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Master Jiaoran

Master Jiaoran (about 720-805) was an eminent monk famous for his achievements in Zen, precepts, poetry and tea. He was also an adept in Tiantai School of Buddhism, Huayan School of Buddhism and etc. He started his monkhood at Lingyin Precept Platform and used to be a disciple of Master Shouzhi.

Master Jiaoran, whose secular surname was Xie and who styled himself as Qingzhou, was from Changcheng (present Changxing in Zhejiang Province). He said he was a descendent of the 10th generation of Xie Lingyun, a great poet, but according to nowadays authentication, he was actually a descendent of the 12th generation. Master Jiaoran had been extraordinarily talented and shown quality of understanding Buddhism since he was a child, so he became a Buddhist monk in Lingyin Temple and practiced Buddhism in both Lingyin Temple and Tianzhu Temple. He was nicknamed by people as “Legendary Buddhist”. Later, Master Jiaoran learned precepts from Master Shouzhi and very soon he became famously proficient in Vinaya. However, Master Jiaoran did not confine himself to the teachings of a certain school; instead, he learned extensively from multiple schools of Buddhism and acquired profound knowledge and cultivation in Tiantai School of Buddhism, Huayan School of Buddhism, and Southern and Northern Schools of Buddhism. In a time when various schools were given much attention to, such practice was a rarity.

Master Jiaoran was born in an aristocratic family. Influenced by Confucianism since childhood, he developed outstanding literary grace, especially in poetry. Not enthusiastic as he was towards glory and fame, he did not pull himself away from secular knowledge, entertaining himself with proses and poetry. His works were elegant and featuring a sense of detachment from secularity, thus he was valued by the celebrities of the time, such as Yan Zhenqing, one of the greatest calligraphers in China, and Wei Yingwu, a renowned poet. The existing poems of Master Jiaoran, four hundred and seventy in total, were recorded in Volume 815-821 of Full Collection of Tang Poems. Apart from poetry, Master Jiaoran was also the author of some literary theory books on poetry criticism, including Poetic Critiques, Probing into Poetry and Creating Poems, which enjoyed profound influence and was held in high esteem by posterity.

Master Jiaoran was also known for his preference for tea. Not only did he love tea, he also understood it. When he lived in Miaoxi Temple in Zhushan Mountain in Wucheng County, he acquainted with Lu Yu, who was young, plain-looking, and strange in personality with the name of “The Crazy Player” at that time. Lu Yu came to the southern side of Yangtze River to avoid the aftermath of An-Shi Rebellion, only to hit it off with Master Jiaoran, who professed as the philosophical monk. Despite their age difference, they became close friends. Bonded by tea, they appreciated each other. The highly self-esteeming Master Jiaoran regarded this young man, who was plain-looking and stuttering when he talked, as a long lost brother, providing him with meticulous care. Master Jiaoran first offered him a roof and some clothing, and paid frequent visits to him after he moved out. Under Master Jiaoran’s guidance, encouragement, arrangement, financial support and accommodating, Lu Yu, an ordinary youngster, accomplished the ever-shining achievement of tea culture—The Classic of Tea. Master Jiaoran himself also wrote a book called The Essentials of Tea, but unfortunately it is nowhere to be found now.

In modern times, an expert on tea culture once pointed out that as much as Lu Yu had done a wonderful job summarizing comprehensively the properties of tea and its effect on the nourishment of life, it was Master Jiaoran that unveiled the spiritual nature of tea and gave an impeccable account of tea’s influence on the nourishment of heart. The conclusion that a Buddhist monk and a secular man initiated the Chinese tea culture is indeed very-well grounded. Master Jiaoran’s poems, such as A Chant Amusing My Friend Cui, Drinking Tea with Lu Yu, and Farewell to Zheng Rong with Tea, shown his attainments in tea culture.

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