Buddhist records of the Western world (Xuanzang)

by Samuel Beal | 1884 | 224,928 words | ISBN-10: 8120811070

This is the English translation of the travel records of Xuanzang (or, Hiuen Tsiang): a Chinese Buddhist monk who traveled to India during the seventh century. This book recounts his documents his visit to India and neighboring countries, and reflects the condition of those countries during his time, including temples, culture, traditions and fest...

Introduction (a): General introduction

The progress which has been made in our knowledge of Northern Buddhism during the last few years is due very considerably to the discovery of the Buddhist literature of China. This literature (now well known to us through the catalogues already published) contains, amongst other valuable works, the records of the travels of various Chinese Buddhist pilgrims who visited India during the early centuries of our era. These records embody the testimony of independent eye-witnesses as to the facts related in them, and having been faithfully preserved and allotted a place in the collection of the sacred hooks of the country, their evidence is entirely trustworthy.

It would be impossible to mention seriatim the various points of interest in these works, as they refer to the geography, history, manners, and religion of the people of India. The reader who looks into the pages that follow will find ample material for study on all these questions. But there is one particular that gives a more than usual interest to the records under notice, and that is the evident sincerity and enthusiasm of the travellers themselves. Never did more devoted pilgrims leave their native country to encounter the perils of travel in foreign and distant lands; never did disciples more ardently desire to gaze on the sacred vestiges of their religion; never did men endure greater sufferings by desert, mountain, and sea than these simple-minded earnest Buddhist priests. And that such courage, religious devotion, and power of endurance should he exhibited by men so sluggish, as we think, in their very nature as the Chinese, this is very surprising, and may perhaps arouse some consideration.

Buddhist hooks began to he imported into China during the closing period of the first century of our era. From these books the Chinese learned the history of the founder of the new religion, and became familiar with the names of the sacred spots he had consecrated by his presence. As time went on. and strangers from India and the neighbourhood still flocked into the Eastern Empire, some of the new converts (whose names have been lost) were urged by curiosity or a sincere desire to gaze on the mementoes of the religion they had learned to adopt, to risk the perils of travel and visit the western region. We are told by I-tsing (one of the writers of these Buddhist records), who lived about 670 A.D., that 500 years before his time twenty men, or about that number, had found their way through the province of Sz’chuen to the Mahabodhi tree in India, and for them and their fellow countrymen a Maharaja called Srigupta built a temple. The establishment was called the “Tchina Temple.” In I-tsing’s days it was in ruins. In the year 290 a.d. we find another Chinese pilgrim called Chu Si-hing visiting Khotan; another called Fa-ling shortly afterwards proceeded to North India, and we can hardly doubt that others unknown to fame followed their example. At any rate, the recent accidental discovery of several stone tablets with Chinese inscriptions at Buddha Gaya, on two of which we find the names of the pilgrims Chi-I and Ho-yun, the former in company “with some other priests,” shows plainly that the sacred spots were visited from time to time by priests from China, whose names indeed are unknown to us from any other source, but who were impelled to leave their home by the same spirit of religious devotion and enthusiasm which actuated those with whom we are better acquainted.

The first Chinese traveller whose name and writings have come down to us is the Sakyaputra Fa-hian. He is the author of the records which follow in the pages of the present Introduction. His work, the was first known in Europe through a translation made by M. Abel Remusat. Rat Klaproth claimed the discovery of the book itself from the year 1816, and it was he who shaped the rough draft of Remusat’s translation from chap. xxi. of the work in question to the end. Of this translation nothing need be said in this place; it has been dealt with elsewhere. It will he enough, therefore, to give some few particulars respecting the life and travels of the pilgrim, and for the rest to refer the reader to the translation which follows.

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