Hui-yüan (1) ［慧遠］ (334–416) (PY Huiyuan; Eon): The founder of the Pai-lien-she, or White Lotus Society, a group that practiced meditation on the Buddha Amida to attain rebirth in Amida’s Pure Land. Born in northern China in what is today Shansi Province, Hui-yüan became a priest and went to see Tao-an in 354, learning the teachings of the Wisdom sutras under his tutelage. Later he went to Mount Lu (in present-day Kiangsi Province), where he founded Tung-lin-ssu temple. Admiring his virtues, many people followed him to Mount Lu. In 402 he founded the Pai-lien-she together with 123 priests and laypersons who engaged in the Pure Land practices. This is the origin of the Pure Land school in China. As the Buddhist community came to the fore, Huan Hsüan, who had usurped the throne of the Chin dynasty, showed intentions of placing Buddhism under his authority. Opposing this, Hui-yüan wrote a treatise titled A Priest Does Not Bow before a King, asserting that Buddhist priests, who had renounced the secular world, did not have to pay customary homage to the sovereign or subordinate themselves to secular authority. Hui-yüan also corresponded with Kumārajīva, who was in Ch’ang-an, asking about various Buddhist concepts such as the Dharma body and non-substantiality; these letters were compiled as The Essay on the Grand Meaning of the Mahayana. He lived on Mount Lu for about thirty years until his death.
(2) ［慧遠］ (523–592) (PY Huiyuan; Eon): A priest of the Treatise on the Ten Stages Sutra (Ti-lun) school in China. Born in Tun-huang in northwestern China, he is noted for having remonstrated with Emperor Wu of the Northern Chou dynasty (557–581) when the emperor threatened to abolish Buddhism. Emperor Wu eventually outlawed both Buddhism and Taoism. This persecution is known as one of the four imperial persecutions in the history of Chinese Buddhism. The other three took place under Emperor T’ai-wu of the Northern Wei dynasty in the fifth century, Emperor Wu-tsung of the T’ang dynasty in the ninth century, and Emperor Shih-tsung of the Later Chou dynasty in the tenth century. After the suppression of Buddhism ended, Hui-yüan preached Buddhism in various locations. During the Sui dynasty (581–618), he enjoyed the favor of Emperor Wen who sought to restore Buddhism. He wrote commentaries on The Treatise on the Ten Stages Sutra, the Nirvana Sutra, the Vimalakīrti Sutra, the Shrīmālā Sutra, and other sutras. His Treatise on the Meaning of the Mahayana is highly valued as an example of contemporary Buddhist study. In his later years, he lived in Ching-ying-ssu temple and devoted himself to expounding the Buddhist doctrines.
(3) ［慧苑］ (n.d.) (PY Huiyuan; Eon): A priest of the Flower Garland (Hua-yen) school in China during the late-seventh and mid-eighth centuries. He became a disciple of Fa-tsang, the third patriarch of the Flower Garland school, who systematized the school’s doctrine. Fa-tsang established a system of classification that asserted the supremacy of the Flower Garland Sutra. In it, he divided all the Buddhist sutras into the following five categories of teachings: the Hinayana teaching, the elementary Mahayana teaching, the final Mahayana teaching, the sudden teaching, and the perfect teaching. Hui-yüan criticized this system as too heavily influenced by the T’ien-t’ai school and formulated a new classification of four teachings based on The Treatise on the Treasure Vehicle of Buddhahood, a work by Sāramati. The four teachings of Hui-yüan’s classification are the non-Buddhist teaching, the Hinayana teaching, the partially true and complete teaching (lower Mahayana), and the fully true and complete teaching (higher Mahayana).