Content created: 130817
File last modified: 180216
YÁO Chóng 姚崇 (650-721), canonized after his death as Wénxìan 文献, was the President of the Board of War under the Emperor Xuánzōng 玄宗 (Mínghuáng 明皇) (reign 12a-9).
In his famous biographical dictionary, Herbert Giles (1898:924) describes Yáo as something of a rich playboy, but tells us that that after success in reaching a high government bureaucratic position, he attracted the notice of the Empress Wǔ 武后 (reign 12a-6) by "his vigorous resistance to the Kitan [Qìdān 契丹] Tartars, and was soon raised to high office."
Yáo, who had gradually become a person of great Confucian rectitude, apparently had always been suspicious of religious charlatans. At Empress Wǔ's court, these included a certain Zhāng Yìzhī 张易之, a particularly handsome Daoist mountebank who had won the favor of the empress, and whom she elevated to the rank of duke. Perhaps worried about Yáo's suspicions of him, Zhāng denounced Yáo to the empress.
Yáo was dismissed from court and reassigned to administrative duties in the provinces. After the empress's death in 705, her successor, Emperor Zhōngzōng 中宗 (reign 12a-7), had the conniving Zhāng and his co-conspirator brother were executed.
At that point Yáo Chóng was ordered to return to the capital. The people of his provincial district "clung weeping around his horse's head, cut off his stirrups, and took away his whip, in order to prevent his departure." Or so at least we are told by his official biographers.
Two short-lived emperors came and went, and by 714, when he drafted his anti-Buddhist memorial, Yáo was one of the most influential men in China.
The text we have is from his official biography, and includes both a summary of his memorial and a passage from his will, ordering his children not to give in to the religious passions (and swindlers) of the era. Here are both of these passages in a slightly modernized version of J.J. M. deGroot's 1901 translation, pp.43-48.
I have made the same modifications here as in the other two memorials in this section of the web site.
|1. Under the emperor Zhōngzōng 中宗 (reign 12a-7, AD 705-710), the princesses and the imperial cognates generally, had proposed to the emperor to consecrate people as monks and nuns;||
xiānshi zhōng zōng shí gōngzhǔ wàiqī jiē zòuqǐng dù rénwéi sēngní、
|2. there had also been a certain number who sacrificed their private wealth for the building of monasteries, while it had been so general a custom for wealthy families and people of influence to found such edifices, in order to shirk therein the services due to the government, that the country far and wide abounded with them.||
Yì yǒu chū sī cái zào sì zhě、fùhù qiáng dīng jiē jīngyíng bìyì、yuǎnjìn chōngmǎn,
|3. But now (in 714) Yáo Chóng presented a memorial to the emperor, running follows:||
zhìshì suì zòu yuē、
Return to top
|4. Buddha does not dwell outside man, but is to be found in his heart.||
fó bù zài wài、qiú zhī yú xīn.
5. Buddhochinga was a most clever man, but he was of no use for keeping the realm of Zhào intact;*
*Buddhochinga (or Buddhasiḿkha), Chinese Fótúchéng 佛图澄 was an Indian priest who in 310 came to Lòyáng 洛阳, "there became 'man of high distinction and great influence by his marvellous feats and arts, and contributed largely to the development of Buddhism in the realm of [Prior] Zhào" 前赵, (period 09b, AD 304-329) in the present Shānxī province. [JJMdG] Ernest Eitel (1904:39) suggests he was not active until about the middle of the fourth century. [DKJ]
Fótúchéng zuì xián wú yì yú quán Zhào、
6. and Kumarajiva possessed many arts and capacities, but did not save Qín 秦 from destruction.*
*Kumarajiva (Chinese: Luóshíduōyì 罗什多艺) was the well known Indian Buddhist, a prolific translator of a number of sacred books into Chinese· in the [Later] Qín 后秦 dynasty (period 09j), in the capital of which, Cháng'ān 长安, he principally resided, existed from 384 to 417. [JJMdG]
Luóshíduōyì bù jiù yú wáng Qín.
7. Hé Chōng, saw his family die out,* and Fú Róng was defeated and killed;**
*Hé Chōng 何充 (290?-346) was a high official of the Eastern Jìn 東晉 dynasty (period 08c). He was a Buddhist zealot, but died without a son, as did his adopted heir , the son of his brother. See the Books of the Jìn Dynasty, 晉書, the official Standard History of that house, chapter 77, folio 9. [JJMdG]
** Fú Róng 符融 was brother and generalissimo to Fú Jiān 符堅, the third sovereign of the house of Qín 秦 (period 09f), who reigned from 357 to 384· Jr. 385 Fu Yung was defeated and slain. [JJMdG]
hé chōng fú róng jiē zāo bàimiè、
|8. Xiāng 襄 of Qí 齊 and the emperor Wǔ 武 of the Liáng 梁 dynasty could not escape disastrous events .(comp. page 39).||
Qí Xiāng Liáng Wǔ wèi miǎn zāi yāng.
|9. If you merely show earnestness of mind, compassion and charity, making your measures tend to the good of others, so that the creatures of Azure Heaven enjoy peace and happiness, then you are a being like Buddha;||
Dàn fāxīn cíbēi、xíngshì lìyì、shǐ cāngshēng ānlè、jíshì Fó shēn、
|10. and how then is it useful to bestow consecration at random upon vicious people, who thus are made to demolish the orthodox doctrines?||
Hé yòng wàng dù jiān rén lìng huài zhèng fǎ.
Return to top
11. The emperor, on receiving this argument, ordered his officers to make secret enquiries about the clergy; and more than twelve thousand, who were members of it with false and irregular designs, were sent back into the lay world.*
*Source: Old Books of the Táng Dynasty, chapter 96, folio。．See also the New Books, chapter 124, folio 3. This event is also mentioned in chapter 8, folio 8 of the Old Books, but there the number of expelled members of the clergy is given as twenty thousand. [JJMdG]]
Shàng nà qí yán lìng yǒu sī yǐnkuò sēngtú、yǐ wěi làn huán sú zhě wàn èrqiān yúrén.
Return to top
12. The existing Buddhist sutras were translated by Kumarajiva, and Yáo Xīng 姚兴* with the books in his hands collated the translations with this man.
*A sovereign of the Later Qín 后秦 (period 09j), AD 394 to 415).
Jīn zhī Fó jīng Luóshísuǒyì、Yáo Xīng zhí běn yǔ shí duì fān.
|13. He also erected pagodas in the village of Yǒngguì 永贵, and emptied his treasuries to make a religious show on a large scale; but for all that his life was not prolonged, and after him his dynasty died out.||
yáo xīng zào fútú yú Yǒngguì lí、qīng jié fǔkù guǎng shì zhuāngyán、ér xīng mìng bude yán、guó yì suí miè.
|14. Qí 齐 was situated on the other side of the mountains eastward, and Zhōu 周 to the right of the passes.||
Yòu Qí kuà shān dōng、Zhōu jù guān yòu.
|15. The state of Zhōu almost demolished Buddhism and improved its military power,||
Zhōu zé duō chú fófǎ ér xiūshàn bīngwēi、
|16. while in Qí 齐 an elaborate priesthood was formed, and safety was sought in the strength of Buddha.||
Qí zé guǎng zhì sēngtú ér yīpíng Fó lì.
|17. Hence, when the two countries went to war together, the Qí 齐 dynasty was destroyed and lost its realm (in 577);||
Jízhì jiāozhàn Qí shì mièwáng guó、
|18. if it had not patronized the convents, would it then have been rewarded with a restoration of its prosperity, or would it have thus been punished with defeat and ruin?||
Jì bù cún sì、fù héyǒu xiūfú zhī bào、héqí miè?
19. The Emperor Wǔ 武 of the Liáng 粱 dynasty made himself a slave for a myriad teams of horses;*
*This unsurpassed imperial Buddhist zealot (reign 10e-1) gave himself as a slave to a monastery, and then made his magnates ransom him for an enormous sum: a deed of the highest self-sacrifice and charity on behalf of the clergy. [JJMdG]
rú liáng wǔ dì yǐ wànshèng wéi nú、
|20. and the empress-mother Hú 胡 (of the Northern Qí 北齐 dynasty, consort of Wǔchéng 武成, reign 10l-4), made the inmates of the six harems embrace religious life;||
hú tài hòu yǐ liù gōng rù dào、
|21. and yet, in spite of these women thus mutilating their bodies, and that emperor disgracing his name, they lost their realm and ruined their family.||
Qǐ tè shēn lù míng rǔ jiē yǐ wángguó pòjiā.
|22. Not long ago, the emperor Xiàohé 孝和 (Zhōngzōng 中宗, reign 12a-4) sent out emissaries to ransom living animals (destined to be killed), and erected convents on a scale which ruined the dynasty;||
Jìnrì Xiàohé huángdì fā shǐ shú shēng、qīng guó zào sì、
23. the princess Tàipíng 太平, as also Wǔ Sānsī 武三思 (3), and the rebellious imperial concubine Zhāng 張 all caused people to embrace religious life, and they built convents;*
*Tài-píng was a daughter of the renowned empress Wǔ (reign 12a-6, AD 684-704); her biography is given in the New Books of the Tang Dynasty, chapter 83, folio 7. Wǔ Sānsī was a cognate of the imperial family, whose history occurs in chapter 206, folio 7 of the same work, as also in chapter 183 of the Old Books, folio 8.
Tàipíng gōngzhǔ Wǔ Sānsī bèinì shùrén Zhāng fūrén děng jiē dù rén zào sì、
|24. and yet they did not at the conclusion of their course of life escape a violent death, or the ruin of their family, or the ridicule of the world.||
jìng shù mí jiē chéng bùmiǎn shòu lù pòjiā、wéi tiānxià suǒ xiào.
|25. Amongst the five emperors (period 01, 10,000-2207 BC) no father had to bury his son, no elder brother had to bewail the loss of a younger one; that is to say, because those emperors caused humanity and longevity to prevail, there did not occur any cases of premature death, nor any adversities.||
Qiě Wǔdì zhī shí fù bù zàng zi、xiōng bù kū dì、yán qí zhì rénshòu wú yāo héng yě.
|26. And during the reign of the three imperial monarchs (reigns 01a-1 to 01a-3), each dynasty had a long existence, so that mankind lived in rest and peace,||
Sānhuáng zhī dài guó zuò yáncháng、rén yòng xiūxi、
27. and the ministers enjoyed longevity like that of Péngzǔ* and Lǎo Dān (Lǎozǐ 老子); and yet Buddhism did not then exist.
*A Methuselah, who in the twelfth century BC was 700 years old. [JJMdG]
Qí rénchén zé Péngzǔ Lǎodān zhī lèi jiē xiǎng tuì líng、dāngcǐ zhī shí wèi yǒu Fójiào.
|28. What strength then is there in transcribing the sutras of this religion, or in the molding of its images? what good effects do sacrifices produce, or donations to the Buddhas?||
Qǐ chāo jīng zhù xiàng zhī lì, shè zhāi shī Fó zhī gōng yé.
|29. In the Historical Books of the Liú-Sòng 刘宋 dynasty (period 10c, AD 420-479), in the Traditions about Western Countries, mention is made of a renowned Buddhist priest who wrote a disquisition on the elucidation of obscurities; it professed to prove that, if intelligible arguments sufficiently explain and disentangle obscurities and enigmas, they ought to be read and brought into circulation.||
Sòng Shū Xīyù Chuán yǒu míng kuài wéi bái hēi lùn、lǐ zhèngmíng bái zú jiě chényí、yí guān ér xíng zhī.
30. Now Buddhism means intelligence; but where in that disquisition is there one square inch to be found of intelligible matter?*
*The reader who might feel disposed to unravel this profound piece of philosophy, may find it in chapter 97 of the Books of the [Liú] Sòng Dynasty (Sòng Shū 宋书, folio 11, The learned writer was one Huìlín 慧琳, a Buddhist of the first half of the fifth century.
Qiě Fó zhě jué yě、zàihu fāngcùn.
|31. I set forth that the keeping of myriads of images everywhere, is not a matter proceeding from the five elements of the human constitution (the wǔyùn 五蕴, viz: form, perception, consciousness, action, knowledge), and that the Buddhist religion would be quite complete if it occupied itself with nothing else than the promotion of mental quiet, charity, and commiseration, and with doing good, and abstaining from vice;||
Jiǎ yǒu wàn xiàng zhī guǎng bùchū wǔyùn zhī zhōng、dàn píngděng cíbēi xíngshàn bù xíng è zé Fó dào bèi yǐ、
|32. why then does it so deliberately drown itself in stories and tales, and why has it led itself into wrong paths by a worldly-minded clergy?||
Hé bì nì liǎn xiǎoshuō、huò yú fán sēng?
|33. It makes of the parables with which it illustrates its exhortations, authentic historical verities;||
Réng jiāng yù pǐn yòng wéi shílù、
|34. by translating sutras and painting images it destroys the professions and trades, and subverts family life;||
Miǎo jīng xiě xiàng pò yè qīng jiā、
35. for by those sutras and idols the people are made to give themselves (to religious life), which means the same thing as caring about nobody any longer.
*The last character is unclearly printed. It appears to be 恡 lìn, an older form of 吝, stingy. It could possibly be 忪zhōng restless. [DKJ]
Nǎi zhì shī shēn、yì wú suǒ lìn.
|36. That is what we may call delusion on a large scale. And some make likenesses of deceased persons, to use them, as they say, to send happiness to the latter in the hereafter.||
Kě wèi dà huò yě. Yì yǒu lǜ wáng rénzào xiàng、míngwéi zhuīfú.
|37. The doctrine of salvation knows many ways in which meritorious work may be performed; but (they say) such work must rise from the heart, and when any by-motives are at play, it must rather entail vindicatory punishments.||
Fāng biàn zhī jiāo suīzé duōduān gōngdé、xū zì fā xīn、páng zhù níng yìng huò bào.
|38. With such reasoning people have long befooled each other, until those salvation works have become established customs, which damage the living, without benefiting the dead.||
Dì xiāng qīkuáng jìn chéng fēngsú、sǔnhào shēngrén、wú yì wángzhě.
|39. Even those who think themselves intelligent and talented, wise and learned, are captivated by such habits of the times.||
Jiǎ yǒu tōngcái dá shí yì wéi shísú suǒ jū.
|40. The Thatāgata's spirit of universal charity would further the interests of all beings; but, surely, this is not the case if it harms the creatures who have not enough, and enriches an influential clergy who have more than enough.||
Rúlái pǔ cí yì cún lì wù、sǔn zhòngshēng zhī bùzú、hòu háo sēng zhī yǒuyú、bì bùrán yǐ.
|41 And if death is an ordinary occurrence from which, since remote antiquity, there has been no escape, what help then is afforded against it by the sutras and images we make?||
Qiě sǐ zhě shì cháng、gǔlái bù miǎn、suǒ zào jīng xiàng hé suǒ shī wéi.
|42. It being a fact that Shakyamuni's own religion is a great evil for all who live under the azure empyrean, so all of you, my children, ought to be on your guard against it.||
Fū Shìjiā zhī běn fǎ wéi cāngshēng zhī dà bì、rǔ děng gè yí jǐngcè.
|43. Let the principles of orthodoxy dwell in your heart, and be not like those sons and daughters who never grow wiser as long as they live.||
Zhèngfǎ zàixīn、wù xiào érnǚzǐ cáo zhōngshēn bù wù yě.
|44. When I shall be dead, then on no account perform on my behalf that mean religion;||
Wú wáng hòu bì bude wèicǐ bì fǎ、
|45. but if you should feel unable to follow orthodoxy in every respect, then give in to the popular custom, and from the first seventh day (after my death) until the last (the seventh) seventh day, let mass be celebrated by the Buddhist clergy seven times;||
Ruò wèi néng quán yī zhèngdào、xū shùn súqíng、cóng chūqī zhì zhōng qī rèn shè qī kuài zhāi、
|46. and when, as these masses require it, you must offer gifts to me, use for that purpose the clothes and things which during my life I have worn on my body.||
Ruò suí zhāi xū bùshī、yí yǐ wú lǜ shēn yīwù.
|47. But on no account use any other things of value for this end, lest you do a wrong thing which would carry no benefit with it;||
Chōng bude zhé yòng yú cái wéi wúyì zhī wǎng shì、
|48. neither give recklessly of your private effects on the vain plea of procuring me happiness in the hereafter …||
Yì bude wàng chū sī wù、xùn zhuīfú zhī xūtán. …
|49. and after your death let your sons and grandsons likewise be ordered to act in conformity with these my instructions."||
Rǔ děng shēn méi zhī hòu yì jiào zǐsūn zuò wú cǐ fǎ yún.
DeGroot makes the following interesting observation about this text, particularly in connection with the earlier writings of Fù Yì:
The chief value for us, of the philippics of Fù Yì and Yáo Chóng lies in the fact that they give us a clear insight into the reasons for the grudge and antipathy manifested by the Confucians to this day against this foreign religion. Then, as now, the chief reproach was that the people were deceived and led astray by it, as it did not, like the only true Confucianism, give verity pure and unalloyed. And especially its tenets concerning the possibility of raising the dead into a condition of higher bliss are idle gossip, its ceremonies instituted for that purpose absolutely valueless, nay, even detrimental, because of the outlays they entail.
Remarkable, however, are Yáo Chóng's instructions to his children: do not allow yourselves to be blinded by these doctrines; but if this be already done, and you feel bound to celebrate for me the customary Buddhist masses, well, let it be done, but without extravagance.
Where a declared enemy of this religion spoke thus to his own children brought up under his own eye, there, surely, the Buddhistic doctrines and practices of salvation must have taken very deep root in the heart of the nation, in its customs and manners. Possibly the father himself was not altogether free from the belief in their value. As a matter of, fact, salvation of the dead was always the sheet anchor with which this religion, since its earliest establishment in China, had secured for itself a safe position in the vast ocean of … Confucianism … .
Return to top
The Portrait of Yáo Chóng by an unknown artist is reprinted from
周佳榮 (ed.) 2000 人物中國歷史. 香港:香港教育圖書公司. p. 34.