Fu Hui – assembling and harmonizing

The term Fu Hui has proven to be an expression that slipped out of today’s Chinese-English dictionaries, even out of that of Lin Yutang who gave religious terminology a little bit more attention and space than e-editions such as Yabla.

It appears that the term Fu Hui occurs in both Buddhist and Taoist parlance, it might even have been used by Confucianists , but this is a guess on my part and by no means certain.

To give a brief summary of the use of the term: A new Taoist temple somewhere in Malaysia opened in 2010 its doors with a “fu hui vegetarian dinner”.
A “ch’ih fu-hui” (Wade-Giles transliteration) is a lay supporter who in Buddhist ceremonies occupies a place of honour.
The Buddhist Jing’an Temple in Shanghai has a more than 10 metres high “Fu Hui Baoding” in its inner courtyard (see picture). A “baoding” is a tripod that serves as incense vessel.

jing'an fu hui baoding

In his “The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons” (edition Columbia Univ. Press 1959) Liu Xie (Wade-Giles Liu Hsieh, approx. ca. 465-522) explains it thus:
“What is the meaning of fu-hui? It means a comprehensive view of a literary piece as a whole with respect to both its language and its ideas; it provides an underlying principle to unify all its parts, it defines the conditions governing what should be included and what excluded, and works elements from all the various fields into harmony; in short, it organizes the whole piece in such a way that, though composed of a variety of elements, it will not as a whole fall short of the proper standard.”

One would say that here are the words of a Confucianist. However, Liu Xie spent more than ten years in the company of a Buddhist monk like Sengyu who had his temple on Lushan. Once in the capital the Wu emperor saw to it that Liu Xie re-edited a number of Buddhist texts. At the end of his career as a scribe Liu Xie became a monk and received the Dharma name Huidi (Hui-ti in Wade-Giles transliteration).

We might therefore summarize the extended meaning of Fu Hui with “assembling and harmonizing of disperate parts”.

In her “Early Buddhist Art of China and Central Asia” (Vol.3) Marylin M. Rhie remembers us of the fact that it was the monk Sengyu who in the last days of his life demanded that the “assembly of monks chanted the Wu Liang Shou Jing”, the Sutra of Eternal Life [Sanskrit: Sukhāvati-vyuha, or Amitayus Sutra. Hence Liu Xie had been educated into the Pure Land tradition and definitely, at the behest of the emperor who must have been intent on amalgamating religious strands that seemed useful in his reigning, incorporated Confucianist notions into his editions of Sutras and other texts such as the above “The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons”.