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Biography of National Teacher Qing Liang (清凉国师)
Translator’s Note. This English translation is drawn from the original Chinese language source text entitled ‘农历三月六日 华严四祖清凉澄观国师圆寂纪念日’,which was uploaded onto the Chinese internet to mark the 2014 commemoration of the passing of National Teacher Qing Liang. Throughout this text, the names ‘Qing Liang’ and ‘Cheng Guan’ are used interchangeably by the author, and denote exactly the same person, namely the prolific scholar and 4th Patriarch of the Hua Yan School. Qing Liang is mentioned in the famous Ming Dynasty biography of Ch’an Master Han Shan (1546-1623), and his disciple and Dharma descendent - Zong Mi –(the 5th Patriarch of the Hua Yan School) wrote both favourably (and revealingly) of the Ch’an School as it existed during the Tang Dynasty. Qing Liang became a Buddhist monastic at just 11 years of age, and lived into his 102nd year of life. His scholarship regarding the Hua Yan Jing, (or Avatamsaka Sutra), is considered second to none, and is still very much valued and respected today throughout modern China and the world.
According to the lunar (agricultural) calender (农历 – Nong Li), the 6th day of the 3rd month is the ‘memorial day’ marking the passing of Qing Liang (清凉), also known by the name of ‘Cheng Guan’ (澄观),who held the official rank of ‘National Teacher’ (国师 – Guo Shi), and who was regarded as the 4th Patriarch of the Hua Yan (华严)School.
He lived between 737-838, (or 738-839 depending upon historical source), and his family surname was ‘Xia Hou’ (夏侯). He came from Yuezhou (越州), also known as ‘Shanyin’ (山阴), which today corresponds to the modern city of Shaoxing(绍兴), which is located in Zhejiang province. He was born during the 25th year of the reign of the Tang Dynasty emperor Xuanzong (玄宗) - which corresponds to the year 737 – during the imperial era known as ‘Kaiyuan’ (开元)which covered the years 713 to 741. When he was 11 years old, he became a Buddhist monk at the Bao Lin Temple (宝林寺 – Bao Lin Si), situated in Benzhou (本州). Qing Liang trained in the cultivation of virtuous discipline until the 2nd year of the reign of the Tang Dynasty emperor Suzong (肃宗) – which corresponds to the year 757. He then received full ordination from Chang Zhao (常照) at the Miao Shan Temple (妙善寺 – Miao Shan Si).
During the reign of emperor Qianyuan (乾元) - which corresponds to the years 758-760 – Qing Liang trained at the Qi Xia Temple (栖霞寺– Qi Xia Temple), situated in the Runzhou (润州),which is in modern day Zhenjiang (鎮江), located in Jiangsu province, under Vinaya Master Li (醴律师 – Li Lu Shi). This temple specialised in the study of the Vinaya, or Buddhist monastic discipline. After returning briefly to the Benzhou, he then went to Quanzhou (泉州)in Fujian province, where he studied the Vinaya tradition of the Nan Shan (南山) School at the Kai Yuan Temple (开元寺 – Kai Yuan Si), under master Tan Yi (昙一), before travelling onward to Jin Ling (金陵), [or modern ‘Nanjing’], where he received instruction in the Xuan Bi (玄璧) tradition of the ‘Three Treatises in Cutting-off the Flow’ (关河三论– Guan He San Lun).
During the reign of emperor Daizong (代宗) - which corresponds to the years 762-779 – Qing Liang stayed at the Wa Guan Temple (瓦官寺- Wa Guan Si) - which is situated in modern day Nanjing (南京), Jiangsu province - where he studied the‘Mahayana Treatise on the Awakening of Faith’ (大乘起信论 – Da Cheng Qi Xin Lun), and the ‘Nirvana Sutra’(Nie Pan Jing). He then travelled to Huainan (淮南) in Anhui province, where he studied under the 3rd Patriarch of the Hua Yan School – Fa Zang (法藏) - the sutra commentaries associated with the work of the great master from Korea (新罗 - Xin Luo), named ‘Yuan Xiao’ (元晓大师 – Yuan Xiao Da Shi) [617-686], which included a text entitled the ‘Mahayana Treatise on the Awakening of Faith Commentary’ (大乘起信论疏 – Da Cheng Qi Xin Lun Shu). Qing Liang then travelled to Qiantang (钱塘) – which is today the modern area of Hangzhou (杭州), Zhejiang province – where he visited the Tian Zhu Temple (天竺寺 – Tian Zhu Si). Here, he was taught the Hua Yan method of Dharma cultivation, which emphasised the study of the ‘Hua Yan Sutra’ (华严经 – Hua Yan Jing).
During the 7th year of the reign of Emperor Da Li (大历) – which corresponds to the year 772 – Qing Liang travelled to the Shanxii (剡溪) area of Zhejiang province, where he re-examined the extensive wisdom teachings associated with the ‘Three Treatises’ (三论 – San Lun), as preserved within the Chengdu (成都) tradition.
During the 10th year of the reign of Emperor Da Li (大历) – which corresponds to the year 775 – Qing Liang travelled to Suzhou (苏州), situated in Jiangsu province, to study the Tian Tai School (天台宗 – Tian Tai Zong), of the master named Jing Xi Zhan Ran (荆溪湛然) [711-782]. Here, he learned the Tian Tai meditation method of ‘stilling the mind’ (止观– Zhi Huan), as well as ‘Dharma-cultivation’ (法华 – Fa Hua), and studied a commentary regarding the Vimalakirti (维摩 – Wei Mo) sutra. Whilst in Jiangsu province, Qing Liang also paid his respects to the master known as Hui Zhong (慧忠)[675-775] of the Ox Head (牛头 – Niu Tou) School of Ch’an, before heading to the Jing Mountain (径山– Jing Shan) area (near Hangzhou) of Zhejiang province, where he paid his respects to the spiritual way practiced there, particularly that of the master known as Wu Ming (无名)originally of Luoyang (洛阳). It was here where Qing Liang received instruction in the Southern School of Ch’an (南宗禅法– Nan Zong Ch’an Fa) and then instruction in the Northern School of Ch’an (北宗禅法 – Bei Zong Ch’an Fa) from the Ch’an monk named ‘Hui Yun’ (禅僧慧云– Ch’an Seng Hui Yun) – with Qing Liang personally preferring the Southern lineage, although he thought the Northern lineage to be a reasonable teaching. At this time he received the Dharma-name Cheng Guan (澄观). Qing Liang’s path was broad and extensive. He made use of the teachings of Ch’an (禅), San Lun (三论), Tian Tai (天台), and Hua Yan (华严), as he understood these sources to be both virtuous and correct. He also continued researching knowledge from many different areas.
During the 11th year of the reign of Emperor Da Li (大历) – which corresponds to the year 776 – Qing Liang toured the many holy sites on the Wu Tai (五台) Mountains (situated in Shanxi province), before heading to the E Mei (峨嵋) Mountain region (in Sichuan province), visiting the many peaks in the area. Later, Qing Liang returned to the Wu Tai Mountain area, and stayed at the Great Hua Yan Temple (大华严寺 – Da Hua Yan Si), where he participated in many Buddhist practices and rituals, including that of ‘Dharma-repentance’(忏法 - Chan Fa). At this time the master known as Xian Lin (贤林) was invited to the temple to lecture on the Hua Yan Sutra. When hearing this teaching on the Hsu Yan Sutra, Qing Liang experienced a profound awakening. However, he felt that the existing commentary upon the Hua Yan Sutra was too complicated on various matters, and that it should be re-written in a language that everyone could easily understand. Following this insight, Qing Liang took a vow to compose a new commentary for the Hua Yan Sutra. Qing Liang started work on this important task during (the 1st month) of the 1st year of the imperial era known as ‘Xingyuan’ (兴元) – which corresponds to the year 784. He completed his commentary of the Hua Yan Sutra during (the 12th month) of 3rd year of the imperial era known as ‘Zhenyuan’ (贞元) – which corresponds to the year 787. Both these eras, (Xingyuan was only one year long), fell during the reign of Emperor Dezong (德宗), who ruled 779-805. Qing Liang took four full years to complete this task, and his work, (which comprised of 20 volumes), received the title‘Hua Yan Sutra Commentary’ (华严经疏– Hua Yan Jing Shu). Today this commentary is known by the following title ‘Great Way Extensive Buddha Hua Yan Sutra Commentary’ (大方广佛华严经疏 – Da Fang Guang Fu Hua Yan Jing Shu). After this, Qing Liang began to lecture at the Great Hua Yan Temple, and at the Chong Fu Temple (崇福寺– Chong Fu Si) to disciples, wise monks, and others. These lecture notes were recorded and gathered together to form the document referred today as the ‘Great Way Extensive Buddha Hua Yan Sutra Commentary (Plus Lecture Notes)’ (大方广佛华严经随疏演义钞– Da Fang Guang Fu Hua Yan Jing Shu Yan Yi Chao). This is when Cheng Guan (澄观) was recognised as a master (主 – Zhu) of the Hua YanSchool. During the 12th year of the Zhenyuan imperial era – which corresponds to the year 796 – the imperial court summoned Qing Liang to the state capital at Chang’an (长安), so that he could use his considerable ‘prajna’ (般若 – Bo Re) to assist in the translation of the original Sanskrit version of the Hua Yan Sutra into the Chinese language. As a widely recognised authority upon the Hua Yan teaching, his opinion was highly valued as a means to validate the translation. The translation (in 40 volumes) was completed by the 14th year of the Zhenyuan imperial era – which corresponds to the year 798 – and was entitled the ‘Great Way Extensive Buddha Hua Yan Sutra’ (大方广佛华严经 – Da Fang Guang Fu Hua Yan Jing), but it is also commonly known as the ’40 Hua Yan’ (四十华严– Si Shi Hua Yan). By imperial decree, Qing Liang was ordered to compose (in 10 volumes) the ‘Zhenyuan New Translation of the Hua Yan Sutra Commentary’ (贞元新译华严经疏– Zhen Yuan Xin Yi Hua Yan Jing Shu) for the Cao Tang Temple (草堂寺 – Cai Tang Si), situated on Zhongnan Mountain (终南山 – Zhong Nan Shan), in Shaanxi province. This work was included with the compilation of the texts entitled ‘Hua Yan Sutra Path of Good Vows Commentary’ (华严经行愿品疏 – Hua Yan Jing Xing Yuan Pin Shu), and the ‘Samantabhadra Path of Good Vows Commentary’ (普贤行愿品疏 – Pu Xian Xing Yuan Pin Shu). In the 15th year of the imperial era known as Zhenyuan, during the reign of the Emperor Dezong – which corresponds to the year 799 – Cheng Guan was summoned to the imperial court at the time of the emperor’s birthday, to teach him the Hua Yan method. At this time, Dezong stated:
“This wonderful Dharma has cleared and calmed my mind.”
Due to Cheng Guan’s excellent ability to teach the Dharma, the emperor bestowed the name of ‘Clear Tranquillity’ (清凉 – Qing Liang), upon him, together with the prestigious title of ‘National Teacher’ (国师– Guo Shi). After this time, all the emperors following Dezong in the dynastic succession – including Shunzong (顺宗), Xianzong (宪宗), Muzong (穆宗), and Jingzong (敬宗)– all held the National Teacher Cheng Guan in the highest regard. During the 3rd year of the imperial era known as ‘Kaicheng’ (开成)– which corresponds to the year 838 – at the time of the incumbent emperor known as Wenzong (文宗), Qing Liang passed away on the 6th day of the 3rd lunar month. He was in his 102nd year of life, according to volume 25 of the text known as the ‘Longxing Buddhist Chronicle General Treatise’ (隆兴佛教编年通论– Long Xing Fo Jiao Bian Nian Tong Lun). The Buddhist ancestors, in the text entitled ‘Song Dynasty Eminent Monk Biographies’(宋高僧传 – Song Gao Seng Chuan) state that Cheng Guan’s Dharma-age was over 70 years, and that future generations revered him as the 4th Patriarch of the Hua Yan School. To help all beings in their self-cultivation, the National Teacher Cheng Guan formulated 10 points of guidance and encouragement entitled ‘Qing Liang’s Ten Virtues’ (清凉十愿 – Qing Liang Shi Yuan) which are:
1) The physical body does not deviate from the Buddhist moral discipline.
2) The mind does not deviate from the teachings of the Tathagata.
3) When sitting, do not turn your back on the essence of the Dharmadhatu.
4) The essential nature is not sullied by the experience of the external environment.
5) The foot of the temple-monk does not follow the path of worldly dust.
6) The ribs of the monk are never allowed to touch a common bed.
7) The eye is unmoved by - and is not dependent upon – visual stimulus.
8) The hand is always using the Buddha-bead mala and is never without it.
9) The tongue does not eat vegetarian food after mid-day.
10) Long-cherished are the robe and bowl, and the monk is never without them.
Cheng Guan’s collected writings are extensive and amount to over 400 volumes (as well as 50 volumes of dedicated lecture notes covering specific and distinct topics). His work focuses primarily upon explaining the many different aspects of the Hua Yan – or‘Avatamsaka’ – Sutra, and his collected works are comprised of the following key texts:
Great Way Extensive Buddha Hua Yan Sutra Commentary
(大方广佛华严经疏 – Da Fang Guang Fu Hua Yan Jing Shu) = 60 volumes.
Great Way Extensive Buddha Hua Yan Sutra Commentary (Plus Lecture Notes)
(大方广佛华严经随疏演义钞–Da Fang Guang Fu Hua Yan Jing Shu Yan Yi Chao) = 90 volumes.
Hua Yan Sutra Path of Good Vows Commentary
(华严经行愿品疏 – Hua Yan Jing Xing Yuan Pin Shu) = 10 volumes.
Great Hua Yan Sutra Brief Explanation
(大华严经略策 – Da Hua Yan Jing Lue Ce) = 1 volume
New Translation of the Hua Yan Sutra - in Praise of Chapters 7 and 9 to Attain Release
(新译华严经七处九会颂释章– Xin Yi Huan Yan Jing Qi Chu Jiu Hui Song Shi Zhang) = 1 volume
Hua Yan Sutra Entry into the Dharmadhatu Explanation 18 Questions & Answers
(华严经入法界品十八问答 –Hua Yan Jing Ru Fa Jie Pin Shi Ba Wen Da) = 1 volume
Three Sages Complete Harmony Concept Gate (三圣圆融观门 – San Sheng Yuan Rong Guan Men) = 1 volume
Hua Yan Dharmadhatu Profound Mirror (华严法界玄镜 – Hua Yan Fa Jie Xuan Jing) = 2 volumes
Concept of the Five Aggregates (五蕴观 – Wu Yun Guan) = 1 volume
Hua Yan Mind Entry into the Dharma-Gate (华严心要法门 – Hua Yan Xin Yao Fa Men) = 1 volume
Hua Yan Sutra Essential Principles (华严经纲要 – Hua Yan Jing Gang Yao) = 3 volumes
The following text has been lost:
12 Karmic Causes and Effects Concept (十二因缘观 – Shi Er Yin Yuan Guan).
In addition, Qing Liang’s commentarial work on the ‘Lotus Sutra’ (法华经 – Fa Hua Jing), the Lankavatara Sutra (楞伽经 – Leng Jia Jing), and the ‘Madhyamika Treatise’ (中观论– Zhong Guan Lun), have also been lost. The National Teacher Cheng Guan had a great many disciples, including Gui Feng Zong Mi (圭峰宗密), Dong Ru Seng Rui (东都僧睿), Hai Yin Fa Yin (海印法印), and Ji Guang Si Ren (寂光四人), also known as Men Xia Si Zhe (门下四哲). Eventually Zong Mi inherited the Hua Yan Dharma from Qing Liang, and became recognised as the 5th Patriarch of the Hua Yan lineage.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2014.