Fazang’s ancestors came from Sogdiana (a center for trade along the Silk Road, located in what is now parts of Uzbekistan and Tajikestan), but he was born in the Tang dynasty capital of Chang’an (now Xi’an), where his family had become culturally Chinese. Fazang was a fervently religious adolescent. Following a then-popular custom that took self-immolation as a sign of religious devotion, Fazang burned his fingers before a stupa at the age of 16. After becoming a monk, he assisted Xuanzang—famous for his pilgrimage to India—in translating Buddhist works from Sanskrit into Chinese. Fazang had doctrinal differences with Xuanzang, though, so he later became a disciple of Zhiyan, probably around 663 CE.
Zhiyan’s access to the imperial court gave Fazang access to Empress Wu, with whom he quickly gained favor. He undertook a variety of public services, such as performing rain-prayer rituals and collaborating in various translation projects. He traveled throughout northern China, teaching the Avatamsaka Sutra and debating Daoists. He intervened in a 697 military confrontation with the Khitans, gaining further favor when Empress Wu ascribed to his ritual services an instrumental role in suppressing the rebellion. In addition, Fazang provided information to undermine plots by some of the empress’ advisors to secure power after her death. This secured Fazang’s status—and the prominence of Huayan teachings—with subsequent rulers. (Source Accessed Jan 28, 2020)
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