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Daniela Campo

Xuyun 虛雲 (?–1959), also known in the West as Empty Cloud, was a famous Chan master and one of the principal monastic leaders of modern Chinese Buddhism. From the end of the Chinese empire to the first decade of the Maoist regime, Xuyun engaged in the physical reconstruction and institutional reform of six large monasteries of the Chan tradition. In his monasteries, he reintroduced disciplinary rules, meditation practice, and precept transmission and trained new generations of monastics. A former ascetic and an expert Chan practitioner, Xuyun led extended meditation retreats and instructed both monastic and lay Buddhists in the kan huatou method of meditation. Known as a miracle worker, he directed religious ceremonies and public rituals all over the country, attracting huge numbers of followers. Relying on his charisma and on his great authority at both a religious and an institutional level, this master actively worked for the transmission of Chinese Buddhism and helped shape its transition to the new social and political conditions: his long-term engagement in the preservation of the rules of Chinese monasticism and systematic effort to ensure the reproduction of Chinese Buddhism in general and of the Chan school in particular through Dharma transmissions can also be singled out among his most important contributions to modern Chinese Buddhism. Xuyun also was, and still is, one of the most revered Buddhist masters of the 20th century across China and the West. He acquired the reputation of a modern eminent monk during his lifetime, particularly after the 1953 publication of his autobiography—a work that fits neatly into the hagiographical tradition of the biographies of eminent monks, in terms of not only its themes, aims, and target audience but also its sources and its editorial method.


Marpa Lotsawa Chökyi Lodrö  

Cécile Ducher

Marpa Lotsawa Chökyi Lodrö (Mar pa chos kyi blo gros, 1000?–1085?) is one of the most famous intrepid translators of the 11th century, who traveled from Tibet to India and brought back to his homeland many of the Buddhist teachings that would decline in India over the following centuries. Marpa is the Tibetan founder of the Kagyü school, one of the main religious orders of Tibetan Buddhism. He was the disciple of some of the greatest luminaries of India such as Nāropa (d. 1040) and Maitrīpa (986–1063), and the master of the yogin and poet Milarepa (1028?–1111?). Marpa lived during the period of the second spread of Buddhism in Tibet, a period of cultural renaissance that followed the collapse of the Tibetan Empire in the 9th and 10th centuries. At that time, many Tibetans traveled south to Nepal and India in order to receive, practice, and translate the various Buddhist traditions, sutra and tantra, that were blossoming in India. Marpa specialized in Highest Yoga tantras (Sanskrit niruttaratantras) and transmitted in Tibet cycles associated with the tantras of Hevajra, Guhyasamāja, Cakrasaṃvara, Mahāmāyā, and Catuṣpīṭha. He is well known for the potency of his key instructions related to the perfection phase of these tantras, known as the Six Doctrines of Nāropa (nā ro chos drug). With the success of his disciples’ practice, the Six Doctrines of Nāropa and Mahāmudrā became central teachings in all subdivisions of the Kagyü lineage. Marpa’s life is mostly known through a long biography composed in the early 16th century by Tsangnyön Heruka (Gtsang smyon he ru ka, 1452–1507), but there are many other biographies written before and after that date. Despite basic inconsistencies in the narratives, it can be concluded that Marpa first left home at twelve. He went to study with Drokmi Lotsawa (’Brog mi lo tsā ba, 992–1074) in Tibet, and then continued on toward Nepal and India, where he spent about twenty years in total, making several journeys in Tibet, Nepal, and India. In India, he mostly traveled off the beaten track and lived the life of an Indian yogin, far from the main institutions of the time. Although he met famous masters such as Nāropa and Maitrīpa, he attended on them in jungles, mountains, and charnel grounds, and mostly traveled alone, sometimes accompanied by his friends, the Tibetan Nyö (gnyos) Lotsawa or the Newari Paiṇḍapa. During his first journey to India (in the 1020s and early 1030s), he received all the transmissions for which he became famous in Tibet, and he deepened his understanding during a second journey in the late 1040s. At that time, he is said to have visited most of his teachers again, and to have had visions of Nāropa, who was then either dead or considered to be engaged in tantric practice. In Tibet, he settled in the southern region of Lhodrak, where he became an important landowner and tantric master. Although he often traveled elsewhere in Tibet in the earlier part of his life in order to accumulate gold and disciples, in the later part he mostly stayed in his estate of Drowolung, where his disciples came to meet him. As a lay practitioner, he had children, but his family lineage did not continue after his death. His religious lineage continued with Milarepa, who transmitted the “lineage of practice” (Tibetan sgrub brgyud), which further flowed through Gampopa and all the Kagyü sub-lineages. Ngok Chödor (Rngog chos rdor) and Tsurtön Wangngé (Mtshur ston dbang nge) were other important disciples who held Marpa’s “lineage of exegesis” (bshad brgyud), especially with regard to the Hevajra and Guhyasamāja traditions, respectively.


Buddhism and Biography  

Ben Van Overmeire

The Buddhist religion has a long and rich tradition of biographical literature. This literature has functioned to unify distinct and often contradictory elements of Buddhist ritual, practice, and doctrine, adjusting these elements to specific historical situations. Scholarship on the function of literary characters in making narrative worlds coherent supports this argument: when readers engage characters, they draw together textual and non-textual data to construct beings that are similar to themselves. This connection of a specific situation with a larger whole, a connection that is at the same time an organization, can be observed in how Buddhist biographies are built. Biographies of Shakyamuni, for example, contain many traces of changes motivated by local conditions. The body of Shakyamuni is used to authorize these changes: the local is situated at the heart of Buddhism. Biographies of Chinese Buddhist saints attest to the same process, as can be seen in the shifting representation of Indian saints in China or the literary transformations of the Patriarchs of the Chan school. While these changing representations reflect changes in historical Buddhist communities, they can also produce attitudes and regulate behaviors. The debate on the portrayal and effects of women and animals in Indian Buddhist texts provides an illustration of this, as does scholarship on how saintly ideals regulate behavior. The case of Buddhist autobiography, a genre at times so closely connected to biography that it is nearly indistinguishable from it, provides a final example of how identity is structured in Buddhist biography.