of Chan Master Zhijue.

当时杭州常遭钱塘大潮所苦,忠懿王请大师于钱塘江畔月轮山上督造镇潮塔 。大师以佛教《六和合》理念为塔命名,六和塔至今为杭城标志性建筑。大师住永明院十五年,弟子数千人。常为众人授菩萨戒,施食放生,泛爱慈柔。一切功德悉皆回向众生,以作往生净土之资粮。劝勉大众老实念佛,以身作则,坐断一切狂慧口舌,解散一切义学藩篱,精修万行,庄严净土。

At that time, as Hangzhou suffered from Qiantang River’s great waves, King Zhongyi invited Great Master to supervise the building of a tide-subduing pagoda by the river on Yuelun Hill. With the Buddhist teaching of the Six Harmonies, Great Master named it the ‘Pagoda Of Six Harmonies’. Until today, it remains as a symbol of Hangzhou architecture. Great Master stayed at Yongming Court for 15 years, with several thousands of disciples. He often transmitted the Bodhisattva Precepts to many people, offering food and liberating animals. All meritorious virtues were dedicated to all beings, as supportive provisions for rebirth in Pure Land. He encouraged and advised the masses to earnestly be mindful of Buddha. With himself as an example, he severed all disputes from ‘crazy wisdom’, dissolved all barriers to free schools, and diligently cultivated ten thousand practices to adorn Pure Land.


Great Master at Yongming Court, gathered many highly virtuous ones to ‘give rise to the purpose of wholeheartedness, for reflecting the ten thousand dharmas like a mirror’, with the purpose of integrating the Tiantai, Huayan and Mind-Only traditions’ differences and similarities, compiling together, to form the monumental literary work with 100 scrolls, the Record Of The Essential Mirror. He also wrote the Collection On Ten Thousand Goodnesses Returning Together, Essay On Divine Dwelling For Peaceful Nurturing, Chan & Pure Land’s Brief On Four Categories etc., to emphasise and propagate Chan and Pure Land teachings’ unity as one. The thought of practising both Chan and Pure Land together, with the purpose of reaching Pure Land was most essential.


Great Master upheld the precepts strictly, while joyfully seeking rebirth in Pure Land – with the Avatamsaka Sutra’s teachings as the ultimate, complete and wonderful one vehicle, the spiritual brightness of our wonderful minds as the original source of the ten thousand dharmas, and with the Western Pure Land as the ultimate destination. Later generations of all Mahayana Buddhist traditions gradually fused with this trend to reach Pure Land. With Tripiṭaka Master Cimin being the initiator of such thought, Great Master Yongming was essential in implementing it. His Pure Land ideology can be briefly explained as the three points below.

(1) 唯心净土不碍炽然求生

(1) Mind-Only Pure Land does not obstruct the strong aspiration to seek birth in the actual Pure Land


Those with the power of faith yet to be sufficient, with minds scattered and unstable, and with shallow contemplation practice, must give rise to the aspiration to be reborn in Pure Land, so as to rely on Amitabha Buddha’s power of vows as additional, superior and predominant conditions, that can expedite accomplishment of the Bodhisattva path. Thereafter, they can return to Samsara out of compassion to save and aid suffering sentient beings. Thus, those who have reached thorough understanding of the philosophy of Mind-Only Pure Land rightly must strongly aspire to seek birth in the actual Pure Land, to reach what the human body cannot attain, which is true non-birth. Otherwise, theywill then be those with evil and wrong views, who slander the Dharma.

(2) 往生净土之因

(2) The cause of rebirth in Pure Land

大师佐证恶人临终十念往生 。临终时,心力能胜终身业力,是时少许,心力猛利,如火量虽小能作大事。由于临终之心决定勇健,能胜百岁行力,如人入阵,不惜身命,得以冲出重围,此为临终十念法门之神效。

Great Master confirmed that evil persons, when approaching the end of life, can attain rebirth in Pure Land with ten mindful thoughts of Buddha. When approaching the end of life, the power of the mind is able to be superior to the power of lifelong negative karma. With little time, yet with the power of the mind being powerful, like a fire although small, it is able to burn greatly. Due to the mind when approaching death being with definite braveness and strength, it is able to surpass the power of a hundred years of spiritual practice, like a person who enters a battleground, with the willingness to give up one’s own life, thus able to break through heavy encirclement. This is the divine efficacy of the Dharma door of ten mindful thoughts of Buddha when approaching the end of life.

(3) 禅净四料简,修持之龟鉴

(3) Chan & Pure Land Brief On Four Categories, serving as an example for future generations, for cultivation and upholding


The Brief On Four Categories is for comparison of choices. Great Master commented upon and explained the innate relation of the Chan and Pure Land traditions. For practitioners, he constructed a rational frame of reference, which had extremely great influence on later generations.



对四料简的诠释,诸家多有不同,以下是简略解释。(详细解说请看印光大师的《净土决疑论》 )

The Brief On Four Categories is as below:

With Chan [and] without Pure Land [practice],
[of] ten persons, nine [will] detour [on the] path.
[The] intermediate state [between death and rebirth], if manifesting before [them],
swiftly [will] they [be] followed [according to their karmic inclinations].

Without Chan [and] with Pure Land [practice],
[of] ten thousand cultivators, ten thousand persons [will] go [to Pure Land].
If attaining sight [of] Amitabha Buddha,
why worry [about] not awakening?

With Chan [and] with Pure Land [practices],
[cultivators are] similar to tigers bearing horns.
[In their] present lives as humans’ teachers,
[in their] future lives becoming Buddhas.

Without Chan [and] without Pure Land [practices],
iron beds and bronze pillars [await them].
[For] ten thousand kalpas and thousands [of] lives,
[with] no person [to] rely upon.

There are many different interpretations on The Brief On Four Categories. The following is a brief explanation. (For a detailed explanation, please read Great Master Yinguang’s The Treatise For Resolution Of Pure Land Doubts)


To understand the meaning of the Brief On Four Categories, one must first know what is Chan and Pure Land, what is to ‘have Chan’ and to ‘have Pure Land’? What is Chan? It is our true nature, the Buddha-nature we originally possess, that the Chan tradition calls our original face before our parents were born. What is Pure Land? It is to, with Faith and Aspiration, uphold the name of Buddha, to seek birth in the Pure Land Of Peaceful Nurturing, which is not particular reference to Mind-Only Pure Land, or speaking about Self-nature Amitabha Buddha (which is our unrealised Buddha-nature).


What is to ‘have Chan’? It is when the power of meditative investigation is utmost, such that thinking is silenced and passions ceased, to thoroughly see one’s original face before one’s parents were born, which is the state of understanding one’s mind to see one’s true Nature. What is to ‘have Pure Land’? It is to truly give rise to Bodhicitta, by giving rise to Faith and Aspiration, to uphold the name of Buddha, to seek birth in the Western Pure Land.


If yet to awaken by Chan meditation, or with awakening that is not yet thorough, both of these cannot be named as to ‘have Chan’. If yet to have Faith and Aspiration by mindfulness of Buddha due to particular attachment to Mind-Only Pure Land, or having Faith and Aspiration that is not yet sincere, both of these cannot be named as to ‘have Pure Land’.


The words of Great Master’s Brief On Four Categories are brief yet full of meaning, that are precise and appropriate. Regardless of sentient beings’ spiritual roots, all are able to obtain boundless benefits from it. Those of higher roots and sharper capacities might as well cultivate both Chan and Pure Land. Those of medium and lower roots should steadily guard their position on the Pure Land teachings, by earnestly practising mindfulness of Buddha, always with the Western Pure Land as the final direction and refuge.


In Song Dynasty’s Kaibao’s 8th year, on the 26th day of the 2nd lunar month, Great Master woke up at dawn, offered incense and bade farewell to many. He sat in the lotus position and departed. He was then 72 years old. After cremation, scale-like relics were found piled up throughout his body.

后有僧来自临安,经年绕师塔。旁人问他何故绕塔?那僧人回答:「我在一次大病中到过冥界,看见阎王殿左边供了一幅僧人像,阎王常在像前礼拜,我私下询问:『阎王礼拜的僧人是谁?』 得到回答是:『那僧是杭州的永明延寿禅师。大师灵逝,直接往生西方上上品。』 阎王敬重大师德业故,天天礼拜。所以我来这里绕塔,以示恭礼之心。」墓塔建于大慈山,后在此建有永明塔院。

Later, there was a monk from Lin’an, who came year after year to circumambulate the Great Master’s pagoda. An onlooker asked him why he did so. He replied, ‘Once, during a serious illness, I went to the hell realm, and saw that on the left side of the hall of Yama, there was offering to a portrait of a monk, which King Yama often prostrated before. I privately asked, “Who is the monk that King Yama prostrates to?” The answer I got was, “That monk is Hangzhou’s Chan Master Yongming Yanshou. The Great Master’s consciousness had directly departed to be reborn in the Western Pure Land’s highest of the highest grade.” As King Yama deeply respected Great Master’s virtuous conduct, he would prostrate to him every day. Thus, I have arrived here to circumambulate his pagoda, to show my reverence.’ The pagoda was built on Mount Daci. Later built at the same place was Yongming Pagoda Court.


To summarise, Great Master’s Pure Land ideology and practice were rather unique. With his status as the Third Patriarch Of Chan’s Fayan Tradition, he guided ‘return’ to Pure Land, and was, by later generations, honourably addressed as the Pure Land Tradition’s Sixth Patriarch. As one person, yet with double responsibilities for two traditions as their Patriarchs, it was truly rare, and he was the most qualified to compose the Chan & Pure Land’s Brief on Four Categories. Great Master’s ideology that gathered all traditions to guide ‘return’ to Pure Land extended till this day, and is still very much vital. This is sufficient to prove that Great Master’s virtuous conduct and scholarly knowledge eminently qualified him to be a Patriarch of the Pure Land Tradition.

完整中文原文 Complete Chinese text:
图片 Pictures: 任新宇 《净土》
英译 English translation:

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