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XINXING (540594), Chinese Buddhist monk and founder of the Sanjie Jiao, or Three Stages sect. A native of Henan Province, Xinxing entered the religious life at an early age and eventually took full monastic orders (upasampadā) at the Fazang Si near the city of Ye, the capital of the Northern Qi dynasty and a thriving center of Buddhist learning. With the eclipse of the Northern Qi by the Northern Zhou dynasty and the initiation, in the year 574, of a vigorous proscription of Buddhism by the new government, Xinxing renounced his vows and lived as a common laborer. It was during this period that he formulated the religious doctrines that would form the basis for the Sanjie Jiao.

The foundation of Xinxing's thought was the conviction, common to many segments of the Buddhist community during the latter half of the sixth century, that the Buddha's teachings had recently entered a period of degeneration and decline foretold in several Buddhist scriptures. This period, known as mofa, or the Latter Days of the Law, was believed to be one in which the spiritual capacities of sentient beings would be so far diminished as to render them incapable of observing the Vinaya or of distinguishing good from evil and truth from falsehood. Because it was an age far removed from that of Śākyamuni (fifteen hundred years from the date of his parinirvāa by the reckoning of many of Xinxing's contemporaries), sentient beings were deemed no longer subject to his guidance and unable even to practice Buddhism as it had traditionally been taught, let alone to attain enlightenment. Adherents of this doctrine believed that mofa would last for ten thousand years, at the end of which time the teachings of Śākyamuni would disappear from this world.

Against this starkly eschatological background, Xinxing argued for a reappraisal of contemporary Buddhist practice, one that would bring it into conformity with the greatly altered historical conditions prevailing during the mofa. He believed that it was only when religious practices matched the capacities of sentient beings and the historical conditions under which they lived that genuine enlightenment was possible. Unlike thinkers of the Pure Land tradition, who saw in the onset of mofa the need to replace the traditional range of Buddhist practices with a single, "easy," discipline, the worship of the Buddha Amitābha, Xinxing claimed that the practice most appropriate to the mofa age was a radical recognition of the Buddhahood inherent in all sentient beings. Calling his teaching that of the Universal Dharma (pufa), Xinxing advocated rigorous moral training to combat the degeneracy of the age and a catholic embracement of "all Buddhas and all dharma s," predicated upon the underlying Buddha nature in all things. Members of his school were thus conspicuous for the public obeisance they made to others as a recognition of their potential Buddhahood, and for their strong emphasis on charitable activities. The sect came to receive lavish donations and eventually instituted wujin zangyuan ("inexhaustible treasuries") as a means of dispensing its charities to the needy and to the sagha.

With the reunification of the empire under the Sui (589), Xinxing was summoned to Chang'an by the emperor Wen (581604). At the suggestion of one of his ministers, five temples were built in the capital for followers of the sect, thus providing an institutional base around which the sect flourished for the next decade. During this brief period of official favor and patronage Xinxing produced many of his most important works, including the Sanjie fofa and the Duigen qixin fa. In all, his works are believed to comprise at least forty fascicles, some of which were only recovered in this century among the documents unearthed at Dunhuang.

In the year 600, the Three Stages sect suffered the first in a series of proscriptions. The enormous wealth of the sect, its essentially negative assessment of the moral condition of society, and its contention that human institutions, particularly governments, were incapable of conferring any lasting spiritual benefits, made it a conspicuous target for the civil authorities. Throughout the Tang dynasty the sect suffered numerous attempts to seize its wealth and outlaw its writings, until it finally succumbed under the general suppression of Buddhism in the year 845.

See Also



For the traditional account of Xinxing's life, see his biography in Daoxuan's Xu gaoseng zhuan (T.D. 50. 559c560b). Among modern studies of Xinxing and his sect, none surpasses Yabuki Keiki's Sangaikyō no kenkyū (1927; reprint, Tokyo, 1973). This monumental study includes some four hundred pages of original texts found at Dunhuang.

New Sources

Lewis, Mark Edward. "The Suppression of the Three Stages Sect: Apocrypha as a Political Issue." Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha (1990): 207238.

Miyakawa Hisayuki (1987)

Revised Bibliography