History of Buddhism
Monks during the Period of Six Dynasties(II)
作者:Liu Yuejin
21/12/2010 04:01 (GMT+7)
Font size:  Zoom out Zoom in

However, whether war or other types of contact were involved, these encounters were infrequent. Had it been strictly limited to the practices described above, cultural interchange between various centers of that period would of course have been very limited. Moreover, because of differences in political systems, cultural backgrounds and even customs and habits, relations between different places often encountered mental barriers or even prejudice, so that each side looked down on the other.[8] Therefore, this types of contact operated under certain constraints. Only the Buddhist centers in different regions could manage virtually unconstrained interaction. As described earlier, most of the ruling factions revered Buddhism. At the same time, the monks themselves enter tamed very close relations with the local literati. Thus, the scope of their contacts often penetrated far deeper than those of officialdom or literary circles, giving a special force to the Buddhist message and its influence. In view of the political disunion and disrupted communications of the time, the cultural role of these monks cannot be underestimated.

The Six Dynasties saw the gradual assimilation and systematization of Buddhist culture in China, giving this period a special position in the history of Chinese culture. Almost all histories of Buddhism and culture in China have dealt with this issue in greater or lesser detail, so that it is now common knowledge. However, there is a considerable research gap when it comes to specialized study of the role Buddhist monks played in making contacts between different places possible, promoting the development of culture, and spurring its transformation. After all, during this period of time, in terms of space, communication between these educated Buddhist monks covered almost every corner of Asia with China as its center; in terms of scope, it related to all strata of society; and in terms of cultural life, it affected nearly every aspect of the culture of the time.

As is well known, Buddhism originated in ancient India and entered China following four main routes: one, passing through the western part of Yunnan bordering Burma, mainly influencing the regions of Southwest China; another passing through Nepal and penetrating into Tibet; the third going through Central and Western Asia and entering Xinjiang, whence it radiated into the Central Plains; and the fourth, the marine route for the propagation of Buddhism, which arrived in Guangzhou through the South China Sea and thence penetrated Southeast China.[9] Among these four routes, the one through Xinjiang was the largest in scope and had the greatest influence. To the southwest this route reached India and Kasmira (in presentday Kashmir) and to the east it stretched through northwestern China to the Central Plains and extended towards Central Shaanxi and the southeast areas. Using this terrestrial route one had to first cross the Xintou River (i.e., the Indus River), then pass through the Plateau of Pamirs, enter Xinjiang, and following the Tarim River arrive in Kucha. From there, heading due east, the first stop was Dunhuang-the first large prefecture at the western end of the Hexi Corridor. Then, following the Corridor eastwards one would arrive in Liangzhou where the route split in two: one route descended southwards toward the prefecture of $ajun (in modern Sichuan) and followed the Yangzi River to arrive in Jingzhou and Yangzhou; the other went due east, entering the Guanlong. In addition, Western Asian states like Parthia and Yuezhi also became gathering places for Buddhist monks invested with the mission of spreading Buddhist culture. These monks did not confine themselves to one location, temple or monarch, but migrated between a number of different ones, spreading Buddhist culture. Among the most important and influential figures were Dao'an, Huiyuan, and Kumarajiva.

Shi Dao' an, whose laic surname was Wei, was a native of Fuliu in Changshan (the modern Province of Hebei ). Upon arrival in the city of Ye he entered the Zhongsi Temple, becoming a disciple of the master Fotucheng. He studied the sutras extensively, always striving for the most profound understanding, and compiled the first ever catalogue of Buddhist texts translated into Chinese. His disciples numbered more than five hundred. In 358, Dao'an, now forty-five years of age, returned to Jizhou, where he was offered residence at the Shoudu Temple. He later moved to Qiankoushan. After the capture of Luhun (in the modern province of Henan) by Murong Jun he established himself in Xiangyang where he stayed for over ten years. When wars once again ravaged the Central Plains, he and his disciples were forced to enter the mountainous areas of Wangwu and Nüji and then cross the Yellow River again and seek refuge in Luhun. However, it was impossible to escape the turmoil of war. Dao' an was convinced that the diffusion of the Buddhist message could not be achieved without the support of those in power. He therefore decided to change his previous method of preaching by dividing his forces into small groups and sending them in different directions. Fatai went to Yangzhou, Fayu arrived at the Changsha Temple in Jiangling, Tanhui stopped at the Shangming Temple in Jingzhou, Fahe entered Sichuan and Dao'an along with Huiyuan and some four hundred disciples crossed the Yellow River. He was then captured by Fu Pi and taken to Chang'an where he contributed to the great blossoming of the doctrine. He gained several thousand followers and was regarded as the "Sage of the East."

Huiyuan, after establishing himself in the south of the Yangzi River, chose Longquan Abode at the Mount Lu where he built the Donglin Temple. Being brothers in Dharma and disciples of the same master, Huiyuan and his fellows kept up communication between the south and the north. For instance, when Fatai fell ill, Huiyuan set off to see him in Jingzhou. Moreover he sustained an ongoing correspondence with the monk Sengzhao of Chang' an. While living at Mount Lu, Huiyuan invited Liu Yimin from Pengcheng, Lei Cizong from Yuzhang, Zhou Xuzhi from Yanmen, Bi Yingzhi from Xincai, Zong Bing from Nanyang, Zhang Laimin, Zhang Jishuo and others to build a hall for reciting scripture and take an oath before a statue of the Buddha of Infinite Longevity to apply themselves to studying the teachings of Buddha for going to Western Paradise. Most of the famous literati from the capital had close relations with Huiyuan, creating, in fact, another cultural center of the South parallel to Jiankang.

Kumarajiva was a native of Kucha, one of the important stops on the Silk Road. His father Kumayan came from Indian nobility and his mother was a sister of the king of Kucha. In his childhood he followed his mother to India where he studied the sutras of the Hinayana, the Veda and the Pancavidya, and was deeply influenced by the style of Buddhist studies then prevailing in Kucha. Kumarajiva had an excellent command of foreign language and mastered the art of Sanskrit rhetoric. Later he studied Mahayana at Yutian. Back in Kucha, he was already famous throughout the Western Region. One of the motives of Fu Jian in sending Lü Guang to attack Kucha was to capture this famous monk. It was only fifteen years later, in 402, that he finally arrived in Chang'an He put himself to work preaching and translating sutras, an effort that resulted in over three hundred scrolls of Chinese translations, noted for their wide coverage and smoothness of style.

Shi Dao'an had long been aware of the renown of Kumarajiva, but unfortunately died sixteen years before the famous monk arrived in Chang'an. Huiyuan and his disciples carried out Dao'an's wish and contacted Kumarajiva soon after his arrival, initiating a close relationship with him. When Kumarajiva finished his translation of Mahaprajna- paramitasastra, he asked Huiyuan to write the preface. Although he was so modest as to decline the request, Huiyuan straightaway applied himself to an intense scrutiny when the text was completed. He felt strongly that the language of the text was too complex for beginners, so he set out to compile a simplified version of it, abbreviating it down to twenty scrolls. After that, they kept in touch through letters. When Huiyuan's own text the Faxinglun (On the Nature of Dharma) came out, it quickly received praise from Kumarajiva. So we can see communication between the Buddhist monks at that time occurred rapidly and easily. In the process of spreading Buddhist teaching, they consciously or unconsciously disseminated other types of literature as well.

One of the important manifestations of cultural exchange between China and India in middle antiquity was the great degree to which the influence of Buddhist thought permeated the Chinese literary scene. A lot of monks were literary figures themselves; for example, men like Zhu Sengdu, Shi Dao'an, Shi Wangming, Shi Hongyan, Shi Daoyou and Shi Baoyue enjoyed considerable fame at the time. There is yet another group of literati whose education in Buddhism from an early age was to have a profound influence on their scholarly activities. For instance, during the early years of the reign of Emperor Mingdi of the Song (465-472) eight-year old Liu Xiaobiao was taken to Zhongshan when his native hometown fell into the hands of the Wei. In 486, now twenty-five years old, Liu Xiaobiao managed to escape to the South. He had been detained in the North for eighteen years. During those years he had assisted the eminent monk Jimkarya from the Western Region and Shi Tanyao in translating Buddhist sutras in Datong, thus acquiring solid foundations in Buddhist learning. His education was very different from the traditional Confucian path of classical study. In his work Generalities on History Liu Zhiji regretted that Liu Xiaobiao had wasted his great talent and insight on writing common novels and vulgar short stories. However, considering his Buddhist background, the choice of a novelistic form of expression for his literary impulses should cause nn surprise: the influence of the novel was held in especially high esteem by the Buddhist missionaries.

The main influence of those monks on the literary scene does not, of course, lie in  their own creative work, but rather in the tremendous influence Buddhist thought had during middle antiquity on the evolution of the rules of prosody, literary styles and themes, and literary thought.

From the point of view of the evolution of prosody during middle antiquity, works like Lives of Eminent Monks by Huijiao recorded a number of stories of monks who were good at tones. Three Questions .About Four Tones and A Collection of Speeches on the History of Wei, Jin and the Northern and Southern Dynasties by Chen Yinque indicate Chat these stories were directly related to the discovery of the four tones. In spite of the ongoing controversy about this question, the discovery of new materials, especially the publication in 1996 of the German Holdings of Sanskrit Manuscripts from Dunhuang Turfan (Sanskrithandschriften aus den Turfanfunden), provides greater room for debate on this question and has stimulated anew our interest in the four tones and the "eight drawbacks in tones." This is discussed in my paper "Seeking New Insight in a Foreign Land: Recent Developments in Research on the Theory of Tonal Drawbacks of the Yongming Reign."[10]

The influence of Buddhism on the literary styles and themes during middle antiquity is also multifaceted. The literary forms of this period like the cifu (prose-poetry, a style of metrical composition) or shiwen xiaoshuo (poetic fiction) all bear the imprint of Buddhism. As for the themes, they are even more permeated with Buddhist culture. In the case of the gongti shi (palace-style poetry), for example, the rise and evolution of such themes has indeed attracted readers' attention. However, due to the bad reputation of the gongti shi (as it featured the female body it was often considered frivolous and an emblem of the decaying lifestyle of the nobility), serious in-depth research in this area is very scarce. It can be discerned from extant poems by Yu Jianwu and Xiao Gang that many of the tatter's palace-poetry style poems were composed before he became heir apparent in 531, and were only then placed in the category of gongti shi or palace-style poetry. This seems to have occurred in quite a short timeframe.

Changes in the writings of Shen Yue, an important writer in the Yongming reign, also bear witness to this conclusion. During the Yongming reign of the Southern Qi, the works of Shen Yue, Xie Tiao and Wang Rong rarely featured themes of this type. However, in the years covering the end of Southern Qi and the establishment of Liang, Shen Yue began to write on this theme. He was already an old man well in his sixties by then, so it would be illogical to infer that this development was prompted by his personal interest in the theme. One should therefore not seek an explanation in his personal life. As for Xiao Gang, he also differentiated between his personal behavior and his writings. So Xiao Gang's intoxication with palace-style poetry was also not swayed by his disposition. From the time when the Liang replaced the Qi to Xiao Gang's designation as heir was a period of no more than thirty years. During these thirty years a great number of literati, almost simultaneously, embraced palace style themes. Individual decisions could not have been responsible for the prevalence of this trend; the literati's sudden embrace of these themes must have been prompted by some kind of external influence. In my opinion, the answer can be sought in the influence of Buddhism.

Traditional views held that Buddhist monks were not allowed to view any form of entertainment. This was clearly stated in the monastic rules. One shouldn't, however, be too absolute about this. In order to propagate its message, at some point Buddhism started using literature and art like drama and Gatha (verses in praise of the Buddha in Buddhist srtra) to attract crowds. In Gandhara style Buddhist art there is a relief of "sleeping beauties" (cainu shuimian). On the relief a girl is sleeping against a rattan armchair with her legs crossed and one foot poised in the air, her bent arms supporting her head, to the left there is another sleeping girl with her head on her hands, and behind, a third sleeping girl with a six-string lute in her hand. this relief and others discovered share one striking characteristic-the forms of the female bodies are harmonious and voluptuous with their light clothing revealing graceful curves .This art of describing a woman asleep can often be found in the collection New Songs from a Jade Terrace. Is there any relationship between the two? Personally I incline toward inferring a positive answer. From this point of view, the thriving palace style poetry and its cultural content invites further in-depth investigation.

The influence of Buddhism on literary concepts and ideas during middle antiquity is an even more important research topic for the intellectual history of Chinese literature. Research in this area has already had a rich harvest.[11] The two most important works on literary theory from that period, Carving a Dragon at the Heart of Literature and An Evaluation of Poems, are closely related to the process of the dissemination of Buddhist thought. Carving a Dragon at the Heart of Literature is not only a history of literature up to the Qi and the Liang, but more importantly a specialized theoretical work of a literary quality unequalled before or since. No explanation of this phenomenon can pass over the important link provided by Buddhist influence. An Evaluation of Poems does not confine itself to works by Buddhist monks, but is saturated with Buddhist thought in its criteria for evaluation and theoretical propositions.

My earlier article "An Unsolved Research Case: A Conjecture as to the Theoretical Origins of the Concept of `Taste' in Zhong Rong's An Evaluation of Poems" attempts to explore this question. It simply offers a suggestion, with no pretence to certainty. Rather, I hope to open up discussion of these issues.

*Liu Yaojin, Ph.D in literature , is research fellow of CASS. Address: No. 5 Jian guo men nei Street, Institute of Literature, CASS, Beijing, China, 100732.

——Translated by Feng Yihan from Zhongguo shehui kexue , 2004, no. 5 Revised by Sally Borthwick



[8] There is vivid description in the section of "Jingning Temple" of the second scroll of A Record of the Temples of Luoyang.

[9]  For instance, Gunavarman and Gunabhadra arrived in Guangzhou from the South China Sea .After acquiring scriptures from the state of Kasmira, Tanwujie also started his journey to Guangzhou from South India aboard ship.

[10] Liu Yaojin, "Seeking New Insight in a Foreign Land: Recent Developments in Research on the Theory of Tonal Drawbacks of the Yongming Reign" in Wenxue yichan, 1999, no. 4.

[11] For instance, there are in-depth discussions in both The Translation of Buddhist Scriptures and the Literary Trends of Thought in theMiddle antiquity by Jiang Shuzhuo, Jiangxi People's Publishing House, 1997, and Buddhism and Literature in the Southern Dynast by Pu Hui, China Bookstore Company, 2003.

 Go back      Go top        Print view       Send to frinend        Send opinion
» Audio
» Photo gallery
» Buddhism Dictionary
» Lunar calendar