Heng Hsien Shi is fifth-generation Californian and a unique scholar who realized that the investigation of Buddhism can only be done in depth when study is combined with practice. Following Master Hua unstintingly, she embraced a rigorous schedule of Buddhist practices including meditation, bowing of repentances, memorization and recitation of texts, chanting of mantras, and holding to the ascetic practice of taking only one meal a day at noon. She has remained true to her initial resolve to offer her talents and knowledge to the benefit of others, especially by helping to bring the Buddhist Canon into Western languages.
A consistent honors student, Heng Hsien Shi began her study of ancient languages in grade school when she learned Latin. Her interest extended to the philosophy of language and the structure of human thought. She received her B.A. at the University of California at Berkeley in Comparative Literature, receiving the Department Citation and being elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
Of the many scholarships offered to her for graduate study, she chose to study at Brandeis University. Heng Hsien Shi studied Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Egyptian, Latin, and Akkadian, and obtained her M. A. in one year.
She returned to Berkeley intending to specialize in Greek, but the study of the Oriental Greek philosophers soon opened the way to Indian thought. It was just one further step to Sanskrit and the treasury of Buddhist Sutras preserved in that language.
Heng Hsien Shi's Ph.D. work in Sanskrit at UC Berkeley included study in Sanskrit, Vedic literature, Pali, Prakrit, and Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit.
Heng Hsien Shi's intensive study of Chinese at Gold Mountain Monastery enabled her to work on Buddhist texts in Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese.
Heng Hsien Shi received the novice precepts in July, 1971. She carried on a full schedule of language instruction at Gold Mountain Monastery, including Sanskrit, Pali, French, and German. In September 1972, Heng Hsien Shi received full ordination at Gold Mountain Monastery, with the Venerable Master as her Precept Transmitter. In that unprecedented ceremony, she became one of the first to receive the Bhikshuni precepts in the Western hemisphere.
In 1973, Heng Hsien Shi was awarded Ph.D. in South and South Western Asian Studies from UC Berkeley. As a founding member of the Buddhist Text Translation Society, Heng Hsien Shi then began to devote her significant talent and knowledge to the translations being prepared by the Society. Her religious names, given her by the Master, mean "Universal Result" and "Constantly Worthy", thus containing the name of Samantabhadra, Universal Worthy, Bodhisattva. Guided by that affinity, Heng Hsien chose to concentrate her study and practice on the
Avatamsaka (Flower Adornment) Sutra.
Heng Hsien Shi is the primary translator of National Master Qing Liang's
Preface and Prologue to the Avatamsaka Sutra, which are accompanied by interlinear commentaries by the Venerable Master. More than half of the text and commentary of the
Prologue has been published by BTTS to date.
She is also the primary translator of the text and commentary of the Ten Grounds (Dashabhumi) Chapter of the
Avatamsaka Sutra, a portion of which has been published to date. In addition, Heng Hsien Shi translated the
Hundred Dharmas Shastra, providing the reader with trilingual charts of the terms and principles therein.
As a devoted member of BTTS, Heng Hsien Shi has served on all four committees for almost three decades. She has contributed her extensive talents in doing bilingual and trilingual review, in editing, and in certifying the accuracy of translations. Heng Hsien Shi also served for several years as the Venerable Master's Teaching Assistant during his lecture series on the
Shurangama Mantra, the Nirvana Sutra, and the
Confucian Analects. She provided the class with valuable trilingual reference materials, memorized and gave preliminary explanations of the passages, and critiqued students' oral explanations of the lessons.
Recently, Heng Hsien Shi was annotating the audio commentary of the Venerable Master's explanations of the Ten Transferences Chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra in a weekly series of evening lectures at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.