Biography of Venerable Master Hsuan Hua


Hsuan Hua(宣化上人) was an influential Chan Buddhist monk and an important figure in the development of Western Buddhism in the United States during the twentieth century. Hsuan Hua was the ninth lineage holder of the Guiyang Chan School of Buddhism (潙仰宗), one of the five Chan families and was granted dharma transmission from that lineage by the Venerable Master Hsu Yun, one of the most influential Buddhist teachers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Hsuan Hua was one of the first known Chinese Buddhist Chan masters to transmit East Asian Buddhism to the West and ordained some of the first native-born Buddhist monks in the United States.
During his time in the United States, Hsuan Hua founded the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association (DRBA); the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah, California, one of the first Chan Buddhist monasteries in the America; the Buddhist University; and the Buddhist Text Translation Society, which works on the phonetics and translation of Buddhist scriptures from Chinese into English, Vietnamese, Spanish, and many other languages.

Early Life

Yushu, the name before Hsuan Hua was a monk, was a native of Shuangcheng County of Jilin Province. At the age of eleven, upon seeing a neighbor's infant who had died, he became aware of birth and death. At 12, he began to repent for being unfilial to his parents in the past. He bowed to his parents every morning and evening, as a way of acknowledging his faults and repaying his parents' kindness. At 15, Yushu became a Buddhist. He began to attend school and explained the Sixth Patriarch's Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, and other sutras to the illiterated people. He also started a free school for those who were poor and needy.

Leaving Home

When he was 19 years old, his mother passd away, and he decided to be a monk afterward. His name was changed to An Tzu. He built a simple hut by his mother's grave and observed the practice of filial piety for three years. He also made 18 great vows, paid reverence to the Avatamsaka Sutra, performed worship and pure repentance, practiced Chan meditation, studied Buddhist teachings, ate only one meal a day, and did not lie down to sleep at night.
When An Tzu's observance of filial piety was completed, he practiced asceticism in seclusion. Later he returned to his temple and was chosen to be the abbot.


Dharma transmission from Hsu Yun

In 1946, after the end of World War II, An Tzu traveled to Guangzhou to pay respects to the Venerable Master Hsu Yun, one of the great Chan teachers of his time. In 1947 he went to Mount Putuo (普陀山) to receive the complete ordination. In 1948, An Tzu reached Elder Master Hsu Yun and was assigned to be an instructor in the Nanhua Monastery Vinaya Academy. Later he was appointed to be the Dean of Academic Affairs. The Elder Master Hsu Yun saw that he was an outstanding individual in Buddhism. Hsu Yun transmitted the Dharma lineage to him, giving him the Dharma name Hsuan Hua, meaning "Proclaim and Transform," and making him the ninth lineage holder of the Guiyang school of Chan, the forty-fifth generation since Mahakashyapa (one of the principal disciples of Buddha who convened and directed the first council).

Residence in Hong Kong

In 1948, Hsuan Hua bid farewell to Master Hsu Yun and went to Hong Kong to propagate Buddhism. Hsuan Hua gave equal importance to the five schools (Chan, Doctrine, Vinaya, Esoteric, and Pure Land), so he put an end to sectarianism. Hsuan Hua also renovated and built temples, printed sutras and constructed images. He lived in Hong Kong for more than ten years and had his first substantial experience of Western culture.

Bringing the Dharma to the West since 1962

After Hsu Yun passed away in 1959, and Hsuan Hua completed the proper ceremonies in his memory, he felt it was time to pursue his Dharma mission in the West. Several of his lay disciples from Hong Kong had already gone to United States to study. He instructed them to establish a Buddhist association, which later became Dharma Realm Buddhist Association. Hsuan Hua traveled to Australia in 1961 to investigate the conditions for the growth of Buddhism there. After a difficult year, he returned to Hong Kong in 1962. That same year, at the invitation of his Buddhist disciples in San Francisco, Hsuan Hua traveled alone to the United States.

Building the foundation of Buddhism in America

Hsuan Hua lived in a damp and windowless basement, which was resembled as a grave. He nicknamed himself the "monk in the grave." Hsuan Hua started having regular contact with young Americans who were interested in meditation, and some also attended his sutra lectures. Translators were hired for those who could not understand Chinese; on some occasions, Hsuan Hua himself spoke to them in English to the best of his ability.
In the spring of 1968, he hosted meditation session and Buddha-recitation session for a group of students from the University of Washington. During summer, he held a Shurangama Study Session. After the session was concluded, five young Americans requested permission to become monks, beginning the tradition of native-born Sangha in American Buddhism.
Then, Hsuan Hua concentrated on three main areas:
1)   Bringing the true and proper teachings of the Buddha to the West and establishing a proper monastic community of the fully ordained Sangha
2)   Organizing and supporting the translation of the entire Buddhist canon into English and other Western languages
3)   Promoting wholesome education through the establishment of schools and universities.


First Ordination Ceremonies on Western Soil

Increasing numbers of people wished to leave secular life and become monks and nuns under Hsuan Hua's guidance. In 1972 he organized the first formal, full ordination ceremonies for Buddhist monks and nuns to be held in the West at Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery, and invited elder masters to preside with him over the ordination platform. Two monks and one nun received ordination. Subsequent ordination platforms were held at the City Of Ten Thousand Buddhas in 1976, 1979, 1982, 1989, 1991, and 1992, and progressively larger numbers of people received full ordination. Over 200 people from countries all over the world were ordained in these ceremonies.

Reform of Buddhism

Hsuan Hua supported the Shurangama Sutra, an important Mahayana sutra in Chinese Buddhism, which emphasized moral precepts and meditation as a foundation for cultivation. He felt that Buddhism in China had degenerated into superstition. He hoped that by propagating Buddhism in the West, he could demonstrate the genuine principles of Buddhism. He encouraged his disciples to learn the ancient traditions without superstitious, and tried to understand the reasons behind the practices.
Hsuan Hua emphasized his disciples on: not contending, not being greedy, not seeking, not being selfish, not pursuing personal profit, and not lying. He also attempted to heal the two thousand year old rift between Mahayana and Theravada monastic communities by encouraging cordial relations between the Sanghas


On June 7, 1995, Hsuan Hua passed away in Los Angeles. His funeral lasted from June 8 to July 29, 1995, and was attended by more than 2000 disciples from the United States, Canada, and various Asian and European countries.