The best historical treatment of Huiyuan, including translation of his biography, can be found in Erik Zürcher's The Buddhist Conquest of China (Leiden, 1959), pp. 204–253. For an overview of Huiyuan's thought, with emphasis on his deviation from the original Indian position, there is Walter Liebenthal's "Shih Hui-yüan's Buddhism as Set Forth in His Writings," Journal of the American Oriental Society 70 (1950): 243–259. Huiyuan's major essay, The Śraṃana Does Not Pay Homage to the Ruler (Shamen bu jing wangzhe lun ), is fully translated by Leon Hurvitz in "'Render unto Caesar' in Early Chinese Buddhism," in Liebenthal Festschrift, "Sino-Indian Studies," vol. 5, pts. 3–4, edited by Roy Kshitis (Santiniketan, 1957), pp. 80–114. An assessment of Huiyuan's understanding of Mādhyamika philosophy, plus translation of his correspondence with Kumārajīva and a list of all of his extant writings with textual references, can be found in Richard Robinson's Early Mādhyamika in India and China (Madison, Wis., 1967), pp. 96–114, 181–205. Eon Kenkyū, 2 vols., edited by Kimura Eiichi (Kyoto, 1960–1962), is the most thorough work on this figure; it includes studies on Huiyuan, his texts and translations.
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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