[11] Biography Of The Chinese Pure Land Tradition’s Eleventh Patriarch Great Master Xǐng’ān 净土宗十一祖省庵大师传

出生年:1686年 | 往生年:1734年

Monastic Dharma Name: Shi Xǐng’ān (Great Master)
Status: Eleventh Patriarch of Pure Land Tradition (School)
Family Name: Shí (Surname) Shíxián (Name)
Place Of Birth: Jiāngsū province, Chángshú city
Year Of Birth: 1686 C.E. | Year Of Rebirth: 1734 C.E.
Best Known Works: Pure Land Poems, Commentary On Verses For Giving Rise To Aspiration For Birth In The Western Pure Land, Essay On Exhortation To Give Rise To The Bodhi Mind, Continuation On Rebirth Biographies etc.


Great Master Xǐng’ān was born in 1686 C.E., in Jiāngsū Province’s Chángshú City, to a family with generations of literary reputation. Since young, Great Master would not eat meat or fish. When young, he already had the aspiration to renounce the household life. As his father soon passed away, and as his mother Madam Zhāng knew her son had good roots from his past lives, she then ordered him to renounce, for cultivating the path. At the age of seven, Great Master paid homage to the monks at Qīngliáng Monastery, with Venerable Róngxuǎn as his teacher. Great Master was intelligent and an outstanding scholar, with the sūtras once passing before his eyes not forgotten. At 15, he had tonsure and received the monastic precepts. He was also an expert in worldly classics, with poetry recitation and calligraphy together proficient. However, never for an instant did he forget about the great matter of birth and death.


One day, when Great Master reached Pǔrén Monastery, he saw a monk, who fell to the ground and died. Great Master was startled and awakened to the impermanence of the world. His practice became increasingly diligent. He strictly upheld the precepts, never parted from his robes and alms bowl, having only one meal a day. Diligently, with his sides not attached to his seat, he was indefatigable throughout his life. Later, he travelled to visit and study. In 1710 C.E., at the age of 24, he followed the teachings of Dharma Master Qúchéng and Dharma Master Shàotán. In day and night, he studied the Great Vehicle’s (Mahāyāna) sūtras completely. With the passing of three years, on the purposes of the Threefold Contemplations and Ten Vehicles, with study of nature’s form (i.e. essential nature), there was none he was not proficient in. Dharma Master Shàotán gave him a prediction of his Buddhahood, and conferred him as a master of the Spirit Peak’s 4th Generation’s authentic Tiāntái Tradition.


In 1714 C.E., at the age of 28, Great Master requested Most Venerable Língjiù for blessings, and contemplated on the huàtóu (i.e. short koan), ‘Who is the one mindful of Buddha?’ With efforts meticulous and careful, around the fourth month that year, he had a sudden awakening, saying, ‘I have from a dream awakened!’ From then on, when complying with opportunities to teach, he had no obstacles, with eloquence unhindered. Venerable Língjiù wished to offer the robes and whisk (i.e. Abbotship) to him, but Great Master refused to accept them. He bade farewell and went to Zhēnjì Monastery to have a solitary retreat, where he read the Tripiṭaka daily, and recited Amitābha Buddha’s name nightly. When the three-year period ended, the monastery’s assembly respectfully invited Great Master to teach the Dharma (Lotus) Flower Sūtra. When Great Master ascended to the seat and expounded, his words and their meanings flowed, just like a river raging, a spring rising, with abundance yet not to be resisted. Since then, the conditions to transform others flourished by the day.


In 1719 C.E., Great Master visited Sìmíng’s King Asoka Mountain, to view and pay homage to the Buddha’s relics, making finger-burning incense offerings to the Buddha five times. Every year, during the Buddha’s Parinirvāṇa Day, he would expound the Sūtra Of The Buddha’s Bequeathed Teachings and the Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Amitābha Buddha, teaching the profound meaning that it is this mind that is Buddha. With beings of the three spiritual roots universally gathered, with the Dharma he transformed, brimming with enthusiasm. The fourfold assembly of disciples in Jiāngzhè’s region wholeheartedly took refuge in and relied on the Great Master. For more than 10 years, the Dharma events were so grand that they surpassed those in all directions.


Great Master was invited to be the Abbot of many monasteries. With every monastery entered, he renewed it to be exemplary, with pure monastic rules solemnly and respectfully observed, with daily teaching of the Dharma (Lotus) Flower Sūtra, Śūraṅgama Sūtra and many other sūtras. Those who came to uphold the sūtras and request for teachings like clouds gathered. Later, Great Master retreated for seclusion in Háng City’s Xiānlín Monastery. Not stepping beyond the outer courtyard, he resolutely cultivated pure karma. Afterward, he was invited by many disciples to be the Abbot of Fèngshān’s Fàntiānjiǎng Monastery. Thereupon, he set aside all other conditions, only mentioned the Pure Land teachings, and formed long-term assemblies for mindfulness of Buddha, with strict establishing of rules and regulations, in the six periods of day and night, with encouragement of one another for practice. Everyone praised the Great Master as the return of Great Master Yǒngmíng. Successively, he was the Abbot of ancient Chán monasteries for more than 10 years, and disciples who were delivered were extremely many.


Great Master’s Pure Land thought mostly arose and developed from true practice. His articles and teachings, are with every word binding to return to the mind’s ground, with no talk like empty dancing. Now, we will illustrate an overview of the Great Master’s thought, as follows.

(1) 发菩提心,圆成净业


(1) Give Rise To The Bodhi Mind, To Completely Accomplish Pure Karma

Great Master viewed giving rise to the Bodhi Mind (Bodhicitta) to be for cultivating the path to Buddhahood, and as the root cause for completely accomplishing pure karma. His Essay On Exhortation To Give Rise To The Bodhi Mind, not only has principle and practice in perfect harmony, its knowledge and insight are also clear and penetrating. Also with utmost sincerity and earnestness, it is extremely moving and profound. In the essay, he first explained the function of giving rise to Bodhicitta: ‘Entry to the path’s essential door, is with giving rise to Bodhicitta as foremost; cultivation of practice’s urgent task, with establishing of vows positioned first; with vows established, then can sentient beings be delivered, with the Bodhicitta given rise, then will the Buddha path be capable of being accomplished. If not giving rise to the great mind, to establish firm vows, then even if passing dust motes of kalpas, one will still be reborn, although having cultivation of practice, it will always be futile and exhausting. ‘


Due to 10 kinds of causes and conditions, Bodhicitta is then able to arise. First, is with mindfulness of the Buddhas’ deep kindness thus. Second, is with mindfulness of our fathers’ and mothers’ kindness thus. Third, is with mindfulness of our teachers’ and seniors’ kindness thus. Fourth, is with mindfulness of our benefactors’ kindness thus. Fifth, is with mindfulness of sentient beings’ kindness thus. Sixth, is with mindfulness of the suffering of death and birth thus. Seventh, is with reverence for our spiritual nature thus. Eighth, is with repentance and reformation of karmic obstacles thus. Ninth, is for seeking for birth in Pure Land thus. Tenth, is for mindfulness of the Right Dharma, to abide long in the world thus.


When expounding on the ninth cause and condition, Great Master taught on the inner relationship between giving rise to Bodhicitta and seeking birth in Pure Land: ‘Why seek birth in Pure Land? Speaking of in this land cultivating practice, in it entering the path, is also difficult. In that land reborn, in it accomplishing Buddhahood, is also easy. Easy thus as in one lifetime can it be reached. Difficult thus as in successively many kalpas yet to be accomplished. Therefore, of former noble ones and past virtuous ones, every one turned towards it. Thousands of sūtras and ten thousands of treatises, everywhere pointed return to it. In the Dharma-Ending Age cultivating practice, it is without that surpassing of this. However, a sūtra says those with little good roots cannot be born, and those with much blessed virtues can then reach it. Speaking of much blessed virtues, then is nothing better than to firmly uphold the name (of Āmítuófó). Speaking of much good roots, then is nothing better than to give rise to the vast and great mind (of Bodhicitta). With this temporarily upholding of the name, it surpasses giving for a hundred years. Once giving rise to the great mind, this surpasses cultivation of practice passing kalpas. Because mindfulness of Buddha is originally with the hope of becoming a Buddha, the great mind, if not given rise to, then although mindful, what would it be for? As giving rise to the mind of Bodhicitta originally is for cultivating practice, if Pure Land is not born in, then although giving rise to it, it is easy to retreat. Even though having sown the Bodhi seed, cultivate it with the plough of mindfulness of Buddha, and the path’s fruit will naturally grow. Riding great vows’ ship, for entering the ocean of Pure Land, in the Western Pure Land, there will definite be rebirth.’


As Great Master saw the importance of giving rise to Bodhicitta, he thus patiently persuaded and earnestly advised Pure Land practitioners to give rise to it together. Those who have yet to give rise to it should now give rise to it. Those who have already given rise to it, should increase it. Those who have already increased it, should have this thought after thought in continuous succession. To together aspire to be born in Pure Land, together see Amitābha Buddha, together transform sentient beings, and together accomplish right awakening. Great Master’s views and sincere encouragement, deeply agreed with the essence of mindfulness of Buddha.

(2) 痛斥狂禅,指归净土


(2) Painstakingly Denouncing Crazy Chán, Pointing Return To Pure Land

Great Master clearly understood that the Dharma-Ending Age’s sentient beings’ spiritual roots and capacities are dull and inferior, briefly having two kinds. First are the foolish, and second are the crazy. Those foolish are ignorant and without understanding, stubborn and not willing to await for discussions. Those crazy have delusional thoughts of the lofty, often thinking of walking reverently as their equals. They see the Dharma Door Of Mindfulness Of Buddha to be no less than lowly grass, not willing to personally cultivate it. They do not know that during the Dharma-Ending Age, of those relying on Self-power to depart from the cycle of birth and death, rarely heard of are any.


Even if there are those awakened through the Chán tradition, they also should be reborn in Pure Land. Those with awakening reached, although having the ground of insight, but not having severed confusions and negative karma, if reborn in the three realms, once entering the womb, then will they have confusion from separation (from their previous lives) by death. That awakened to in the past, will immediately and repeatedly be forgotten and lost. All of one life’s skills will immediately be lost and in vain. This can be used for earnest reflection. If born in the Western Pure Land, being close to Amitābha Buddha, once entering a noble rank, there is then ascent to the Buddha’s ground. Thus know, that of those not awakened then already spoken about, of those awakened, to then seek birth in the Western Pure Land, this is even more urgent. Like a person who attained a treasure must seek a good place to bury it, only then can it be benefitted from. Otherwise, in the end, causing it to be lost. Of those who have reached awakening seeking birth in Pure Land, it is likewise thus.


Great Master perfectly harmonised Chán and Pure Land practices, with pointing of their return to Pure Land. As his ‘Verses For Teaching Chán Practitioners To Be Mindful Of Buddha’ says, ‘One line of Āmítuófó is the leading grade’s kōan. Without other discussions, as directly transmitted, then classified. Like a great fire gathered, touching it then burnt, like the Tài’ē sword, opposing it then broken. The eighty-four thousand Dharma teachings’ treasury, is in the six words (i.e. Námó Āmítuófó: 南无阿弥陀佛) completely gathered. The one thousand seven hundred kōans, are with its single blade severed. No matter if other Buddhas are not happy to hear this, I, personally, from thought to thought, will recollect and be mindful of these words. May you not need to say many words, only needing to have wholehearted mindfulness [of “Āmítuófó”] without being scattered.’ Great Master earnestly pointed out and declared this with his personal practice to transform others.

(3) 欣厌心切,拔除爱桩


(3) With The Joyful And Revulsed Minds Sincere, Uproot And Eradicate Attachment’s Post

Great Master deeply knew that the main reason for the Sahā World’s sentient beings’ pure karma being difficult to be accomplished is due to their attachment’s root being difficult to sever. Therefore, he wrote articles to offer guidance, with many for rousing practitioners to have revulsed renunciation of the Sahā World, and to have joyful seeking of the Land Of Ultimate Bliss, starting with those in his ‘Poems For Exhortation To Cultivate The Pure Land Path’, ‘Poems On Eight Kinds Of Suffering’ and others, with many having pointers and declarations.


As the three realms are without peace, not suitable for abiding long, Great Master urged people to urgently seek rebirth in Pure Land, only with this as the only one great matter. Towards those practitioners relentless with doing of worldly good deeds, yet indifferent to rebirth in Pure Land, he would point out and declare their benefits and disadvantages, gains and losses. If not with the great matter of liberation from the cycle of birth and death as being urgent, yet diligently doing good, with that good done, that is tall like Mount Sumeru, as all are still conditions for more births and deaths, when will there be the day of liberation? With good deeds extensive and many, births and deaths are then extensive and vast. As with one thought of the mind of attachment, is ten thousand kalpas of bondage, how can this not be feared? If with the mind of mindfulness of Buddha not focused, why is this so? Perhaps it is with fame’s root yet to be severed, or with attachment’s thought entangled. Of these two, there should be additional investigation. If not with family’s conditions and worldly matters, with one blade severed, with the six-worded great name with utmost efforts upheld, hoping and desiring to depart from the Sahā World for birth in the Pure Land Of Ultimate Bliss, this is difficult!


Not born into Pure Land, yet desiring and to be liberated from the cycle of birth and death, while not liberated from the cycle of birth and death, yet desiring to avoid degenerating, this moreover is also difficult! Even if for one life or two lives not losing the human body, this aids the attaining of what matter? If not with mindfulness of Buddha as urgent, yet with worldly minor good deeds as urgent, not with the great matter of liberation from the cycle of birth and death as foremost, yet with accumulating of human and godly blessed rewards as foremost, this is to not know the foremost from the latter. Generally speaking, the Western Buddha’s Pure Land is not with many scattered good deeds that is able to be reached. Tens of thousands of kalpas of births and deaths, are not due to following idleness that are able to be liberated from. As impermanence comes swift, with dawn and dusk promptly arriving, how can there be not doing of that to be earlier prepared?

(4) 精进修持,先求自度


(4) Diligently Practise, To First Seek Self-Deliverance

Great Master, in the Dharma-Ending Age, established the banner of diligence, with his personal setting of examples, by widely practising the path to transform others. Great Master followed the traditional style of Great Master Liánchí for upholding the precepts and mindfulness of Buddha. His whole life was ‘with practice according to the Bráhma Net Sūtra, and with aspiration for reaching the Western Pure Land’ for self-encouragement. The Hall Of Pure Karma had rules and regulations for daily practice sessions, with ten periods for mindfulness of Buddha — nine periods for practising contemplation and one period for prostration. There was also regulating of the black and white halves of the month (i.e. every new and full moon day) to be for reciting the ‘Bodhisattva Precepts’ Text’.


Great Master’s personal cultivation was very diligent, just like saving his head from burning. At a solitary retreat at the Western courtyard of Fàntiān Monastery, his room was named ‘One-Cùn Studio’. (A cùn is a Chinese ‘inch’, which is 3.71 centimetres.) When meeting with honoured guests, he would briefly speak on the path, saying a few proverbs. After a cùn of incense was burnt, he would be with mindfulness of Buddha only. Great Master was meticulously diligent, beginning practice with having knowing and seeing (or knowledge and insight) that is correct. When meeting disciples who are learning poetry and literature, Great Master would painstakingly admonish, ‘As human life is between breathing in and out, how can there be idle spare time to learn from worldly truths’ words? If slightly once missing this good opportunity, then becoming a separate life, then again thinking of liberating oneself, it will be difficult!’


Great Master was with focused diligence in mindfulness of Buddha, to first seek rebirth in Pure Land, thereafter to perfectly accomplish Bodhi’s great vows. Regarding some practitioners who aspire to, in their future lives be born in China, to be Śrāmaṇeras (i.e. novice monastics with childlike simplicity) who have left the household life, to then cultivate the path, and widely deliver sentient beings, Great Master reproached them to be with foolish attachment. He would explain clearly to them, that to seek birth in the Western Pure Land, is to totally gather all Bodhi vows, and all Buddhas’ teachings of the ten directions and three periods, without having anything remaining left out.


The four aspects above briefly narrated Great Master’s Pure Land thought, from which we can deeply feel, that from word to word, each flowed out from his truly sincere mind. He never discussed on the mysterious or spoke on the abstruse, and never piled up with names and appearances. Tirelessly spoken, his words are completely ordinary, simple and unadorned, yet they are also Pure Land’s bright gems, worthy for us all, offered as our guides.


On the Buddha’s Day Of Accomplishing The Path in 1733 C.E., Great Master told his disciples, ‘I will, on next year’s 4th lunar month’s 14th day be long reborn.’ Since then, as he closed his door for retreat in One-Cùn Studio, he regulated himself, for each day and night, to uphold mindfulness of the Buddha’s name with a hundred thousand recitations. On the next year’s (1734 C.E.) 4th lunar month’s 2nd day, he exited from retreat, and on the 12th day, told the great assembly, ‘As I have, ten days ago, seen the Western Pure Land’s Three Sages descend from the sky, and am today again seeing them, I am with them, going to be born in Pure Land.’ Following which, he handed over the monastery’s affairs, everywhere bidding farewell to all Dharma-protecting laypersons in the city.


When his attendant requested Great Master to write a verse, he wrote, ‘With my body in the flower within and the Buddhas appearing before me, the Buddhas’ light comes to illuminate my purple-gold lotus. My mind will follow all the Buddhas, to be reborn go, yet without going and coming, within with matters of as if doing so.’ With his writing completed, he said, ‘As I, on the 14th day, will definitely be reborn, you can prepare to, for me gather everyone, to recite the Buddha’s name.’ On the 13th day, having stopped drinking and eating, he closed his eyes and sat in the lotus position. When it was the fifth watch (3 a.m.), he bathed and changed his clothes, facing the West in the lotus position.


Reaching the sì period (9 a.m.), as monastic and lay disciples from far and near assembled, with tears crying while prostrating continuously, they said, ‘May teacher abide in the world to deliver people.’ Great Master again opened his eyes and said, ‘I, after going, will immediately come back. As [liberation from the cycle of] birth and death is a great matter, each of you should, with a pure mind be mindful of the Buddha.’ With his words completed, with joined palms reciting the Buddha’s name, he then departed. After a while, when his nose drooped, his face’s colour looked bright and moist. Until when sealing his niche, his countenance did not change.


In the next year, all his disciples reverently built his relic pagoda at the West of Qín River’s Mount Fúshuǐ. On Emperor Qiánlóng’s 7th year’s 2nd lunar month’s 15th day, to commemorate Great Master’s path of practice, all monastic and lay disciples from Mount Mào received his relics for rebuilding his pagoda on the right side of King Aśoka Monastery. His old pagoda was then used for burying his robes and alms bowl. Great Master’s writings include ‘Pure Land Poems’, ‘Annotations On Verses For Giving Rise To Aspiration For Birth In The Western Pure Land’, ‘Essay On Exhortation To Give Rise To The Bodhi Mind’, ‘Continuation Of [Pure Land] Rebirths’ Biographies’ and others, that are still circulating in the world today. Later generations also honourably addressed the Great Master as the Pure Land Tradition’s 11th Patriarch.

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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[10] Biography Of The Chinese Pure Land Tradition’s Tenth Patriarch Great Master Jiéliú

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[12] Biography Of The Chinese Pure Land Tradition’s Twelfth Patriarch Great Master Chèwù

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