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 Kiu-shi-na-kie-lo (Kushinagara)

Note: Kuśinagara (or, Kuśinagarī, Kuśanagara, Kuśigrāmaka or Kuśinārā) has been identified with the present village of Kasia, 35 miles to the east of Gorakhpur.[1]

The capital of this country is in ruins, and its towns and villages waste and desolate. The brick foundation walls[2] of the old capital are about 10 li in circuit. There are few inhabitants, and the avenues of the town are deserted and waste. At the north-east angle of the city gate[3] is a stūpa which was built by Aśoka-rāja. This is the old house of Chunda (Chun-t'o);[4] in the middle of it is a well which was dug at the time when he was about to make his offering (to Buddha). Although it has overflown for years and months, the water is still pure and sweet.

To the north-west of the city 3 or 4 li, crossing the Ajitavatī (O-shi-to-fa-ti)[5] river, on the western bank, not far, we come to a grove of śāla trees. The śāla tree is like the Huh tree, with a greenish white bark and leaves very glistening and smooth. In this wood are four trees of an unusual height, which indicate the place where Tathāgata died.[6]

There is (here) a great brick vihāra, in which is a figure of the Nirvāṇa of Tathāgata. He is lying with his head to the north as if asleep. By the side of this vihāra is a stūpa built by Aśoka-rāja; although in a ruinous state, yet it is some 200 feet in height. Before it is a stone pillar to record the Nirvāṇa of Tathāgata; although there is an inscription on it, yet there is no date as to year or month.

According to the general tradition, Tathāgata was eighty years old when, on the 15th day of the second half of the month Vaiśākha, he entered Nirvāṇa. This corresponds to the 15th day of the 3d month with us. But the Sarvāstivādins say that he died on the 8th day of the second half of the month Kārtika, which is the same as the 8th day of the 9th month with us. The different schools calculate variously from the death of Buddha. Some say it is 1200 years and more since then. Others say, 1300 and more. Others say, 1500 and more. Others say that 900 years have passed, but not 1000 since the Nirvāṇa.[7]

By the side of the vihāra, and not far from it, is a stūpa. This denotes the place where Bodhisattva, when practising a religious life, was born as the king of a flock of pheasants (chi—S. kapiñjala), and caused a fire to be put out. Formerly there was in this place a great and shady forest, where beasts and birds congregated and built their nests or dwelt in caves. Suddenly a fierce wind burst from every quarter, and a violent conflagration spread on every side. At this time there was a pheasant who, moved by pity and tenderness, hastened to plunge itself in a stream of pure water, and then flying up in the air, shook the drops from its feathers (on the flames). Whereupon śakra, king of Devas, coming down, said (to the bird), "Why are you so foolish as to tire yourself, thus fluttering your wings? A great fire is raging, it is burning down the forest trees and the desert grass; what can such a tiny creature as you do to put it out?" The bird said, "And who are you?" He replied. "I am śakra, king of Devas." The bird answered, "Now śakra, king of Devas, has great power of religious merit, and every wish he has he can gratify; to deliver from this calamity and avert the evil would be as easy as opening and shutting his hand. There can be no propriety in permitting this calamity to last.[8] But the fire is burning fiercely on every side, there is no time for words." And so saying he flew away again, and ascending up, sprinkled the water from his wings. Then the king of the Devas took the water in the hollow of his hand[9] and poured it out on the forest and extinguished the fire; the smoke was cleared away and the living creatures saved. Therefore this stūpa is still called "the extinguishing-fire stūpa."

By the side of this, not far off, is a stūpa. On this spot Bodhisattva, when practising a religious life, being at that time a deer, saved (or, rescued)[10] living creatures. In very remote times this was a great forest; a fire burst out in the wild grass that grew in it. The birds[11] and beasts were sorely distressed. Before them was the barrier of a swiftly flowing river. Behind them the calamity of the raging fire which barred their escape. There was no help for it but to plunge into the water, and there drowned, they perished. This deer, moved by pity, placed his body across the stream, which lashed his sides and broke his bones, whilst he strove with all his strength to rescue the drowning creatures. A worn-out hare coming to the bank, the deer with patience bearing his pain and fatigue, got him safely across, but his strength being now worn out, he was engulfed in the water and died. The Devas collecting his bones raised this stūpa.

To the west of this place, not far off, is a stūpa. This is where Subhadra[12] (Shen-hien) died (entered Nirvāṇa). Subhadra was originally a Brāhmaṇ teacher. He was 120 years of age; being so old, he had acquired in consequence much wisdom. Hearing that Buddha was about to die, he came to the two[13] (sāla) trees, and asked ānanda, saying, "The Lord is about to die; pray let me ask him respecting some doubts I have, which still hamper me." ānanda replied, "The Lord is about to die; pray do not trouble him." He said, "I hear that Buddha is difficult to meet in the world, and that the true law is difficult to hear. I have some grave doubts; there is no ground for fear," On being invited, Subhadra at once entered, and first asked Buddha, "There are many different persons who call themselves masters, each having a different system of doctrine, and pretending therewith to guide the people. Is Gautama (Kiu-ta-mo)[14] able to fathom their doctrine?" Buddha said, "I know their doctrine thoroughly;" and then for Subhadra's sake he preached the law.

Subhadra having heard (the sermon), his mind, pure and faithful, found deliverance, and he asked to be received into the church as a fully ordained disciple. Then Tathāgata addressed him saying, "Are you able to do so? Unbelievers and other sectaries who prepare themselves for a pure mode of life[15] ought to pass a four years' novitiate, to exhibit their conduct and test their disposition; if their characters and words be unexceptionable, then such persons may enter my profession; but in your case, whilst living amongst men, you have observed their discipline. There should be no difficulty, then, to prevent your full ordination?"

Subhadra said, "The Lord is very pitiful and very gracious, without any partiality. Is he then willing to forego in my case the four years of the threefold preparatory discipline?"[16]

Buddha said, "As I before stated, this has been done whilst living among men."

Then Subhadra, leaving his home immediately, took full orders as a priest. Then applying himself with all diligence, he vigorously disciplined both body and mind, and so being freed from all doubt, in the middle of the night (of Buddha's Nirvāṇa), not long after (the interview), he obtained the fruit, and became an Arhat without any imperfection. Being thus perfected in purity, he could not bear to await Buddha's death (great Nirvāṇa), but in the midst of the congregation, entering the samādhi of "fire-limit" (Agni-dhātu), and after displaying his spiritual capabilities, he first entered Nirvāṇa. He was thus the very last convert of Tathāgata, and the first to enter Nirvāṇa. This is the same as the hare who was last saved in the story that has just been told.

Beside (the stūpa of) Subhadra's Nirvāṇ is a stūpa; this is the place where the Vajrapāṇi (Chi-kin-kang)[17] fell fainting on the earth. The great merciful Lord of the World, having, according to the condition of the persons concerned, finished his work of converting the world, entered on the joy of the Nirvāṇa between the two śāla trees; with his head to the north, he there lay asleep. The Mallas, with their diamond maces and divine though secret characteristics,[18] seeing Buddha about to die, were deeply affected with pity, and cried, "Tathāgata is leaving us and entering the great Nirvāṇa; thus are we without any refuge or protection to defend us; the poisonous arrow has deeply penetrated our vitals, and the fire of sorrow burns us up without remedy!" Then letting go their diamond clubs, they fell prostrate on the earth, and so remained for a long time. Then rising again, and deeply affected with compassion and love, they thus spake together, "Who shall now provide us a boat to cross over the great sea of birth and death? Who shall light a lamp to guide us through the long night of ignorance?"

By the side where the diamond (mace-holders) fell to the earth is a stūpa. This is the place where for seven days after Buddha had died they offered religious offerings. When Tathāgata was about to die, a brilliant light shone everywhere; men and Devas were assembled, and together showed their sorrow as they spake thus one to the other, "Now the great Buddha, Lord of the World, is about to die, the happiness of men is gone, the world has no reliance." Then Tathāgata, reposing on his right side upon the lion-bed, addressed the great congregation thus, "Say not Tathāgata has gone for ever (perished), because he dies; the body of the law[19] endures for ever! unchangeable is this! Put away all idleness, and without delay seek for emancipation (from the world)."

Then the Bhikṣus sobbing and sighing with piteous grief, Aniruddha[20] bade the Bhikṣus cease. "Grieve not thus," he said, "lest the Devas should deride." Then all the Mallas (Mo-la) having offered their offerings, desired to raise the golden coffin, and bring it to the place of cremation. Then Aniruddha addressed them all, and bade them stop, for the Devas desired to offer their worship during seven days.

Then the Devas (the heavenly host), holding exquisite divine flowers, discoursed through space the praises of his sacred qualities, each in full sincerity of heart offering his sacrifice or worship.

By the side of the place where the coffin was detained is a stūpa; this is where the queen Mahāmāyā[21] wept for Buddha.

Tathāgata having departed, and his body being laid in the coffin, then Aniruddha, ascending to the heavenly mansions, addressed the queen Māyā and said, "The supremely holy Lord of Religion has now died!"

Māyā having heard of it, suppressed her sobs, and with the body of Devas came to the two śāla trees. Seeing the saṅghāṭī robe, and the pātra, and the religious staff, she embraced them as she recognised each, and then ceased awhile to act,[22] till once again with loud accents she cried, "The happiness of men and gods is done! The world's eyes put out! All things are desert, without a guide!"

Then by the holy power of Tathāgata the golden coffin of itself opened; spreading abroad a glorious light, with hands conjoined, and sitting upright, he saluted his loving mother (and said), "You have come down from far; you who live so religiously need not be sad!"

ānanda, suppressing his grief, inquired and said, "What shall I say hereafter when they question me?" In answer he rejoined, "(Say this), when Buddha had already died, his loving mother Māyā, from the heavenly courts descending, came to the twin śāla trees. Then Buddha, bent on teaching the irreverent among[23] men, from out his golden coffin, with hands conjoined, for her sake, preached the law."

To the north of the city, after crossing the river,[24] and going 300 paces or so, there is a stūpa. This is the place where they burnt the body of Tathāgata. The earth is now of a blackish yellow, from a mixture of earth and charcoal. Whoever with true faith seeks here, and prays, is sure to find some relics of Tathāgata.

When Tathāgata died, men and Devas, moved with love, prepared a coffin made of the seven precious substances, and in a thousand napkins swathed his body; they spread both flowers and scents, they placed both canopies and coverings over it; then the host of Mallas raised the bier and forward marched, with others following and leading on. Passing the golden river (Kin-ho) to the north, they filled the coffin up with scented oil, and piled high up the odorous wood and kindled it. Then, after all was burnt, there were two napkins left—one that lay next the body, the other from the outside covering. Then they divided the śarīras for the world's sake, the hair and nails alone remained untouched by fire. By the side of the place of cremation is a stūpa; here Tathāgata, for Kāśyapa's sake, revealed his feet. When Tathāgata was in his golden coffin, and the oil poured on it and the wood piled up, the fire would not enkindle. When all the beholders were filled with fear and doubt, Aniruddha spoke, "We must await Kāśyapa."

At this time Kāśyapa, with 500 followers from out the forest, came to Kuśinagara, and asked ānanda saying, "Can I behold Tathāgata's body?" ānanda said, "Swathed in a thousand napkins, enclosed within a heavy coffin, with scented wood piled up, we are about to burn it."

At this time Buddha caused his feet to come from out the coffin. Above (or, on) the wheel sign[25] lo! there were different coloured marks. Addressing ānanda then, he said, "And what are these?" Answering he said, "When first he died the tears of men and gods, moved by pity, falling upon his feet, left these marks."[26]

Then Kāśyapa worshipped and walked round the coffin uttering his praises. Then the scented wood caught fire of its own accord, and burnt the whole with a great conflagration.

When Tathāgata died he appeared three times from his coffin: first, when he put out his arm and asked ānanada, "(Have you) prepared the way?"[27] secondly, when he sat up and preached the law for his mother's sake; and thirdly, when he showed his feet to the great Kāśyapa.

By the side of the place where he showed his feet is a stūpa built by Aśoka-rāja. This is the place where the eight kings shared the relics. In front is built a stone pillar on which is written an account of this event.

When Buddha died, and after his cremation, the kings of the eight countries with their troops (four kinds of troops) sent a right-minded Brāhman (Drona) [28] to address the Mallas of Kuṣinagara, saying, "The guide of men and gods has died in this country; we have come from far to request a share of his relics." The Mallas said, "Tathāgata has condescended to come to this land; the guide of the world is dead! the loving father of all that lives has gone! We ought to adore the relics of Buddha; your journey here has been in vain, you will not gain your end." Then the great kings having sought humbly for them and failed, sent a second message saying," As you will not accede to our request, our troops are near." Then the Brāhmaṇ addressing them said, "Reflect how the Lord, the great merciful, prepared religious merit by practising patience; through successive ages his renown will last. Your desire now to try force is not right. Divide then the relics into eight portions, so that all may worship them. Why resort to arms?"[29] The Mallas, obedient to these words, divided the relics into eight parts.

Then śakra the king of gods said, "The Devas also should have a share; dispute not their right."

Anavatapta[30] the Nāga also, and Muchilinda (Wen-lin), and Elāpatra (I-lo-po-ta-lo) also, deliberated and said, "We ought not to be left without a bequest; if we seek it by force it will not be well for you!" The Brāhman said, "Dispute not so!" Then he divided the relics into three portions, one for the Devas, one for the Nāgas, and one remnant for the eight kingdoms among men. This addition of Devas and Nāgas in sharing the relics was a source of great sorrow to the kings of men.[31]

To the south-west of the relic-dividing stūpa, going 200 li or so, we come to a great village; here lived a Brāhmaṇ of eminent wealth and celebrity, deeply learned in all pure literature, versed in the five Vidyās,[32] acquainted with the three treasures (piṭakas). By the side of his home he had built a priest's house, and bad used all his wealth to adorn it with magnificence. If by chance any priests in their travels stopped on their way, he asked them to halt, and used all his means to entertain them. They might stop one night, or even throughout seven days.

After this, śaśāṅka-rāja having destroyed the religion of Buddha, the members of the priesthood were dispersed, and for many years driven away. The Brāhmaṇ nevertheless retained for them, through all, an undying regard. As he was walking he chanced to see a śramaṇa, with thick eyebrows and shaven head, holding his staff, coming along. The Brāhmaṇ hurried up to him, and meeting him asked, "Whence come you?" and besought him to enter the priest's abode and receive his charity. In the morning he gave him some rice-milk (rice balls with milk). The śramaṇa having taken a mouthful, thereupon returned it (i.e., the rest) to his alms-bowl with a great sigh. The Brāhmaṇ who supplied the food prostrating himself said, "Eminent sir! (bhadanta), is there any reason why you should not remain with me one night? is not the food agreeable?" The śramaṇa graciously answering said, "I pity the feeble merit possessed by the world, but let me finish my meal and I will speak to you further." After finishing his food he gathered up his robes as if to go. The Brāhmaṇ said, "Your reverence agreed to speak with me, why then are you silent?" The śramaṇa said, "I have not forgotten; but to talk with you is irksome; and the circumstance is likely to create doubt, but yet I will tell you in brief. When I sighed, it was not on account of your offering of rice; for during many hundreds of years I have not tasted such food. When Tathāgata was living in the world I was a follower of his when he dwelt in the Venuvana-vihāra, near Rājagṛīha (Ho-lo-she-ki-li-hi);[33] there it was, stooping down, I washed his pātra in the pure stream of the river—there I filled his pitcher—there I gave him water for cleansing his mouth; but alas! the milk you now offer is not like the sweet water of old! It is because the religious merit of Devas and men has diminished that this is the case!" The Brāhmaṇ then said, "Is it possible that you yourself have ever seen Buddha?" The śramanṇa replied, "Have you never heard of Rāhula, Buddha's own son? I am he! Because I desire to protect the true law I have not yet entered Nirvāṇa."

Having spoken thus he suddenly disappeared. Then the Brāhmaṇ swept and watered the chamber he had used, and placed there a figure of him, which he reverenced as though he were present.

Going 500 li through the great forest we come to the kingdom of P'o-lo-ni-sse (Bānāras).

Footnotes and references:


Kuśinagara, Kuśinagarl, Kuśanagara, Kuśigrāmaka, or Kuśinārā, the scene of Buddha's death and burial, has been identified by Wilson and Cunningham with the present village of Kasia, 35 miles to the east of Gorakhpur. It stood close to the Hiraṇyavatī river (Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king, v. 2200); this must be the same as the Little Gaṇḍakī river, or one of its feeders; The channel of this river, however, has undergone frequent changes. See J. R. As. S., vol. v. pp. 123 f.; Burnouf, Introd. (2d ed.), pp. 75, 347; Lassen, Ind. Alt. (2d ed.), vol. i. pp. 171, 662; Lalita Vistara, pp. 416 f., 419 ff.


Cunningham speaks of the bricks of which the stūpas were built (Arch. Survey, vol. i. p. 77).


Aśvaghosha speaks of the Lung-siang gate, which must have led towards the river (Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king, v. 2200).


Chunda was a householder who invited Buddha to his house and there gave him his last repast (Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king, v. 1947). For an account of Chunda's offering, according to the later school of Buddhism, see as above, Note iii., pp. 365 ff.


In Chinese Wu-shing, "invincible." This is the same as the Shi-lai-na-fa-ti or Hiraṇyavatī river, in Chinese Yeu-kin-ho, "the river that has gold."


The record generally speaks of two śāla trees (Shorea robusta) (Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king, v. 1950), and they are represented in the sculpture of the Nirvāṇa in Cave xxvi. at Ajantā (Burgess, Cave Temples, pl. l.).


The various dates here recorded would correspond with 552 B.C., 652 B.C., 852 B.C., and a date between 252 B.C. and 352 B.C. By this last Hiuen Tsiang probably means to place the Nirvāṇa, a hundred years before Aśoka, i.e., about 325 B.C., which is the date he employs elsewhere. The Southern date is 543 B.C., but the most recent researches place it between 477 and 482 B.C. This is generally accepted.


This may be otherwise translated; "if my request is without effect, with whom lies the fault?"


Taking a handful of water.


There is an error in the text, "sha" (killed) for "kew" (delivered). Julien translates the passage "took the form of a deer, and sacrificed his life." The former part, "took the form of a deer," cannot be correct, the original is "wei luh", being a deer; with regard to the second part, "sacrificed his life," the original is "sha sang", which is literally "to kill living animals for food." I have preferred to consider "sha" a mistake for "kew", to deliver.


It is difficult to understand why the birds should be afraid of the river.


For the circumstances attending the conversion of Subhadra (Su-po-t'o-lo), see Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king, varga 26, p. 290. In Chinese his name is Shen-hien, "the very virtuous."


Here the two trees are referred to. The four which existed in Hiuen Tsiang's time were probably of a later date, and had been planted two at the head and two at the feet where Buddha died.


The expression "Gautama" is used by Subhadra became he was a Brāhmaṇ unbeliever.


This does not, as it appears, refer to the life of a śramaṇa, but to the preparation of a Brahmachāra; the previous discipline of the Brāhmaṇ (Fan-hing ...). The "unbelievers," in Chinese Wai-tao, translated Tīrthikas, in the Mahāvyutpatti.


The whole of this passage is obscure; the reference seems to be to a four years' preparatory course of discipline practised by the śikshyamāṇa (pupil); for the threefold character of their discipline, see Fo-koue-ti, p. 182. This previous course of discipline Buddha is willing to remit in the case of Subhadra, because he had already practised it "in the world," that is, in his own religious training.


This incident is also referred to by Fa-hian (Beal, Buddhist pilgrims, p. 95). There is some difficulty in the matter, because the Mallas, who were present at the Nirvāṇa, are called "lih sse", and they did "sink prostrate on the earth" (Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king, ver. 2195). But the text seems to refer to some superhuman being, for the Vajrapāṇi is called "holding-diamond-mace-spiritual-secret-vestige-mighty-lord;" this phrase is explained by Eitel (Handbook, sub voc. Vadjrapāṇi) to refer to Indra, a sort of demon king, with 500 Yaksha followers. In the great picture of the Nirvāṇa brought from Japan by Mr. Borlase, and exhibited for a time at Bethnal Green, there is such a figure lying on the ground.


I have retained this translation, notwithstanding Dr. Eitel's explanation, as it is literally correct, and in agreement with Aśvaghosha. Moreover, from the subsequent exclamations, it is plain that the persons who spoke were mortals, and disciples of Buddha, and they offered their services after his death for seven day.


The Dharmakāya, the spiritual presence of Buddha in his words.


Aniruddha (O-ni-liu-t'o). There is some difficulty in knowing whether Aniruddha (cousin of Buddha, being a son of Amṛtodana), or Anuruddha is referred to in the text; in the one case, Burnouf (Lotus, p. 294) states that Anuruddha was the personal attendant on Buddha at the time of his death; but, on the other hand, Aśvaghosha (Fo-sho, ver. 2123) derives the name of this person from a + niruddha not-stopped, in agreement with the Tibetan "ma hgagspa", "celui qui n'a pas été arreté" (Lotus, p. 293); As. Res. vol. xx. p. 440). Conf. Eitel, Handbook, sub. voc.


In the picture alluded to above (n. 97) there is a representation of Anuruddha or Aniruddha conducting Mahāmāyā from heaven to the scene of the Nirvāṇa.


That is, she fainted.


That is, those who have no reverence for parents. This incident, which is a late invention, would recommend itself to Hiuen Tsiang as in agreement with the customs of his country, where the highest reverence of parents is inculcated.


The Ajitavatī or Hiraṇyavatī.


Lun siang; see ante, vol. i. p. 94.


In the Vinaya it is stated that these marks were made by the tears of a woman who wept at his feet. See Abstract of Four Lectures, pp. 69, 82.


This is the literal translation; but it probably refers to Kāśyapa, as Julien explains (n. I, p. 346); or the word "che" may be equal to "the chief," alluding to Kāśyapa; the sentence would then be, "has the chief arrived?"


This name is given in the Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king, v. 2231. The phrase "chi sing" means "right minded," or "impartial;" it may possibly be a proper name (ṛjubhāya), as Julien supposes.


The argument of the Brāhmaṇ is given in full by Aśvaghosha, Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king, pp. 328, 329.


In Tibetan Ma-dros-pa, the king of the Nāgas (snakes) of the lake of the lame name. See Asiat. Res., vol. xx. p. 448.


Julien's translation can hardly be correct; "the eight kings having obtained a double portion, the gods, the Nāgas, and the kings of men grieved much on that account." The eight kings did not, in fact, obtain a double portion. The translation is evidently "chung fen", "the additional division," "tin lung," "among Devas and Nāgas," "jin wang mo puh pi," "the kings of men were much grieved." That is, the relics were carried away from the world, and this caused the sorrow.


See ante, vol. i. p. 78.


In Chinese, Wang-she-ch'ing.

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