HUIYUAN (334–416), more fully Shi Huiyuan or Lüshan Huiyuan, Chinese Buddhist monk. Born to a literati family named Jia in Yanmen (Shanxi province), Huiyuan went to Henan at the age of thirteen to study both the Confucian classics and the Laozi and Zhuangzi. When he was twenty he met the eminent Buddhist monk Dao'an (312–385), whose personality and explanation of the philosophy of the "perfection of wisdom" (Skt., prajñāpāramitā ) impressed him so much that he embraced Buddhism and became his disciple. He remained with Dao'an for twenty-four years, residing mostly at Xiangyang. In 378 the invading Qin army forced master and disciple to separate. Huiyuan went south and eventually settled on Mount Lü in Jiangxi, where one of his colleagues from his days in Xiangyang, Huiyong, interceded on his behalf to have the Donglin Monastery built for him around 384. He remained there until his death thirty years later.
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Huiyuan also enjoyed enormous popularity among the gentry of South China, for it was to this group that he primarily directed his literary efforts. Some thirty of his works, in the form of letters, essays, prefaces, eulogies, or inscriptions, are extant. Unlike Dao'an, who primarily wrote commentaries for the Buddhist clergy, Huiyuan addressed issues that most concerned the gentry: rebirth, the immortality of the soul, the doctrine of karman, and the nature of the dharmakāya. His previous classical training made him successful in explaining these concepts in terms of the philosophical outlook of the Chinese elite, which at the time was dominated by xuanxue ("dark learning") speculations into the underlying source (ben ) of phenomena. That he never once quoted a Buddhist sūtra by name but made numerous allusions to the Confucian classics attests to his fervent desire to bring Buddhism into the mainstream of Chinese spiritual and intellectual life. Modern scholars have identified certain areas in which Huiyuan's understanding of important Buddhist concepts deviates from that of the Indian texts. They have attributed this both to his concern to present Buddhist notions in a form comprehensible to the Chinese, as in his postulation of a cosmic soul (shen ) as a means of explaining the process of rebirth, or to his frank inability in some instances to master the subtleties of Buddhist doctrine. This is particularly evident in his treatment of the Mādhyamika concepts introduced into China by Kumārajīva. Huiyuan's correspondence with this, perhaps the greatest of all Buddhist translators, is one of our richest sources of information on the development of Buddhist thought in fifth-century China.
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