In A.D. 629, early in the Tang Dynasty period, the Chinese monk Xuanzang (Hsuan Tsang) left the Chinese dynasty capital for India to obtain Buddhist texts from which the Chinese could learn more about Buddhism. He traveled west — on foot, on horseback and by camel and elephant — to Central Asia and then south and east to India and returned in A.D. 645 with 700 Buddhist texts from which Chinese deepened their understanding of Buddhism. Xuanzang (also known as Hsuan Tsang and Hiuen Tsang and born Chen Hui, or Chen Yi) is remembered as a great scholar for his translations from Sanskrit to Chinese but also for his descriptions of the places he visited — the great Silk Road cities of Kashgar and Samarkand and the great stone Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan

Xuanzang reported: “Kiu-mi-to [Kumidha, or Darwâz and Roshân]: This country extends 2000 li from east to west, and about 200 li from north to south. It is in the midst of the great T'sung-ling mountains. The capital of the country is about 20 li in circuit. On the south-west it borders on the river Oxus; on the south it touches the country of Shi-ki-ni. Passing the Oxus on the south, we come to the kingdom of Ta-mo-sih-teh-ti, the kingdom of Po-to-chang-na, [p.42] the kingdom of In-po-kin, the kingdom of Kiu-lang na, the kingdom of Hi-mo-to-lo, the kingdom of Po-li-ho, the kingdom of Khi-li-seh-mo, the kingdom of Ho-lo-hu, the kingdom of O-li-ni, the kingdom of Mung-kin. Going from the kingdom of Hwo (Kunduz) south-east, [p.43] we come to the kingdom of Chen-seh-to, the kingdom of An-to-la-po (Andarab), remarks concerning which way be found in the return records. |:|

“Going south-west from the country of Hwo, we arrive at the kingdom of Fo-kia-lang (Baghlan, northern Afghanistan). This country is 50 li or so from east to west, and 200 li or so from north to south; the capital is about 10 li in circuit. Going south, we come to the country of Hi-lu-sih-min-kien (Rui- samangan).

“Hi-lu-sih-min-kien [Pui-Samangan]: This country is about 1000 li in circuit, the capital about 14 or 15 li. On the north-west it borders on the kiilgdom of Ho-tin (Khulm). Ho-lin [Khulm]: This country is 800 li or so in circuit, the capital is 5 or 6 li in circumference; there are about ten convents and 500 monks. Going west, we come to the country of Po-ho (Balkh).” |:|

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

Xuanzang in Balkh, Afghanistan

Sally Hovey Wriggins wrote: “His first important stop was in Bactria, part of modern Afghanistan. Balkh was a city of prodigious antiquity which Alexander the Great chose for his home base from 329 to 327 CE. The successors of Alexander and the Kushan kings who succeeded them contributed to the distinctive art which we call Gandharan. Xuanzang stayed a month at the New Monastery there, one of the finest in the Buddhist world, where he admired its relics. [Source: “Xuanzang on the Silk Road” by Sally Hovey Wriggins, author of books on Xuanzang, mongolianculture.com \~/]

Buzkashi match in Balkh

Xuanzang reported: “Po-ho [Balkh]: This country is about 800 li from east to west, and 400 li from north to south; on the north it borders on the Oxus. The capital is about 20 li in circuit. It is [p.44] called generally the little Pajariha. This city, though well (strongly) fortified, is thinly populated. The products of the soil are extremely varied, and the flowers, both on the land and water, would be difficult to enumerate. There are about 100 convents and 3000 monks, who all study the religious teaching of the Little Vehicle. Outside the city, towards the south-west, there is a convent called Navasangharama, which was built by a former king of this country. The Masters (of Buddhism), who dwell to the north of the great Snowy Mountains, and are authors of Sastras, occupy this convent only, and continue their estimable labours in it. There is a figure of Buddha here, which is lustrous with (reflects the glory-of) noted gems, and the hall in which it stands is also adorned with precious substances of rare value. This is the reason why it has often been robbed by chieftains of neighbouring countries, covetous of pain. [Source: “Xuanzang's Record of the Western Regions”, 646, translated by Samuel Beal (1884), Silk Road Seattle, depts.washington.edu/silkroad |:|]

“This convent also contains (possesses) a statue of [p.45] Pi-sha-men (Vaisravana) Deva, by whose spiritual influence, in unexpected ways, there is protection afforded to the pre- cincts of the convent. Lately the son of the Khan Yeh-hu (or She-hu), belonging to the Turks, becoming rebellious, Yeh-hu Khan broke up his camping ground; and marched at the head of his horde to make a foray against this convent, desiring to obtain the jewels and precious things with which it was enriched. Having encamped his army in the open ground, not far from the convent, in the night he had a dream. He saw Vaisravana Deva, who addressed him thus: "What power do you possess that you dare (to intend) to overthrow this convent?" and then hurling his lance, he transfixed him with it. The Khan, affrighted, awoke, and his heart penetrated with sorrow, he told his dream to his followers, and then, to atone somewhat for his fault, he hastened to the convent to ask permission to confess his crime to the priests; but before he received an answer he died. |:|

“Within the convent, in the southern hall of Buddha, there is the washing-basin which Buddha used. It contains about a peck [=approx. 10 pints] and is of various colours, which dazzle the eyes. It is difficult to name the Gold and stone of which it is made. Again, there is a tooth of Buddha about an inch long, and about eight or nine tenths of an inch in breadth. Its colour is yellowish white; it is pure and shining. Again, there is the sweeping brush of Buddha, made of the [p.46] plant "Ka-she" (kasa). It is about two feet long and about seven inches round. Its handle is ornamented with various gems. These three relics are presented with offerings on each of the six fast-days by the assembly of lay and cleric believers. Those who have the greatest faith in worship see the objects emitting a radiance of glory. |:|

“To the north of the convent is a stupa, in height about 200 feet, which is covered with a plaster hard as the diamond, and ornamented with a variety of precious substances. It encloses a sacred relic (she-li), and at times this also reflects a divine splendour. To the south-west of the convent there is a Vihdra. Many years have elapsed since its foundation was laid. It is the resort (of people) from distant quarters. There are also a large number of men of conspicuous talent. As it would be difficult for the several possessors of the four different degrees (fruits) of holiness to explain accurately their condition of saintship, therefore the Arhats (Lo-han), when about to die, exhibit their spiritual capabilities (miramdous powers), and those who witness such an exhibition found stupas in honour of. the deceased saints. These are closely crowded together here, to the number of several hundreds. Besides these there are some thousand others, who, although they had reached the fruit of holiness (i.e., Arhatship), yet having exhibited no spiritual changes at the end of life, have no memorial erected to them. At present the number of priests is about 100; so irregular are they morning and night in their duties that it is hard to tell saints from sinners.” |:|

Between in Balkh and Bamiyan in northern Afghanistan

Bamiyan area of Afghanistan

After Balkh, Xuanzang struggled over the treacherous “Snowy Mountains” (the Hindu Kush) to reach the valley of Bamiyan. Xuanzang reported: “To the north-west of the capital about 50 li or so we arrive at the town of Ti-wei; 40 li to the north of this [p.47] town is the town of Po-li. In each of these towns there is a stupa about three chang (30 feet) in height. In old days, when Buddha first attained enlightenment after advancing to the tree of knowledge, he went to the garden of deer; at this time two householders meeting him, and beholding the brilliant appearance of his person, offered him from their store of provisions for their journey some cakes and honey. The lord of the world, for their sakes, preached concerning the happiness of men and Devas, and delivered to them, his very first disciples, the five rules of moral conduct and the ten good qualities (shen, virtuous rules). When they had heard the sermon, they humbly asked for some object to worship (offer gifts). On this Tathagata delivered to them some of his hair and nailcuttings. Taking these, the merchants were about to return to their own country, when they asked of Buddha the right way of venerating these relics. Tathagata forthwith spreading out his Sanghati on the around as a square napkin, next laid down his Uttarasanga and then his Sankakshika; again over these he placed as a cover his begging-pot, on which he erected his mendicant's staff. Thus he placed them in order, making thereby [p.48] (the figure of) a stupa. The two men taking the order, each went to his own town, and then, according to the model which the holy one had prescribed, they prepared to build a monument, and thus was the very first stupa of the Buddhist religion erected. [Source: “Xuanzang's Record of the Western Regions”, 646, translated by Samuel Beal (1884), Silk Road Seattle, depts.washington.edu/silkroad |:|]

“Some 70 li to the west of this town is a stupa about two chang (20 feet) in height. This was erected in the time of Kasyapa Buddha. Leaving the capital and going south- west, entering the declivities of the Snowy Mountains, there is the country of Jui-mo-to (Jumadh?). This country is 50 or 60 li from east to west, and 100 li or so from north to south. The capital is about 10 li in circuit. Towards the south-west is the country of Hushi-kien (Juzgan). This country is about 500 li from east to west, and about 1000 li from north to south. The capital is 20 li in circuit. It has many mountains and river-courses. It produces excellent (shen) horses. To the north-west is Ta-la-kien. |:|

“Ta-la-kien [Talikan, near Kunduz, Afghanistan]: This country is 500 li or so from east to west, and 50 or 60 li from north to south. The capital is 10 li about in circuit. On the west it touches the boundaries of Persia. Going 100 li or so south from the kingdom of Po-ho (Balkh), we arrive at Kie-chi [Gachi or Gaz]. This country from east to west is 500 li or so, from west to south 300 li. The capital is 4 or 5 li in circuit. The soil is stony, the country a succession of hills. There are but few flowers or fruits, but plenty of beans and corn. The climate is wintry; the manner of the people hard and forbidding. There are some ten convents or so, and about 200 priests. They all belong to the school of the Sarvastivadas, which is a branch of the Little Vehicle. |:|

“On the south-east we enter the great Snowy Mountains. These mountains are high and the valleys deep; the precipices and hollows (crevasses) are very dangerous. The wind and snow keep on without intermission; the ice remains through the full summer; the snow-drifts fall into the valleys and block the roads. The mountain spirits and demons (demon sprites) send, in their rage, all sorts of calamities; robbers crossing the path of travellers kill them. Going with difficulty 600 li or so, we leave the country of Tukhara, and arrive at the kingdom of Fanyen-na (Bamiyan).” |:|

Xuanzang in Bamiyan

Sally Hovey Wriggins wrote: Bamiyan “was a station of primary importance on the road from Central Asia to India. The pilgrim visited the colossal Gandharan statues carved in the cliff face. Modern art historians continue to quote his description of a giant Buddha, the largest stone statue in the world, actually 180 feet, a little larger than the pilgrim reported. On a declivity of a hill to the northeast of the capital was a standing image of the Buddha made out of stone 140 or 150 feet high, of a brilliant golden color and resplendent with ornamentation of precious substances. This famous statue has become known all over the world when it was deliberately destroyed in March 2000" by the Taliban. [Source: “Xuanzang on the Silk Road” by Sally Hovey Wriggins, author of books on Xuanzang, mongolianculture.com \~/]

Buddhas of Bamiyan, 1885

Xuanzang reported: “Fan-yen-na [Bamiyan]: This kingdom is about 2000 li from east to west, and 300 li from north to south. It is situated in the midst [p.50] of the Snowy Mountains. The people inhabit towns either in the mountains or the valleys, according to circumstances. The capital leans on a steep hill, bordering on a valley 6 or 7 li in length. On the north it is backed by high precipices. It (the country) produces spring-wheat and few flowers or fruits. It is suitable for cattle, and affords pasture for many sheep and horses. The climate is wintry, and the manners of the people hard and uncultivated. The clothes are chiefly made of skin and wool, which are the most suitable for the country. The literature, customary rules, and money used in commerce are the same as those of the Tuhhara country. Their language is a little different, but in point of personal appearance they closely resemble each other. These people are remarkable, among all their neighbours, for a love of religion (a heart of pure faith); from the highest form of worship to the three jewels, down to the worship of the hundred (i.e., different) spirits, there is not the least absence (decrease) of earnestness and the utmost devotion of heart. The merchants, in arranging their prices as they come and go, fall in with the signs afforded by the spirits. If good, they act accordingly; if evil, they seek to propitiate the powers. There are ten convents and about 1000 priests. They belong to the Little Vehicle, and the school of the Lokottaravadins (Shwo-ch'uhshi-pu). [Source: “Xuanzang's Record of the Western Regions”, 646, translated by Samuel Beal (1884), Silk Road Seattle, depts.washington.edu/silkroad |:|]

“To the north-east of the royal city there is a mountain, on the declivity of which is placed a stone figure of Buddha, [p.51] erect, in height 140 or 150 feet. Its golden hues sparkle on every side, and its precious ornaments dazzle the eyes by their brightness. To the east of this spot there is a convent, which was built by a former king of the country. To the east of the convent there is a standing figure of Sakya Buddha, made of metallic stone (teou-shih), in height 100 feet. It has been cast in different parts and joined together, and thus placed in a completed form as it stands. |:|

“To the east of the city 12 or 13 li there is a convent, in which there is a figure of Buddha lying in a sleeping position, as when he attained Nirvana. The figure is in length about 1000 feet or so. The king of this (country), [p.52] every time he assembles the great congregation of the Wu-che (Moksha) having sacrificed all his possessions, from his wife and children down to his country's treasures, gives in addition his own body; then his ministers and the lower order of officers prevail on the priests to barter back these possessions; and in these matters most of their time is taken up. |:|

“To the south-west of the convent of the sleeping figure (of Buddha), going 200 li or so, passing the great Snowy Mountains on the east, there is a little watercourse (or valley), which is moist with (the overflowings of) standing springs, bright as mirrors; the herbage here is green and bright. There is a sangharama here with a tooth of Buddha, also the tooth of a Pratyeka Buddha, who lived at the beginning of the Kalpa, which is in length about five inches, and in breadth somewhat less than four inches. Again, there is the tooth of a goldenwheel king, in length three inches, and in surface (breadth) two inches. There is also the iron begging-dish of Sanakavasa, a great Arhat, which is capable of - holding eight or nine shing (pints). These three sacred objects, [p.53] bequeathed by the holy personages referred to, are all contained in a yellow-golden sealed case. Again, there is here the Sanghati robe, in nine pieces of Sanakavasa; the colour is a deep red (rose- red); it is made of the bark (peel) of the She-no-kia plant. Sanakavasa was the disciple of Ananda. In a former existence he had given the priests garments made of the Sanaka plant (fibre), on the conclusion of the rainy season. By the force of this meritorious action during 500 successive births he wore only this (kind of) garment, and at his last birth he was born with it. As his body increased so his robe grew larger, until the time when he was converted by Ananda and left his home (i.e., became an ascetic). Then his robe changed into a religious garment; and when he was fully ordained it again changed into a Sanghati, composed of nine pieces. When he was about to arrive at Nirvana he entered into the condition of Samahdi, bordering on complete extinction, and by the force of his vow in attaining wisdom (he arrived at the knowledge) that this kashaya garment would last till the bequeathed law (testament) of Sakya (was established), and after the destruction of this law then his garment also would perish. At the present time it is a little fading, for faith also is small at this time! Going eastward from this, we enter the defiles of the Snowy Mountains, cross over the black ridge (Sigh Koh), and arrive at the country of Kia-pi-shi. [p.54]

Xuanzang in Kapisa in Afghanistan

Sally Hovey Wriggins wrote: “ Xuanzang and his caravan made their way through the Black Mountains to the plain of Kapisa, whose capital Kapisi, is 40 miles north of Kabul. This was the first capital of the Kushan empire established in the first century C.E. Kanishka I,(BCE 78-225 CE?) its most famous king, ruled over much of present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and part of Central Asia. He was a great supporter of Buddhism and especially of Gandharan sculpture, that hybrid of Buddhism and Graeco/Roman art. which produced classical figures of calm and serene Buddhas. Xuanzang met Jain and Hindu ascetics for the first time on this part of his journey. He contrasts the mountain-dwelling Afghans with their harsh uncultivated ways, wearing fur garments and coarse wool, to the Hindus who were slight, active and impetuous in comparison, and whose garments were made of white linen or cotton for the most part. A modern view marks British India as beginning at the eastern side of the Khyber Pass, but Xuanzang considered he had entered India at Jalalabad, his next important resting place. [Source: “Xuanzang on the Silk Road” by Sally Hovey Wriggins mongolianculture.com \~/]

Hindu Kush

Xuanzang reported: “Kia-pi-shi [Kapisa in northeast Afghanistan]: This country is 4000 li or so in circuit. On the north it abuts on the Snowy Mountains, and on three sides it borders on the "black ridge" (the Hindu Kush). The capital of the country is 10 li or so in circuit. It produces cereals of all sorts, and many kinds of fruit- trees. The shen horses are bred here, and there is also the scent (scented root) called Yu-kin. Here also are found objects of merchandise from all parts. The climate is cold and windy. [Source: “Xuanzang's Record of the Western Regions”, 646, translated by Samuel Beal (1884), Silk Road Seattle, depts.washington.edu/silkroad |:|]

“The people are cruel and fierce; their language is coarse and rude; their marriage rites, a mere intermingling of the sexes. Their literature is like that of the Tukhara country, but the customs, common language, and rules of behaviour are somewhat different. For clothing they use hair garments (wool); their garments are trimmed with fur. In commerce they use gold and silver coins, and also little copper coins, which in appearance and stamp differ from those of other countries. The king is a Kshattriya by caste. He is of a shrewd [p.55] character (nature), and being brave and determined, he has brought into subjection the neighbouring countries, some ten of which he rules. He cherishes his people with affection, and reverences much the three precious objects of worship. Every year he makes a silver figure of Buddha eighteen feet high, and at the same time he convokes an assembly called the Moksha Mahaparishad when he gives alms to the poor and wretched, and relieves the bereaved (widows and bereaved). |:|

“There are about 100 convents in this country and some 6000 priests. They mostly study the rules of the Great Vehicle. The stupas and sangharamas are of an imposing height, and are built on high level spots, from which they may be seen on every side, shining in their grandeur (parity). There are some ten temples of the Devas, and 1000 or so of heretics (diferent ways of religion); there are naked ascetics, and others who cover themselves with ashes, and some who make chaplets of bones, which they wear as crowns on their heads. To the east of the capital 3 or 4 1i, at the foot of a [p.56] mountain in the north, is a great sangharama with 300 or so priests in it. These belong to the Little Vehicle and adopt its teaching. |:|

Kanishha Raja of Gandhara and the Hostages

Xuanzang reported: “According to tradition,Kanishha Raja of Gandhara in old days having subdued all the neighbouring provinces and, brought into obedience people of distant countries, he governed by his army a wide territory, even to the east of the T'sung-ling mountains. Then the [p.57] tribes- who occupy the territory to the west of the river, fearing the power of his arms, sent hostages to him. Kanishka-raja having received the hostages, treated them with singular attention, and ordered for them separate establishments for the cold and hot weather; during the cold they resided in India and its different parts, in the summer they came back to Kapisa, in the autumn and spring they remained in the kingdom of Gandhara; and so he founded sangharamas for the hostages according to the three seasons. This convent (of which we are now speaking) is the one they occupied during the summer, and it was built for that purpose. [p.58] [Source: “Xuanzang's Record of the Western Regions”, 646, translated by Samuel Beal (1884), Silk Road Seattle, depts.washington.edu/silkroad |:|]

Gandhara reliefs

“Hence the pictures of these hostages on the walls; their features, and clothing, and ornaments are like the people of Eastern Hia (China). Afterwards, when they were permitted to return to their own country, they were remembered in their old abode, and notwithstanding the intervening mountains and rivers, they were without cessation reverenced with offerings, so that down to the present time the congregation of priests on each rainy season (frequently this spot); and on the breaking up of the fast they convene an assembly and pray for the happiness of the hostages — a pious custom still existing. To the south of the eastern door of the hall of Buddha [p.59] belonging to this sangharama there is a figure of the Great Spirit King; beneath his right foot they have hollowed the earth for concealing treasures therein. This is the treasury place of the hostages, therefore we find this inscription, "When the sanghdrama decays let men take (of the treasure) and repair it." Not long ago there was a petty (frontier) king of a covetous mind and of a wicked and cruel disposition; hearing of the quantity of jewels and precious substances concealed in this convent, he drove away the priests and began digging for them. The King of the Spirits had on his head the figure of a parrot, which now began to flap its wings and to utter screams. The earth shook and quaked, the king and his army were thrown down prostrate on the around; after a while, arising from the earth; he confessed his fault and returned. |:|

“Above a mountain pass to the north of this convent there are several stone chambers; it was in these the hostages practised religious meditation. In these recesses many and various gems (precious things) are concealed on the side there is an inscription that the Yakshas (Yo-cha) guard and defend the places (precincts). If any one wishes to enter and rob the treasures, the Yakshas by spiritual [p.60] transformation appear in different forms, sometimes as lions, sometimes as snakes, and as savage beasts and poisonous reptiles; under various appearances they exhibit their rage. So no one dares to attempt to take the treasures. At 2 or 3 li to the west of the stone chambers, above a great mountain pass, there is a figure of Kwan-tsz'-tsai Bodhisattva; those who with sincere faith desire (vow or pray) to see him, to them the Bodhisattva appears coming forth from the image, his body of marvellous beauty, and he gives rest and reassurance to the travellers. |:|

Story of Rahula

Xuanzang reported: “Thirty li or so to the south-east of the capital we arrive at the convent of Rahula (Ho-lo-hu-1o); by its side is a stupa about 100 feet in height. On sacred days (fast days) this building reflects a brilliant light. Above the cupola, from between the interstices of the stone, there exudes a black scented oil, whilst in the quiet night may be heard the sounds of music. According to tradition, this stupa was formerly built by Rahula, a great minister of this country. Having completed this work of merit (religious work), he saw in a night-dream a man who said to him, "This stupa you have built has no sacred relic (she-li) in it as yet; to-morrow, when they come to offer, you must make your request to the king" (for the offering brought). [p.61] [Source: “Xuanzang's Record of the Western Regions”, 646, translated by Samuel Beal (1884), Silk Road Seattle, depts.washington.edu/silkroad |:|]

“On the morrow, entering the royal court, he pressed his claim (or he advanced and requested), and said: "Your unworthy subject ventures to make a request." The king replied: "And what does my lord require?" Answering, he said, " That your majesty would be pleased to favour me by conferring on me the first offering made this day." The kind replied: "I consent." Rahula on this went forth and stood at the palace gate. Looking at all who came towards the spot, suddenly he beheld a man holding in his hand a relic casket (pitcher). The great minister said, "What is your will? What have you to offer?" He replied, "Some relics of Buddha." The minister answered, "I will protect them for you. I will first go and tell the king." Rahula, fearing lest the king on account of the great value of the relics should repent him of his former promise, went quickly to the sangharama and mounted the stupa; by the power of his great faith, the stone cupola opened itself, and then he placed the relics therein. This being done, he was quickly coming out when he caught the hem of his garment in the stone. The king sent to pursue him, but by the time the messengers arrived at the stupa, the stones had closed over him; and this is the reason why a black oily substance exudes from the crevices of the building. |:|

“To the south of the city 40 li or so, we come to the town of Si-pi-to-fa-la-sse (Svetavaras). In the case [p.62] of earthquakes, and even when the tops of the mountains fall, there is no commotion around this city. Thirty li or so to the south of the town of Si-po-to-fa-la-sse we come to a mountain called O-lu- no (Aruna). The crags and precipices of this mountain are of a vast height, its caverns and valleys are dark and deep. Each year the peak increases in height several hundred feet, until it approaches the height of Mount Tsu-na-hi-lo (Sunagir) in the kingdom of Tsu-ku-cha (Tsaukuta); then when it thus faces it, suddenly it falls down again. I have heard this story in neighbouring countries. When first the heavenly spirit Suna came from far to this mountain desiring to rest, the spirit of the mountain, affrighted, shook the surrounding valleys. The heavenly spirit said, "Because you have no wish to entertain me, therefore this tumult and confusion; if you had but entertained me for a little while, I should have conferred on you great riches and treasure; but now I go to Tsu-ku-cha to the mountain Tsu-na-hi-lo, and I will visit it every year. On these occasions, when the king and his ministers offer me their tribute, then you shall stand face to face with me." Therefore Mount O-lu-no having increased to the height (aforesaid), suddenly falls down again at the top. About 200 li to the north-west of the royal city we come to a great snowy mountain, on the summit of which [p.63] is a lake. Here whoever asks for rain or prays for fine weather, according to his request so he receives.” |:|

Story of the Monk and the Naga King

Xuanzang reported: “Tradition says in old time there was an Arbat (Lo-han, monk) belonging to Gandhara (Kien-t'o-lo) who constantly received the religious offerings of the Naga king of this lake. On the arrival of the time for the mid-day meal, by his spiritual power he rose with the mat on which he sat into the air, and went (to the place where the Naga dwelt). His attendant, a Sramanera (novice), secretly catching hold of the under part of the mat, when the time came for the Arhat to go, was transported in a moment with him (to the palace of the Naga). On arriving at the palace, the Naga saw the Sramanera. The Naga-raja asking them to partake of his hospitality, he provided the Arhat with "immortal food," but gave to the Sramanera food used by men. The Arhat having finished his meal, began then to preach for the Good of the Naga, whilst he desired the Sramanera, as was his custom, to wash out his alms-bowl. Now the bowl happened to have in it some fragments of (the heavenly) food. Startled at the fragrance of this f ood, forthwith there arose in him an evil determination (vow). Irritated with his master, and hating the Naga, he uttered the prayer (vow) that the force of all his religious merit might now be brought into operation with a view to deprive the Naga of life, and, "May I," he said, "myself become a Naga-king." [Source: “Xuanzang's Record of the Western Regions”, 646, translated by Samuel Beal (1884), Silk Road Seattle, depts.washington.edu/silkroad |:|]

“No sooner had the Sramanera made this vow than the Naga perceived his head to be in pain. The Arhat having finished his preaching concerning the duty of repentance, the Naga-raja confessed his sins, condemning himself. But the Sramanera still cherishing hatred in his heart, confessed not. And now having returned to the sangharama, in very truth the prayer he had put up in consequence of the power of his religious merit was accomplished, and that very night he died and [p.64] became a Naga-raja. Then filled with rage, he entered the lake and killed the other Naga king, and took possession of his palace; moreover, he attached to himself the whole fraternity of his class (i.e. all the Nagas) to enable him to carry out his original purpose. Then fiercely raising the winds and tempests, he rooted up the trees and aimed at the destruction of the convent. |:|

“At this time Kanishka-raja, surprised at the ravages, inquired of the Arhat as to the cause, on which he told the whole circumstance. The king therefore, for the sake of the Naga, founded a sangharama at the foot, of the Snowy Mountains, and raised a stupa about 100 feet in height. The Naga, cherishing his former hatred, raised the wind and rain. The king persevering in his purpose of charity, the Naga redoubled his fury (angry poison), and became exceedingly fierce. Six times he destroyed the sanghdrdma and the stupa, and on the seventh occasion Kanishka, confused by his failure, determined to fill the Naga's lake and overthrow his palace. He came therefore with his soldiers to the foot of the Snowy Mountains. |:|

“Then the Naga-raja, being terrified and shaken with apprehension, changed himself into an aged Brahman, and bowing down before the king's elephant, he remonstrated with the king, and said, "Maharaja, because of your accumulated merit in former births, you have now been born a king of men, and you have no wish which is not gratified. Why then today are you seeking a quarrel with a Naga? Nagas are only brutish creatures. Nevertheless amongst lower creatures the Naga possesses great power, which cannot be resisted. He rides on the clouds, drives the winds, passes through space, and glides over the waters; no human power can conquer him. Why then is the king's heart so angry? You have now raised the army [p.65] of your country to fight with a single dragon; if you conquer, your renown will not spread very far; but if you are conquered, then you will suffer the humiliation of defeat. Let me advise the king to withdraw his troops." |:|

“The king Kanishka hesitating to comply, the dragon returned to his lake. His voice, like the thunderclap, shook the earth, and the fierce winds tore up the trees, whilst stones and sand pelted down like rain; the sombre clouds obscured the air, so that the army and the horses were filled with terror. The king then paid his adoration to the Three Precious ones, and sought their help, saying, My abounding merit during former births has brought about my state as king of men. By my power I have restrained the strong and conquered the world (Jambudvipa). But now (as it appears), by the onslaught of a dragon-beast overcome, this, verily, is proof of my poor merit! Let the full power of all my merit now appear!" Then from both his shoulders there arose a Great flame and smoke. The dragon fled, the winds hushed, the mists were melted, and the clouds were scattered. Then the king commanded each man of his army to take a stone and thus to fill up the dragon lake. |:|

“Again the dragon king changed himself into a Brahman, and asked the king once more, "I am the Naga king of yonder lake. Affrighted by your power, I tender my submission. Would that the king in pity might forgive my former faults! The king indeed loves to defend and cherish all animated beings, why then alone against me is he incensed? If the king kill me, then we both shall fall into an 'evil way' — the king, for killing; I, for cherishing an angry mind. Deeds and their consequences [p.66] will be plainly manifested when the good and evil are brought to light."

“The king then agreed with the Naga that if hereafter he should again be rebellious there should be no forgiveness. The Naga said, "Because of my evil deeds I have received a dragon form. The nature of Nagas is fierce and wicked, so that they are unable to control themselves; if by chance an angry heart rises in me, it will be from forgetfulness of our present compact. The king may now build the sangharama once more; I will not venture to destroy it again. Each day let the king send a man to observe the mountain top; if it is black with clouds, then let him sound the ghanta (drum or cymbal) loudly; when I hear the sound of it, my evil purpose will subside."

Forthwith the king renewed his work in raising the sangharama and stupa. People look out for the clouds and mists on the mountain top down to the present day. Tradition says that in this stupa there is a considerable quantity (a pint, or shing) of relics of Tathagata, consisting of his bones and flesh, and that wonderful miracles are wrought thereby, which it would be difficult to name separately. At one time, from within the stupa there arose suddenly a smoke, which was quickly followed by a fierce flame of fire. On this occasion the people said the stupa was consumed. They gazed for a- long time till the fire was expended and the smoke disappeared, when they beheld a Sarira like a white pearl gem, which moved with a circular motion round the surmounting pole of the stupa; it then separated itself and ascended up on high to the region of the clouds, and after scintillating there awhile, again descended with a circular motion. [p.67]” [Source: “Xuanzang's Record of the Western Regions”, 646, translated by Samuel Beal (1884), Silk Road Seattle, depts.washington.edu/silkroad |:|]

Xuanzang on Places Near Kapisa in Afghanistan

Xuanzang reported: “To the north-west of the capital there is a large river on the southern bank of which, in a convent of an old king, there is a milk-tooth of Sakya Bodhisattva; it is about an inch in length. To the south-east of this convent there is another, which is also called the convent of the old king; in this is a piece of the skull-bone of Tathagata; the surface of it is about an inch in breadth, its colour a yellowish white; the little hair orifices are plainly seen. There is, moreover, a hair-top of Tathagata of a dark auburn colour; the hair turns to the right; drawing it out, it is about a foot long; when folded, it is only about half an inch. These three objects are reverenced with offerings by the king and the great ministers on each of the six fast (holy) days. |:|

“To the south-west of the convent of the skull-bone is the convent of the wife of the old king, in which there is a gilded stupa (copper gilt), about 100 feet in height. Tradition says in this stupa is about a pint of the relics of Buddha. On the fifteenth day of each month, in the evening, it reflects a circular halo of glory which lights up the dew-dish. Thus it shines till the morning, when it gradually disappears and enters the stupa. |:|

“To the south-west of the town is Mount Pi-to-sa-lo (Pilusara); the mountain spirit takes the form of an elephant, hence the name. In old days, when Tathagata was alive, the spirit, called Pilusara (siang-kien, i.e., elephant-fixed), asked the Lord of the World and 1200 Arhats (to partake of his hospitality). On the mountain crag is a great solid rock; here it was Tathagata received the offerings of the spirit. Afterwards Asoka-ritja erected [p.68] on this same rock a sidpa about 100 feet in height. It is now called the stupa of the Elephant-strength (Pilusara). They say that in this also is about a pint measure of the relics of Tathagata. |:|

“To the north of the Pilusira stupa is a mountain cavern, below which is a Naga fountain. It was here that Tathagata, having received from the spirit some food (rice) with the Arhats, cleansed his mouth and rubbed his teeth with apiece of willow branch. This he planted in the ground, and it forthwith took root, and is now a bushy grove. Afterwards men built here a sangharama, and called it the convent of the Pi-to-kia (the willow twig). Going eastward from this 600 li or so, across a continuation of mountains and valleys, the peaks being of a stupendous height, and skirting the "black ridge," we enter North India, and crossing the frontier, come to the country of Lan-po (Lamghan).” |:|

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 npm.gov.tw \=/ 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 November 2016

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