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Master Tanchao

Born into the Zhang family in 419 in Qinghe County (southeast of Hebei Province), Master Tanchao (419-493) was an eminent Buddhist monk in Lingyin Mountain. According to records in Biographies of Eminent Monks, he was tall and strong with impressive countenance and demeanor. Living at Longhua Temple in Shangdu (probably located in Zhongyuan, an area on the lower reaches of the Yellow River) at the very beginning, Master Tanchao dressed plainly and only had one simple meal a day. At the age of 34, he travelled to the South, where he often lived alone under trees in the woods without any tiger or wolf daring attack at him. Back to Shangdu around 461, he stayed there until Emperor Wu of Liu Song Dynasty sent him to promote Zen Buddhism in Liaodong (now the eastern and southern parts of Liaoning Province), where he resided for two years. Shortly after he returned to Shangdu, he went to Lingyin Mountain (then called Lingyuan Mountain) in Qiantang County. 

During his stay in Lingyin Mountain, Master Tanchao exerted himself and practiced meditation for days every time. Once after he finished meditation, he heard the sound of wind and thunder. Just at that time a god of mountains with good features came to him from afar. Prostrating himself before Master Tanchao, he told the master: “People in Fuyang County (western part of Zhejiang Province) cut the mountain last winter and brought damage to it, which had made the dragons living in the mountain flow into a rage and pledge not to grant rainfall as a punishment. Now it doesn’t rain for more than 100 days and there is not a single drop of water left in the wells and fields. People can hardly live here. Your competence in Buddhism is far-reaching, so I hope that you can go to exhort them, which, I believe, will benefit the people a lot.” Master Tanchao answered: “As god of mountains, it is your duty to produce wind and rainfall. How am I able to produce rainfall?” The god of mountains further explained that he could only produce wind but not rain, so Master Tanchao promised to go and persuade the dragons. Walking towards the south for five days, he arrived at Chiting Mountain, where he supplicated and preached a teaching to the dragons. At night, the dragons transformed into human beings and came to pay homage to the master who expounded Buddhism to them and tried to convert them to Buddhism. After that Master Tanchao requested them to grant rainfall to the people but they refused and left. That night Master Tanchao dreamed about the dragons explaining that they pledged not to grant rainfall to the people out of rage, but because of the master’s kind exhortations they decided to grant rainfall in the afternoon the next day. Informed, the master hurried to Linquan Temple and sent someone to report it to the country magistrate, whom he asked to arrange a boat in the middle of a river with Dragon King Sutra rotating. Finally it rained and the master returned to Lingyin Mountain. That year turned out a harvest one.       


Master Tanchao passed in 493 at the age of 74. In 1220, the emperor bestowed on him “Master Lingwu” and commended him with the following prose:

Forgetting himself and worldly life, he devoted himself to Buddhism.

Even dragons came to listen to his expounding on Buddhist classics.

Praying for a spring, a spring gushed out; requesting for rainfall, dragons responded to him.

The dragons, powerful as they were, also obeyed the master.

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