Biographies

Biography Of The Fourth Patriarch Of The Chinese Pure Land Tradition Great Master Fazhao 中国净土宗四祖法照大师传

Purelanders.com edited & translated article,
as featured in SBL’s magazine

出家法名:释法照(大师)
地位:净土宗四祖
俗名:不详
出生地:陕西汉中(今陕西洋县)
出生年:747
往生年:821
代表作品:《净土五会念佛略法事仪赞》一卷、《净土五会念佛诵经观行仪》三卷

Monastic Dharma Name: Shi Fazhao (Great Master)
Status: Fourth Patriarch Of The Pure Land Tradition (School)
Family Name: Unknown
Place Of Birth: Shanxi Hanzhong (Present day Yang County in Shanxi Province)
Year Of Birth: 747 C.E.
Year Of Rebirth: 821 C.E.
Best Known Works: Praise Of Pure Land’s Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha’s Outline Of Dharma Rites And Rituals, Pure Land’s Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness of Buddha’s Recitation Of Sutras And Visualisation Practice’s Rites

法照大师生于747年,可知其为陕西汉中人(今陕西洋县)。少时舍家为僧,也是净土宗祖师中记录感应事迹最多的一位祖师。

Great Master Fazhao was born in 747 C.E., in what was known as Shanxi Hanzhong (now Yang County in Shanxi Province). Having renounced the household life at a young age, among the patriarchs of the Pure Land Tradition, he had the most recorded incidents of spiritual connection with response.

唐永泰年中(765年), 大师18岁,因仰慕慧远大师芳踪,遂于庐山东林寺,结净土道场。后因修念佛三昧,在一日于定中至极乐世界,见有僧著垢弊衣而侍于佛侧者,得佛明示,知乃衡山承远。后便是径往南岳衡山,觅得承远大师于岩谷间,从而与承远大师专修净业。

In the Tang Dynasty’s Yongtai year (765 C.E.), Great Master was 18, as he greatly admired Great Master Huiyuan’s illustrious legacy, he travelled to Mount Lu’s Donglin Monastery, to connect to the Pure Land bodhimanda (practice centre). Later, due to cultivation of Samadhi From Mindfulness Of Buddha, he reached the Land Of Ultimate Bliss. He saw a monastic wearing dirty and tattered robes, attending beside the Buddha. With the Buddha’s clear indication, he came to know that he was Mount Heng’s Chengyuan (the Third Patriarch Of The Pure Land Tradition). After which, he directly went towards Nanyue’s Mount Heng, and found Great Master Chengyuan within its rocky valleys. Thereafter, through Great Master Chengyuan, he focused upon cultivation of the Pure Land teachings.

当时衡山念佛道场在南方颇有名声,来山从学受教者数以万计。于承远大师处得净土教法真传后,大师更是专一其心,精进不懈修持净土念佛法门。第二年,大师便开始弘传五会念佛之法。

At that time, Mount Heng had much fame as a practice centre for mindfulness of Buddha. Over tens of thousands came to learn. After receiving the authentic tradition of the Pure Land teachings from Great Master Chengyuan, Great Master Fazhao was even more focused and dedicated on diligent and untiring cultivation of the Dharma Door Of Mindfulness Of Buddha. In the second year, he started to propagate the Dharma of the Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha.

大师尽形寿每夏九旬(90日)常入般舟念佛道场。同年,于长安章敬寺净土院依《无量寿经》撰写《净土五会念佛略法事仪赞》。之后《净土五会念佛诵经观行仪》则更为详尽地介绍了五会念佛法门。

Great Master made lifelong commitment to enter the practice centre for Pratyutpanna mindfulness of Buddha every summer for 90 days. In the same year, at Chang’an’s Zhangjing Monastery’s Pure Land Hall, relying on the Immeasurable Life Sutra, he composed the Praise Of Pure Land’s Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha’s Outline Of Dharma Rites And Rituals. After that, with the Pure Land’s Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness of Buddha’s Recitation Of Sutras And Visualisation Practice’s Rites, he detailedly introduced the Dharma Door Of Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha.

唐代宗大历二年(767年),在南岳云峰, 大师偶于钵中感见祥云高山与寺院,涧溪北面有一石门,内中有一寺庙,题有「大圣竹林寺」金字。大师见此情景虽然清晰,然内心尚疑是自己的幻觉。

In Tang Dynasty, Emperor Daizong’s Dali second year (767 C.E.), at Nanyue Yunfeng, Great Master happened to look within his alms bowl, and saw auspicious clouds around a high mountain’s monastery. To the valley stream’s northern face was a stone gate, within which was a monastery, with the name ‘Monastery Of The Great Sage’s Bamboo Grove’ (Dasheng Zulinsi) in golden characters. Although Great Master saw these scenes clearly, he still suspected that it could be his imagination.

过了一段时间,于用斋时,又在钵中睹见五彩祥云,楼阁台榭,还见文殊菩萨与诸圣众讲经说法。斋食用毕,景象方消失。大师咨询他僧,知是五台山(即是文殊菩萨圣山)的景象,遂萌朝拜五台的念头。然障缘甚多,未能成行。

After a period of time, when eating alms food, he saw within the alms bowl again, five-coloured auspicious clouds and towering pavilions, even seeing Manjusri Bodhisattva with many sages in an assembly, teaching the Dharma from the sutras. Only after finishing the alms food, did the scenes then disappear. Great Master inquired of other monks, before knowing they were scenes of the Mountain [Range] Of Five Terraces (which is Wutaishan, the holy mountain of Manjusri Bodhisattva), therefore giving rise to strong aspiration to make a pilgrimage there. However, conditions that obstructed were extremely many, such that he was yet to be able to accomplish his travelling.

大历四年(769 年)夏天,大师于衡州湖东寺,启五会念佛道场,感五色彩云弥覆其寺,祥云中现出许多楼阁寺宇,阿弥陀佛及二菩萨身相高大,满虚空中。参与法会的人都清楚的见到,个个泣血顶礼,欢喜踊跃。如是景象持续了四个小时才消失。

In the summer of the Dali’s fourth year (769 C.E.), when Great Master was at Hengzhou’s Hudong Monastery to initiate the place for practice of the ‘Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha’, there was the auspicious response of five-coloured clouds completely covering the monastery. Within the auspicious clouds appeared many towering pavilions and monasteries. Amitabha Buddha [i.e. Amituofo] and two Bodhisattvas with tall and huge forms filled the sky. All who participated in the Dharma assembly saw them clearly, with each prostrating reverently with enthusiastic joy. Such was the scene that continued for four hours before it disappeared.

大师于当晚,在念佛道场遇一老人,老人对大师说:「法师曾发愿朝拜五台,为何迟迟不行呢?」

That night, where mindfulness of Buddha was practised, Great Master met an old man, who said to him, ‘As the Dharma Master once gave rose to the aspiration to make a pilgrimage to the Mountain Of Five Terraces, why are you, for so long, still not travelling there?’

大师回答:「障难甚多,路途遥远,怎么去的了呢?」老人说:「只要肯下决心,道路遥远崎岖又怎能挡得住呢?」说完,倏然不见。

Great Master replied, ‘As obstacles and difficulties are extremely many, and the journey to it is far, how can I go?’ The old man said, ‘As long as you are willing to be determined, how can the path being distant and rough be able to obstruct you?‘ Having finished speaking, he suddenly disappeared.

大师又惊又喜,在佛像前重新发誓,待念佛法会期满,即当起程,纵火聚冰河,终不退志。于是偕同志数人慨然上路,旅途果然顺利。

Both surprised and joyful, Great Master, before the Buddha image renewed his vows, and awaited for the Dharma assembly for mindfulness of Buddha to come to the end, before immediately setting off. Even if fires gathered and rivers froze, he was determined to never retreat. Thus, together with a number of those with the same aspiration, they embarked on the journey with inspiration, which did indeed go smoothly.

大历五年(770 年)四月五日,大师等四人到了五台山,蒙佛光照引,寻至大圣竹林寺,看见文殊菩萨与普贤菩萨端坐在讲堂师子宝座上,为众说法,历历可闻。

In Dali fifth year (770 C.E.), on the fifth day of the fourth month, Great Master and four others reached the Mountain Of Five Terraces. Receiving illumination of the Buddha’s light for guidance, they searched for and found the ‘Monastery Of The Great Sage’s Bamboo Grove’, where Manjusri Bodhisattva and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva were seen sitting upright upon the lion’s treasure throne, for the assembly speaking the Dharma, which could be heard distinctly.

大师向二大菩萨恭敬顶礼后禀问:「末代凡夫,去圣时遥,知识转劣,垢障尤深,佛性无由显现。佛法浩瀚,未审修行於何法门,最为其要。唯愿大圣,断我疑网。」

After reverently prostrating to the two great Bodhisattvas, Great Master asked, ‘The Dharma-Ending Age’s ordinary beings, are away from the sages, distant in time, with knowledge transformed to be lowly, with obstacles from defilements that are especially deep, with their Buddha-nature unable to appear. The Buddha’s teachings are vast, and I have yet to examine them [all, to know] which Dharma door, is the most essential. I only wish the great sage(s), can break my web of doubt.’

文殊菩萨回答:「汝今念佛,今正是时。诸修行门,无如念佛,供养三宝,福慧双修。此之二门,最为径要。我於过去劫中,因观佛故,因念佛故,因供养故,今得一切种智。是故一切诸法,般若波罗蜜,甚深禅定,乃至诸佛,皆从念佛而生。故知念佛,诸法之王。汝当常念无上法王,令无休息。」

Manjusri Bodhisattva answered, ‘You now should practise mindfulness of Buddha, as now is the right time. Of all doors to cultivate practices, there is none like mindfulness of Buddha, and offering to the Triple Gem [of Buddhas, Dharma and Sangha], to cultivate both blessings and wisdom. These two Dharma doors, are the most essential paths. I, when within past kalpas, due to contemplation of Buddha thus, due to mindfulness of Buddha thus, due to making of offerings thus, have now attained the all-knowing wisdom [of Buddhahood]. This is thus as all Dharma teachings, Prajna Paramita [i.e. Perfection Of Wisdom], extremely profound [meditative] concentrations, and even all Buddhas, are all from mindfulness of Buddha born. Thus know that mindfulness of Buddha, is the king of all Dharma [doors]. You should constantly be mindful of this unsurpassable Dharma king, enabling it to never rest.’

大师又问:「当云何念?」
Great Master again asked, ‘How should I be mindful [of Buddha]?’

文殊菩萨开示:「此世界西,有阿弥陀佛。彼佛愿力不可思议。汝当继念,令无间断。命终之后,决定往生,永不退转。」

Manjusri Bodhisattva taught, ‘From this world, to the West, is Amita[bha] Buddha [i.e. Amituofo]. That Buddha’s power of vows is inconceivable. You should continually be mindful [of him, e.g. via his name], enabling it to be without interruption. After the end of this life, you will definitely attain rebirth there, to forever never retrogress.’

说后,菩萨为大师摩顶,并为他授记:「汝以念佛故,不久证无上正等菩提。若善男女等,愿疾成佛者,无过念佛,则能速证无上菩提。」语讫,二位大圣互说偈颂。大师恭敬聆听,法喜充满,作礼而退。

After speaking, the Bodhisattva, for Great Master, rubbed his crown, and for him conferred this prediction, ‘You, with mindfulness of Buddha thus, not long after, will realise unsurpassable, right and equally [perfect] Bodhi [i.e enlightenment of Buddhahood]. If there are good men, women and others, who aspire to quickly accomplish as Buddhas, there is no better way than to be mindful of [Amitabha] Buddha [i.e. Amituofo], thus able to swiftly realise unsurpassable Bodhi [i.e enlightenment of Buddhahood].’ Having completed speaking, the two great sages to each other spoke in verse. Great Master reverently listened, and was filled with Dharma joy, before prostrating as they departed.

顷时,刚才的景物倏然隐去。大师心感悲戚,便在原地立了一块巨石,用资纪念。后蒙一老梵僧的劝告,将所见所闻宣示诸道友,并在原地仿建一庄严的寺庙,名为大圣竹林寺。

In an instant, all in the earlier scene suddenly disappeared. Feeling sorrowful, Great Master thus, at the original spot erected a giant piece of stone, using it to provide commemoration. Later, receiving an old Indian monk’s advice, he shared what he heard with all his Dharma friends, and at the original spot emulated what he saw, by constructing a magnificent monastery, named as the ‘Monastery Of The Great Sage’s Bamboo Grove.’

大历十二年(777年),当大师率弟子八人,在五台山精勤念佛,在东台睹见奇彩云光,文殊菩萨乘青毛狮子。当时,天飘雪花,文殊菩萨的五色圆光,遍及山谷。

In Dali’s twelve year (777 C.E.), when Great Master led eight disciples for diligent practice of mindfulness of Buddha at the Mountain Of Five Terraces, at the east peak, they saw, among unusually splendid and colourful clouds with Manjusri Bodhisattva riding upon a blue furred lion. At that moment, snowflakes fluttered in the sky, as the five-coloured halo of Manjusri Bodhisattva extended everywhere in the mountains and valleys.

此后,大师信念与道心益加坚固,专心念佛,修持精苦,日夜无旷。大师时常行般舟三昧,常在定中,自修五会念佛,也以五会念佛之法教人修行。 当时代宗皇帝于长安城内,常闻东北方有念佛声,遣使寻至五台竹林寺。于是皇帝下诏书封大师为国师,后大师也教宫人修五会念佛。此外德宗皇帝于784年也请大师入宫中,教五会念佛。因此,大师又号「五会法师」。

After this, Great Master’s conviction and motivation for focusing upon mindfulness of Buddha increased and strengthened. He strived diligently in practice, in day and night wasting no time. Great Master often practised Pratyutpanna Samadhi, and cultivated the Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha in Samadhi. He also used the practice method of Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha to teach. At that time, as Emperor Daizong was at Chang’an city, often hearing the sound of Mindfulness of Buddha from the northeast, he dispatched an envoy to search for its source, thus reaching Mount Wutai’s (Mountain Of Five Terraces) Zhulin Monastery. Thereupon, the Emperor decreed conferment of Great Master as the State Preceptor (Nation’s Spiritual Advisor). Great Master also taught those in the palace how to cultivate the Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha. Later in 784 C.E., Emperor Dezong also invited Great Master into the palace to teach it. Therefore, Great Master was also named ‘Dharma Master Of The Five Assemblies”.

一日,正念佛时,有梵僧入道场言:「汝之净土花台现矣,后三年花开,汝当往矣!」过三年,大师自知生西之期已至,普告大众说:「 吾行矣!」言已,端坐而寂。

One day, during practice of mindfulness of Buddha, an Indian monk entered the bodhimanda and said to him, ‘Your Pure Land flower dais has already appeared. Three years later, the flower will blossom, and you will then be reborn.’ After three years, Great Master personally knew that the time had come for him to go Pure Land, as he told all in the great assembly, ‘My practice is complete!’ After saying so, he sat in the lotus position and peacefully departed.

在净土宗祖师中,被封为国师者,为数甚少,而后人将大师尊为净土宗第四代祖师,除其与三祖承远大师有师承关系外,同时也因大师在弘扬净土念佛法门上取得了特殊功绩。

Among the patriarchs of the Pure Land Tradition, those conferred as State Preceptor were few. Later generations honoured Great Master as The Pure Land Tradition‘s Fourth Patriarch. Other than having a teacher-and-student relationship with the Third Patriarch Great Master Chengyuan, at the same time, he had extraordinary contributions in propagating he Dharma Door Of Mindfulness Of Buddha.

文中传记的配图采自网络
Pictures from the Internet

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