Baochang: Sixth-Century Biographer of Buddhist Monks... and Nuns?

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  • Baochang: Sixth-Century Biographer of Buddhist Monks... and Nuns?Author(s): Tom De RauwSource: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 125, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 2005), pp. 203-218Published by: American Oriental SocietyStable URL: .Accessed: 17/06/2014 15:20

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  • Baochang:

    Sixth-Century Biographer of Buddhist Monks . . . and Nuns?

    Tom De Rauw

    Ghent University

    Not much attention has been given to the Liang dynasty (502-557) monk Baochang H &i, other than a few stray lines about his authorship of the Mingseng zhuan ^#HI? (Biographies of Famous Monks)1 and the Biqiuni zhuan ibfx/?f? (Biographies of Nuns, T.2063). He is

    credited with being the first to systematically create an organized body of biographies of

    Buddhist monks, but beyond that, little is said about him. However, a reading of Bao

    chang's biography contained in the Xu Gaoseng zhuan fijtHttfil (Further Biographies of

    Eminent Monks)2 reveals that there is more to Baochang than meets the eye. He appears to

    have been an important figure in the monastic community of Jiankang J?Jjf? the capital city of the Liang, and a man very much favored by Emperor Wu 3? (r. 502-549). He participated in several translation and cataloguing projects under imperial patronage, and for a while he

    served as abbot of the Xin'an %f\^ monastery and head of the imperial Buddhist library. Yet,

    Baochang was plagued by controversy, in life as well as in death. As a member of the clerical

    elite of the capital, he became the object of verbal attacks by Huijiao mt$k (497-554), who in

    the preface to his Gaoseng zhuan ?f??eifil (Biographies of Eminent Monks, T.2059)3 criti

    cized the worldly and sycophantic metropolitan clergy who surrounded the pious emperor Wu in general, and the emphasis Baochang placed on "fame (rning )" over "eminence (gao

    ?&?)" in his selection of biographies in particular.4 Even among the people in the capital there were rumors that Baochang's true intentions did not lay in the practice of Buddhism, but in

    the pursuit of worldly goals.5

    Journal of the American Oriental Society 125.2 (2005) 203

    1. Although this biographical collection is no longer extant, fragments of it are preserved in the Meis?den sh?

    ^fl^lff?^, which is a selective summary of a Mingseng zhuan manuscript then in the possession of the T?daiji at

    Nara, made by the Japanese monk Sh?sh? ^ft in 1235. He copied out the table of contents, portions of thirty-six

    biographies and a topical finding list of items that interested him (mainly evidence for the working of the grace of

    the bodhisattvas). The Meis?den sh? is included in the Dai-nippon Zokuz?ky? A 0 ^MMM, ed. Nakano Tatsue

    4^1?3?H (Kyoto: Z?ky? shoin, 1905-12). The edition used for this paper is the Taiwanese reprint (Wan) xu

    zangjing (?B)I?I^M in 150 vols. (Taibei: Xinwenfeng chubangongsi, 1968-70). References to this edition will be

    abbreviated as XZJ, followed by the volume, page, register (a or b) and line number(s). The Meis?den sh? can be

    found in volume 134, pp. 1-34.

    Two quotations from Baochang's preface to the Mingseng zhuan are contained in Baochang's biography: Taish?

    shinsh? daiz?ky? y^iEffflf AHM, 100 vols., ed. Takakusu Junijir? ?#??fl?^E?, Watanabe Kaigyoku "MWMI?, et al. (Tokyo: Taish? issaiky? kank?tai, 1924-32; hereafter abbreviated T), no. 2060, vol. 50, p. 427b29-c9 and

    p. 427c 18.

    2. T.2060.50: 426b-427c. The Xu Gaoseng zhuan was compiled by Daoxuan jgjt; (596-667). The final version

    of this work was probably compiled by Daoxuan's disciples shortly after his death. See Koichi Shinohara, "Two

    Sources of Chinese Buddhist Biographies: Stupa Inscriptions and Miracle Stories," in Monks and Magicians: Re

    ligious Biographies in Asia, ed. P. Granoff and K. Shinohara (Oakville, Cal.: Mosaic Press, 1988), 195 n. 6; see also

    Robin B. Wagner, "Buddhism, Biography, and Power: A Study of Daoxuan's 'Continued Lives of Eminent Monks' "

    (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1995), 78-79.

    3. Compiled ca. A.D. 530. See Arthur F. Wright, "Biography and Hagiography: Hui-chiao's Lives of Eminent

    Monks," in Silver Jubilee Volume of the Jimbun Kagaku Kenkyusho (Kyoto: Kyoto University, 1954), 400.

    4. Ibid., 392-95.

    5. T.2060.50: 426b22-23.

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  • 204 Journal of the American Oriental Society 125.2 (2005)

    Here we shall first examine Baochang's career, taking as a starting point his biography, contained in the Further Biographies of Eminent Monks. An attempt will be made to re

    construct the chronology of events in Baochang's life, focusing on his relationship with

    Emperor Wu. In the second part of this article I will address two issues concerning the

    Mingseng zhuan and Biqiuni zhuan. First, even though important clues about the Mingseng zhuan's date of completion are embedded in the biography, there seems to be no consensus

    in the existing literature on when this collection of monks' biographies was completed. Many different dates are given, but very rarely is the preference for any date substantiated. Second,

    authorship of the Biographies of Nuns is traditionally ascribed to Baochang, yet this important collection is not mentioned anywhere in his biography. Even worse: there is no mention of

    it in the catalogues (Buddhist or non-Buddhist) at all until the early eighth century.


    According to his biography, Baochang (ca. 466-?)6 came from a poor family and worked

    hard in the fields to provide for himself and his parents. Because the plot of land they owned was too small to provide a sufficient living, he looked around for additional jobs. Thus he found work as a copyist and was able to earn extra money.7 Although this passage identifies

    Baochang as a peasant, was this really the case? As Z?rcher has pointed out, many of those

    whose biographies are included in the Biographies of Eminent Monks are said to have lived

    in poor and difficult circumstances before entering the monastic order. Poverty is one of the

    virtues of the Buddhist monk, and from that perspective, the Buddhist biographical col

    lections show a tendency to standardize the lives of their heroes according to a set of fixed

    patterns.8 A clue to Baochang's origins can perhaps be found in the wording of his biog

    rapher. Daoxuan writes:

    Looking for something extra, he took up a job as a copyist to obtain a little financial help.

    [While] checking for inaccuracies [in the texts], he could thus strengthen (qiang ?Ja his knowl

    edge [at the same time].9

    Baochang must have been able to read and write. The use of the word "strengthen" pre

    supposes a prior education. This suggests that Baochang was not the son of peasants, but

    more likely a descendant of a relatively cultured family that had lately fallen on hard times.

    As a member of such a family, he would have enjoyed a more or less standard classical lit

    erary education, comprising the study of the Confucian classics, with the intention of pre

    paring him for a possible career as a government official. However, at this time the higher ranks of magistracy were monopolized by the so-called "Great Families" (menfa f"3K?- These

    families, which formed the highest nobility, maintained a strict exclusivity, which meant that

    members of less influential families could not reach the higher rungs of the bureaucratic

    ladder. Many of these individuals, thus excluded from the higher circles of political, eco

    6. In the biography there is mention of the death of Baochang's father "close to his thirtieth birthday"

    (T.2060.50: 426b24). In order to observe the proper rites of mourning, he then temporarily "puts aside his constant

    practice, leaves the capital, and restricts himself exclusively to listening [to others lecturing]." This happened in the

    second year of the Jianwu H^ era (495), so (keeping in mind the traditional Chinese way of counting age, where

    one is considered to be one year old at the time of birth) we can place Baochang's date of birth around 466.

    7. T.2060.50: 426M4-16.

    8. Erik Z?rcher, The Buddhist Conquest of China: The Spread and Adaption of Buddhism in Early Medieval

    China, 2nd ed. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972), 6-9.

    9. T.2060.50: 426M5-16.

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  • De Rauw: Baochang 205

    nomic, and intellectual life, chose instead to adopt the life of a Buddhist monk as a means to

    gain access to these higher social strata.10 When in 483 the famous vinaya master Sengyou fit$3 (445-518)n was ordered to go to Wu, the region where Baochang was born and raised, the latter immediately left the family life to become his disciple. At the time Baochang was

    already eighteen years old, rather late in comparison to the age of other novice monks

    mentioned in the biographical literature.12

    Daoxuan now tells us that after studying under Sengyou for an undetermined number of


    Baochang became aware of the importance of non-Buddhist scholarship, and made it his priority to become knowledgeable about it. To that end, he began studying non-Buddhist writings under

    the guidance of several "retired gentlemen" (chushi jH?).14

    To a Buddhist monk moving in the circles of the literate upper class, being knowledgeable about non-Buddhist scholarship (most notably xuanxue 2;|l) was not merely a tool for prop

    agating Buddhism in terms that the target audience could understand. Knowledge of Chinese

    history, poetry, and philosophical writings was admired in and of itself, and could help propel a monk to great fame.15 Many Buddhist scholar-monks studied the Chinese classics, so in this

    respect Baochang's interest in them is nothing out of the ordinary. It is striking, however, that

    the biography describes how, as a consequence of his frequent interactions with these "retired

    gentlemen," people began to suspect that Baochang had worldly ambitions. When he went to

    visit his family, people even suspected he would probably not return to the monastery to live as a Buddhist monk, but rather choose to pursue a civil career.16

    Although one can certainly not exclude a certain level of Buddhist piety from the part of Baochang, it is likely that his motives for becoming a Buddhist monk were not all of a

    spiritual nature. If indeed it was his intention to use Buddhism as a means to enhance his

    position in society, then his plans were far from fruitless. After fleeing east from the chaos that accompanied the fall of the Southern Qi dynasty (479-502), he was summoned to the

    capital by Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty to take up the position as abbot of the Xin'an

    10. Z?rcher, Buddhist Conquest of China, 9.

    11. Besides being a famous vinaya master, Sengyou is arguably one of the most important figures in early Chinese Buddhist historiography. For a detailed biography of Sengyou, see Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer, Das Hung

    ming Chi und die Aufnahme des Buddhismus in China (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1976), 14-20; also Arthur

    Link, "Shih Seng-yu and His Writings," JAOS 80 (1960): 17-43.

    12. The age at which an individual becomes a novice is not always given. However, many biographies contained

    in the biographical collections say that the monk in question "left family life at an early age" (shao chujia ^NtbiQ. In the Xu gaoseng zhuan nearly a hundred biographies specify the age at which an individual entered the monastic

    order. Of these, almost eighty percent were (considerably) younger than Baochang was. Most (sixty-nine percent) were between 7 and 15 years old.

    13. John Kieschnick gives a brief description of what the education of a novice must have looked like in

    The Eminent Monk: Buddhist Ideals in Medieval Chinese Hagiography (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai'i Press, 1997), 118-23. A promising novice was usually placed under the guidance of a single Buddhist master. After completing the study of a certain number of basic texts, the disciple was given permission to pursue his own interests and to

    study with other masters.

    14. T.2060.50: 426b20-21. These "retired gentlemen" were literati who, by their own choice, kept clear of an

    official career to devote themselves to a life of private study and self-cultivation modelled on the ideal of the hermit, untroubled by the rigid framework of Confucian scholarship and safe from the dangers of politics. For more on the

    eremitic ideal, see Alan J. Berkowitz, Patterns of Disengagement: The Practice and Portrayal of Reclusi?n in Early Medieval China (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2000).

    15. Kieschnick, The Eminent Monk, 112-18.

    16. T.2060.50: 426b23.

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  • 206 Journal of the American Oriental Society 125.2 (2005)

    monastery in a.D. 505.17 This monastery is occasionally mentioned in the Buddhist chron

    icles, but appears to have been of rather modest importance during the Liang. However, to

    become an abbot by imperial appointment was no small feat.

    After this, Baochang was ordered to oversee the compilation of a whole series of books

    that were to contain a listing of all the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and important deities mentioned

    in the Buddhist scriptures, and the proper rituals associated with these deities to implore their

    protection and benefaction. The command issued by Emperor Wu, ordering the compilation of these books, is partly preserved in the biography of Baochang:

    The seasonal storms have abated far and near, and the weather [is now so favorable that] it causes

    the harvest of the hundred grains to increase. How could it be that [for this] we do not firstly rely on the [protection of the] Three Jewels,18 secon...


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