From a young age, Huiyuan was well versed in Confucian and Daoist teachings. At the age of 21, while listening to a lecture by Dao’an on the Prajnaparamita Sutra, he realized the superiority of the Buddha’s teachings and subsequently became a monk. When Huiyuan was 24 years old, he used Daoist concepts to help his audience grasp the profound meanings of the Nirvana Sutra in a lecture he gave in place of his master. Dao’an then granted him special permission to use non-Buddhist texts in his teachings. He stayed at Lushan for over 30 years, without ever leaving the mountain. The nobility held him in high respect and educated people took refuge under him. When Huanxuan decreed that Buddhist monks must prostrate to emperors, Huiyuan wrote a commentary arguing that monastic and emperors are equal before the Dharma. He founded the White Lotus Society, which emphasized cultivation through reciting the Buddha’s name, and became the First Patriarch of the Chinese Pure Land School.
During the Sui Dynasty, the twelve-year-old Xuanzang renounced in Luoyang. He was granted special permission to do so by the chief examiner, who was moved by his vows to promote Buddhism. When he found discrepancies among translated Buddhist texts and their interpretations, he was determined to travel to India in search of the original Sanskrit texts. At the age of 26, he began his long and arduous journey to the west. Along the way he visited sacred sites and studied various sutras and sastras under famous teachers. After seventeen years, he returned to China with numerous Buddhist texts. He then devoted himself to translation and became recognized as one of the four great translators. He founded the Mind-Only School and was known as the Tripitaka Master because of his profound understanding of sutras, vinayas, and sastras. As a Buddhist scholar, translator, diplomat, and geographer, Xuanzang is regarded as one of the most prominent Buddhist in Chinese history.
When Jizang was about 3 year old, his father took him to see Paramartha who gave him his name. At the age of 7, he became a monk under Falang and specialized in the Three Treatises. When he was 19 years old, he could publicly recite various sutras and treatises. He once lectured on the profound teachings of the Three Treatises to Emperor Guiyang of the Chen Dynasty, earning the emperor’s utmost respect. At the age of 33, he moved to Jiaxiang Temple to focus on teaching and writing. Thousands requested his guidance and he became known as Master Jiaxiang. He once defeated Sengcan the self-proclaimed Treatise Master of the Three Kingdoms, in a debate lasting over 40 rounds Prince Yang Jian, the second son of Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty, revered him as a teacher. Jizang spent his life propagating the Three Treatises and was known as the patriarch who revived the Three Treatise School.
Born in Orissa in eastern India, Subhakarasimha was a descendent of King Amtodana, uncle of Sakyamuni Buddha. He ascended the throne at the age of 13 but was opposed by his brothers. After defeating his brothers in the subsequent power struggle, Subhakarasimha abdicated in favor of his older brother and renounced. He first studied in southern India, traveled around different kingdoms and then arrived at Nalanda Monastery, where he studied under Dharmagupta and mastered the esoteric teachings. At the age of 80, he arrived in Chang’an, and Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty appointed him as the National Preceptor. In the following year, by imperial decree, he began the translation of sutras in Puti Temple, after which he devoted himself to translating esoteric texts. Subhakarasimhawas known as one of the Three Great Master of the Kaiyuan Era, along with Vajrabodhi and Amoghavajra. Together they laid the foundation of the Esoteric School in China.
According to the Chinese Chan School, Bodhidharma was the 28th Patriarch of the Indian lineage. During the Southern Dynasties, he traveled across the sea to Guangzhou and was invited to Jinling by Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty. After conversing with the Emperor, Bodhidharma sensed that the time was not ripe to propagate the Dharma. He crossed the river and arrived at Shaolin Monastery in Songshan. There he meditated facing a wall. Those who did not understand his behavior called him the Wall-Gazing Brahmin. This continued for nine years until the arrival of Huike, who grasped his teachings. Thus, Bodhidharma passed the robe of Dharma succession and the Lankavatara Sutra to Huike, saying, “I came here to spread the Dharma and liberate the deluded, a flower with five petals will bloom and bear fruit naturally.” Since then the Chan teachings were transmitted generation after generation, and Bodhidharma became known as the First Patriarch of the Chinese Chan School.
At the age of 7, Zhizhe could memorize a chapter of the Lotus Sutra. Tonsured at the age of 18 with the Dharma name Zhiyi, he became Huisi’s disciple at 23 years of age. He later went to Jinling to propagate Chan teachings at Waguan Temple. From the age of 38, he stayed at Tiantaishan. He then returned to Jinling at the request of Emperor Houzhu of the Chen Dynasty to teach the Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra and Benevolent King Sutra in the palace. When Emperor Yang of the Sui dynasty was still a prince, he invited Zhizhe, who was then 54 years old to transmit the Bodhisattva Precepts at Yangzhou. The prince bestowed upon him the name Zhizhe, which means the "wise one." He interpreted the sutras in terms of Five Periods and Eight Doctrines, and promoted the two-fold practice of cessation and contemplation. He gave equal importance to theory and practice, reconciling the overemphasis on meditation in the north and scholasticism in the south. His teachings formed the distinctiveness of the Tiantai School.
Originally known as Fazang, Xianshou is the Third Patriarch of the Huayan Avatamsaka School. While his ancestors were from Sogdiana, his grandfather moved to Chang’an where he was born. He studied under Zhiyan when he was young and acquired a deep understanding of the Avatamsaka Sutra. After his master’s death, Xianshou was tonsured under Bochen and was later fully ordained by imperial decree. He undertook translations, gave lectures, and wrote various works. He taught the Avatamsaka Sutra over thirty times through-out his life. Once he explained the Huayan Ten Profound Gates to Empress Wu, who gained deep understanding through his skillful use of metaphors. Following the Tiantai School, he categorized the different concepts of Buddhism into Five Teachings and Ten Schools. He founded the Huayan School based on the philosophy of Dushun and Zhiyan. Although he was the teacher of five emperors and earned the respect of the nobility, he maintained a strict and simple life.
Daoxuan renounced at the age of 16 and was fully ordained at 20 years of age. He was eager to practice meditation after receiving his first lecture on the vinaya, but was reprimanded by his master, Zhishou, for neglecting the vinaya before accumulating sufficient merit and virtue. He humbly accepted his master’s advice and practiced so diligently that a relic appeared in a precious box. He later stayed at Zhongnanshan, where he studied and lectured on the Dharmagupta Vinaya. He taught the vinaya at different places and participated in sutra translation projects organized by Xuanzang. At the age of 72 in Jingye Temple he established the ordination platform, which served as an exemplar for future generations. Daoxuancompiled a comprehensive system which embraced the different vinayas and founded the Nanshan Vinaya School. He spent his life composing works on the vinaya and writing biographies of eminent monks. These works later became the guidelines for practitioners of Buddhism.