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 9 - Writing, Language, Literature, the Vedas and Study in India

The letters of their alphabet were arranged by Brahmādeva, and their forms have been handed down from the first till now. They are forty-seven in number, and are combined so as to form words according to the object, and according to circumstances (of time or place): there are other forms (inflexions) used. This alphabet has spread in different directions and formed diverse branches, according to circumstances; therefore there have been slight modifications in the sounds of the words (spoken language); but in its great features there has been no change. Middle India preserves the original character of the language in its integrity. Here the pronunciation is soft and agreeable, and like the language of the Devas. The pronunciation of the words is clear and pure, and fit as a model for all men. The people of the frontiers have contracted several erroneous modes of pronunciation; for according to the licentious habits of the people, so also will be the corrupt nature of their language.

With respect to the records of events, each province has its own official for preserving them in writing. The record of these events in their full character is called Ni-lo-pi-ch'a (Nīlapiṭa, blue deposit). In these records are mentioned good and evil events, with calamities and fortunate occurrences.

To educate and encourage the young, they are first taught (led) to study the book of twelve chapters (Siddhavastu).[1]

After arriving at the age of seven years and upwards, the young are instructed in the five Vidyās, śāstras of great importance.[2] The first is called the elucidation of sounds (śabdavidyā.) This treatise explains and illustrates the agreement (concordance) of words, and it provides an index for derivatives.

The second vidyā is called Kiau-ming (śilpasthānavidyā); it treats of the arts, mechanics, explains the principles of the Yin and Yang and the calendar.

The third is called the medicinal treatise (Chikitsāvidyā); it embraces formulae for protection, secret charms (the use of) medicinal stones, acupuncture, and mugwort.

The fourth vidyā is called the Hetuvidyā (science of causes); its name is derived from the character of the work, which relates to the determination of the true and false, and reduces to their last terms the definition of right and wrong.

The fifth vidyā is called the science of "the interior" (Adhyātmavidyā); it relates to the five vehicles,[3] their causes and consequences, and the subtle influences of these.

The Brāhmaṇs study the four Veda Sāstras. The first is called Shau (longevity); it relates to the preservation of life and the regulation of the natural condition. The second is called Sse (sacrifice); it relates to the (rules of) sacrifice and prayer. The third is called Ping (peace or regulation); it relates to decorum, casting of lots, military affairs, and army regulations. The fourth is called Shu (secret mysteries); it relates to various branches of science, incantations, medicine.[4]

The teachers (of these works) must themselves have closely studied the deep and secret principles they contain, and penetrated to their remotest meaning. They then explain their general sense, and guide their pupils in understanding the words which are difficult. They urge them on and skilfully conduct them. They add lustre to their poor knowledge, and stimulate the desponding. If they find that their pupils are satisfied with their acquirements, and so wish to escape to attend to their worldly duties, then they use means to keep them in their power. When they have finished their education, and have attained thirty years of age, then their character is formed and their knowledge ripe. When they have secured an occupation they first of all thank their master for his attention. There are some, deeply versed in antiquity, who devote themselves to elegant studies, and live apart from the world, and retain the simplicity of their character. These rise above mundane presents, and are as insensible to renown as to the contempt of the world. Their name having spread afar, the rulers appreciate them high1y, but are unable to draw them to the court. The chief of the country honours them on account of their (mental) gifts, and the people exalt their fame and render them universal homage. This is the reason of their devoting themselves to their studies with ardour and resolution, without any sense of fatigue. They search for wisdom, relying on their own resources. Although they are possessed of large wealth, yet they will wander here and there to seek their subsistence. There are others who, whilst attaching value to letters, will yet without shame consume their fortunes in wandering about for pleasure, neglecting their duties. They squander their substance in costly food and clothing. Having no virtuous principle, and no desire to study, they are brought to disgrace, and their infamy is widely circulated.

So, according to the class they belong to, all gain knowledge of the doctrine of Tathāgata; but, as the time is distant since the holy one lived, his doctrine is presented in a changed form, and so it is understood, rightly or not, according to the intelligence of those who inquire into it.

Footnotes and references:


This work in twelve chapters is that called Siddhavastu (Sih-ti-chang) in the Fan-i-ming-i-tsi (book xiv. 17 a). It is called Sih-ti-lo-su-to by I-tsing (Nan hai, iv. 8 a) by mistake for Sih-ti-po-su-to, i.e., Siddhavastu. For some remarks on this subject see Max Müller's letter to the Academy, Sept. 25, 1880; also Indian Antiq., vol. ix, p. 307.


Or, it may be translated "the great S'āstra, or S'āstras of the five Vidyās," in Chinese, Ming. See below, Book iii. note 102.


The five Vehicles, i.e., the five degrees of religious advance among the Buddhist: (1) The vehicle of Buddha, (2) of the Bodhisattvas, (3) of the Pratyeka Buddha, (4) of the ordained disciple, (5) of the lay disciple.


The four Vedas, in the order they are here spoken of, are the āyur Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sāma Veda, the Atharva Veda.

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