[7] Biography Of The Chinese Pure Land Tradition’s Seventh Patriarch Great Master Xǐngcháng 净土宗七祖省常大师传


Monastic Dharma Name: Shi Xingchang (Great Master)   
Status: Seventh Patriarch Of The Pure Land Tradition (School)   
Secular Name: Yan (surname), Zhaowei (style name)  
Place Of Birth: Qiantang (Present day Zhejiang Province, Hangzhou City)
Year Of Birth: 959 C.E.   
Year Of Rebirth: 1020 C.E.   
Known Works: Unclear  


Great Master Xingchang was born during the Five Dynasties’ era’s later Zhou Dynasty’s Xiande sixth year (959 C.E.), in a Yan family at Zhejiang Qiantang (present day Zhejiang Province, Hangzhou City). Great Master was intelligent and possessed innate talents. At the age of seven, during the Northern Song Dynasty’s Gande third year (965 C.E.), he was sent to a monastery by his parents to renounce the household life. After ten years of experience living as a sramaṇera (novice monk), at the age of 17, he gave rise to the aspiration, to request receiving of the full monastic precepts.  


After receiving the full precepts, Great Master was diligent in practice and strict in upholding the precepts. He was wholehearted in studying Mahayana treatises, also deeply practising the Samatha and Vipasyana (Cessation and Contemplation) Dharma Door of Tiantai tradition, with much insight on Buddhist doctrines. At that time, Great Master felt deeply connected to the Pure Land Dharma Door. He greatly admired Great Master Huiyuan’s (The First Patriarch Of The Pure Land Tradition) model example of gathering the masses and form a society at Mount Lu for practising mindfulness of Buddha. Thus, during the Song Dynasty’s Chunhua years (991–994 C.E.), at Hangzhou’s Zhaoqing Monastery, he started his focused cultivation of the Pure Land path, while gathering knowledgeable and virtuous ones to form a society to practise mindfulness of Buddha.  

大师结社以当朝宰相王文正公(王旦)为居士之首。朝中众多士大夫皆来与会,竞相作诗写颂,齐赞集会因缘殊胜。比丘众和居士等共有万人之众,若有往生,则即刻递补。因以《华 严经 • 净行品》* 为结社念佛的行持依归,是以社名称为「净行社」,会众全都自称「净行弟子」。

Great Master formed the society with the current dynasty’s Chancellor (Prime Minister) Wang Wenzheng as the leader of the laypeople. Many scholar-officials from the court came to participate in the meetings, to eagerly compose poems and write odes. Together, they praised the most excellent causes and conditions of such gatherings. There were together, assemblies with about ten thousand monastics, laypeople and others. If a member is reborn, a replacement would fill the vacancy immediately. As formation of the society was based upon the Avataṃsaka (Flower Adornment) Sutra’s Chapter On Pure Practices* for practice, with mindfulness of Buddha as refuge, the society was named Pure Practices Society, and all its members called themselves Disciples Of Pure Practices.  

大师于此期间自刺指血书写《华严经 • 净行品》,每书一字,必躬身三拜三绕,并三称佛名。又以旃檀香木,雕造阿弥陀佛像。像成,大师率大众跪地发愿:「我与大众,始从今日,发菩提心,穷未来际,行菩萨行。愿尽此报身,以生安养。」

During this period, Great Master wrote the Avataṃsaka Sutra’s Chapter On Pure Practices with his pricked finger’s blood (to express his devotion to its teachings). With every one written character, he would prostrate thrice, circumambulate thrice and recite the Buddha’s name thrice. He also craved a statue of Amitābha Buddha with sandalwood. After completion, Great Master led the great assembly to kneel and vow, ‘I, with this great assembly, from today onwards, give rise to Bodhicitta, and to the extreme limit of the future, will practise Bodhisattva practices. We vow to, at the end of this retribution body, with these be born in the Land Of Peaceful Nurturing.’  


In the history of Buddhism, there are very few records about Great Master’s life and deeds. However, this does not at all affect later generations’ Pure Land practitioners’ reverence for him, also not changing his sublime status in the mind of devotees. Without a doubt, Great Master Xingchang, succeeding Great Master Yongming Yanshou, was one of the most capable propagators of the Pure Land teachings, whose achievements in Pure Land teaching received the world’s affirmation.

大师没有著作留世,其度生之言教也少见史册。虽说如此,但我们从大师的行业中可以看出他的佛学思想,特别是其净土思想,有着非常独到的见地。以《华严经 • 净行品》为结社念佛之理论依据,这是大师综合观察了当时教内外的风气,吸收净土法门三根普被,利钝全收的优势,而有如此的创举。

Great Master did not leave any written work for the world. Historical records of his verbal teachings for delivering sentient beings are also rarely seen. Having said so, however, from the Great Master’s practices, it can be seen that his thought on Buddhism, especially that on the Pure Land tradition, was with very original insights. With the Avataṃsaka Sutra’s Chapter On Pure Practices as the theoretical basis for practising mindfulness of Buddha, this is how Great Master integrated his observation of contemporary climate within the Buddhist community, with that outside, to attract the Pure Land Dharma Door’s three roots, to universally cover them. With both the sharp and dull completely gathered as advantage, thus did he achieve such pioneering results.  


During Song Dynasty’s Tianxi’s fourth year, on the first lunar month’s 12th day (1020 C.E.), Great Master was sitting upright in the monastery, reciting the Buddha’s name. Shortly thereafter, everyone heard his stern voice calling loudly, ‘[Amitābha] Buddha has come!’ All present saw the ground completely transform to gold, lasting for a long time before fading off. At this moment, Great Master had already quietly departed. He was then 62 years old, with 55 years of monastic ordination, and 45 years of receiving the full monastic precepts. His disciples and others paid tribute by constructing a pagoda for his whole body, just beside Chan Master Naoke’s pagoda. Great Master was then named Dharma Master Yuanjing (which means Complete Purity), and was also conferred by later generations as the Seventh 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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[6] Biography Of The Chinese Pure Land Tradition’s Sixth Patriarch Great Master Yǒngmíng

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[8] Biography Of The Chinese Pure Land Tradition’s Eighth Patriarch Great Master Liánchí

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