Bodhi Seal of the Patriarchs
T’ANG DYNASTY VINAYA MASTER YUAN CHAO OF LING CHIH MONASTERY
Written by the Venerable Master Hua
Translated by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Shoou
The Master’s layname was T’ang, and he was a native of Yu Hang, in Hang Chou. His personal name was Chan Jan. To leave home in the T’ang dynasty it was necessary for one to be able to lecture on a portion of the Tripitaka. The Master was able to explain the Vinaya, and so, at the age of eighteen, was able to leave the home life.
The Master first studied the precepts. He greatly regretted that the study of Vinaya was much neglected, and was unable to find a Master with whom he could study. There was, however, one Dharma Master, Ch'u Ch'ien, who had deeply mastered the doctrine of the T'ien T'ai School. Master Yuan Chao went to see him.
Upon laying eyes on Dharma Master Ch'u Ch'ien for the first time he exclaimed, "Ah, you certainly are my master." At this point he wished to reject what he had previously studied and follow Ch'u Ch'ien. Master Ch'ien instructed him, "In these present days, the Vinaya School has fallen into neglect and it has few adherents. In the future you will certainly be a Patriarch of the Dhyana School. You must study and understand the Dharma Blossom Sutra and propagate the Four Divisions of the Vinaya."
The Master was Abbot of Ling Chih Monastery four times. In his practice he cultivated day and night, reciting the Buddha's name without pause. Whenever he prayed for something, without exception there was always a response. He composed commentaries to the Sutra of the Sixteen Contemplations, and the lesser Amitabha Sutra.
One day the master commanded his disciples to recite the Sutra of Sixteen Contemplations and the "Chapter on the Conduct and Vows of Samantabhadra" from the Avatamsaka Sutra. When they had finished reciting, he crossed his legs in the lotus position and left his body. At the same time some fishermen in Hsi Ho heard the strains of heavenly music in the air above them. His pagoda was erected at Ling Chih Monastery and the posthumous title Ta Chih, "Great Wisdom," was conferred upon the Master.
A eulogy says:
Taking precepts as his foundation,
He completely knew the three-fold studies.
With firm resolve, like ice, like frost,
With his love of truth he forged right through.
He gazed upon the Northern Mount;
With the sage's example it all came clear.
When conditions were ripe with the Lotus Land,
At the Western River, heavenly music was heard.
Another eulogy says:
The Northern Mountain's line continued,
He vastly spread the precept school.
Day and night, his practice bitter,
The Master's will was deep and profound.
Walking, standing, sitting, lying,
His awesome carriage taught the world.
His glance, his listening, his speech, his movement,
Accorded with the precept’s rules.
Mindfully standing in stations four,
He loyally honored the Buddha’s law.
The sage upheld the Sangha’s rules,
Three Studies City is where he dwelt.
Whenever he prayed for what he wished,
Response came forth, bestowing all.
When conditions had ripened, then off to the Lotus,
With heavenly orchestras leading the Way.