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 2 - Country of ’O-yu-t’o (Ayodhya)

This kingdom[1] is 5000 li in circuit, and the capital about 20 li. It abounds in cereals, and produces a large quantity of flowers and fruits. The climate is temperate and agreeable, the manners of the people virtuous and amiable; they love the duties of religion (merit), and diligently devote themselves to learning. There are about 100 saṅghārāmas in the country and 3000 priests, who study both the books of the Great and the Little Vehicle. There are ten Deva temples; heretics of different schools are found in them, but few in number.

In the capital is an old saṅghārāma; it was in this place that Vasubandhu[2] Bodhisattva, during a sojourn of several decades of years, composed various śāstras both of the Great and Little Vehicle. By the side of it are some ruined foundation walls; this was the hall in which Vasubandhu Bodhisattva explained the principles of religion and preached for the benefit of kings of different countries, eminent men of the world, śramaṇs and Brāhmaṇs.

To the north of the city 40 li, by the side of the river Ganges, is a large saṅghārāma in which is a stūpa about 200 feet high, which was built by Aśoka-rāja. It was here that Tathāgata explained the excellent principles of the law for the benefit of a congregation of Devas during a period of three months.

By the side is a stūpa to commemorate the place where are traces of the four past Buddhas, who sat and walked here.

To the west of the saṅghārāma 4 or 5 li is a stūpa containing relics of Tathāgata's hair and nails. To the north of this stūpa are the ruins of a saṅghārāma; it was here that śrīlabdha[3] (Shi-li-lo-to), a master of śāstras belonging to the Sautrāntika school, composed the Vibhāṣā śāstra of that school.

To the south-west of the city 5 or 6 li, in an extensive grove of āmra trees, is an old saṅghārāma; this is where Asaṅga[4] Bodhisattva pursued his studies and directed the men of the age.[5] Asaṅga Bodhisattva went up by night to the palace of Maitreya Bodhisattva, and there received[6] the Yogāchārya śāstra,[7] the Mahāyana Sūtrālaṅkāraṭīka,[8] the Madyānta Vibhaṅga śāstra,[9] etc., and afterwards declared these to the great congregation, in their deep principles.

North-west of the āmra grove about a hundred paces is a stūpa containing relics of the hair and nails of Tathāgata. By its side are some old foundation walls. This is where Vasubandhu Bodhisattva descended from the Tuṣita heaven and beheld Asaṅga Bodhisattva. Asaṅga Bodhisattva was a man of Candhāra.[10] He was born in the middle of the thousand years following the departure of Buddha from the world; and possessed of deep spiritual insight, he soon acquired a knowledge of the doctrine (of Buddha). He became a professed disciple, and attached himself to the school of the Mahīśāsakas, but afterwards altered his views and embraced the teaching of the Great Vehicle. His brother, Vasubandhu Bodhisattva, belonged to the school of the Sarvāstivādins, and had inherited a wide fame, with a strong intelligence and penetrating wisdom and remarkable acumen. The disciple of Asaṅga was Buddhasiṃha, a man whose secret conduct was unfathomable, of high talent and wide renown.

These two or three worthies had often talked together in this way: "We all are engaged in framing our conduct so as to enjoy the presence of Maitreya after death.[11] Whoever of us first dies and obtains the condition (of being so born in the heaven of Maitreya), let him come and communicate it to us, that we may know his arrival there."

After this Buddhasiṃha was the first to die. After three years, during which there was no message from him, Vasubandhu Bodhisattva also died. Then six months having elapsed, and there being no message either from him, all the unbelievers began to mock and ridicule, as if Vasubandhu and Buddhasiṃha had fallen into an evil way of birth, and so there was no spiritual manifestation.

After this, Asaṅga Bodhisattva, during the first division of a certain night, was explaining to his disciples the law of entailing (or conferring on others) the power of samādhi, when suddenly the flame of the lamp was eclipsed, and there was a great light in space; then a rishi-deva, traversing through the sky, came down, and forthwith ascending the stairs of the hall, saluted Asaṅga. Asaṅga, addressing him, said, "What has been the delay in your coming? What is your present name?" In reply he said, "At the time of my death I went to the Tuṣita heaven, to the inner assembly (i.e., the immediate presence) of Maitreya, and was there born in a lotus flower."[12] On the flower presently opening, Maitreya, in laudatory terms, addressed me, saying, 'Welcome! thou vastly learned one! welcome! thou vastly learned one!' I then paid him my respects by moving round his person, and then directly[13] came here to communicate my mode of life." Asaṅga said, "And where is Buddhasiṃha?" He answered, "As I was going round Maitreya I saw Buddhasiṃha among the outside crowd, immersed in pleasure and merriment. He exchanged no look with me; how then can you expect him to come to you to communicate his condition?" Asaṅga answered, "That is settled; but with respect to Maitreya, what is his appearance and what the law he declares?" He said, "No words can describe the marks and signs (the personal beauty) of Maitreya. With respect to the excellent law which he declares, the principles of it are not different from those (of our belief). The exquisite voice of the Bodhisattva is soft and pure and refined; those who hear it can never tire; those who listen are never satiated."[14]

To the north-west of the ruins of the preaching-hall of Asaṅga about 40 li, we come to an old saṅghārāma, bordering the Ganges on the north. In it is a stūpa of brick, about 100 feet high; this is the place where Vasubandhu first conceived a desire to cultivate the teaching of the Great Vehicle.[15] He had come to this place from North India. At this time Asaṅga Bodhisattva commanded his followers to go forward to meet him. Having come to the place, they met and had an interview. The disciple of Asaṅga was reposing outside the open window (of Vasubandhu), when in the after part of the night he began to recite the Daśabhūmi Sūtra. Vasubandhu having heard it, understood the meaning, and was deeply grieved that this profound and excellent doctrine had not come to his ears in time past, and he laid the blame on his tongue as the origin of his sin of calumniating (the Great Vehicle), "and so," said he, "I will cut it out." Seizing a knife, he was about to do so, when he saw Asaṅga standing before him, who said, "Indeed the doctrine of the Great Vehicle is very profound; it is praised by all the Buddhas, exalted by all the saints. I would teach it to you, but you yourself now understand it; but now, at the very time of understanding it, what good, in the presence of this holy teaching of the Buddhas, to cut out your tongue? Do it not, but (rather) repent; and as in old time you abused the Great Vehicle with your tongue, now with the same member extol it. Change your life and renew yourself; this is the only good thing to do. There can be no benefit from closing your mouth and ceasing to speak." Having said this he disappeared.

Vasubandhu, in obedience to his words, gave up his purpose of cutting out his tongue. On the morrow morning he went to Asaṅga and accepted the teaching of the Great Vehicle. On this he gave himself up earnestly to think on the subject, and wrote a hundred and more śāstras in agreement with the Great Vehicle, which are spread everywhere, and are in great renown.

From this going east 300 li or so on the north of the Ganges, we arrive at 'O-ye-mo-khi (Hayamukha).

Footnotes and references:


The distance from Kanauj or from Navadevakula to Ayodhyā, on the Ghāghra river is about 130 miles east-south-east. But there are various difficulties in the identification of 'O-yu-t'o with Ayodhyā. Even if the Ghāghra be the Ganges of Hiuen Tsiang, it is difficult to understand why he should cross this river and go south. On the other hand, if we suppose the pilgrim to follow the course of the Ganges for 600 li and then cross it, we should place him not far from Allahābād which is impossible. General Cunningham suggests an alteration of the distance to 60 li, and identifies 'O-yu-t'o with an old town called Kākūpur, twenty miles north-west from Kaṇhpur (Cawnpore) (Anc. Geog., p. 385).


Vasubandhu laboured and taught in Ayodhyā (Vassilief, Boudhisme, p. 220. Eitel, Handbook, sub voc.)


In Chinese, shing-sheu, victory-received.


Asaṅga Bodhisattva was elder brother of Vasubandhu. His name is rendered into Chinese by Wu-cho, without attachment.


I have adopted this translation from Julien; it is not, however, entirely satisfactory; "ts'ing-yih" certainly means "to ask for more," and in this sense it might refer to pursuit of study; but I think it means he requested more information or more light, and it seems from the sentence following that this was the case, for he ascended into heaven and received certain books from Maitreya.


Not, as Julien translates, "explained to the great assembly," but received certain books from Maitreya, and afterwards explained them to the great congregation (saṃgha) in the āmra grove.








According to the Life of Vasubandhu, translated by Chin-ti, he was born in Purushapura in North India.


This was the desire of the early Buddhists after death to go to Maitreya, in the Tushita heaven. It is plainly so in the Gayā inscription, referred to above. Afterwards the fable of a Western Paradise was introduced into Buddhism, and this took the place of Maitreya's heaven.


This idea of being born in or on a lotus flower gave rise to the name of "the lotus school," applied to the Tsing-t'u, or "pure land" section of Buddhists. But it is a belief not confined to any one school. The mediæval legend of the flower which opens in Paradise on the death of a pure child is a touching survival of the same thought.


Of course the idea is that time in the Tushita heaven is not measured as on earth. It took six months for this flower to open.


This singular account of the heaven of Maitreya explains the fervent longing of Hiuen Tsiang on his dying bed to participate in the happiness of those born there (see Vie, p. 345).


Vasubandhu had been brought up in the Little Vehicle school. For the account of his conversion to the principles of the Great Vehicle see Wong Pūh, §185, J. R. As. S., vol. xx. p. 206.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: