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A Chinese monk who pioneered Pure Land thought and practice in the area around the northern capitals during the T'ang dynasty. He entered the order of monks as a young boy, under a master with probable connections to the San-lun school. He entered into doctrinal and scriptural studies, at which he proved adept enough, but which did not suit his temperament, which tended to be more aesthetic and mystical. His conversion to Pure Land practice came about either as a result of viewing a painting of Sukhāvatī (the Land of Bliss), or through discovering the Sūtra on the Contemplation of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra). After this, he rejected philosophical study in favour of a contemplative practice centring on invocation of the name of Amitābha andvisualization of the splendour of the Pure Land and its inhabitants. During this time, he sought out Tao-ch'o (562–645) for inspiration and training in Pure Land practice. Tao-ch'o was renowned at that time both for his zeal in Pure Land practice and his masterful lectures on the very sūtra that had initially caught Shan-tao's attention. After Tao-ch'o's death, Shan-tao remained in the Chung-nan mountains for a few more years, and afterward went to the capital city of Ch'ang-an. Once established there, he began proselytizing vigorously, and had enormous success in converting people to Pure Land practice. Later sources even report that perhaps a hundred or more of his followers committed suicide in order to hasten their arrival in the Pure Land, and tradition had Shan-tao himself sacrificing himself in this manner. However, a critical examination of the sources has cast doubt upon both these assertions, and it seems closer to the truth to say that one of his followers took his own life, and the story eventually became attached to the master's name. In addition to Pure Land teaching and practice, Shan-tao is known for his artistic accomplishments, and supervised the casting of large Buddhist images. Although Shan-tao has been credited with popularizing Pure Land practice among the masses, his actual method of practice was much more complicated than simply reciting the Buddha Amitābha's name. He himself lived a rigorously ascetic life and observed the monastic precepts faithfully. He demanded of his followers absolute sincerity and faith in their practice, and taught them both oral invocation of the name and the complex visualization practices of the Kuan wu-liang-shou fo ching. Consequently, it is not surprising that actual records of his outreach activities do not show him reaching out to the masses with a simple, easily mastered practice. Instead, he appealed to the monastic community and the upper, educated strata of lay society, giving them a practice that required real talent and work. It is also not surprising that many of his lay students joined the monastic community, and that his major work was a commentary on the Kuan wu-liang-shou fo ching.

Subjects: Buddhism.

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