The travels of Fa-Hian (400 A.D.)

by Samuel Beal | 1884 | 20,385 words | ISBN-10: 8120811070

This is the English translation of the travel records of Fa-Hian (or, Faxian): a Chinese Buddhist monk who traveled by foot from China to India between A.D. 399 and A.D. 412. The full title is: The travels of Fa-Hian: Buddhist-country-records; By Fa-hian, the Sakya of the Sung (Dynasty) [Date, 400 A.D]. This work is an extract of the book “Buddhi...

Going eight yojanas southwards from this place, we arrive at the country of Kiu-sa-lo (Kosala) and its chief town She-wei (Sravasti). There are very few inhabitants in this city, altogether perhaps about 200 families. This is the city which King Prasenajit governed. Towers have been built in after times on the site of the ruined vihara of Mahaprajapati, also on the foundations (of the house) of the lord Sudatta, also on the spot where the Angulimalya was burnt, who was converted and entered nirvana; all these towers are erected in the city. The unbelieving Brahmans, from jealousy, desired to destroy these various buildings, but on attempting to do so, the heavens thundered and the lightnings flashed, so that they were unable to carry out their design.

Leaving the city by the south gate and proceeding 1200 paces on the road, on the west side of it is the place where the lord Sudatta built a vihara. This, chapel opens towards the east. The principal door is flanked by two side chambers, in front of which stand two stone pillars; on the top of the left-hand one is the figure of a wheel, and on the right-hand one the image of an ox. The clear water of the tanks, the luxuriant groves, and numberless flowers of variegated hues combine to produce the picture of what is called a Jetavana vihara. When Buddha ascended into the Trayastrinishas heavens to preach for the sake of his mother, after ninety days’ absence, King Prasenajit desiring to see him again, carved out of the sandal-wood called Gosirshachandana (ox-head) an image of the Buddha and placed it on Buddha’s throne. When Buddha returned and entered the vihara, the image, immediately quitting its place, went forward to meet him. On this Buddha addressed these words to it: “Return, I pray you, to your seat. After my Nirvana you will he the model from which my followers (four schools or classes) shall carve their images.” On this the figure returned to its seat. This image, as it was the very first made of all the figures of Buddha, is the one which all subsequent ages have followed as a model. Buddha then removed and dwelt in a small vihara on the south side of the greater one, in a place quite separated from that occupied by the image, and about twenty paces from it. The Jetavana vihara originally had seven stages. The monarchs of the surrounding countries and the people vied with each other in presenting religious offerings at this spot. They decked the place with flags and silken canopies; they offered flowers and burnt incense, whilst the lamps shone continually from evening till daylight with unfading splendour. A rat taking in his mouth the wick of a lamp caused it to set fire to one of the hanging canopies, and this resulted in a general conflagration and the entire destruction of the seven storeys of the vihara. The kings and people of the surrounding countries were deeply grieved, thinking that the sandalwood figure had also been consumed. Four or five days afterwards, on opening the door of the eastern little chapel, they were surprised to behold the original figure there. The people were filled with joy, and they agreed to rebuild the chapel. Having completed two stages, they removed the image from its new situation back to where it was before.

When Fa-Hian and To-Ching arrived at this chapel of the Jetavana, they reflected that this was the spot in which the Lord of men had passed twenty-five years of his life; they themselves, at the risk of their lives, were now dwelling amongst foreigners; of those who had with like purpose travelled through a succession of countries with them, some had returned home, some were dead; and now, gazing on the place where Buddha once dwelt but was no longer to be seen, their hearts were affected with very lively regret. Whereupon the priests belonging to that community came forward and addressed (Fa)-Hian and To-(Ching) thus: “From what country have you come?” To which they replied, “We come from the land of Han.” Then those priests, in astonishment, exclaimed, “Wonderful! to think that men from the frontiers of the earth should come so far as this from a desire to search for the law;” and then talking between themselves they said, “Our various superiors and brethren, who have succeeded one another in this place from the earliest time till now, have none of them seen men of Han come so far as this before.”

Four li to the north-west of the is a copse called “Recovered-sight.” Originally there were 500 blind men dwelling on this spot beside the chapel. On one occasion Buddha declared the law on their account; after listening to his sermon they immediately recovered their sight. The blind men, overcome with joy, drove their staves into the earth and fell down on their faces in adoration. The staves forthwith took root and grew up to be great trees. The people, from a feeling of reverence, did not presume to cut them down, and so they grew and formed a grove, to which this name of “Recovered-sight” was given. The priests of the chapel of the Jetavana resort in great numbers to this shady copse to meditate after their midday meal. Six or seven li to the north-east of the Jetavana vihara is the site of the chapel which Mother Visakha built, and invited Buddha and the priests to occupy. The ruins are still there. The great garden enclosure of the Jetavana vihara has two gates, one opening towards the east, the other towards the north. This garden is the plot of ground which the noble Sudatta bought after covering it with gold coins. The chapel is in the middle of it; it was here Rucldha resided for a very long time, and expounded the law for the salvation of men. Towers have been erected on the various spots where he walked for exercise or sat down. These towers have all distinctive names given them, as, for example, the place where Buddha was accused of murdering (the harlot) Sundari.

Leaving the Jetavana by the eastern gate, and going north seventy paces, on the west side of the road is the place where Buddha formerly held a discussion with the followers of the ninety-six heretical schools. The king of the country, the chief ministers, the landowners and people, all came in great numbers to hear him. At this time a woman who was an unbeliever, called Chinchimana, being filled with jealousy, gathered up her clothes in a heap round her person so as to appear with child, and then accused Buddha in a meeting of priests of unrighteous conduct. On this Sakra, the king of Devas, taking the appearance of a white mouse, came and gnawed through her sash; on this the whole fell down, and then the earth opened and she herself went down alive into hell. Here also is the place where Devadatta, having poisoned his nails for the purpose of destroying Buddha, went down alive into hell. Men in after times noted these various places for recognition. Where the discussion took place they raised a chapel more than six chang (70 feet) high, with a sitting figure of Buddha in it.

To the east of the road is a temple belonging to the heretics, which is named “Shadow-covered.” It is opposite the vihara erected on the place of the discussion, and of the same height. It has received the name of “Shadow-covered” because when the sun is in the west, the shadow of the vihara of the Lord of the World covers the temple of the heretics; but when the sun is in the east, the shadow of the latter is bent to the north, and does not overshadow the chapel of Buddha. The heretics constantly appointed persons to take care of their temple, to sweep and water it, to burn incense and light lamps for religious worship; towards the approach of morning their lamps disappeared, and were discovered in the middle of the Buddhist chapel. On this the Brahmans, being angry, said, “These Sramanas take our lamps for their own religious worship;” whereupon the Brahmans set a night-watch, and then they saw their own gods take the lamps and move round Buddha’s chapel three times, after which they offered the lamps and suddenly disappeared. On this the Brahmans, recognising the greatness of Buddha’s spiritual power, forsook their families and became his disciples. Tradition says that about the time when these things happened there were ninety sangharamas surrounding the Jetavana chapel, all of which, with one exception, were occupied by priests. In this country of Mid-India there are ninety-six heretical sects, all of whom allow the reality of worldly phenomena. Each sect has its disciples, who beg their food, but do not carry alms-dishes. They also piously build hospices by the side of solitary roads for the shelter of travellers, where they may rest, sleep, eat and drink, and are supplied with all necessaries. The followers of Buddha, also, as they pass to and fro, are entertained by them, only different arrangements are made for their convenience. Devadatta also has a body of disciples still existing; they pay religious reverence to the three past Buddhas, but not to Sakyamuni Buddha.

Four li to the south-east of Sravasti is the place where the Lord of men stood by the side of the road when King Virudhaka (Liu-li) wished to destroy the country of the Sakya family; on this spot there is a tower built. Fifty li to the west of the city we arrive at a town called To-wai; this was the birthplace of Kasyapa Buddha. Towers are erected on the spot where he had an interview with his father and also where he entered Nirvana. A great tower has also been erected over the relics of the entire body of Kasyapa Tathagata,

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