DAO'AN (312–385), also known as Shi Dao'an, Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, and gifted exegete whose organizational abilities and doctrinal acumen helped shape the direction of early Chinese Buddhism. Dao'an was born to a family of literati in what is now Hebei Province in North China. He became a novice at the age of twelve. In 335 he journeyed to Ye (Hebei Province), the new capital of the Later Zhao kingdom, where he studied with Fotudeng (d. 348), the thaumaturge-monk whose magical prowess and success at predicting the outcome of battle had served to recommend Buddhism to the non-Chinese rulers of the kingdom. With the death of Shi Hu, then ruler of the Later Zhao, in 349, Dao'an left Ye and began a peripatetic career in North China that was to last until 365, when he was forced by war to flee south to Xiangyang (Hubei Province). During this period he gathered around himself an ever-growing band of disciples and developed the scholarly and organizational skills for which he is esteemed.
Dao'an's interests during the period 349–365 were conditioned by the pronounced orientation of the Buddhism of North China around primarily Hinayanistic techniques of meditation designed to advance the practitioner through successively rarefied transic states (Skt., dhyāna; Chin., chan ). The enumeration of these states constituted the topic of several sūtras introduced to China in the second century ce by the Parthian translator An Shigao. During his time in the North, Dao'an wrote commentaries to no fewer than six of An Shigao's translations, remarking at one point that the study of dhyāna categories constituted "the very pivot of the religious life." That the practice of the techniques described in An Shigao's translations occupied a central role in the community of monks gathered around Dao'an can scarcely be doubted.
This interest in some of the earliest products of the interaction between India and China may reflect something of the growing historiographical and text-critical concerns that would become the hallmark of Dao'an's later years. His biographies emphasize his concern lest the meaning of the scriptures be obscured by the translation process or by the efforts of well-meaning exegetes to couch Buddhist ideas in equivalent Chinese terms bearing only a nominal relationship to the original Sanskrit. Like no one before him in the history of Chinese Buddhism, Dao'an recognized that profound differences separated the original teachings of the scriptures from the hermeneutical framework devised for them in China. In light of this, he undertook his own program of textual exegesis, including careful notation of the history of various texts in China, and formally repudiated a prevailing method of textual interpretation known as geyi (matching meanings), under which numerical categories from the scriptures were paired with terms from secular literature.
The year 365 found Dao'an in Xiangyang with an entourage of over four hundred disciples. Once there he moved quickly to establish a monastic center and to forge links with the local government and aristocracy that would ensure its institutional stability. Aware of the difficulties in regulating monastic life in the absence of a complete translation of the Vinaya, or monastic rules, he promulgated a series of ordinances of his own devising. These appear to have treated the daily regimen of the monks and their observance of the Upoṣadha (Pali, Uposatha), or fortnightly confessional ceremony.
But the distinguishing feature of Dao'an's fifteen-year stay in Xiangyang was his shift in attention from dhyāna texts and practices to the Mahāyāna Prajñāpāramitā (perfection of wisdom) literature. Although there is evidence that he had become acquainted with these sūtras prior to 365, the years in Xiangyang were characterized by a radical reorganization of his religious interests: six of Dao'an's commentaries from this period are devoted to the Prajñāpāramitā literature. He is also said to have lectured twice yearly on the Fangguang jing, Mokṣala's translation (291 ce) of the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra in twenty-five thousand śloka s. It is as an outgrowth of this interest in speculations on prajñāpāramitā that he is credited with establishing the teaching of original nonbeing (benwu zong ), one of seven so-called prajñā traditions that flourished in China during the fourth and fifth centuries. From the scant evidence remaining to us, Dao'an's teaching appears to have emphasized the existence of an underlying substrate (benwu ) that stands to phenomena (moyou ) as both fundamental substance and source. By focusing the mind in meditation upon this radically other, empty absolute, Dao'an taught, release from phenomenal existence can be won.
Two other hallmarks of Dao'an's stay at Xiangyang bear mentioning. The first is his compilation, in 374, of the first critical catalog of Chinese Buddhist texts. As a culmination of his lifelong interest in the fidelity of the sources available to the Chinese, the Zongli zhongjing mulu (Comprehensive catalog of the collected scriptures) became a model for all future works of this sort. Dao'an personally inspected each of the more than six hundred works in the catalog, laboriously copied the colophons, where available, and scrupulously passed judgment on the authenticity of the information given there. The other noteworthy feature of Dao'an's career in Xiangyang is his inauguration of a cult to the bodhisattva Maitreya. In this cult, clearly the model for his disciple Huiyuan's own Amitabha confraternity (402 ce), Dao'an and seven other devotees gathered before an image of Maitreya and collectively vowed to be reborn in Tusita Heaven, the abode of the bodhisattva prior to his rebirth in this world. His biography relates how, in a miraculous visitation to Dao'an shortly before his death, Maitreya vouchsafed to him a vision of Tusita.
The final era of Dao'an's career began in 379 when Fu Jian, ruler of the Former Qin kingdom, laid siege to Xiang-yang. In the aftermath of the capitulation of the city Dao'an was brought to Chang'an to preside over a monastic community several times larger than that at Xiangyang. With Fu Jian's restoration of Chinese hegemony over Central Asia, Chang'an was once again the eastern terminus of a trade and information network that stretched through Chinese Turkistan, beyond the Hindu Kush, and into India itself. In the final years of Dao'an's life a number of important missionaries and translators arrived in Chang'an from the western regions, especially from Kashmir, where the Sarvastivada community was exceptionally strong. They brought with them texts that gradually began to fill the lacunae in the canon so lamented by Dao'an. The Ekottara and Madhyama Āgama s, the Jñānaprasthāna (the central work in the Sarvastivada Abhidharma Pitaka), and important sections of the Sarvastivada Vinaya were all introduced at this time. As head of an officially sponsored translation bureau, Dao'an advised the translation team in matters of style (Dao'an, of course, knew no Sanskrit), and composed prefaces to some of the texts. His classic guidelines for translators, consisting, formulaically, of five parameters for changing the text (wu shiben ) and three conditions under which deviation from the original was not encouraged (san buyi ), date from this period.
Dao'an's influence over the exegetical and bibliographical traditions of Chinese Buddhism during its formative years can scarcely be overestimated. As the first Buddhist on Chinese soil to confront the problem of understanding Buddhist texts on their own terms, free from the conceptual distortions imposed on them by their association with indigenous thought, Dao'an brought to the young church a new measure of maturity. He is also significant for having combined in a single career the emphasis on Pietism and dhyāna practices characteristic of the Buddhism of North China with the Gnostic speculations of Prajñāpāramitā and xuanxue thought that engaged the Buddhist thinkers of the South. That Buddhism emerged with the doctrinal and institutional autonomy that it did during the fifth century is attributable in no small measure to Dao'an's efforts.
Extensive discussions of Dao'an's role in the development of Chinese Buddhism can be found in Tang Yongtong's Han Wei liang-Jin Nan-bei chao fojiao shi (Shanghai, 1938), vol. 1, pp. 187–277; Itō Giken's Shina bukkyō seishi (Yamaguchi-ken, 1923), pp. 111–206; and Erik Zürcher's The Buddhist Conquest of China (1959; reprint, Leiden, 1972), vol. 1, pp. 181–204. Kenneth Ch'en's Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey (Princeton, 1964) offers a summary of Dao'an's career on pages 94–103.
For a good introduction to the Buddhism of North China in Dao'an's time, see Arthur Wright's essay on Dao'an's teacher, "Fo-t'u-têng: A Biography," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 11 (1948): 321–371. Dao'an's biography in the Gaoseng zhuan has been translated by Arthur Link in "The Biography of Shih Tao-an," T'oung pao 46 (1958): 1–48. Useful for their treatments of Dao'an and the prajñā traditions of the fourth and fifth centuries are Arthur Link's "The Taoist Antecedents of Tao-an's Prajñā Ontology," History of Religions 9 (1969–1970): 181–215; Kenneth Ch'en's "Neo-Taoism and the Prajñā School during the Wei and Chin Dynasties," Chinese Culture 1 (October 1957): 33–46; and Fung Yu-lan's A History of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 2, The Period of Classical Learning, translated by Derk Bodde (Princeton, 1953), pp. 243–258. Ui Hakuju's Shaku Dōan kenkyū (Tokyo, 1956) reviews Dao'an's career and includes annotated editions of his major prefaces. For a discussion of Dao'an's translation guidelines, see Ōchō Enichi's "Shaku Dōan no hon'yakuron," Indogaku bukkyōgaku kenkyū 5 (1957): 120–130.
Mark D. Cummings (1987)