Yìnguāng 印光 (1861-1940)
Yìnguāng 印光 (1861-1940) was a prolific and long-lived monastic who is credited with reviving the Pure Land school 淨土宗 in modern China.
Yìnguāng received a classical education as a child, where he read criticisms of Buddhism by Hányù 韓愈 and Oūyáng Xiū 歐陽修. After suffering several bouts of illness, however, he began to change his views, and in 1881 had his head shaved at the Lotus Cave Temple 蓮華洞寺 on Southern Wǔtái mountain 南五台, in the Zhōngnán mountain range 終南山. While traveling in Húběi 湖北, he read a copy of The Longshu Pure Land Text 龍舒淨土文 and was convinced of the value of Pure Land practice. The next year he was fully ordained at Shuāngxī Temple 雙溪寺 in Shǎnxī 陝西 by Yìnhǎi 印海. In the sixth month of that year Yìnguāng suffered from an eye illness that threatened his sight, but through recitation of the Buddha's name (niànfó 念佛) and the copying of texts his sight was fully restored. In 1886 after hearing that at Zīfú Temple 資福寺 on Mount Hóngluó 紅螺山 near Běijīng 北京 they were following only Pure Land practices, he bid farewell to his master and went there, were he served in a number of monastic positions. Apart from recitation of Buddha's name, he also read scriptural texts, making great progress in both practices.
In 1893 Huàwén 化聞 from Fǎyǔ Temple 法雨寺 on Mount Pǔtuó 普陀山 came to the capital looking to acquire a set of the Buddhist canon and, impressed with Yìnguāng's abilities, asked him to accompany him back to Mount Pǔtuó with him. There, Yìnguāng worked in the Andān Scripture Hall 安單經藏樓. In 1897, after persistent requests from the community, he lectured on the 阿彌陀經要解便蒙鈔 and then went into seclusion (bìguān 閉關) in the Jewel Hall 珠寶殿 of the temple. This would be the first of two three-year periods of seclusion, during which he continued to study the scriptures and to write. It was during this time that he and Gāo Hénián 高鶴年, a Buddhist layman from Jiāngsū 江蘇, began their life-long friendship and correspondence. In 1904 Dìxián 諦閑, who had met Yìnguāng on Mount Pǔtuó, asked for his help in getting a set of the canon for Tóutuó Temple 頭陀寺 in Wēnzhōu 溫州, so the two went to Běijīng.
In general Yìnguāng was not fond of meeting people, nor was he eager to have his name known. When his friend Gāo Hénián published a series of his writings in 1914 in the Buddhist Miscellany 佛學叢報, he gave "Ever-Ashamed" (Chángcán 常慚) as the author's name. The pieces attracted attention, however, and in 1917 the Buddhist layman and publisher Xú Wèirú 徐蔚如 published a series of three letters written by Yìnguāng and his friends as Letters of Master Yìnguāng 印光法師信稿. Five thousand copies were printed and given away for free. From this point on, Yìnguāng began to receive more and more letters, eventually more than one hundred per month. A year later the first volume of Yìnguāng's collected writings 印光大師文鈔 was published in Běijīng, followed by further volumes published by the Commercial Press 商務印書館 and Zhonghua Books 中華書局 in Shànghǎi.
In 1922 and 1923, Yìnguāng went to preach in Dìnghǎi county 定海縣 prisons at the request of the local magistrate. Afterward he, Wáng Yìting 王一亭, Shěn Xīngshū 沈惺叔 and other Shànghái laymen established the Jiāngsū Prisoner Reformation Society 江蘇監獄感化會 to send speakers to minister to prisoners and encourage them to practice Buddhism. During the political instability of the Northern Expedition (1926 - 1928), Buddhist temples were threatened by local officials who were following the old "Build Education with Temple Property" 廟產興學 slogan. Yìnguāng worked with Dìxián to dispatch representatives to the government and arrange protection for temple properties. During the 1935 National Conference on Education a plan was floated to convert all the temples in the country to schools, but thanks to Yìnguāng, Yuányīng 圓瑛 and others who criticized the plan in the media, it was eventually abandoned.
From about 1918 Yìnguāng often traveled to Shànghǎi, where he made contact with Buddhist laymen such as Fàn Gǔnóng 范古農, Shī Xǐngzhī 施省之, Wáng Yìtíng, Wén Lántíng 聞蘭亭, and Zhū Zǐqiáo 朱子橋. By 1928, however, he had grown weary of the demands on his time and the flood of letters, and so in 1930 he moved to Bàoguó Temple 報國寺 in Sūzhōu 蘇州 where he could be away from human society. After a few years the community at the temple had grown so much that the main hall had to be rebuilt to accommodate the increased numbers. By 1937, when Sūzhōu was about to be occupied by the advancing Japanese army, Yìnguāng was forced to move again, this time to nearby Língyán Temple 靈巖寺, which would thus become known as an important center for the Pure Land school in China.
It is said that Yìnguāng knew in the spring of 1940 that he would die later that year. By late October he was ill, and he gathered the assembly together to arrange the affairs of the temple. On November 4th he rose from bed at one in the morning, instructed his disciples, and then silently recited the Buddha's name. At about 5 o'clock, while the entire assembly recited the Buddha's name, he passed away. His body was cremated and his ashed interned in a stupa on the mountain.
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