- The Origins of Buddhist Monastic Codes in China: An Annotated Translation and Study of the Chanyuan Qinggui
The Origins of Buddhist Monastic Codes in China is a welcome addition to works on East Asian Buddhism. The translation alone, the first complete translation in a Western language, guarantees the work's lasting value. The study accompanying it breaks ground in several areas, and will serve as the basis for further research in years to come.
The author, Yifa, was ordained as a Buddhist nun at Fo Guang Shan in Taiwan, and received her Ph.D. from Yale University. While it is not unusual to find Western-language publications in the field of Buddhist Studies by Westerners with monastic training who have gone on to complete an advanced degree, Yifa represents a trend by Asian monastics in completing their advanced degrees at Western universities. This may account for some differences in perspective on the sources and figures studied, subjects discussed below.
The contents of The Origins of Buddhist Monastic Codes in China are presented in a straightforward and readily understandable manner. The text that forms the focus of study, the Chanyuan qinggui (Rules of purity for the Chan monastery), compiled in 1103 by the Chan Buddhist monk Changlu Zongze (?-1107?), is regarded as the earliest Chan monastic code in existence. Written as a comprehensive set of rules to regulate virtually every aspect of monastic life, the Chanyuan qinggui covers an extensive array of topics: guidelines for itinerant monks; provisions for study under masters at various monasteries; the proper protocol for attending retreats; the procedure for requesting an abbot's instruction; the administrative hierarchy within the monastery, including the duties and powers of monastic officers; the social deportment of monks at tea ceremonies, ritual chanting, and monastic auctions; and procedures for packing belongings for travel, for bathing, and for using the toilet. Not only does the text contain valuable information about monastic life in Song China, but through its promotion by Eisai (1141-1215) and Dōgen (1200-1253) it also became an influential source for monastic regulations in Japan.
The book consists of two parts. Part 1, "Context," is comprised of two chapters: "Evolution of Monastic Regulations in China" and "Genesis of Chanyuan qinggui: Continuity and Adaptation." Part 2, "Text," is also comprised of two chapters: "The Author and His Work" and "Chanyuan qinggui in Translation." Both the study and translation are accompanied by ample notation. In addition, the work also includes a Character Glossary, a Bibliography, an Index, and something [End Page 206] called a Finding List to help readers locate corresponding pages in two sources where the text is found. Also included are a series of illustrations and photos depicting aspects of monastic life described in the text.
As mentioned above, the value of the translation of the Chanyuan qinggui is undisputable. The translation itself, straightforward and literal, is trustworthy and will be of great use to students and scholars. Many for whom the text was either inaccessible or accessible only through laborious and tentative effort can now enjoy full access to its contents in a relatively free and unobstructed manner. The contents go a long way in furthering our understanding of Chan in practical religious terms as an institution functioning in an actual social setting. In this regard, the text reveals the underpinnings for the behavior at Zen monasteries in contemporary Korea described by Robert Buswell in his The Zen Monastic Experience: Buddhist Practice in Contemporary Korea and in Buddhist monasteries in early twentieth-century China described by Holmes Welch in The Practice of ChineseBuddhism 1900-1950. It also complements the work of T. Griffith Foulk, "Myth, Ritual, and Monastic Practice in Sung Ch'an Buddhism" (in Patricia Ebrey and Peter Gregory, eds., Religion and Society in T'ang and Sung China).
Part 1 is equally valuable. The author ably presents her argument in the Introduction, stating that "a work...