- The Origins of Buddhist Monastic Codes in China: An Annotated Translation and Study of the Chanyuan Qinggui
Despite the central place of monasticism in the historical development of Chinese Buddhism, studies on the topic, with some prominent exceptions, are not as developed as other aspects of Chinese Buddhist history. Rev. Yifa's excellent book on the Chinese Buddhist monastic codes, The Origins of Buddhist Monastic Codes in China: An Annotated Translation and Study of the Chanyuan Qinggui, goes a long way toward rectifying this situation. This book provides a wealth of information on the production of texts about monastic discipline and the institutional history of Chinese Buddhism, as well as a reliable translation of the Chanyuan qinggui (Rules of purity for Chan monasteries), compiled in 1103, the oldest comprehensive monastic code produced by the Chan school. As someone with a background in both the religious and academic worlds, Yifa (an abbess in the Foguang Shan order with a Ph.D. from Yale), brings to the subject a high level of scholarship and keen sensitivity to the intricacies of monastic life and institutions. As an end product of her comprehensive research into monastic literature and other pertinent sources, this book (based on her 1996 Ph.D. dissertation) makes an important contribution to Buddhist studies by helping to illuminate the institutional history of Chinese [End Page 499] Buddhism up to the Song period (960-1279), thereby reshaping our understanding of the evolution of monasticism in China and the place of the Chan school in that protracted process.
The first part of the book is a historical overview of the development of monastic regulations during roughly the first millennium of Chinese Buddhist history. This provides a broad context for understanding the emergence, contents, and functions of Chan monastic codes such as the Chanyuan qinggui. The first half of chapter 1 surveys the history of Chinese engagements with the Vinaya (the canonical code of monastic discipline) and the growth of associated textual production, which included translations of and commentaries on the Vinayas of various schools of Indian Buddhism and the creation of related works by Chinese monks. The Chinese texts include monastic codes and instruction manuals created by noted monks such as Daoan (312-385), Huiyuan (334-416), and Zhiyi (538-597). Such texts were meant to supplement the Vinaya and provide sets of regulations and guidelines for a range of issues and procedures relevant to the pursuit of monastic life in medieval China.
The second half of the chapter contextualizes the Chan school's involvement in the production of monastic legislation, first by commenting on the legend concerning Baizhang Huaihai's (749-814) creation of the first Chan monastic code (see below), which, according to tradition, signaled the Chan school's move toward institutional independence, and then by surveying the subsequent legacy and influence of the Chanyuan qinggui in China and Japan (but not Korea).
The second chapter discuses major influences that shaped the monastic rules and practices codified in the Chanyuan qinggui. The first key area of influence was the Vinaya texts and traditions. The author shows how many of the rules included in the Chan code can be traced back to Indian precedents, especially Vinaya rules. Accordingly, the Chan regulations often represented the continuation of received traditions rather than original developments unique to the Chan school. The second key area was the influence of Chinese culture, which included the various strategies used by the imperial state to exert control over the monastic order, and a plethora of Chinese ritual practices and patterns of social interaction that the author lumps under the category of "Confucian ritual" (a broad characterization that perhaps should be reconsidered). This is arguably the most creative part of the book. Yifa's careful analysis does an excellent job of placing the emergence of Chan monastic codes in relation to the relevant religious and historical milieus. Doing this undermines normative/traditional views about Chan's uniqueness and independence, instead...