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...

Chapter 33 - Country of Fan-yen-na (Bamiyan)

Note: The country of Bāmiyān has been described by Burnes and other travellers.[1]

This kingdom is about 2000 li from east to west, and 300 li from north to south. It is situated in the midst of the Snowy Mountains. The people inhabit towns either in the mountains or the valleys, according to circumstances.[2] The capital leans on a steep hill, bordering on a valley 6 or 7 li in length.[3] On the north it is backed by high precipices. It (the country) produces spring-wheat[4] 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 Tukhāra 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,[5] 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.[6] There are ten convents and about 1000 priests. They belong to the Little Vehicle, and the school of the Lokottaravādins (Shwo-ch'uh-shi-pu).

To the north-east of the royal city there is a mountain, on the declivity of which is placed a stone figure of Buddha, erect, in height 140 or 150 feet.[7] 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 Sākya Buddha, made of metallic stone (teou-shih[8]), 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 Nirvāṇa. The figure is in length about 1000 feet or so.[9] The king of this (country), every time he assembles the great congregation of the Wu-che (Mokṣa),[10] 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.[11]

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.[12] There is a saṅghārāma here with a tooth of Buddha, also the tooth of a Pratyeka[13] 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 golden-wheel king,[14] in length three inches, and in surface (breadth) two inches. There is also the iron begging-dish of śaṇakavāsa,[15] a great Arhat, which is capable of holding eight or nine shing (pints). These three sacred objects, bequeathed by the holy personages referred to, are all contained in a yellow-golden sealed case. Again, there is here the Saṅghāṭi robe, in nine pieces[16] of śaṇakavāsa; the colour is a deep red (rose-red); it is made of the bark (peel) of the She-no-kia plant.[17] śaṇakavāsa was the disciple of ānanda.[18] In a former existence he had given the priests garments made of the śaṇaka plant (fibre), on the conclusion of the rainy season.[19] 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 ānanda and left his home (i.e., became an ascetic). Then his robe changed into a religious garment;[20] and when he was fully ordained it again changed into a Saṅghāṭi, composed of nine pieces. When he was about to arrive at Nirvāṇa he entered into the condition of Samādhi, bordering on complete extinction, and by the force of his vow in attaining wisdom (he arrived at the knowledge)[21] that this kaṣāya garment would last till the bequeathed law (testament) of śākya (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 (Siāh Koh), and arrive at the country of Kia-pi-shi.

Footnotes and references:


The country of Bāmiyān has been described by Burnes and other travellers. Wood, in his journey to the source of the Oxus, passed through it. It lies immediately to the north of the Hajiyak Pass. Wood's Oxus (2d ed.), pp. 130, 131; Proc. R. Geog. Soc., vol. i. (1879), pp. 244 ff.; Baber's Memoirs, p. 139. Grote (Hist. Greece, vol. xii. p. 271 n.) supposes that Alexander crossed into Baktria by Bāmiyān: see Arrian, Anab., lib. iii. c. 29, I ; Strabo, Geog., lib. xv. c. 2, II; Wilson, Ariana Ant., pp. 179 f.; also note 175 inf.


Or, "according to the resources or strength of the place."


Such it appears is the meaning. The town rests on, or is supported by, a precipitous cliff, and borders on a valley 6 or 7 li in length.


The "suh-mai" is "late wheat;" wheat sown in the spring.


Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha.


This sentence might be rendered better thus : "The merchants conjecture in coming and going whether the gods and spirits (or the heavenly spirits) afford propitious omens; if the indications are calamitous, they offer up their prayers {seek religious merit)."


These rock-hewn figures of Buddha in Bāmiyān have been objects of curiosity down to the present day. They were seen during the campaign in Afghanistan in 1843, and doubtless remain to the present day. The most recent notice of them is in General Kaye's paper. Proc. R. Geog. Soc., vol. i. (1879), pp. 248, 249. He says:"On the opposite side of the valley from the great (standing) image, about a mile to the west, a stony gully leads into the hills. A short way up this there is a nearly insulated rock, on the flat summit of which there is in relief a recumbent figure, bearing a rude resemblance to a huge lizard," which figure the people now call Azhdaha;, or the dragon slain by a Muhammadan pīr (see also ib., p. 338). Hyde, quoting Masālik Mamālik and the Farhang-i-Jahāngiri of Ibn Fakred-dīn Angju, says the two larger statues are 50 cubits high, one called Surkh-but (red image) and the other Khink-but (grey image), and at some distance is a smaller one "in formae vetulae,"called Nesr. The Aīn-i-Akbarī says the larger of the two is 80 ells (cubits?) and the 1esser 50 in height; Burnes's estimate is 120 and 70 feet. Wilford gives a tolerably minute account of Bāmiyān and these figures. Masson mentions five statues. See Ritter, Die Stupa's oder die Architektonischen Denkmale an der IndoBaktr. Königstr. u. d. Colosse von Bamiyan, pp. 24 f.; Hyde, Hist. Relig. vet. Pers., p. 132; Burnes, Travels, vol. i. pp. 182-188, and J. A. S. Ben., vol. ii. pp. 561 f.; Masson, ibid., vol. v. pp. 707 f.; Wood's Oxus, pp. lxvii, 125 f.; Asiat. Res., vol. vi. PP. 462-472, 495, 523-528; Bretschneider, Med. Geog., pp. 58, 193; Gladwin, Ayeen Akbery, vol. ii. p. 208, vol. iii. pp. 168, 169.


This teou-shih is described by Medhurst (sub voc.) as "a kind of stone resembling metal. The Chinese call it the finest kind of native copper. It is found in the Po-sze country (Persia) and resembles gold. On the application of fire it assumes a red colour, and does not turn black. When mercury falls to the ground this substance will attract it." But from the statement that each part of this figure was cast separately, it is plain that it was made of metal, probably brass or bronze. Julien translates it by lai-ton, brass.


If this sleeping figure of Buddha was lying within the building, it is unreasonable to suppose it could be 1000 feet in length. The sleeping figures of Buddha at Moulmein, I am told by a friend who visited the caves there and measured the figures. (They) were 60 yards in length. The figures of Buddha entering Nirvāṇa in the Sinhalese temples are often very large. One in Cave xxvi. at Ajaṇṭā is fully 23 feet in length. See Fergusson and Burgess, Cave Temples, p. 344; and note 175 supra. The text of Hiuen Tsiang is probably corrupt in this passage.


The Mōksha Mahāparishad; a meeting, as it seems, held every five years for the benefit of the priests (Buddhist community). On these occasions there were recitations of the law, and offerings were made to the priesthood. These assemblies were generally made on some favourite mountain. It was also called Pañchavarshikā parishad. See Abstract of Four Lectures, p. 170; and note 66 supra.


In such matters as these there is most concern shown.


Ts'ung, a light green.


A Pratyeka Buddha is one who has attained enlightenment, that is, become a Buddha, but for himself alone.


That is, a monarch of the four dvīpas or suvarṇachakravartin.


śaṇakavāsa, or Sāṇavāsika, according to some Northern accounts, was the fourth patriarch or president of the Buddhist community (Fo-sho-hsing-tsan-king, xiv.) Other authorities speak of him as the third patriarch. See Eitel, Handbook, subvoc.; Rémusat, Mél. Asiat., tom. i. p. 118; Neumann, Zeitschr. f. d. Kunde d. Morg., vol iii. p. 124; Edkins, Chin. Buddhism, pp. 66-69; Lassen, Ind. Alterthums. (2d edit.), vol. ii. p. 1201. He lived 100 years after Buddha.


I. e., composed of nine parts sewn together.


The S'aṇaka plant, a kind of hemp called the Bengal śaṇ.


The ordinary succession of the patriarchs is, after Buddha, (1) Kāśyapa, (2) ānanda, (3) Madhyāntika, (4) śaṇakavāsa. The last named is sometimes identified with Yaśa, the son of Kana, who was one of the chief leaders in the second council 100 years after Buddha. He may be the same as Sonaka in the Southern records, who died, according to Rhys Davids (Numismata Orientalia, pp. 46, 47), in A.B. 124; conf. Bühler, Ind. Ant., vol. vii. p. 150.


"At the conclusion of the retirement during the rainy season." It was customary for the priests to retire into a fixed residence during the three months of the rainy season. When the retirement broke up (kiaingan ku jih) robes and other presents were given to the priests.


I.e., a vestment worn by the religious.


Or "he secured the privilege, by the earnestness of his vow, that his robe," etc..

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