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Chih-hsü

(1599—1655)


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(1599–1655).

An eminent monk and revitalizer of Pure Land Buddhism in Ming-dynasty China. He was a bright Confucian scholar (see Confucianism) in his youth, and wrote anti-Buddhist pamphlets. However, at the age of 17, he read some of the works of Yün-ch'i Chu-hung (1532–1612), and converted to Buddhism, burning his former writings. He became a monk at 24, and travelled to Mt. Yün-ch'i, where he listened to lectures and practised Ch'an meditation. He achieved a great enlightenment (bodhi) there which resolved his doubts about the apparent contradictions between the teachings of various schools of Buddhism. The following year, he took the Bodhisattva precepts and entered into Vinaya study. The experience of grave illness in his late twenties shook his confidence in the efficacy of his Ch'an awakening, and he began to turn towards Pure Land practice. After recovering, he took to the road to broaden his studies again, and journeyed to Mt. T'ien-t'ai to study the doctrines of the T'ien-t'ai school. He quickly became proficient in this study, and lectured widely on them thereafter. He renewed his devotion to the Pure Land again at the age of 56 after another serious illness, this time composing a volume of poems on the Pure Land. He also edited nine other classic Pure Land texts, and published these together with his book of poems under the title Ten Essentials of the Pure Land (Chin., Ching-t'u shih yao), which has become a standard of the Pure Land school. He recovered briefly, but fell ill again the following year and died with his hands folded, facing the west, and reciting verses on the Pure Land.

Because of his devotion to Pure Land and his efforts to propagate its practice, Chih-hsü was acclaimed the ninth patriarch of Chinese Pure Land after his death. However, his interests and activities covered a broad range: he was a reformer who advocated study of and adherence to the Vinaya; he was a wide-ranging scholar who studied the entire scope of Chinese Buddhist thought, and advocated a revival of T'ien-t'ai learning; he was a proponent of the unity of Buddhism, Confucianism.and Taoism; and he was a popular teacher and lecturer who attracted many disciples. For all this, he is remembered as one of the great revivers of Buddhism in the mid to late Ming period.

Subjects: Buddhism.


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