Records of the Lives of the high Masters



From the lectures of Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
Translated by Disciple Bhiksuni Heng Yin

      The Buddhadharma has its ups and downs; some believe and some do not.  Seeing the sarira which appeared in response to K'ang Seng Hui's prayers- Emperor Sun Ch'uan came to believe in the Buddhadharma and built First Established Monastery in Fo T'o (Buddha) village. After that most of the people of the country of Wu became Buddhists, and to this day in Su-chou, Hang-chou and Nanking, many believe in the Buddha because of this incident.

Emperor Sun Ch'uan may have believed in the Buddha, but his son Sun Hua4 did not. He thought that his father was a stupid dolt, that he himself was supremely intelligent, and that the Buddhist monasteries should be burned and Buddhist practices discontinued. "Who started this Buddhism?" he asked his court officials. "Who is responsible for these meaningless rituals, and ultimately of what use are they? If Buddhism is useful, we should keep it, but if it does not benefit man, society, and the world, we should get rid of it!"

"The spiritual power and awesome virtue of the Buddha are inconceivable," replied the court officials, "and you cannot just burn down Buddhist temples."

Sun Hao then sent a famous debater to visit the High Master K'ang Seng Hui, and no matter what principles or rhetoric he used, he could not defeat the Master. As the debater was leaving, he saw a small temple beside the monastery gate where the common people were sacrificing chickens and pigs to the gods. "How can such an improper place stand beside a proper, orthodox Buddhist monastery?" he asked.

K'ang Seng Hui replied, "Thunder may rend the mountains but the deaf do not hear it. The Buddha is efficacious, but he pays no attention to these senseless ones."

      “That has principle,” said the debater, and he returned to the Emperor and said, “Sramanera K’ang Seng Hui is a man of great wisdom and intelligence. I cannot fathom his wisdom with my knowledge. The Emperor had best go see for himself.” So the Emperor got into a beautiful four-horse cart and rode off to see K’ang Seng Hui.

"What is magical about the Buddhadharma?" the Emperor asked. "What is meant by good and evil retribution? And what about ghosts and spirits? How do you explain these things?"

K'ang Seng Hui said. The Book of Changes5 says that the family that does good things receives good fortune while the family that does evil encounters calamity. If you do evil in secret, the ghosts will pay you back, and if you do evil openly, other men will take revenge—they will kill you. Such is the retribution of good and evil."

The Emperor said, "Confucius and the Duke of Chou taught these principles long ago. Why should we have to wait for the Buddha to expound them?"

"What has been taught before was obvious and superficial. The Buddhadharma explains retribution in profound and far-reaching terms to lead men to refrain from evil and do good. Is this not fine?" Although Sun Kau was intelligent, he had no way to defeat K'ang Seng Hui or discredit the Buddhadharma, so he just said, "Okay, forget it." He had not studied the Buddhadharma, but he did not believe in it. There are many like Sun Hao who have never Studied Buddhism but still do not believe in it.

Later, one of his attendants discovered a gold statue in the palace gardens. Knowing it was a statue of the Buddha, the Emperor placed it in a hole beneath his outhouse so that all the shit and piss landed on the Buddha image. He and his ministers laughed and joked. "This is really something," they said, "What kind of efficacy does it have now?"

Then trouble came for Sun Kau; his entire body swelled up and his genitals really hurt. As he lay there, rolling over and over and calling out in pain, one of his diviners said, "You have offended a great spirit.' Not knowing it was the Buddha, he just called it a great spirit.

Sun Hao sent his attendants to the temples to offer incense and bow to the spirits, but his condition did not improve and his pain was not relieved at all. Finally one of his concubines, who was a Buddhist, asked, “Have you sought forgiveness in the temples of the Buddha?”

      Sun Hao lifted his head, “Is the Buddha a great spirit?” he asked.

      “The Buddha is the greatest of spirits,” she replied.

Hearing this. Sun Hao woke up and realized what he had done. He had the statue removed from the toilet and told his concubine to wash it clean with scented water. Sun Hau got up and bowed before the statue. He lit incense and repented, setting forth all of his past mistakes; soon he was completely cured and had no more pain. Later he went to First Established Monastery to request the speaking of the Dharma. K'ang Seng Hui spoke to him in eloquent detail of the principles of offenses and blessings, cause and effect, and the Emperor reformed, took refuge, and received the five precepts. He wanted to read the Bhiksu precepts, but lay people are not allowed to see them, so K'ang Seng Hui wrote out two hundred and fifty vows all of which begin, "I vow that living beings...etc." The vows increased the Emperor's faith and he instructed his attendants and laborers to take refuge, cultivate, and help spread the Buddhadharma. K'ang Seng Hui also translated many Sutras with great skill and accuracy.

      During the fourth year of the T'ien Chi6 reign period, the Wu dynasty fell to the Tsin dynasty. In the ninth month of that year K'ang Seng Hui died of a sudden illness. A stupa was built for him. Later a rebel named Su Tsun burned it down and it had to be rebuilt.

There was also General P'ing Hsi Ch'ao Yu7 who did not believe in the Buddhadharma and slighted the Triple Jewel saying, "This is nothing but superstitious nonsense!" until one night he had a dream. He dreamed that he went into the stupa which K'ang Seng Hui had built and said to the  cultivators, "I have heard that this stupa emits light, but I will believe it when I see it." Just then a five-colored light shot out of the stupa, totally filling up heaven and earth. When the general woke up he believed in the Buddha and never dared to slander the Triple Jewel again.

      These are the main events in the life of K'ang Seng Hui.

1. For parts I and II, see VBS #'s 14 & 15

2. Adapted from the Kao Sheng Chuan Taisho, 2059, p. 325.

3. See VBS #15,  p. 35

4. reign dates: A.D. 264-280

5. I Ching, trans. Richard Wilhelm, Bollingen Foundation, N.Y., 1951

6. A.D. 280

7. (Chinese)

8. (Chinese)