At the age of six, Xu Zhisheng went with her grandmother to the capital, where she visited Wa-guan Monastery and saw the magnificent caitya (sanctuary) beautifully decorated with precious ornaments. She was moved to tears and wished to cut her hair and become a nun. Her grandmother refused, saying she was too young. Zhisheng was twenty before she could become a nun. Hardships and upheavals wrought by the political and social instability of the time had kept her from carrying out her wishes, but clearly, she attained a certain amount of education that was to be of great importance in her monastic life.
Having taken up residence in Jianfu Convent in the capital city, Zhisheng gradually impressed those around her with her intelligence, memory, morality, sanctity, generosity, and reserve. She resisted lechers, observed the monastic precepts diligently, attracted supernatural responses to her worship, gave both of herself and her possessions to help others and to build monuments to Buddhism and to the imperial rulers, and did not gad about visiting, as other nuns did, but remained in the convent for thirty years observing the obligations of the monastic life. Because of these qualities, an empress dowager ordered her to be the abbess of Jianfu Convent.
She was invited by the Southern Qi heir apparent Wenhui (458-493), the eldest son of Emperor Wu (r. 483-493), to lecture on various Buddhist scriptures, and she also wrote several dozen scrolls of commentaries to Buddhist scriptures that are described as both well written and of subtle and penetrating content. Sadly, none survives.
Xu Zhisheng wasn't married and had no children.