Between A.D. 399 and 414, the Chinese monk Faxian (Fa-Hsien, Fa Hien) undertook a trip via Central Asia to India to study Buddhism, locate sutras and relics and obtain copies of Buddhist books that were unavailable in China at the time. He traveled from Xian in central China to the west overland on the southern Silk Road into Central Asia and described monasteries, monks and pagodas there. He then crossed over Himalayan passes into India and ventured as far south as Sri Lanka before sailing back to China on a route that took him through present-day Indonesia. His entire journey took 15 years.
Faxian means "illustrious master of the 1aw.” Orphaned at an early age, he decided to continue the religious life planned for him by his father rather than to be incorporated into the family of his uncle. Little is known of his novitiate, though one legend tells of how he shamed a band of thieves from stealing the grain of his monastery. At the age of 25 Faxian began a quest to learn about Buddhist traditions in India and to discover authentic Buddhist writings. His travels, in Sumatra, Ceylon, India, and Tibet, coincided with a general curiosity of Chinese Buddhists about the practice of their religion abroad. Faxian recovered a large quantity of Buddhist writings and returned to China where he devoted the rest of his life to translating them from Sanskrit. It is recorded that he died at the age of 88. “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms" (394-414CE) is an account of the journey Faxian and his companions, mostly in India. They visited as many of the Buddhist sacred shrines as they could, especially those associated with the presence of the Buddha.
Good Websites and Sources on the Silk Road: Silk Road Seattle washington.edu/silkroad ; Silk Road Foundation silk-road.com; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Silk Road Atlas depts.washington.edu ; Old World Trade Routes ciolek.com
Faxian in India (399-414 A.D.)
During the reign of the Gupta ruler Chandragupta II (375 – 415), Faxian, came overland from China to India, enduring the hardships and dangers of the Gobi Desert and the mountainous tracts of Khotan, the Pamirs, Swat and Gandhara. Reaching Peshawar, he made a detour across the hills to the north and the west, entered the Punjab, passed on to places like Mathura, Samkasya, Kanauj, SravastI, Kapilavastu, Kusinagara, Vaisall, Pataliputra, KasI, etc. He then proceeded to Tamralipti (Tamluk, Midnapur district), where he embarked for Ceylon and Java on his voyage homeward. Faxian was, no doubt, so engrossed in his quest for Buddhist manuscripts and relics that he did not even care to note the name of the emperor, in whose dominions he spent several happy years. But occasionally the pilgrim persuaded himself to write about the life of the people and the general condition of the country. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Faxian was of 65 when he walked from China to India in 399 According to to PBS: “He journeyed down the Ganges plain stopping at numerous monasteries to study their customs and to copy sacred Buddhist texts. He wrote an account of his travels that has provided modern scholars insight into the governance of the Gupta Empire, where light taxation and enlightened policies towards caste and religion lead to prosperity and to what Fa Hsien describes as a contented citizenry. [Source: PBS, The Story of India, pbs.org/thestoryofindia]
Faxian stayed in the Imperial city of Pataliputra for three years, learning Sanskrit. He mentions that it had two “imposing and elegant” monasteries — one of the HInayana and the other of the Mahayanatenanted by six or seven hundred monks, whose learned expositions of the Law and disciplined life attracted seekers after knowledge from all parts of India. He felt amazed to see the splendour of Ashoka’s palace, which was extant at the time of his visit to Pataliputra, and was reputed to have been the work of superhuman agency. The wealth and prosperity of Magadha deeply impressed the pilgrim, and he says with admiration that its inhabitants "vied with one another in the practice of benevolence and righteousness.” They organised a grand procession of richly adorned images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas every year on the eighth day of the second month. These figures were carried on “perhaps twenty cars,” all constructed according to a certain pattern, but differently painted and decorated. Faxian also testifies that “the heads of the VaiSya families establish houses for dispensing charity and medicines.” There was an excellent hospital, endowed by nobles and householders, in the capital where the poor and destitute patients were supplied food and medicine free according to their needs. Besides, repthouses existed in large towns as well as on highways for the comforts of travellers.
Faxian’s Glimpse of Indian Life
Faxian at a Buddhist Monastery in India
“When Faxian and Tao-ching first arrived at the Jetavana monastery, and thought how the World honoured one had formerly resided there for twenty-five years, painful reflections arose in their minds Born in a border1and, along with their like-minded friends, they had travelled through so many kingdoms; some of those friends had returned (to their own land), and some had (died), proving the impermanence and uncertainty of life; and today they saw the place where Buddha had lived now unoccupied by him. They were melencholy through their pain of heart, and the crowd of monks came out, and asked them from what kingdom they were come. 'We are come,' they replied, 'from the land of Han.' 'Strange,' said the monks with a sigh, 'that men of a border country should be able to come here in search of our Law! ' Then they said to one another, 'During all the time that we, preceptors and monks, have succeeded to one another, we have never seen men of Han, followers of our system, arrive here.'
To each of the great residences for the monks at the Jetavana vihara there were two gates, one facing the east and the other facing the north. The park (containing the whole) was the space of ground which the (Vaisya) head Sudatta purchased by covering it with gold coins. The vihara was exactly in the centre Here Buddha lived for a longer time than at any other place, preaching his Law and converting men. At the places where he walked and sat they also (subsequently) reared topes, each having its particular name; and here was the place where Sundari murdered a person and then falsely charged Buddha (with the crime). Outside the east gate of the Jetavana, at a distance of seventy paces to the north, on the west of the road, Buddha held a discussion with the (advocates of the) ninety-six schemes of erroneous doctrine, when the king and his great officers, the householders, and people were all assembled in crowds to hear it. Then a woman belonging to one of the erroneous systems, by name Ghanchamana, prompted by the envious hatred in her heart, and having put on (extra) clothes in front of her person, so as to give her the appearance of being with child, falsely accused Buddha before all the assembly of having acted unlawfully (towards her). On this, Sakra, Ruler of Devas, changed himself and some devas into white mice, which bit through the strings about her waist; and when this was done, the (extra) clothes which she wore dropt down on the ground. The earth at the same time was rent, and she went (down) alive into hell.
Faxian’s account gives us some glimpses of the social conditions in India. It appears the bulk of the people were vegetarian, and followed the principle of Ahimsa. They had “no shambles or wine-shops in their market-places.” They do not keep pigs and fowls, nor do they eat onions and garlic, nor drank wine 1 — a feature which may hearten modem temperance reformers. The Candalas were regarded as social outcasts, being the only persons “to go hunting and deal in flesh.” They lived away from the people, and when they approached a city or market they had to strike a piece of wood, so that other folk might avoid coming in contact with them. Truly, this savours of untouchability, which is still an ugly blot on Hinduism. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Faxian came to India with the set purpose of collecting Buddhist manuscripts, and of visiting the ‘sites hallowed by the memory of the Buddha. Naturally, therefore, he speaks more enthusiastically about Buddhism and the ramifications of the Samgha. It appears from his description that the faith was “flourishing” in the Punjab and Bengal, and that it was gradually gaining ground in Mathura, where he noticed twenty establishments. But it was by no means popular in MadhyadeSa, for in each of its principal towns the pilgrim saw just one or two monasteries only, and sometimes even none. Here Brahmanism predominated, and the king was himself a devout Vaisnava (P aramabhdgavatd). The relations between the “Brahman heretics” and the Buddhists were generally cordial, and nowhere is there any % hint of persecution of any religion. Indeed, we learn from inscriptions that some of the high officers of’ Chandragupta II, like Saba-VIrasena and Amrakardava, were Saiva and Buddhist in their persuasions. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
Faxian refers favourably to the temperate climate and administration of the Middle kingdom, i.e., the territories of Chandragupta II. The people were prosperous and free from poll-tax or from the shackles of overgovernment. They “had not to register their households or attend to any magistrates and their rules.” The king did not impose any restrictions on the movements of his subjects. “If they desire to go, they go: if they like to stop they stop.” The criminal law was mild as compared to the Chinese system of the day. Offenders were fined, lightly or heavily, according to the nature of their crimes, and corporal punishments were not inflicted. It is interesting to learn that capital penalty was not awarded then, and even persons guilty of treason suffered only amputation of the right hand. The picture, however, appears to be more idealistic than realistic. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]
The mainstay of finance was the land revenue, amounting to a certain portion of the produce or its cash value. The royal officers were regularly paid fixed salaries. Cowrie shells formed the ordinary currency for smaller transactions, but gold “suvarnas” and “dlnaras”, mentioned in inscriptions, were also in free circulation.
It is thus clear from the above remarks of the pilgrim that the government of Chandragupta II was efficient and well organised. The people enjoyed the blessipgs of peace, and Faxian travelled through Northern India without meeting with any mishap. While the conditions in general were so satisfactory, decay and desolation had overtaken some localities, like Gaya KuSinagara, Kapilavastu, SravastI, which were once busy centres of life.
Chapters VIII and IX: North India and the Legend of Buddha
According to “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms”: “After crossing the river, (the travellers) immediately came to the kingdom of Woo-chang [Udyana, north of the Punjab — i.e., Swat in northern Pakistan], which is indeed (a part) of North India. The people all use the language of Central India, 'Central India' being what we should call the 'Middle Kingdom.' The food and clothes of the common people are the same as in that Central Kingdom. The Law of Buddha is very (flourishing in Woo-chang). They call the places where the monks stay (for a time) or reside permanently sangharamas; and of these there are in all 500, the monks being all students of the Hinayana. When stranger bhikshus [i.e., mendicant monks] arrive at one of them, their wants are supplied for three days, after which they are told to find a resting-place for themselves. [Source: “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms” by Fa-Hsien (Faxian) of his Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414), Translated James Legge, 1886, gutenberg.org/ /]
“There is a tradition that when Buddha came to North India, he came at once to this country, and that here he left a print of his foot, which is long or short according to the ideas of the beholder (on the subject). It exists, and the same thing is true about it, at the present day. Here also are still to be seen the rock on which he dried his clothes, and the place where he converted the wicked dragon. The rock is fourteen cubits high, and more than twenty broad, with one side of it smooth. Hwuy-king, Hwuy-tah, and Tao-ching went on ahead towards (the place of) Buddha's shadow in the country of Nagara; but Fa-Hsien and the others remained in Woo-chang, and kept the summer retreat. That over, they descended south, and arrived in the country of Soo-ho-to. /
“In that country also Buddhism is flourishing. There is in it the place where Sakra [Indra], Ruler of Devas, in a former ages, tried the Bodhisattva, by producing a hawk (in pursuit of a) dove, when (the Bodhisattva) cut off a piece of his own flesh, and (with it) ransomed the dove. [This is the well-known Sibi Jataka, a jataka being a tale relating to an incident involving the Buddha in one of his previous incarnations. The Sibi Jataka is depicted on one of the petroglyphs at Shatial in the Hunza Valley and in several of the caves at Dunhuang.] After Buddha had attained to perfect wisdom, and in travelling about with his disciples (arrived at this spot), he informed them that this was the place where he ransomed the dove with a piece of his own flesh. In this way the people of the country became aware of the fact, and on the spot reared a stupa, adorned with layers of gold and silver plates.” /
Chapter XVI: Mathura and Customs of Central India
On the journey to Mathura (145 kilometers southeast of Delhi), “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms” reported: “From this place they travelled south-east, passing by a succession of very many monasteries, with a multitude of monks, who might be counted by myriads. After passing all these places, they came to a country named Ma-t'aou-lo. They still followed the course of the P'oo-na river, on the banks of which, left and right, there were twenty monasteries, which might contain three thousand monks; and (here) the Law of Buddha was still more flourishing. Everywhere, from the Sandy Desert, in all the countries of India, the kings had been firm believers in that Law. When they make their offerings to a community of monks, they take off their royal caps, and along with their relatives and ministers, supply them with food with their own hands. That done, (the king) has a carpet spread for himself on the ground, and sits down in front of the chairman;—they dare not presume to sit on couches in front of the community. The laws and ways, according to which the kings presented their offerings when Buddha was in the world, have been handed down to the present day. [Source: “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms” by Fa-Hsien (Faxian) of his Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414), Translated James Legge, 1886, gutenberg.org/ /]
“All south from this is named the Middle Kingdom. In it the cold and heat are finely tempered, and there is neither hoarfrost nor snow. The people are numerous and happy; they have not to register their households, or attend to any magistrates and their rules; only those who cultivate the royal land have to pay (a portion of) the grain from it. If they want to go, they go; if they want to stay on, they stay. The king governs without decapitation or (other) corporal punishments. Criminals are simply fined, lightly or heavily, according to the circumstances (of each case). Even in cases of repeated attempts at wicked rebellion, they only have their right hands cut off. The king's body-guards and attendants all have salaries. Throughout the whole country the people do not kill any living creature, nor drink intoxicating liquor, nor eat onions or garlic. The only exception is that of the Chandalas. That is the name for those who are (held to be) wicked men, and live apart from others. When they enter the gate of a city or a market-place, they strike a piece of wood to make themselves known, so that men know and avoid them, and do not come into contact with them. In that country they do not keep pigs and fowls, and do not sell live cattle; in the markets there are no butchers' shops and no dealers in intoxicating drink. In buying and selling commodities they use cowries. Only the Chandalas are fishermen and hunters, and sell flesh meat. /
“After Buddha attained to pari-nirvana, the kings of the various countries and the heads of the Vaisyas built viharas for the priests, and endowed them with fields, houses, gardens, and orchards, along with the resident populations and their cattle, the grants being engraved on plates of metal, so that afterwards they were handed down from king to king, without any daring to annul them, and they remain even to the present time. /
“The regular business of the monks is to perform acts of meritorious virtue, and to recite their Sutras and sit wrapt in meditation. When stranger monks arrive (at any monastery), the old residents meet and receive them, carry for them their clothes and alms-bowl, give them water to wash their feet, oil with which to anoint them, and the liquid food permitted out of the regular hours. When (the stranger) has enjoyed a very brief rest, they further ask the number of years that he has been a monk, after which he receives a sleeping apartment with its appurtenances, according to his regular order, and everything is done for him which the rules prescribe. /
“Where a community of monks resides, they erect stupas to Sariputtra, to Maha-maudgalyayana, and to Ananda, and also stupas (in honour) of the Abhidharma, the Vinaya, and the Sutras. A month after the (annual season of) rest, the families which are looking out for blessing stimulate one another to make offerings to the monks, and send round to them the liquid food which may be taken out of the ordinary hours. All the monks come together in a great assembly, and preach the Law; after which offerings are presented at the stupa of Sariputtra, with all kinds of flowers and incense. All through the night lamps are kept burning, and skilful musicians are employed to perform. /
“From the place where (the travellers) crossed the Indus to Southern India, and on to the Southern Sea, a distance of forty or fifty thousand le, all is level plain. There are no large hills with streams (among them); there are simply the waters of the rivers.” /
Chapter XVIII and XIX: Along the Ganges
According to “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms”: “Fa-Hsien stayed at the Dragon vihara till after the summer retreat, and then, travelling to the south-east for seven yojanas, he arrived at the city of Kanyakubja (Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh, India), lying along the Ganges. There are two monasteries in it, the inmates of which are students of the hinayana. At a distance from the city of six or seven le, on the west, on the northern bank of the Ganges, is a place where Buddha preached the Law to his disciples. It has been handed down that his subjects of discourse were such as "The bitterness and vanity (of life) as impermanent and uncertain," and that "The body is as a bubble or foam on the water." At this spot a stupa was erected, and still exists. Having crossed the Ganges, and gone south for three yojanas, (the travellers) arrived at a village named A-le, containing places where Buddha preached the Law, where he sat, and where he walked, at all of which stupas have been built. [Source: “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms” by Fa-Hsien (Faxian) of his Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414), Translated James Legge, 1886, gutenberg.org/ /]
“Going on from this to the south-east for three yojanas, they came to the great kingdom of Sha-che. As you go out of the city of Sha-che by the southern gate, on the east of the road (is the place) where Buddha, after he had chewed his willow branch, stuck it in the ground, when it forthwith grew up seven cubits, (at which height it remained) neither increasing nor diminishing. The Brahmans with their contrary doctrines became angry and jealous. Sometimes they cut the tree down, sometimes they plucked it up, and cast it to a distance, but it grew again on the same spot as at first. Here also is the place where the four Buddhas walked and sat, and at which a stupa was built that is still existing.” /
Chapter XX: The Jetavana Vihara, One of the Most Ancient Buddhist Monasteries
Jetavana was one of the most famous of the Buddhist monasteries or viharas in India. It was the second vihara donated to Gautama Buddha after the Veluvana in Rajgir. Jetavana is located just outside the old city of Savatthi. According to “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms”: “The Jetavana vihara was originally of seven storeys. The kings and people of the countries around vied with one another in their offerings, hanging up about it silken streamers and canopies, scattering flowers, burning incense, and lighting lamps, so as to make the night as bright as the day. This they did day after day without ceasing. (It happened that) a rat, carrying in its mouth the wick of a lamp, set one of the streamers or canopies on fire, which caught the vihara, and the seven storeys were all consumed. The kings, with their officers and people, were all very sad and distressed, supposing that the sandal-wood image had been burned; but lo! after four or five days, when the door of a small vihara on the east was opened, there was immediately seen the original image. They were all greatly rejoiced, and co-operated in restoring the vihara. When they had succeeded in completing two storeys, they removed the image back to its former place. [Source: “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms” by Fa-Hsien (Faxian) of his Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414), Translated James Legge, 1886, gutenberg.org/ /]
“When Fa-Hsien and Tao-ching first arrived at the Jetavana monastery, and thought how the World-honoured one had formerly resided there for twenty-five years, painful reflections arose in their minds. Born in a border-land, along with their like-minded friends, they had travelled through so many kingdoms; some of those friends had returned (to their own land), and some had (died), proving the impermanence and uncertainty of life; and to-day they saw the place where Buddha had lived now unoccupied by him. They were melancholy through their pain of heart, and the crowd of monks came out, and asked them from what kingdom they were come. "We are come," they replied, "from the land of Han." "Strange," said the monks with a sigh, "that men of a border country should be able to come here in search of our Law!" Then they said to one another, "During all the time that we, preceptors and monks, have succeeded to one another, we have never seen men of Han, followers of our system, arrive here." /
“Four le to the north-west of the vihara there is a grove called "The Getting of Eyes." Formerly there were five hundred blind men, who lived here in order that they might be near the vihara. Buddha preached his Law to them, and they all got back their eyesight. Full of joy, they stuck their staves in the earth, and with their heads and faces on the ground, did reverence. The staves immediately began to grow, and they grew to be great. People made much of them, and no one dared to cut them down, so that they came to form a grove. It was in this way that it got its name, and most of the Jetavana monks, after they had taken their midday meal, went to the grove, and sat there in meditation. /
Ganges Bathing Fair “Six or seven le north-east from the Jetavana, mother Vaisakha built another vihara, to which she invited Buddha and his monks, and which is still existing. To each of the great residences for monks at the Jetavana vihara there were two gates, one facing the east and the other facing the north. The park (containing the whole) was the space of ground which the (Vaisya) head Sudatta purchased by covering it with gold coins. The vihara was exactly in the centre. Here Buddha lived for a longer time than at any other place, preaching his Law and converting men. At the places where he walked and sat they also (subsequently) reared stupas, each having its particular name; and here was the place where Sundari murdered a person and then falsely charged Buddha (with the crime). Outside the east gate of the Jetavana, at a distance of seventy paces to the north, on the west of the road, Buddha held a discussion with the (advocates of the) ninety-six schemes of erroneous doctrine, when the king and his great officers, the householders, and people were all assembled in crowds to hear it. Then a woman belonging to one of the erroneous systems, by name Chanchamana, prompted by the envious hatred in her heart, and having put on (extra) clothes in front of her person, so as to give her the appearance of being with child, falsely accused Buddha before all the assembly of having acted unlawfully (towards her). On this, Sakra, Ruler of Devas, changed himself and some devas into white mice, which bit through the strings about her waist; and when this was done, the (extra) clothes which she wore dropt down on the ground. The earth at the same time was rent, and she went (down) alive into hell. (This) also is the place where Devadatta, trying with empoisoned claws to injure Buddha, went down alive into hell. Men subsequently set up marks to distinguish where both these events took place. /
Chapter XXIII: Rama and Its Stupa
According to “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms”: “East from Buddha's birthplace, and at a distance of five yojanas, there is a kingdom called Rama. The king of this country, having obtained one portion of the relics of Buddha's body, returned with it and built over it a stupa, named the Rama stupa. By the side of it there was a pool, and in the pool a dragon, which constantly kept watch over (the stupa), and presented offerings to it day and night. When king Asoka came forth into the world, he wished to destroy the eight stupas (over the relics), and to build (instead of them) 84,000 stupas. After he had thrown down the seven (others), he wished next to destroy this stupa. But then the dragon showed itself, took the king into its palace; and when he had seen all the things provided for offerings, it said to him, "If you are able with your offerings to exceed these, you can destroy the stupa, and take it all away. I will not contend with you." The king, however, knew that such appliances for offerings were not to be had anywhere in the world, and thereupon returned (without carrying out his purpose). [Source: “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms” by Fa-Hsien (Faxian) of his Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414), Translated James Legge, 1886, gutenberg.org/ /]
“(Afterwards), the ground all about became overgrown with vegetation, and there was nobody to sprinkle and sweep (about the stupa); but a herd of elephants came regularly, which brought water with their trunks to water the ground, and various kinds of flowers and incense, which they presented at the stupa. (Once) there came from one of the kingdoms a devotee to worship at the stupa. When he encountered the elephants he was greatly alarmed, and screened himself among the trees; but when he saw them go through with the offerings in the most proper manner, the thought filled him with great sadness—that there should be no monastery here, (the inmates of which) might serve the stupa, but the elephants have to do the watering and sweeping. Forthwith he gave up the great prohibitions (by which he was bound), and resumed the status of a Sramanera. With his own hands he cleared away the grass and trees, put the place in good order, and made it pure and clean. By the power of his exhortations, he prevailed on the king of the country to form a residence for monks; and when that was done, he became head of the monastery. At the present day there are monks residing in it. This event is of recent occurrence; but in all the succession from that time till now, there has always been a Sramanera head of the establishment.” /
Chapter XXX: Srataparna Cave and Suicide of a Bhikshu
[Source: “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms” by Fa-Hsien (Faxian) of his Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414), Translated James Legge, 1886, gutenberg.org/ /] According to “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms”: “Out from the old city, after walking over 300 paces, on the west of the road, (the travellers) found the Karanda Bamboo garden, where the (old) vihara is still in existence, with a company of monks, who keep (the ground about it) swept and watered. “North of the vihara two or three le there was the Smasanam, which name means in Chinese "the field of graves into which the dead are thrown." As they kept along the mountain on the south, and went west for 300 paces, they found a dwelling among the rocks, named the Pippala cave [in Rajgir, Bihar State, India], in which Buddha regularly sat in meditation after taking his (midday) meal. /
“Going on still to the west for five or six le, on the north of the hill, in the shade, they found the cavern called Srataparna, the place where, after the nirvana of Buddha, 500 Arhats collected the Sutras. When they brought the Sutras forth, three lofty seats had been prepared and grandly ornamented. Sariputtra occupied the one on the left, and Maudgalyayana that on the right. Of the number of five hundred one was wanting. Mahakasyapa was president (on the middle seat). Amanda was then outside the door, and could not get in. At the place there was (subsequently) raised a stupa, which is still existing. /
“Along (the sides of) the hill, there are also a very great many cells among the rocks, where the various Arhans sat and meditated. As you leave the old city on the north, and go down east for three le, there is the rock dwelling of Devadatta, and at a distance of fifty paces from it there is a large, square, black rock. Formerly there was a bhikshu, who, as he walked backwards and forwards upon it, thought with himself:—"This body is impermanent, a thing of bitterness and vanity, and which cannot be looked on as pure. I am weary of this body, and troubled by it as an evil." With this he grasped a knife, and was about to kill himself. But he thought again:—"The World-honoured one laid down a prohibition against one's killing himself." Further it occurred to him:—"Yes, he did; but I now only wish to kill three poisonous thieves." Immediately with the knife he cut his throat. With the first gash into the flesh he attained the state of a Srotapanna; when he had gone half through, he attained to be an Anagamin; and when he had cut right through, he was an Arhat, and attained to pari-nirvana; (and died).” /
Chapters XXXIII and XXXIV: Mount Gurupada and Varanasi
busy Ghat at Varanasi According to “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms”: “(The travellers), going on from this three le to the south, came to a mountain named Gurupada, inside which Mahakasyapa even now is. He made a cleft, and went down into it, though the place where he entered would not (now) admit a man. Having gone down very far, there was a hole on one side, and there the complete body of Kasyapa (still) abides. Outside the hole (at which he entered) is the earth with which he had washed his hands. If the people living thereabouts have a sore on their heads, they plaster on it some of the earth from this, and feel immediately easier. On this mountain, now as of old, there are Arhats abiding. Devotees of our Law from the various countries in that quarter go year by year to the mountain, and present offerings to Kasyapa; and to those whose hearts are strong in faith there come Arhats at night, and talk with them, discussing and explaining their doubts, and disappearing suddenly afterwards. On this hill hazels grow luxuriously; and there are many lions, tigers, and wolves, so that people should not travel incautiously.” [Source: “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms” by Fa-Hsien (Faxian) of his Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414), Translated James Legge, 1886, gutenberg.org/ /]
“Fa-Hsien returned (from here) towards Pataliputtra (Patna), keeping along the course of the Ganges and descending in the direction of the west. After going ten yojanas he found a vihara, named "The Wilderness,"—a place where Buddha had dwelt, and where there are monks now. Pursuing the same course, and going still to the west, he arrived, after twelve yojanas, at the city of Varanasi in the kingdom of Kasi. Rather more than ten le to the north-east of the city, he found the vihara in the park of "The rishi's Deer-wild." In this park there formerly resided a Pratyeka Buddha, with whom the deer were regularly in the habit of stopping for the night. When the World-honoured one was about to attain to perfect Wisdom, the devas sang in the sky, "The son of king Suddhodana, having quitted his family and studied the Path (of Wisdom), will now in seven days become Buddha." The Pratyeka Buddha heard their words, and immediately attained to nirvana; and hence this place was named "The Park of the rishi's Deer-wild." After the World-honoured one had attained to perfect Wisdom, men build the vihara in it. /
“Buddha wished to convert Kaundinya and his four companions; but they, (being aware of his intention), said to one another, "This Sramana Gotama for six years continued in the practice of painful austerities, eating daily (only) a single hemp-seed, and one grain of rice, without attaining to the Path (of Wisdom); how much less will he do so now that he has entered (again) among men, and is giving the reins to (the indulgence of) his body, his speech, and his thoughts! What has he to do with the Path (of Wisdom)? To-day, when he comes to us, let us be on our guard not to speak with him." At the places where the five men all rose up, and respectfully saluted (Buddha), when he came to them; where, sixty paces north from this, he sat with his face to the east, and first turned the wheel of the Law, converting Kaundinya and the four others; where, twenty paces further to the north, he delivered his prophecy concerning Maitreya; and where, at a distance of fifty paces to the south, the dragon Elapattra asked him, "When shall I get free from this naga body?"—at all these places stupas were reared, and are still existing. In (the park) there are two monasteries, in both of which there are monks residing. /
“When you go north-west from the vihara of the Deer-wild park for thirteen yojanas, there is a kingdom named Kausambi. Its vihara is named Ghochiravana—a place where Buddha formerly resided. Now, as of old, there is a company of monks there, most of whom are students of the hinayana. East from (this), when you have travelled eight yojanas, is the place where Buddha converted the evil demon. There, and where he walked (in meditation) and sat at the place which was his regular abode, there have been stupas erected. There is also a monastery, which may contain more than a hundred monks.” /
Chapter XXXV: Dakshina, and the Pigeon Monastery
According to “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms”: “South from this 200 yojanas, there is a country named Dakshina [in Karnataka state, India], where there is a monastery (dedicated to) the bygone Kasyapa Buddha, and which has been hewn out from a large hill of rock. It consists in all of five storeys;—the lowest, having the form of an elephant, with 500 apartments in the rock; the second, having the form of a lion, with 400 apartments; the third, having the form of a horse, with 300 apartments; the fourth, having the form of an ox, with 200 apartments; and the fifth, having the form of a pigeon, with 100 apartments. At the very top there is a spring, the water of which, always in front of the apartments in the rock, goes round among the rooms, now circling, now curving, till in this way it arrives at the lowest storey, having followed the shape of the structure, and flows out there at the door. Everywhere in the apartments of the monks, the rock has been pierced so as to form windows for the admission of light, so that they are all bright, without any being left in darkness. At the four corners of the (tiers of) apartments, the rock has been hewn so as to form steps for ascending to the top (of each). The men of the present day, being of small size, and going up step by step, manage to get to the top; but in a former age, they did so at one step. Because of this, the monastery is called Paravata, that being the Indian name for a pigeon. There are always Arhats residing in it. [Source: “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms” by Fa-Hsien (Faxian) of his Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414), Translated James Legge, 1886, gutenberg.org/ /]
“The country about is (a tract of) uncultivated hillocks, without inhabitants. At a very long distance from the hill there are villages, where the people all have bad and erroneous views, and do not know the Sramanas of the Law of Buddha, Brahmanas, or (devotees of) any of the other and different schools. The people of that country are constantly seeing men on the wing, who come and enter this monastery. On one occasion, when devotees of various countries came to perform their worship at it, the people of those villages said to them, "Why do you not fly? The devotees whom we have seen hereabouts all fly;" and the strangers answered, on the spur of the moment, "Our wings are not yet fully formed." /
“The kingdom of Dakshina is out of the way, and perilous to traverse. There are difficulties in connexion with the roads; but those who know how to manage such difficulties and wish to proceed should bring with them money and various articles, and give them to the king. He will then send men to escort them. These will (at different stages) pass them over to others, who will show them the shortest routes. Fa-Hsien, however, was after all unable to go there; but having received the (above) accounts from men of the country, he has narrated them.” /
Chapter XXXVI: Fa-hien's Transcribes of Manuscripts and Studies in Patna for Three Years
5th century Lotus Sutra fragment According to “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms”: “From Varanasi (the travellers) went back east to Pataliputtra. Fa-Hsien's original object had been to search for (copies of) the Vinaya. In the various kingdoms of North India, however, he had found one master transmitting orally (the rules) to another, but no written copies which he could transcribe. He had therefore travelled far and come on to Central India. Here, in the mahayana monastery, he found a copy of the Vinaya, containing the Mahasanghika rules,—those which were observed in the first Great Council, while Buddha was still in the world. The original copy was handed down in the Jetavana vihara. As to the other eighteen schools, each one has the views and decisions of its own masters. Those agree (with this) in the general meaning, but they have small and trivial differences, as when one opens and another shuts. This copy (of the rules), however, is the most complete, with the fullest explanations. [Source: “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms” by Fa-Hsien (Faxian) of his Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414), Translated James Legge, 1886, gutenberg.org/ */]
“He further got a transcript of the rules in six or seven thousand gathas, being the sarvastivadah rules,—those which are observed by the communities of monks in the land of Ts'in; which also have all been handed down orally from master to master without being committed to writing. In the community here, moreover, we got the Samyuktabhi-dharma-hridaya-(sastra), containing about six or seven thousand gathas; he also got a Sutra of 2500 gathas; one chapter of the Parinir-vana-vaipulya Sutra, of about 5000 gathas; and the Mahasan-ghikah Abhidharma. /
“In consequence (of this success in his quest) Fa-Hsien stayed here for three years, learning Sanskrit books and the Sanskrit speech, and writing out the Vinaya rules. When Tao-ching arrived in the Central Kingdom, and saw the rules observed by the Sramanas, and the dignified demeanour in their societies which he remarked under all occurring circumstances, he sadly called to mind in what a mutilated and imperfect condition the rules were among the monkish communities in the land of Ts'in, and made the following aspiration:—"From this time forth till I come to the state of Buddha, let me not be born in a frontier land." He remained accordingly (in India), and did not return (to the land of Han). Fa-Hsien, however, whose original purpose had been to secure the introduction of the complete Vinaya rules into the land of Han, returned there alone.” /
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=;/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.
Last updated June 2022