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 4 - Country of Po-lo-ye-kia (Prayaga)

Note: The modern Prayāga or Allahābād, at the junction of the Ganges and Jumnā rivers.

This country is about 5000 li in circuit, and the capital, which lies between two branches of the river, is about 20 li round. The grain products are very abundant, and fruit-trees grow in great luxuriance. The climate is warm and agreeable; the people are gentle and compliant in their disposition. They love learning, and are very much given to heresy.

There are two saṅghārāmas with a few followers, who belong to the Little Vehicle.

There are several Deva temples; the number of heretics is very great.

To the south-west of the capital, in a Champaka (Chen-po-kia) grove, is a stūpa which was built by Aśoka-rāja; although the foundations have sunk down, yet the walls are more than 100 feet high. Here it was in old days Tathāgata discomfited the heretics. By the side of it is a stūpa containing hair and nail relics, and also a place where (the past Buddhas?) sat and walked.

By the side of this last stūpa is an old saṅghārāma; this is the place where Deva Bodhisattva composed the śāstra called Kwang-pih (śataśāstra vaipulyam), refuted the principles of the Little Vehicle and silenced the heretics. At first Deva came from South India to this saṅghārāma. There was then in the town a Brāhmaṇ of high controversial renown and great dialectic skill. Following to its origin the meaning of names, and relying on the different applications of the same word, he was in the habit of questioning his adversary and silencing him. Knowing the subtle skill of Deva, he desired to overthrow him and refute him in the use of words. He therefore said:—

"Pray, what is your name?" Deva said, "They call me Deva." The heretic rejoined, "Who is Deva?" He answered, "I am." The heretic said, "And 'I,' what is that?" Deva answered, "A dog." The heretic said, "And who is a dog?" Deva said, "You." The heretic answered, "And 'you,' what is that?" Deva said, "Deva." The heretic said, "And who is Deva?" He said, "I." The heretic said, "And who is 'I'?" Deva said, "A dog." Again he asked, "And who is a dog?" Deva said, "You." The heretic said, "And who is 'you'?" Deva answered, "Deva." And so they went on till the heretic understood; from that time he greatly reverenced the brilliant reputation of Deva.

In the city there is a Deva temple beautifully ornamented and celebrated for its numerous miracles. According to their records, this place is a noted one (śrī—fortunate ground) for all living things to acquire religious merit.

If in this temple a man gives a single farthing, his merit is greater than if he gave a 1000 gold pieces elsewhere. Again, if in this temple a person is able to contemn life so as to put an end to himself, then he is born to eternal happiness in heaven.

Before the hall of the temple there is a great tree[1] with spreading boughs and branches, and casting a deep shadow. There was a body-eating demon here, who, depending on this custom (viz., of committing suicide), made his abode here; accordingly on the left and right one sees heaps of bones. Hence, when a person comes to this temple, there is everything to persuade him to despise his life and give it up: he is encouraged thereto both by the promptings of the heretics and also by the seductions of the (evil) spirit. From very early days till now this false custom has been practised.

Lately there was a Brāhmaṇ whose family name was Tseu (putra); he was a man of deep penetration and great learning, of lucid wit and high talent. This man coming to the temple, called to all the people and said, "Sirs, ye are of crooked ways and perverse mind, difficult to lead and persuade." Then he engaged in their sacrifices with them, with a view afterwards to convert them. Then he mounted the tree, and looking down on his friends he said, "I am going to die. Formerly I said that their doctrine was false and wicked; now I say it is good and true. The heavenly rishis, with their music in the air, call me. From this fortunate spot will I cast down my poor body." He was about to cast himself down when his friends, having failed by their expostulations to deter him, spread out their garments underneath the place where he was on the tree, and so when he fell he was preserved. When he recovered he said, "I thought I saw in the air the Devas calling me to come, but now by the stratagem of this hateful (heretical) spirit (viz., of the tree), I have failed to obtain the heavenly joys."

To the east of the capital, between the two confluents of the river, for the space of 10 li or so, the ground is pleasant and upland. The whole is covered with a fine sand. From old time till now, the kings and noble families, whenever they had occasion to distribute their gifts in charity, ever came to this place, and here gave away their goods; hence it is called the great charity enclosure. At the present time śīlāditya-rāja, after the example of his ancestors, distributes here in one day the accumulated wealth of five years. Having collected in this space of the charity enclosure immense piles of wealth and jewels, on the first day he adorns in a very sumptuous way a statue of Buddha, and then offers to it the most costly jewels. Afterwards he offers his charity to the residentiary priests; afterwards to the priests (from a distance) who are present; afterwards to the men of distinguished talent; afterwards to the heretics who live in the place, following the ways of the world; and lastly, to the windows and bereaved, orphans and desolate, poor and mendicants.

Thus, according to this order, having exhausted his treasuries and given food in charity, he next gives away his head diadem and his jewelled necklaces. From the first to the last he shows no regret, and when he has finished he cries with joy, "Well done! now all that I have has entered into incorruptible and imperishable treasuries."

After this the rulers of the different countries offer their jewels and robes to the king, so that his treasury is replenished.

To the east of the enclosure of charity, at the confluence of the two rivers, every day there are many hundreds of men who bathe themselves and die. The people of this country consider that whoever wishes to be born in heaven ought to fast to a grain of rice, and then drown himself in the waters. By bathing in this water (they say) all the pollution of sin is washed away and destroyed; therefore from various quarters and distant regions people come here together and rest. During seven days they abstain from food, and afterwards end their lives. And even the monkeys and mountain stags assemble here in the neighbourhood of the river, and some of them bathe and depart, others fast and die.

On one occasion when śīlāditya-rāja distributed the alms in charity, there was a monkey who lived apart by the river-side under a tree. He also abstained from food in private, and after some days he died on that account from want.

The heretics who practise asceticism have raised a high column in the middle of the river; when the sun is about to go down they immediately climb up the pillar; then clinging on to the pillar with one hand and one foot, they wonderfully hold themselves out with one foot and one arm; and so they keep themselves stretched out in the air with their eyes fixed on the sun, and their heads turning with it to the right as it sets. When the evening has darkened, then they come down. There are many dozens of ascetics who practise this rite. They hope by these means to escape from birth and death, and many continue to practise this ordeal through several decades of years.

Going from this country south-west, we enter into a great forest infested with savage beasts and wild elephants, which congregate in numbers and molest travellers, so that unless in large numbers it is difficult (dangerous) to pass this way.

Going 500[2] li or so, we come to the country Kiau-shang-mi (Kauśāmbī).

Footnotes and references:


This tree is the well-known Akshaya-vaṭa or "undecaying banyan tree," which is still an object of worship at Allahābād (Cunningham).


The distance is properly 50 li, as started by Hwui-lih. The capital, however, is 150 li from Prayāga.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: