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 (i): Preface to the “Ta-t’ang-si-yu-ki” by Chang Yueh

Summary: Records of the Western World[1] (compiled during) the Great T'ang[2] dynasty (A.D. 618-907); translated by Imperial command by Hiuen Tsiang,[3] a Doctor of three Piṭakas, and edited by Pien Ki, a Shaman of the Ta-tsung-chi Temple.

Note: This preface was written by Chang Yueh, who flourished as minister of state under T'ang Hüan Tsung (A.D. 713-756). He is called Tchang-choue by Stan. Julien. It is written in the usual ornate style of such compositions. I have mostly followed Julien's rendering and refer the reader to his explanatory notes for fuller information.

When of yore the precious hair-circle[4] shed forth its flood of light, the sweet dew was poured upon the great thousand (worlds),[5] the golden mirror[6] displayed its brightness, and a fragrant wind was spread over the earth; then it was known that he had appeared in the three worlds[7] who is rightly named the lord of the earth. His brightness, indeed, dwells in the four limits (of the universe), but his sublime model was fixed in the middle of the world. Whereupon, as the sun of wisdom declined, the shadow of his doctrine spread to the East, the grand rules of the emperor[8] diffused themselves afar, and his imposing laws reached to the extremities of the West.

There was in the temple of "great benevolence" a doctor of the three Piṭakas called Hiuen Tsiang.[9] His common name was Chin-shi. His ancestors came from Ing-chuen;[10] the emperor Hien[11] held the sceptre; reigning at Hwa-chau,[12] he opened the source. The great Shun entertained the messengers as he laid on Li-shan[13] the foundation of his renown. The three venerable ones distinguished themselves during the years of K'i.[14] The six extraordinary (events) shone during the Han period. In penning odes there was one who equalled the clear moon; in wandering by the way there was one who resembled the brilliant stars -- (his illustrious ancestors) like fishes in the lake, or as birds assembled before the wind, by their choice services in the world served to produce as their result an illustrious descendant.

The master of the law under these fortunate influences came into the world. In him were joined sweetness and virtue. These roots, combined and deeply planted, produced their fruits rapidly. The source of his wisdom (reason) was deep, and wonderfully it increased. At his opening life he was rosy as the evening vapours and (round) as the rising moon. A a boy (collecting-sand age) he was sweet as the odour of cinnamon or the vanilla tree. When he grew up he thoroughly mastered the Fan and Su;[15] the nine borders[16] were filled with (bore) his renown, the five prefectures (or palaces) together resounded his praise.

At early dawn he studied the true and the false, and through the night shone forth his goodness; the mirror of his wisdom, fixed on the true receptacle, remained stationary. He considered the limits of life, and was permanently at rest (in the persuasion that) the vermilion ribbon and the violet silken tassels are the pleasing bonds that keep one attached to the world; but the precious car and red pillow, these are the means of crossing the ford and escaping the world. Wherefore he put away from him the pleasures of sense, and spoke of finding refuge in some hermit retreat. His noble brother Chang-tsi was a master of the law, a pillar and support of the school of Buddha. He was as a dragon or an elephant (or a dragon-elephant) in his own generation, and, as a falcon or a crane, he mounted above those to come. In the court and the wilderness was his fame exalted; within and without was his renown spread. Being deeply affectionate, they loved one another, and so fulfilled the harmony of mutual relationship (parentage). The master of the law was diligent in his labour as a student; he lost not a moment of time, and by his studies he rendered his teachers illustrious, and was an ornament to his place of study. His virtuous qualities were rightly balanced, and he caused the perfume of his fame to extend through the home of his adoption. Whip raised, he travelled on his even way; he mastered the nine divisions of the books, and swallowed (the lake) Mong;[17] he worked his paddles across the dark ford; he gave his attention to (looked down upon) the four Vedas, whilst finding Lu small.[18].

From this time he travelled forth and frequented places of discussion, and so passed many years, his merit completed, even as his ability was perfected. Reaching back to the beginning, when the sun and moon first lit up with their brightness the spiritually (created) world, or, as Tseu-yun, with his kerchief suspended at his girdle, startled into life (developed) his spiritual powers, so in his case the golden writing gradually unfolded itself. He waited for the autumn car, yet hastened as the clouds; he moved the handle of jade[19] for a moment, and the mist-crowds were dispersed as the heaped-up waves. As the occasion required, he could use the force of the flying discus or understand the delicate sounds of the lute used in worship.[20]

With all the fame of these acquirements, he yet embarked in the boat of humility and departed alone. In the land of Hwan-yuen he first broke down the boasting of the iron-clad stomach;[21] in the village of Ping-lo in a moment he exhibited the wonder of the floating wood.[22] Men near and afar beheld him with admiration as they said one to another, "Long ago we heard of the eight dragons of the family of Sun, but now we see the double wonder (ke) of the gate of Chin. Wonderful are the men of Ju and Ing."[23] This is true indeed! The master of the law, from his early days till he grew up, pondered in heart the mysterious principles (of religion). His fame spread wide among eminent men.

At this time the schools were mutually contentious; they hastened to grasp the end without regarding the beginning; they seized the flower and rejected the reality; so there followed the contradictory teaching of the North and South, and the confused sounds of "Yes" and "No," perpetual words! On this he was afflicted at heart, and fearing lest he should be unable to find out completely the errors of translations, he purposed to examine thoroughly the literature of the perfume elephant,[24] and to copy throughout the list of the dragon palace.[25]

With a virtue of unequalled character, and at a time favourable in its indications, he took his staff, dusted his clothes, and set off for distant regions. On this he left behind him the dark waters of the Pa river;[26] he bent his gaze forwards; he then advanced right on to the T'sung-ling mountains. In following the courses of rivers and crossing the plains he encountered constant dangers. Compared with him Po-wang[27] went but a little way, and the journey of Fa-hien[28] was short indeed. In all the districts through which he journeyed he learnt thoroughly the dialects; he investigated throughout the deep secrets (of religion) and penetrated to the very source of the stream. Thus he was able to correct the books and transcend (the writers of) India. The texts being transcribed on palm leaves, he then returned to China.

The Emperor T'ai Tsung, surnamed Wen-wang-ti, who held the golden wheel and was seated royally on the throne, waited with impatience for that eminent man. He summoned him therefore to the green enclosure,[29] and, impressed by his past acquirements, he knelt before him in the yellow palace. With his hand he wrote proclamations full of affectionate sentiments; the officers of the interior attended him constantly; condescending to exhibit his illustrious thoughts, he wrote a preface to the sacred doctrine of the Tripiṭaka, consisting of 780 words. The present emperor (Kao Tsung) had composed in the spring pavilion a sacred record consisting of 579 words, in which he sounded to the bottom the stream of deep mystery and expressed himself in lofty utterances. But now, if he (Hiuen Tsiang) had not displayed his wisdom in the wood of the cock,[30] nor scattered his brightness on the peak of the vulture,[31] how could he (the emperor) have been able to abase his sacred composition in the praise of the ornament of his time?

In virtue of a royal mandate, he (Hiuen Tsiang) translated 657 works from the original Sanskrit (Fan). Having thoroughly examined the different manners of distant countries, the diverse customs of separate people, the various products of the soil and the class divisions of the people, the regions where the royal calendar is received[32] and where the sounds of moral instruction have come, he has composed in twelve books the Ta-t'ang-si-yu-ki. Herein he has collected and written down the most secret principles of the religion of Buddha, couched in language plain and precise. It may be said, indeed, of him, that his works perish not.

Footnotes and references:


The "Western World." This expression denotes generally the countries west of China. Mr. Mayers, in his note on Chang K'ien (Reader's Manual, No. 18), confines the meaning to Turkistān.


That is, during the reign of T'ai Tsung (Cheng Kwan) of the Great T'ang dynasty, A.D. 646.


Hiuen Tsiang: in spelling Chinese names, the method of Dr. Wells Williams in his Tonic Dictionary has been generally followed. See note 10.


This phrase designates one of the thirty-two marks (viz. the ūrṇa) which characterise a great man, and which were recognised on the Buddha. See Burnouf, Lotus de la Bonne Loi, pp. 30, 543, 553, and 616; Introd. Buddh. (2d ed.), p. 308; Foucaux, Lalita Vistara, p. 286; Beal, Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king, I. i. 83, 84, 114, etc.; Hodgson, Essays (Serampore edit.), p. 129, or (Lond. 1874) pt. i. p. 90; Hardy, Manual of Buddhism (2d ed.), p. 150, etc.


Julien explains this as "the great chiliocosm," and refers to Remusat, Melang. Post., p. 94.


The moon.


Buddha had appeared in the world of desires (Kāmadhātu), the world of forms (Rūpadhātu), the world without forms (Arūpadhātu).--Julien. But here it simply means "in the world."


The emperor T'ai-tsung of the T'ang dynasty (A.D. 627-649).


I adopt this mode of spelling for reasons stated in the introduction. He is generally known from Julien's French version as "Hiouen Thsang." Mr. Mayers (Reader's Manual, p. 290) calls him Huan Chwan; Mr. Wylie, Yuéen-Chwàng; and the name is also represented by Hhüen-Chwāṅg.


Yu-cheu, in the province of Honan.--Jul.


That is, Hwang Ti (B.C. 2697), otherwise called Hien-yuen-shi.


Hwa-chau was an island of the kingdom of Hwa-siu, where Fo-hi fixed his court.--Jul.


For Shun and Li-shan consult Mayers under Shun (op. cit. No. 617).


I.e., under the reign of the Chau, whose family name was K'i.--Jul.


That is, the books of the legendary period of Chinese history, from 2852 B.C. to 2697 B.C.


Or the nine islands (Khiu-kao-tsaï-in, concerning which there is a passage in the Shi King.--Jul. p. lii.


To swallow the lake Mong is a metaphorical way of saying he had acquired a vast erudition.--Jul.


To find "Lu-small" is an allusion to a passage in Mencius: "Confucius mounted on the mountain of the East, and found that the king of Lu (i.e., his own country) was small." (Jul.) The meaning of the expression in the text seems to be that Hiuen Tsiang found his own studies contracted and small, so he bent down his head to examine the Vedas.


The fly-flap of the orator has a jade handle.


So I have ventured to translate the word "pai", although in the addenda at the end of Book I. the word is considered corrupt.


This probably refers to some minor encounter or discussion which Hiuen Tsiang had in his own country. The expression "iron-clad stomach" refers to the story told of one he met with in his travels in India who wore an iron corslet lest his learning should burst open his body.--Si-yu-ki, Book x. fol. 9.


I cannot but think this refers to the ability of Hiuen Tsiang in hitting on the solution of a difficult question, as the blind tortoise with difficulty finds the hole in a floating piece of wood.


The rivers Ju and Ing are in the province of Honan. The saying in the text is quoted from a letter addressed by Siun-yu to the emperor during the eastern Han dynasty.--Jul.


If we may venture to give a meaning to this expression, the "perfume elephant" (Gandhahastī), which so frequently occurs in Buddhist books, it may refer to the solitary elephant (bull elephant) when in rut. A perfume then flows from his ears. The word is also applied to an elephant of the very best class.


The books carried (as the fable says) to the palace of the Nāgas to be kept in safety.


It rises in the Lan-thien district of the department of Si-'gan-fu in the province of Shen-si.--Jul.


The celebrated general Chang K'ien, who lived in the second century B.C., was the first Chinese who penetrated to the extreme regions of the west. "In B.C. 122 he was sent to negotiate treaties with the kingdom of Si-yu, the present Turkistān" (Mayers). He was ennobled as the Marquis Po-Wang. Beal, Travels of Fah-hian, etc., pp. xvii, xviii; Pauthier, Jour. Asiat., ser. iii. 1839, p. 260; Julien, Jour. Asiat., ser. iv. tom. x. (1847), or Ind. Ant., vol. ix. pp. 14, 15.


The well-known Chinese Buddhist traveller, A.D. 399-414.


The green enclosure surrounding the imperial seat or throne.


The Kukkuṭa saṅghārāma near Pātna.


The Vulture Peak (Gṛīdhrakūṭa parvata), near Rājagṛiha.


The royal calendar is the work distributed annually throughout the empire, containing all information as to the seasons, etc.--Jul.

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