Amoghavajra

Amoghavajra (705-774) (in Chinese Pukong/P'u-k'ung) was a prolific translator who became one of the most politically powerful Buddhist monks in Chinese history, acknowledged as one of the eight patriarchs of the doctrine 傅授八祖 in Shingon lineages.

Born in Samarkand of a Indian father and Sogdian mother, he went to China at age 10 after his father's death. In 719, he was ordained into the saṅgha by Vajrabodhi 金剛智 and became his disciple. After all foreign monks were expelled from China in 741, he and some associates went on a pilgrimage to gather texts, visiting Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia and India. During this voyage, he apparently met Nagabodhi 龍智, master of Vajrabodhi, and studied the Tattvasaṃgraha金剛頂經 system at length. He returned to China in 746 with some five hundred volumes.

In 750, he left the court to join the military governorship of Geshu Han 哥舒翰, for whom he conducted large-scale tantric initations 灌頂 at field headquarters. In 754, he translated the first portion of the Tattvasaṃgraha [T 865], the central text of Buddhist esotericism, which became one of his most significant accomplishments. He regarded its teachings as the most effective method for attaining enlightenment yet devised, and incorporated its basic schema in a number of writings. Amoghavajra was captured in general An Lushan's 安祿山 rebellion but in 757 was freed by loyalist forces, whereupon he performed rites to purify the capital and consolidate the security of the Tang state. Two years later, he initiated the emperor Suzong 肅宗 as a cakravartin 轉輪王. In 765, Amoghavajra used his new rendition of the Scripture for Humane Kings 仁王經 (T 246) in an elaborate ritual to counter the advance of a 200,000-strong army of Tibetans and Uighurs which was poised to invade Changan 長安. Its leader, Pugu Huaien 僕固懷恩, dropped dead in camp and his forces dispersed.

The opulent Jingao temple 金閣寺 on Mt. Wutai was completed in 767, a pet project of Amoghavajra's, and one of his many efforts to promote the bodhisattva Ma˝juśrī 文殊菩薩 as the protector of China. Amoghavajra continued to perform rites to avert disaster at the request of the emperor Taizong 太宗. On his death in 774, three days of morning were officially declared, and he posthumously received various exalted titles. The Chinese monks Huiguo 惠果 and Huilin 慧琳 were among his most prominent successors. Seventy-seven texts were translated by Amoghavajra according to his own account, though many more, including original compositions, are ascribed to him in the Chinese canons. The following documents relate to his life and work: T2120 contains records of his personal correspondence, T2156 records lineages, there is a biography in the Fu facang yinyuan fu 付法藏因緣傅 T2058, and an account of his travels is given in T2157.

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