Pharmacist-Monks in the Tang Dynasty: A Group of Mahayana Buddhist Followers and their Contributions to Chinese Buddhism

Xican Li


Pharmacist-monks (yaoseng1), a group of Buddhist monks who devote themselves to the production of Chinese herbal medicines, have existed in China for over 1000 years, but are still poorly understood. To provide important insight into the special religious group, this study inspected Poetry of the Tang Dynasty and other historical data in Chinese ancient texts. The results suggest there were numerous pharmacist-monks in the Tang Dynasty. From the samvrti-satya viewpoint, they participated in the entire manufacturing process for Chinese herbal medicines, and sometimes directly carried out medical charity activity. Their contributions to Chinese Buddhism are summarized as: (i) to provide herbal medicines as a form of Buddhist charity, or to express compassionate ideals of Buddhism via direct medical charity; (ii) to provide food for devotees at Buddhist temples; and (iii) to beautify Buddhist temples. However, from the paramartha-satya viewpoint, these pharmacist-monks actually practiced six paramitas (i.e. dana, sila-vinaya, ksanti, virya, dhyana, and prajna) which are the main characteristics of mahayana Buddhism. Therefore, they are considered as mahayana followers. They lived laborious but happy, and were widely respected by the secular society. They inherited mahayanist tradition and accelerated the development of mahayana Buddhism in China.

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International Journal of Social Science Studies   ISSN 2324-8033 (Print)   ISSN 2324-8041 (Online)

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