The Patriarchs of Sino Esoteric Buddhism

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Vajrabodhi 金剛智 (669 - 741)

In “Song Biographies of Eminent Monks” (also Dasong gaosengzhuan 大宋高僧傳), the compiler Zanning 讚寧 (960–1279) comments, “In eastern China, Vajrabodhi is the founding master. Amoghavajra, Vajrabodhi’s disciple, was the second eminent master, and the third Master is Huilang.”

 

Vajrabodhi was an Indian Esoteric Buddhist master and Vajrayāna missionary to eighth-century Tang China. He was born into a South Indian brahmin family and converted to Buddhism at the age of sixteen. He studied all schools of Buddhism and was able to recite long passages of teachings everyday since he was a child. In 719, the seventh year of Kaiyuan Reign, after a 3-year journey, Vajrabodhi arrived in China through the south-Asian sea route and dedicated his life there to the transmission of dharma, mainly in the two capitals, Chang’An (now Xi'an) and Luoyang. 

 

Vajrabodhi’s ability to perform miracles is documented in the Tang official court records. He was once summoned to the court of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 846-859) to make rain after all of the court ritual officials had failed. In an elaborate ritual, Vajrabodhi constructed a platform and made offerings to the deity Amoghānkuśa while painting an image of the Cundi Bodhisattva. Later on a set date, he finished the image by painting the eyes of the Bodhisattva to “open the vision.” Suddenly, at that moment, a wind arrived from the northwestern sky, thundering clouds started to burst and bring rain. 

IMG_8526.JPG

Vajrabodhi 金剛智 (669 - 741)

In “Song Biographies of Eminent Monks” (also Dasong gaosengzhuan 大宋高僧傳), the compiler Zanning 讚寧 (960–1279) comments, “In eastern China, Vajrabodhi is the founding master. Amoghavajra, Vajrabodhi’s disciple, was the second eminent master, and the third Master is Huilang.”

 

Vajrabodhi was an Indian Esoteric Buddhist master and Vajrayāna missionary to eighth-century Tang China. He was born into a South Indian brahmin family and converted to Buddhism at the age of sixteen. He studied all schools of Buddhism and was able to recite long passages of teachings everyday since he was a child. In 719, the seventh year of Kaiyuan Reign, after a 3-year journey, Vajrabodhi arrived in China through the south-Asian sea route and dedicated his life there to the transmission of dharma, mainly in the two capitals, Chang’An (now Xi'an) and Luoyang. 

 

Vajrabodhi’s ability to perform miracles is documented in the Tang official court records. He was once summoned to the court of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 846-859) to make rain after all of the court ritual officials had failed. In an elaborate ritual, Vajrabodhi constructed a platform and made offerings to the deity Amoghānkuśa while painting an image of the Cundi Bodhisattva. Later on a set date, he finished the image by painting the eyes of the Bodhisattva to “open the vision.” Suddenly, at that moment, a wind arrived from the northwestern sky, thundering clouds started to burst and bring rain. 

IMG_8526.JPG

Vajrabodhi 金剛智 (669 - 741)

In “Song Biographies of Eminent Monks” (also Dasong gaosengzhuan 大宋高僧傳), the compiler Zanning 讚寧 (960–1279) comments, “In eastern China, Vajrabodhi is the founding master. Amoghavajra, Vajrabodhi’s disciple, was the second eminent master, and the third Master is Huilang.”

 

Vajrabodhi was an Indian Esoteric Buddhist master and Vajrayāna missionary to eighth-century Tang China. He was born into a South Indian brahmin family and converted to Buddhism at the age of sixteen. He studied all schools of Buddhism and was able to recite long passages of teachings everyday since he was a child. In 719, the seventh year of Kaiyuan Reign, after a 3-year journey, Vajrabodhi arrived in China through the south-Asian sea route and dedicated his life there to the transmission of dharma, mainly in the two capitals, Chang’An (now Xi'an) and Luoyang. 

 

Vajrabodhi’s ability to perform miracles is documented in the Tang official court records. He was once summoned to the court of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 846-859) to make rain after all of the court ritual officials had failed. In an elaborate ritual, Vajrabodhi constructed a platform and made offerings to the deity Amoghānkuśa while painting an image of the Cundi Bodhisattva. Later on a set date, he finished the image by painting the eyes of the Bodhisattva to “open the vision.” Suddenly, at that moment, a wind arrived from the northwestern sky, thundering clouds started to burst and bring rain. 

IMG_8526.JPG

Vajrabodhi 金剛智 (669 - 741)

In “Song Biographies of Eminent Monks” (also Dasong gaosengzhuan 大宋高僧傳), the compiler Zanning 讚寧 (960–1279) comments, “In eastern China, Vajrabodhi is the founding master. Amoghavajra, Vajrabodhi’s disciple, was the second eminent master, and the third Master is Huilang.”

 

Vajrabodhi was an Indian Esoteric Buddhist master and Vajrayāna missionary to eighth-century Tang China. He was born into a South Indian brahmin family and converted to Buddhism at the age of sixteen. He studied all schools of Buddhism and was able to recite long passages of teachings everyday since he was a child. In 719, the seventh year of Kaiyuan Reign, after a 3-year journey, Vajrabodhi arrived in China through the south-Asian sea route and dedicated his life there to the transmission of dharma, mainly in the two capitals, Chang’An (now Xi'an) and Luoyang. 

 

Vajrabodhi’s ability to perform miracles is documented in the Tang official court records. He was once summoned to the court of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 846-859) to make rain after all of the court ritual officials had failed. In an elaborate ritual, Vajrabodhi constructed a platform and made offerings to the deity Amoghānkuśa while painting an image of the Cundi Bodhisattva. Later on a set date, he finished the image by painting the eyes of the Bodhisattva to “open the vision.” Suddenly, at that moment, a wind arrived from the northwestern sky, thundering clouds started to burst and bring rain. 

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Śubhakarasiṃha 善無畏 (637 - 735)

Śubhakarasiṃha was an eminent Indian Buddhist monk and master of Esoteric Buddhism, who arrived in the Chinese capital Chang'an in 716 CE and translated the Mahāvairocana Sūtra. He was born as the oldest son of King Buddhakara. Yet the entire family migrated to Odra (now Odisha) because of political and societal instability. Śubhakarasiṃha ascended to the throne at the age of thirteen and later turned over his position to his oldest brother and entered the monastic life. 

 

Like Vajrabodhi, Śubhakarasiṃha spent most of his life in ritual activity, text translation from Sanskrit to Chinese, and the creation of Esoteric art. He was already eighty years old when he arrived in China, where he became well-known and favored by Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang for his supernatural abilities, which are also documented in the Tang official court records. 

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Amoghavajra 不空三藏 (705 - 774)

Buddhist monk Bukong 不空, half Indian and half Sogdian and well known by his Sanskrit name Amoghavajra, is recognized as the most important promoter of the Esoteric traditions of Vajroṣṇīṣa Yoga and the second master of Tangmi. He spent most of his lifetime in Tang China as a Buddhist missionary and court official, serving the state and dedicating his life to dharma transmission with a soteriological approach. 

 

During the An Lushan Rebellion (755 - 763), a rebellion against the Tang dynasty of China, Bukong contributed to the enthronement of Emperor Suzong of Tang (reigned 756–762) and thus was rewarded with the imperial authorization of his Esoteric Buddhist tradition and practice system. The Sino Esoteric School thrived as part of the official state institution, constituting a new mode of imperial Buddhism.