Tánxū 倓虛 (1875-1963)
Tánxū 倓虛 (1875-1963) was a patriarch of the Tiāntái 天台 school from northeast China who restored half a dozen temples (mostly in the northeast), and also helped establish 13 Buddhist seminaries during his life.
Tánxū received a traditional education and eventually opened a pharmacy in Yíngkǒu 營口, Liáoníng province 遼寧. After reading the Lankāvatara Sūtra 楞嚴經, he made up his mind to ordain. He was tonsured in 1917 under Chán Master Yìnkuí 印魁 (of the Línjì 臨濟 lineage) at Gāomíng Temple 高明寺 in Láishuǐ County 淶水縣. In September he traveled to Níngbō 寧波 where he took full ordination at Guānzōng Temple 觀宗寺. Tánxū stayed at the temple until 1920, studying Tiāntái 天臺 thought under Dìxián 諦閑 at the temple's Guānzōng Research Society 觀宗研究社.
In the fall of 1920, Tánxū returned to northern China, where he was invited by Chándìng 禪定 (another monk from Guānzōng Temple) to head the Buddhist seminary 佛學院 being established at Wànshòu Temple 萬壽寺 in Liáoníng. On his way to Liáoníng, he stopped by Yíngkǒu to see his wife and children, as well as the friends with whom he had studied the Lankāvatara Sūtra. His friends asked him to build a temple, but as he had already promised to go to Fèngtiān, Tánxū left the work of establishing a temple to them.
Tánxū taught at the Wànshòu Temple Buddhist Seminary 萬壽寺佛學院 until 1923. During this time he also traveled around northeast China and gave lectures and the three refuges 三皈依 to lay people. At the end of his tenure at the seminary, Zhū Zǐqiáo 朱子橋 and other laymen in Harbin 哈爾濱 helped him reestablish Jílè Temple 極樂寺. Restoration was completed in August 1924. Tánxū, who immediately became the temple's abbot, established the Jílè Temple Buddhist School 極樂寺佛教學校. In April 1929, ordinations were held at the temple and Tánxū asked Dìxián to come and take part. It was possibly around this time that Dìxián made Tánxū a 44th generation lineage holder in the Tiāntái school.
In 1929, Tánxū retired as abbot of Jílè Temple and went to begin restoration of Bōrě Temple 般若寺 in Chángchūn 長春. Hostilities broke out between Chinese and Japanese forces in northeast China in 1930, and in February of 1932, Zhū Zǐqiáo sent a telegram to Tánxū inviting him to Xī'ān 西安. While based in Xī'ān, Tánxū worked to reestablish Buddhism in northwest China with the help of Zhū and Kāng Jìyáo 康寄遙.
In March of 1948, Tánxū left Qīngdǎo, traveling first to Shànghǎi 上海 then on to Hong Kong 香港. In Hong Long he found that many of his former students were studying Christianity with Karl Ludvig Reichelt 艾香德 at the latter's Tao Fung Shan 道風山. With the help of an old acquaintance, the layman Yè Gōngchuò 葉恭綽, Tánxū took over the abandoned Hóngfǎ Hermitage 弘法精舍 (which had been started by Bǎojìng 寶靜) and created the South China Buddhist Seminary 華南佛學院. The seminary initially had 10 monks in residence, but as more monks fled the chaos of the Civil War in China, that number swelled to over 20. The monks planted vegetables and gathered firewood, but even then the money they received from their lay supporters was not enough.
The seminary's first class graduated in 1951, and the second class (also over 20 students in number), graduated in 1954. Tánxū wanted to retire, but the seminary's board did not wish to let him go, so they transformed the seminary into a research school, which reduced Tánxū's teaching load considerably.
Tánxū continued lecturing, favoring the Lankāvatara Sūtra. On August 11, 1963, after passing his 89th birthday, Tánxū died.