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Master Yanshou

Born into the Wang family in Lin’an, Yuhang, Master Yongming Yanshou (904-975) was an eminent Buddhist monk in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period with the style name Chongyuan. He achieved enlightenment with the guidance of Zen Master Tiantai Deshao and became the third patriarch of Fayan School of Buddhism. Meanwhile, since he often encouraged people to practice Buddhism, that is, chanting the name of Buddha and being pledged to study and popularize the doctrines of Jingtu School of Buddhism, he became the sixth patriarch of Jingtu School.

With a pious belief in Buddha, Master Yongming Yanshou was intelligent and diligent since childhood. At the age of 16, he wrote a rhymed prose Poetic Essay on the Sky dedicated to Qian Mu, the Emperor of Wuyue, for which he was regarded as a gifted youth. When he was 28, Master Yongming Yanshou became an officer in charge of military supplies in Huating Town. However, he was sentenced to death after he was caught repeatedly drawing upon public money to buy fish and shrimp in order to release them alive. Sent to be executed in the trade center, Master Yongming Yanshou remained calm and showed no fear. When asked the reason why he was so calm, he said, unperturbed, that he had not used the money for his own but for the living beings. Thus, he was acquitted of the sentence.

In 933, Master Yongming Yanshou went to Longce Temple where he was tonsured by Zen Master Cuiyan Lingcan. After he became a Buddhist monk, he was even more diligent than before. In the daytime he worked hard while at night he studied Zen Buddhism and practiced meditation. He ate wild vegetables every day and lived a simple life. 

Later Master Yongming Yanshou went to Mount Tiantai to pay homage to Zen Master Tiantai Deshao, where his attainment was confirmed. Once when everyone at the temple was laboring in the mountain, Master Yongming Yanshou heard the firewood falling to the ground and achieved enlightenment. It was well illustrated by the saying that “The fallen firewood is no other thing; everything around is not dust. Mountains and rivers, all are manifestation of Buddha.” He carried forward the legacy of Deshao and became the third patriarch of Fayan School of Buddhism. Since then he worked harder. He once concentrated himself on repentance to the Lotus Sutra and later went to Tianzhu Peak, chanting the Lotus Sutra for three years.

In 952, Master Yongming Yanshou resided in Mount Xuedou, where he served as a teacher and attracted many students. In 960, Qian Chu, the Emperor of Wuyue, assigned Master Yongming Yanshou to be the abbot of Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou.

Since 845 after the Huichang Persecution of Buddhism, temples across the country were destroyed and as many as 260,000 monks and nuns were expelled from temples. So was Lingyin Temple, which witnessed unprecedented desolation. Being the abbot of Lingyin Temple, Master Yongming Yanshou painstakingly reestablished the temple to restore its size and prosperity. Qian Chu, the Emperor of Wuyue, named it as “New Lingyin Temple” and assigned Master Yongming Yanshou to be its first abbot. The next year the emperor relocated Master Yongming Yanshou to Yongming Temple (what is now Jingci Temple in Hangzhou) where he attracted more than 2000 disciples. Master Yongming Yanshou advocated an integration of Zen School and other schools so as to seek common ground and coexistence. He also advocated the practices of Zen Buddhism and Jingtu Buddhism at the same time.

On February 26, 975, Master Yongming Yanshou sat cross-legged and passed away at the age of 72 at Yongmin Temple. He spent 37 years of his entire 72 years of life on Buddhism. He was buried in Daci Mountain and a pavilion was constructed for commemoration of him. In addition, a dagoba was also built to the left of Jingci Temple. 

Master Yongming Yanshou was both the third patriarch of Fayan School and the sixth patriarch of Jingtu School. He was best known for his advocating an integration of Zen Buddhism and Jingtu Buddhism and for attempting to synthesize doctrines of various schools. He successfully synthesized teachings of Shingon Buddhism, East Asian Yogacara, East Asian Madhyamaka, Huayan School, Tiantai School as well as Jingtu School.

Master Yongming Yanshou was also a prolific writer. His works include 100 volumes of Zong Jing Lu, six volumes of Wan Shan Tong Gui Ji, Wei Xin Jue, Ding Hui Xiang Zi Ge, Shen Qi An Yang Fu and Jing Shi, etc.

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