HSUAN TSANG (var. Hiuen Tsiang)
A well known Chinese monk who visited
India and traversed a large number of countries covering more than 50,000 Li.
Though the dangers that he encountered were many he fulfilled his main objective
undaunted by them. His contribution to the cause of Buddhism in general and to
the Great Vehicle in particular is immense. For these and many other reasons he
is held by the Chinese Buddhists in the highest esteem among the pilgrims of his
The following information on
Hsūan-tsang's travels and his accounts of India and other countries which he
travelled in his long journey is based mainly on two sources, namely, "Si-yu-ki,
Buddhist Records of the Western World" an English translation of the Chinese
version of Hsūan-tsang and "The Life of Hiuen-tsiang" an English translation of
his biography written in Chinese by Shaman Hwui-li, a disciple of his. Among
secondary sources the most useful treatise is 'On Yuan Chwang's Travels in
India', a critical study written by Thomas Watters in 1961. This work is based
on Hsūan-tsang's Hsi-Yu-Shi (or Si-Yu-Ki) also entitled Buddhist Records of the
Hsūan-tsang was born in 603 A.C. in
Chin-lu in the reign of Emperor Wen of the Sui dynasty and lived about
sixty-five years. Opinions, however, differ regarding the exact years of his
birth and death. His secular name was Ch'en-Chin and he was the youngest of four
brothers. His father was Ch'en-hui who devoted himself to the study of
Confucious' teachings. Even as a child Hsūan-tsang was unusually of grave
temperament and intelligence. He did not enjoy the company of boys of his age
nor did he appreciate their life style. His second brother, Chang-tse who had
entered the Order previously took Hsūan-tsang to his own convent and made
arrangements to impart instruction to him there.
Hsūan-tsang (= Ht.) was so studious that
at times he studied without sleep and even food. At one hearing he is said to
have comprehended a book thoroughly and after a second reading needed no further
instruction. At the age of eleven he was versed in the Saddharmapundarika Sutra
and the Vimalakirtinirdesa. At the age of thirteen he was admitted into the
Order and was engaged in further studies.
The political situation in the country
being unsatisfactory the two brothers went to Chang'an and from there again to
Ch'eng-tu, the capital of Shu. There Hsūan-tsang followed lectures on the
scriptures delivered by eminent scholars and in a few years he mastered the
scriptures of various schools and earned a name as a scholar. It was about this
time or a few years later that he came to be known by the appellation "The
Master of the Law".
In the fifth year of Wu-te he received
full ordination at Ch'eng-tu. He went to Chin-chow for further studies where he
also conducted sermons as an advanced student. Scholar monks who gathered there
as listeners treated him with great respect and admiration. Thereupon he went to
Chaochow, Hsiang-chow and Ch'ang-an and studied the Samyuktābhidharma-hrdaya,
the Mahāyāna-sangraha, the Abhidharma-kosa etc.
In a short time Ht. mastered all the
theories of the different schools of Buddhism and was acclaimed as a great
scholar. He found that Buddhist teachings he had learned, mainly those concerned
with the theory of Dharmalaksana and the views held by the propounders of the
Mahāyāna-Sangraha and those held by the followers of the Dasabhūmivyākarana were
at variance. Moreover, he discerned many defects in the Chinese translations of
the sacred books, and consequently he cherished the idea of going to India to
learn at the feet of orthodox scholars. In this he was inspired to some extent
by his forerunners Fa-hsien and Chi-yen who undertook similar tasks.
Overcoming many obstacles Ht., at the
age of twenty-six years set forth from Chang-an and going through several
provinces or countries came to Liang-chow where he received a companion to
travel to the West. Despite the attempts of spies to detain him the governor of
the province, Li-chiang, however, let him proceed on his journey. Some of the
territories or countries which he traversed until he reached the borders of
North India were Turfan (Kau-chang), Agni (O-ki-ni), Kuche (Kiuchi) an oasis in
the Gobi desert, Nujkend (Nu-chin-kien), Chaf (Che-shi), Ferghanah (Fei-han in
Turkestan), Sutrishna (Su-tu-Ii-sse-na), Samarkhand (Sa-mo-kien), Kesh (Ki-shwang-na),
Kunduz (Hwo), Bhaktra or Bactria (Fo-ho-lo), Bamiyam (Fan-yen-na) and Kapisa (Kia-pi-she).
His journey was beset with dangers and
hardships. As the only guide given him to accompany until the last of the watch
towers in sandy desert also deserted him he went on all alone. The worst
experience encountered was in the heart of the Mo-kia-yen desert which extended
for 800 li. One hundred li after entering the desert he lost his way. By
accident his water bag gave way without leaving a drop of water in it and he had
to spend four nights and five days in the desert without water.
At a later stage when wending their way
up the snow-clad Ling mountain, and the snowy mountain (Hindukush) lying to the
south of Balkh, twelve or fourteen of his companions and an even greater number
of oxen and horses met with death.
Obstacles caused by robbers on his way
to India and also in India itself were more than embarrassing. Even governors or
kings of certain countries embarrassed him as he was proceeding towards India.
Although very hospitable and respectful to Ht. the king of Kam-chang,
Khio-wen-tai planned to detain him in his court as his spiritual head. Ht. got
out of this grip only by the threat of fasting unto death. Another attempt to
detain him was made by the Great Khan of the Turks. As will appear below, Ht.
underwent another such experience in Eastern India as well.
Of the countries which were traversed by
Ht. on his way to North India, Bhaktra (Po-ho-lo), Bamiyan (Fanyen-na) and
Kapisa (Kia-pi-she) were active centres of Buddhism. According to Ht, there were
about three thousand monks of the Little Vehicle in Bhaktra. There was a scholar
monk called Prajñākara who was versed in the three pitakas of the Little
Vehicle. Ht. was pleased with his explanation of the doctrine of that school.
Ht. reached Bamiyan crossing Hindu-kush.
In both Bamiyan and Kapisa, there were several thousand monks of the Little
Vehicle. In Bamiyan there were three imposing figures of the Buddha. One of
these was a standing figure of about 140 or 150 feet high. Another figure of the
standing Buddha measures 100 feet in height. An enormous figure of the recumbent
Buddha depicting his 'Nirvana' measures 1000 feet in length.
At a conference held in a temple of the
Great Vehicle in Kapisa Ht. being thorough with the teachings of both schools,
proved his superiority over all who participated in it. From Kapisa onwards his
itinerary covered territories in North India of which the following place names
are graphed by Ht. into a separate unit. Lamghan (Lanpo), Nagarahara (Na-kie-to-ho),
Gandhara (Kien-to-lo), Udyana (U-chang), Takshasila (Ta-ch'a-shi-lo), Urasa
(Wu-la-sa), Kashmir (Kia-shi-mi-lo), Punach (Pun-nuh-t'so) and Rajapuri
(Ho-lo-she-pu-lo). According to Ht, common people in the above territories
differ to some extent from those of India in respect of manners, clothing and
Si-yu-ki, Buddhist Records of the
Western World (Records) ed. Samuel Beal., New Delhi, 1981, Bk. II, pp. 68, 917;
The Life of Hiuen Tsiang (=The Life) ed. Samuel Beal., New Delhi, 1973, pp.
57-72. The countries from Lamgham to Rajapuri both inclusive were not regarded
by the people of India proper as forming parts of their territory (Watters,
Thomas, On Yuang Chwang's Travels in India, pub. Munshi Ram Manohar Lal,
Oriental Publishers and Booksellers, Delhi, 1961, p. 180, (Abbreviated as
Nagarahara (Jelalabad) occupies a
prominent place as a country possessing Buddha's relics. In Nagarahara or its
neighbourhood Ht. rejoined his companions and went to Gandhara by the Khyber
Pass. He gives the names of a number of sages and saints who composed sāstras
there. Then he goes to describe the famous stupa of 400 feet in height ascribed
to king Kanishka. It was situated in Purushapura (Po-lu-shu-po-lo), the capital
Either side of the river Subhavastu (Su-po-fa-sa-tu)
in the country of Udyana is said by Ht. to have been thickly populated by
Buddhists in former days. At the time of his visit he saw the country
depopulated. The few monks who were there at the time belonged to five different
schools viz. the Dharmaguptas, the Mahisāsakas, the Kasyapiyas, the
Sarvāstivadins and the Mahāsanghikas. Among the objects of worship are mentioned
figures of Avalokitesvara and Maitreya bodhisattva.
In Takshasila, Urasa and Kashmir, too,
he saw various Buddhist sites. The chief monk in Kashmir was of high moral
character and of remarkable intelligence. This monk explained many parts of the
doctrine to him. This learned teacher was so impressed by Ht. that the latter
was compared to Asanga bodhisattva in respect of his wisdom. According to Ht.
Kanishka, convened an assembly, known to history
as the Fourth Council, in the four hundredth year from the 'Nirvana' of the
Tathāgata. Ht. stayed for two years studying sutras and sāstras.
Leaving Kashmir Ht. made his way to
Punach and from there to Rajapuri. From Rajapuri he entered a different zone in
North India arriving at Takka (Teheka) as its starting point. To the east of the
town called Narasimha (Na-lo-sang-ho) he and the accompanying sāmaneras
encountered a band of fifty robbers who robbed them of their belongings.
However, a brahmin in the neighbourhood came to their help and they managed to
escape with no loss of life. There he remained for one month, and for fourteen
months in the kingdom of Chinapati (Chi-na-po-tai) studying various texts.
Before reaching the next important
kingdom, Mathura (Mo-t'u-lo) he passed through the kingdoms of Jalandhara (She-lan-t'o-lo),
Kuluta (Kiu-la-ta), Satadra (Shete-to-lu) and Paryatra (Po-li-ye-to-to). An
interesting custom of making offerings in honour of the disciples of the Buddha
is said to have prevailed in Mathura. The followers of Abhidhamma made offerings
in honour of Sāriputta, those who practised meditation....... in honour of
Maudgalyāyana, the students of the sutras...... in honour of
Purnamaitrāyaniputra, the followers of the Vinaya..... in honour of Upāli, the
bhikkhunis..... in honour of Ananda, the Srāmaneras.... in honour of Rāhula and
followers of the Great Vehicle.... in honour of bodhisattvas (Watters, pp. 302,
303; The Life, p. 77).
After Mathura he visited Matipuram (Ma-ti-pu-lo)
which was ruled by a king of the Sūdra caste. He makes reference to Gunaprabha
the author of Tattvavibhanga Sāstra and to a learned doctor called Sanghabbadra
who was versed in the Vibhāsā of the Sarvistivāda school and who composed the
Kosa-kārikā. Ht. stayed there for a few months and studied various texts under
the eminent monk called Mitrasena.
On his way to Kapitha (Kis-pi-tha) also
called Sankassa he had to go past Brahmapura (P'o-lo-hih-mo-pu-lo), Ahikshetra
('O-hi-shi-to-lo) and Virāsana (Pi-to-shanna). Proceeding two hundred li towards
north-west from Kapitha he reached Kanauj or Kānyakubja (Kie-jo-kio-she-kwo).
Its capital borders on the Ganges on the West.
Watters argues that the direction shown
in the text is wrong and it should be South East. He also argues that the river
in question is not the Ganges but a tributary of that river (Waiters, p. 340;
cp. also Records, Bk. V. p. 207.
It was a busy centre of Buddhism and
there were ten thousand monks who studied both vehicles very ardently. His
account on Harsavardhana or Harsha also called Silāditya is of immense
Countries from Ayodhyā (O-yo-t'o) to
Hiranya parvata (I-lam-na-po-fa-to) constitute another phase of his long
pilgrimage. Six hundred li to the south-east from Kanauj is Ayodhya. Several
thousand monks there studied both vehicles, and it is here that Vasubandhu and
Asanga carried out their literary activities. When Ht. and his companions were
going from Ayodhya to Hayamukha ('O-ye-mu-khi) along the course of the Ganges a
gang of pirates took the crew captive. As worshippers of goddess Durga the
pirates were looking out for a man of good form and comely features for
sacrificing to the goddess. They earmarked Ht. as the most suitable person for
the purpose and were about to kill him. Suddenly a typhoon arose smiting down
the trees. Clouds of sand flew on every side and the lashing waves of the river
tossed the boats to and fro. The pirates getting terrified at the calamity
thought that it all happened due to the spiritual power of Ht, and came down in
repentance and confessed their fault.
After this nasty experience Ht. went to
Hayamukha and from there to Prayāga (Po-lo-ye-kia). He describes Prayāga, the
confluence of two rivers, Gangā and Yamunā and the level ground of about
fourteen li in circuit, to the West. From Prayāga he set out for Kausambi (Kiau-shang-mi)
where he saw many sanghāramas, stūpas and a sandalwood image of the Buddha
fashioned by king Udayana. According to Ht, there were about three thousand
monks belonging to the Sammitiya school of the Little Vehicle in the Kingdom of
In Srāvasti, the next important Buddhist
centre he visited, there were several hundred sanghārāmas belonging to the
Sammitiya school. Sites connected with various incidents are described: for
instance, the spot on which Angulimāla gave up his evil acts and was converted,
the convent where Brahmacāri heretics killed a woman and accused the Buddha of
her murder, the venue in which the Buddha defeated all the heretics, the place
where the Buddha met his father, king Suddhodana, for the first time since
Enlightenment and so on.
From Srāvasti he went to Kapilavastu (Kie-pi-lo-fa-sutu)
where the capital as well as some thousand villages were in a state of ruin.
There he saw old foundations of the main palace of Suddhodana and the sleeping
quarters of Queen Māyā etc. Hsūan-tsang's account of Kapilavastu and Kusinagara
(Kushi-na-kie-lo) or Kusinārā is replete with accounts of the life of the Buddha
before and after his Enlightenment, for example the place of his birth,
prophetic pronouncement, sites of the Four Signs, Parinirvāna etc. According to
Ht. the contemporary tradition has it that the Buddha's Nirvina' took place on
the fifteenth day of the latter half of the month of Vaisākha. The
Sarvāstivādins held that it took place during the second half of the month of
Kārtika i.e. November.
Referring to the kingdom of Banaras or
Bārānasi (Po-lo-ni-sse) he speaks of two schools of monks, one belonging to the
Sarvāstivāda and the other to the Sammitiya school both belonging to the Little
Vehicle. Important sites such as the venue of the Buddha's first sermon and his
washing tank are mentioned in his account.
From Bārānasi he went to Ghazipur (Chen-chu)
and then to Vaisāli. There the capital city was in a state of devastation and
ruin. The inhabitants at the time of his visit were very few in number. In a
sanghārāma there the Buddha is said to have recited the Vimalakirti Sutra. Three
important places relating to his Parinirvana are also mentioned.
On his way to Magadha (Mo-kie-to) he
stopped at the town of Svetapura where he obtained the sūtra called the
Bodhisattva-pitaka. He had a high esteem for the people of Magadha. According to
him there were about ten thousand monks mostly belonging to the Great Vehicle in
Magadha. The capital of Magadha was desolate and in ruins. According to Ht.
Asoka held a convocation of a thousand monks at a monastery called Kukkutārāma.
This is an allusion to the Third Council held under the patronage of King Asoka.
The monastery in question is named as Asokārāma in the Dpv.vamsa and the
Mahāvamsa, the two ancient Pali chronicles of Sri Lanka.
Referring to Nairañjāna and other
important sites at Bodhgayā he mentions various beliefs regarding the Vajrāsana.
One such belief holds that the site of the Vajrāsana was the centre of the
universe. He says that the Bo-tree had been continually cut down and destroyed
by the members of the royalty. Elsewhere he refers to one king named Sasānka of
Karnasuvarna in Eastern India who destroyed the Bo-tree (Records Bk. viii, p.
121). The following account of Ht. regarding the Bo-tree seems interesting in
respect of rituals which developed in later times. "The Bo-tree sheds its leaves
when the day of the Nirvana approaches and tender leaves begin to grow after
this day. Every year on that day kings, ministers and magistrates pour milk on
its roots, light lamps, scatter flowers and they go away collecting leaves.
The account on the Nālandā monastery
gives some idea about its academic activities, maintenance, academic staff and
student population, curriculum and residential quarters. It says that after the
"Nirvana" of the Buddha an old king of that country called Sakrāditya built this
convent out of his great attachment for the Buddha. By the time of Ht.'s visit
it had been about 700 years since its establishment. Thus its founding dates
back to 1st century B.C.
His purpose of going to Nālandā was to
learn the principles of the Yoga-sastra, The chief monk Silabhadra admitted Ht.
as his disciple. Among the students there were many foreigners. According to Ht.
of all the sanghārāmas of India Nālandā Monastery was the most remarkable for
its grandeur and height. Resident students numbered ten thousand. They studied
the teachings of all the eighteen schools and also subjects such as the Vedas,
the Hetuvidyā, Sabdavidyā, the Cikitsāvidyā, the works on magic (Atharvaveda)
and the Sānkhya system. There were 1541 scholars who were versed in various
branches of study. Within the temple hundred pupils were being arranged every
day for preaching and students attended these and participated in discussions
As for the source of income of the
Nālandā monastery Ht. tells us that there was a farm-house belonging to the
monastery. The account does not say anything about the way in which the farm was
run and how the income accrued to the monastery. There were other sources of
income too. According to Ht. the king of the country remitted the revenue of
about hundred villages for the endowment of the convent. Two hundred house
holders in these villages contributed rice, butter and milk daily. Hence
students had no complaints to make about their requisites.
In Rājagrha he locates many important
sites connected with various episodes; for instance, the site of the stupa where
Devadatta in conjunction with Ajātasatru rājā let loose the drunken elephant
with intent to kill the Buddha. Referring to the Grdhrakūta (Ki-li-to-lo-kiu) it
is said that while residing there the Buddha declared the Saddharmapundarika (Fa-hwa),
the Mahāprajñā (Tapan-jo) and numerous other Sutras.
His account on the First Council held in
Rājagrha is rather misleading. It appears that he has incorporated into it
certain details which deal with later councils. According to Ht. the collection
of scriptures authorised by the Council came to be called Sthavira collection
because Kāsyapa (Mahā Kassapa) officiated as the president of the assembly. As
regards the emergence of the Mahāsanghika school Ht. informs us that monks who
were excluded from the Council held by Mahā Kāsyapa assembled in Rājagrha and
made a collection of the doctrine in five Pitakas, the Sutra Pitaka, the Vinaya
Pitaka, the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the Miscellaneous Pitaka and the Dhārani Pitaka.
How this assembly got the name Mahāsanghika is explained as follows: "As in this
assembly there were ordinary persons (Fan-fu) and holy men it was called the
Convocation of the Mahāsanghikas (The Life, p. 117 cp. Dpv.vamsa, H. Oldenberg,
New Delhi, 1982, 5,30).
Having visited sacred places in the
vicinity of Nālandā Ht. returned to the Nālandā Monastery again and studied
several texts such as the Yoga-sastra, the Nyāyānusārasastra, the
Hin-hiang-tui-fa-ming, the Hetuvidyā-sastra, the Prānyamūla-sastra-tīkā and the
Sata-sastra. Although he had studied the Kosa-vibhāsā and the
Satpadābhidharma-sastra in different parts of Kashmir yet he studied them again
at Nālandā Monastery. He also studied Brahman literary works and a grammatical
treatise the author of which is not known. On the task of studying the Buddhist
and Brahman texts he spent five years.
The next country he visited was
Hiranyaparvata (I-lanna-po-fa-to) where he stayed for one year and read the
Vibhāsā and the Nyāyānusāra-sastra etc. From Hiranyaparvata he made his way to
the kingdom of Champa where monks followed the Little Vehicle. This country was
infested with wild beasts such as the elephant, wolf, rhinoceros and black
leopard. Elephants in that country were used for drawing carriages.
Countries between Champa (Chen-po) and
Samatata (San-to-ch'a) form another phase of his long journey. He visited
Hiranya, Kajughira (Ki-shu-ko-kie-lo), Pundravardhana (Pu-na-fa-tan-na)
Karnasuvarna (Kielo-na-su-fala-na) before arriving at Samatata. Monks in
Pundravardhana belonged to both vehicles whereas those in Karnasuvarna belong to
the Little Vehicle of the Sammitiya school. Monks in Karnasurvarna did not use
either butter or milk in keeping with the traditional teachings of Devadatta.
Immediately after his account on Samatata he refers to Pegu and Siam which,
however, lay outside his itinerary.
Countries included in his itinerary in
the East and South-east of India were Tāmralipti (Tan-mo-li-ti), Orissa, Kalinga
(Kie-ling-kia), Southern Kosala (Kiao-sa-lo), Andhra (An-to-lo), Dhanakataka
(To-na-kie-tse-kia) and Chulya. All these countries had centres of Buddhism. He
refers to an entrepot called Caritra (Chi-li-ta-lo) situated on the
South-eastern frontier of Orissa.
Dhanakataka, according to Ht. was once a
reputed centre of learning, and learned men used to come and dwell there but at
the time of his visit it was entirely desolate.
The Kingdom of Chulya may be identified
with the Cola Kingdom. He locates the Chulya Kingdom outside the Dravida
country. What made him follow this description is not clear. The Cola Kingdom
formed part of the Dravida country through the ages.
The next place he visited was the
Kingdom of Dravida. The territory occupied by Dravida people could have
consisted of several kingdoms or countries, but Ht. refers to it as forming one
kingdom. However, the capital of that kingdom is named Kanchipura, the birth
place of Dharmapāla Bodhisattva.
Whilst in Kanchipura Ht. met some three
hundred monks from Sinhala. They informed him of the unsettled situation
prevailing in Sri Lanka at the time. This dissuaded him from going there. His
purpose of going to Sinhala was to get the Tripitaka explained according to the
Sthavira school there and also to study the Yoga Sāstra.
Malakūta was the next important place he
visited. He refers to Malayagiri which was well-known for sandalwood and the
karpūra scented tree. After Malakūta (Mole-kiu-ch'a) he refers to Sinhala again.
According to Ht. Sinhala was originally called Po-chu as it had many gems of a
rare character. As for the origin of the Sinhala he narrates with slight
variations the legend which traced the origin to a lion king and the murder of
the lion by his son. According to Ht. it was the son of the lion who arrived in
Po-chu and not his grandson Vijaya as recorded in Sri Lankan chronicles. A
second theory about the origin of the Sinhala is narrated as follows: "But it is
also said that Sinhala is the name of a merchant's son, who...... came to Po-chu
island and slew the Rakshasas and established his capital in the country.
With regard to the teachings prevailing
in Sri Lanka he adds that monks there follow the teachings of the Great Vehicle
and they belong to the school of the sthaviras. He also refers to the schism
which resulted in the division of the Sangha into two factions, the
Mahāviharavāsins who were opposed to the Great Vehicle and the Abhayagirivāsins
who studied both vehicles. His reference to a mountain named Lankāgiri may be
the Samantakūta (Adam's Peak) and it was on that mountain the Tathāgata
delivered the Lankāvatāra Sutra according to Ht.
Going two thousand li from Dravida he
arrived at Konkanpura (Kin-na-po-lo) and from there to Maharashtra, He tells us
that in a vihāra at Konkanpura there was a precious head-dress of Prince
Siddhārtha. With reference to Maharashtra he says that the people of that
country were a warlike nation. He cites in evidence the unsuccessful attempt of
Silāditya rājā to subjugate Pulakesin. This king may be identified as Pulakesin
II (609-642 A.C) of the Chalukyas of Vatapi in the Bijapur District.
Among the countries included in his
itinerary to the West and North-west of Narmada were Broach (Baroche), Mālava
(Mo-la-po), Brāhmanapura (K'ie-ch'a), Vallabhi (Fa-la-pi), Anandapura, Surāshtra
(Lasn-c'ha) Gurjjara (Kiu-che-lo), Ujjayin (U-che-yen-na), Chi-ki-to,
Mahesvarapura, Surātha, Atyanabakela (O-tin-p'o-chi-lo) and Langala (Lang-kie-lo).
The last country is situated near the Great Sea towards the country of western
women. If Mālavas were the people of Malava or Malwa in Central India as is
generally taken the countries named about are not placed in right order.
Ujjayini which is the capital of Malwa is named after Surashtra and Gurjjara
situated in Gujarat.
Of all the countries in India, Ht. had a
very high opinion of Mālava and Magadha. He says that people of these two
countries had the reputation of loving the study of literature, of honouring
virtue, of polite language and refined speech. In Mālava there were twenty
thousand monks studying the teaching of the Sammitiya school of the small
We are told that going north-west from
Langāla he went to Persia (Po-la-sse) which, lay outside India. It is said that
the bowl (patrā) of the Sakyamuni Buddha was in the royal palace of the country.
On its frontier is the city of Ormus (Ho-mo). The countries mentioned next are
Babylon? (Fo-lin), an island called the country of the Western women, which is
tributary to Fo-lin, Langala, Pitasila (Pi-to-shi-lo), Avanda, Sindh (Sin-tu)
Mūlasthānapura or Multan (Mu-lo-s'an-po-la) and Parvati.
If Avanda is to be identified with
Avanti in Central India which seems probable in view of his desÁriptions of that
country, it is difficult to place Avanda on the route followed from Langala to
The country called Parvata was noted for
renowned scholars. Ht. stayed there for two years and studied the
Mūlābhidharma-sastra, the Saddharma-samparigrahasāstra and the
Prasiksāsatya-sāstra as preserved in the Sammitiya school.
From Parvata he returned
south-eastwardly to Magadha and from there to the Nālandā Monastery. There was
in Nālandā a renowned monk called Prajñabhadra who was versed in the Three
Pitakas, Sāstras etc. Ht. remained there for two years and had his doubts
cleared through discussions. He spent two more years studying several branches
of study under a renowned lay scholar named Jayasena.
He is said to have been apprised of the
time for his return journey in a dream by Maitreya Bodhisattva. However, he was
delayed due to unavoidable circumstances. In the meantime, Silabhadra, the
master of sastras at Nālandā deputed Ht. to expound to the congregation there
the Mahāyāna-samparigraha-sastra and to comment on the difficult points of the
About this time Simharasmi and Ht. held
two different views about the principles of Yoga. Ht. proved more competent in
the encounter and composed a sastra in three thousand slokas resolving the
controversy. This work was later approved for study. At this time further
disputes took place between the adherents of the two vehicles.
Monks in Orissa belittled the Great
Vehicle and were used to calling it "Sky Flowers". But the king of that country
had a high regard for the Great Vehicle and challenged the authority of the
critics. Monks thereupon requested the king to hold a conference at which they
would settle the issue. The controversy does not appear to have taken place at a
conference as expected but it came to an end with the compilation of a book
which was written by Ht. in refutation of the heretical views held by the monks
of Orissa. The way he refuted heretical views made his fame so widespread that
king Kumārarāja of Karnasuvarna in Eastern India longed to have him as his
spiritual head in his kingdom. When Ht. showed his reluctance for the third time
the king turned furious and even went to the extent of threatening that he would
destroy the whole of Nālandā Monastery in case his request was turned down.
Although at last Ht, complied with the request of the king, Silāditya rāja's
intervention enabled him to get out of another embarrassing situation.
Silāditya rāja on his part made
arrangements to hold a conference for the exposition of the Great Vehicle and to
refute the views of the followers of the Little Vehicle. Princes of eighteen
countries were invited to participate in the conference. Renowned Buddhist
monks, celebrated Brahmans, heretics, non-believers and secular persons attended
the conference. For five days Ht. extolled the teachings of the Great Vehicle
and no opponent had any opportunity to assert his views. Adherents of the Little
Vehicle learning that their school was shattered plotted to kill him. The king,
however, threatened to behead any one who made an attempt on the life of Ht. It
is said that, at the end, large multitudes forsook the Little Vehicle and
embraced the Great-Vehicle. When the conference was over Ht. made up his mind to
go back to his country. But on a request made to him by Silāditya to witness the
quinquennial distribution called 'Mahā moksa parisad' he had to postpone for ten
days his return journey.
For his return journey Ht. chose to
follow the northern route in order to keep the pledge made by him to the king of
Kan-chang that he would visit him on his way back. Getting out from the city of
Prayāga he took the route which lay across Kausambi, Jalandhara, Simhapura,
Taksasilā and the river Indus. The boat laden with ola manuscripts and flower
seeds capsized in the Indus and fifty manuscript copies and flower seeds were
lost. From there he went past Lamghan (Lan-po), Varna, Avakan, the snowy
mountains, Kunduz (Hwoh), Tukhara, Kuran, Bolor and Kashgar up to Khotan.
Of these countries Kashgar and Khotan
were renowned centres of the Great Vehicle. Whilst in Khotan he states that he
accomplished a journey of more than 50,000 li. His journey through various
kingdoms took seventeen years. Here he faced the problem of transporting his
books, images and such articles and sent a messenger to Kau-chang asking for
help. Seven or eight months later transport facilities were arranged.
Among the books he brought were 224
sutras and 192 sāstras of the Great Vehicle; 15 works of the same categories
belonging to the Sammitiya School; 22 books of the same belonging to the
Mahisāsaka school; 67 books.... of the Sthaviravādin school; 17 works.... of the
Kāsyapiya school; 42 works..... of the Dharmagupta school; 36 copies of the
Hetuvidyā Sāstra; 13 copies of the Sabdavidyā sastra. Altogether there were 520
copies comprising 657 volumes carried upon twenty horses.
Then he set upon the gigantic task of
translating these books into Chinese. For carrying out this project he retired
to the monastery of Hong-fu in Si-gan-fu. He completed the translation of 74
distinct works having 1335 chapters. He had moreover made a vast number of
pictures and wrote with his own hands copies of various sutras. When all these
works had been finished he closed his eyes and lay perfectly still. "Having
recited some verses in adoration of Maitreya, he gradually sank until the day of
his demise on the 10th March, the 13th day of the year 664."
Hsūan-tsang's travel accounts which
appear in the foregoing description furnish information on a wide variety of
subjects. Some of these such as physical barriers, the relative distribution of
the centres of the Little and the Great Vehicle in and outside India, Buddhist
monuments, hospitality shown in different countries, conferences, religious
encounters have been surveyed in brief in the above account. Apart from these he
presents a wealth of information on a wide range of subjects such as economic,
educational and social conditions, religious practices, mannerism, customs
administration and so on. He enumerates a number of ways of showing respect and
paying homage that was prevalent among the people of India. Some such forms are
(i) greeting with a kind of enquiry;
(ii) reverently bowing the head;
(iii) raising the hands to the head
with an inclination of the body;
(iv) bowing with hands folded on the
(v) bending a knee;
(vi) kneeling down;
(vii) going down on the ground on
hands and knees;
(viii) bowing down with knees, elbows
and forehead to the ground and
(ix) prostrating oneself on the
Regarding the general education meant
for Indians he describes that children in the beginning followed the 'Twelve
Chapters' and at the age of seven they began to study the great treatises of the
'Five Sciences'. Some idea of Buddhist education may be gained from his
description of Nālandā referred to earlier, But his estimation of the Brahmanic
system of educating beginners is very high. Regarding the Brahmanic teachers he
says: "These teachers explain the general meaning and teach them minutely, they
rouse them to activity and skilfully win them over to progress, they instruct
the inert and sharpen the dull. When disciples intelligent and acute are
addicted to idle shirking the teachers doggedly persevere repeating instruction
until their training is finished....."
Ht. states that differences among
various schools of Buddhism were seen in their tenets and also in customs.
According to Ht. different schools had their own tenets, and controversies ran
high. As a result each of the eighteen schools claimed that each system was
intellectually superior to others. Tenets of the Great and the Little systems
differed widely. Certain concessions and gains were accorded to monks in keeping
with their knowledge and where the spiritual attainments were high the
distinctions conferred were extraordinary.
Referring to the three robes allowed for
monks as their costume he narrates that different schools adhered to different
styles having broad or narrow fringes and small or large folds. Ht.'s
description about wearing sanghāti (seng-kio-ki) conforms to the present day
practice of its wearing by monks in Sri Lanka and other Theravāda countries. As
for the antaravāsa, (ni-po-so-na) the undergarment, he says that it was worn
without a belt. Rather it was made into plaits and then secured by one of these
Regarding social organisation Ht.
informs us that society consists of four caste groups. These four castes form
classes of various degrees of ceremonial purity. The members of a caste marry
within the caste. Relatives whether by the father's or mother's side do not
intermarry and a woman never contracts a second marriage.
Speaking about the character of the
Indian people he tells us that they were of hasty and irresolute temperament but
of pure moral principles. They fear retribution for sins in future lives and
take lightly their plight in the present life. They keep their sworn
His account on law and punishment too,
is interesting. According to him the offenders who violate statute law were
imprisoned for life. For offences against social morality, disloyalty and
unfilial conduct the punishment was mutilation or banishment of the offender out
of the country or into the wilderness. Other offences can be atoned for by
paying a fine. He also describes the four ordeals by which the innocence or
guilt of an accused person is determined.
For offences against the Vinaya, the
community of brethren has a gradation of penalties. If the offence was slight a
reprimand was ordered and the punishment became harsh according to the gravity
of the offence. Expulsion from the community was the worst punishment meted out
to the most serious offender.
As for the disposal of the dead and the
performance of the last rites, there were three recognised customs. The first of
these was cremation. The second was water burial, the corpse being put into a
stream to float and dissolve. The third was burial in the wilderness, the body
being cast away in the woods to be eaten up by wild animals.
The Buddhist brethren were forbidden to
wail aloud over a departed one. On the death of a parent they read a service of
gratitude to secure for the deceased person bliss in the next life.
If we are to depend on the records left
by Ht. certain kings of the Gupta dynasty have patronised Buddhism. According to
him Purugupta Vikrama Prakāsāditya, a brother of Skandagupta, Narasimhagupta
Balāditya, son and successor of Purugupta, Tathāgatarāja Vainyagupta, another
son of Purugupta and Vajira, a son of Narasimhagupta Balāditya patronised
Buddhism. All these kings contributed to the promotion of Buddhist learning by
building monastic establishments at Nālandā.
According to Ht. the worship of relics
was widely practised in many Buddhist countries traversed by him and among these
the most popular was the cult of the Tooth Relic of the Buddha. It was prevalent
in Bhaktra; in an unnamed temple of a small valley situated to the east of the
snowy mountain; Kashmir and Simbala. The next popular Buddhist cult was that of
Purusapura, the capital of Gandhāra as
well as Persia are mentioned as countries where the Bowl-relic was venerated.
The following objects too were venerated: the sweeping brush made of kusa grass
in Bhaktra, the skull-bone at Hidda (Kilo of Fa-hsien) in Nagarahara (Jelalabad),
the eye ball, the sanghāti robe, and the staff at the same site and the garment
washing stone obtained in Udyāna. A strong tradition about the Buddha presenting
pieces of his nails and some hair to two merchants who offered him honey and
rice cake is recorded by Ht. with regard to Bhaktra (The Life p.50). This is
evidently based on the account in the Vinays Mahāvagga where two merchants play
a similar role at Bodh Gaya though no reference is made there to the
presentation of nails to them.
On his way to India he passed through
countries where Buddhism did not have adherents. Two such countries were Kan-chang
and Sa-mo-kien. He succeeded in propagating Buddhism in those countries by
delivering effective sermons. In the latter some devotees were so taken up with
the teachings that they even entered the Buddhist Order. It was partly due to
his evangelist endeavours that Buddhism which lay dormant after the age of the
Guptas began to flourish during the reign of Harshavardhana.
of Hiuen Tsiang).