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...

Chapter XXXIX

Seven li to the south of the capital is a chapel called Mahavihara, in which there are 3000 priests. Amongst them was a very eminent Sramana, whose life was so pure that the men of the country generally gave him credit for being an Arhat. At the time of his approaching death, the king, having come to inspect and inquire, according to the custom of the law, assembled the priests and asked the Bhikshu, “Hast thou attained reason?” On which he made reply in truth, “I am an Arhat.” After his death, the king immediately examined the sacred hooks, with a view to perform the funeral obsequies according to the rules for such as are Arhats.

Accordingly, about four or five li to the east of the vihara they raised a very great pyre of wood, about 34 feet square and of the same height. Near the top they placed tiers of sandal-wood, aloe, and all kinds of scented wood. On the four sides they constructed steps. Then, taking some clean and very white camlet cloth, they bound it around and above the pyre. They then constructed above a funeral carriage, like the hearses used in this country, except that there are no dragon-ear handles (cf. ting urh). Then, at the time of the cremation (dava), the king, accompanied by the four classes of the people, assembled in great numbers, came to the spot provided with flowers and incense for religious offerings, and followed the hearse till it arrived at the place of the funeral ceremony. The king, then, in his own person, offered religious worship with flowers and incense. This being over, the hearse was placed on the pyre, and oil of cinnamon poured over it in all directions. Then they set light to the whole. At the time of kindling the fire, the whole assembly occupied their minds with solemn thoughts. Then removing their upper garments, and taking their wing-like fans, which they use as sun-shades, and approaching as near as possible to the pyre, they flung them into the midst of the fire in order to assist the cremation. When all was over, they diligently searched for the bones and collected them together, in order to raise a tower over them.

Fa-Hian did not arrive in time to see this celebrated person alive, but only to witness his funeral obsequies. At this time, the king, being an earnest believer in the law of Buddha, desired to build a new vihara for this congregation of priests. First of all he provided for them a great feast, after which he selected a pair of strong working oxen and ornamented their horns with gold, silver, and precious things. Then providing himself with a beautiful gilded plough, the king himself ploughed round the four sides of the allotted space; after which, ceding all personal right over the land, houses, or people within the area thus enclosed, he presented (the whole to the priests). Then he caused to he engraved on a metal plate (the following inscription):—“From this time and for all generations hereafter, let this property he handed down from one (body of 'priests) to the other, and let no one dare to alienate it, or change (character of) the grant.”

When Fa-Hian was residing in this country, he heard a religious brother from India, seated on a high throne, reciting a sacred hook and saying, “The Patra (alms-bowl) of Buddha originally was preserved in Vaisali, hut now it is in the borders of Gandhara. After an uncertain period of years [Fa-Hian, at the time of the recital, heard the exact number of years, but he has now forgotten it], it will go on to the country of the western Yu-chi. After another period it will go to the country of Khotan. After a similar period it will he transported to Kouche. In about the same period it will come back to the land of Han; after the same period it will return to the land of lions (Simhala, Ceylon); after the same period it will return to Mid-India; after which it will be taken np into the Tushta heaven. Then Maitreya Bodhisattva will exclaim with a sigh, “The alms-dish of Sakyamuni Buddha has come.” Then all the Devas will pay religious worship to it with flowers and incense for seven days. After this it will return to Jambudvipa, and a sea-dragon, taking it, will carry it within his palace, awaiting till Maitreya is about to arrive at complete wisdom, at which time the bowl, again dividing itself into four as it was at first, will re-ascend the Pin-na mountain. After Maitreya has arrived at supreme wisdom, the four heavenly Kings will once more come and respectfully salute him as Buddha, after the same manner as they have done to the former Euddhas.

The thousand Buddhas of this Bhadrakalpa will all of them use this same alms-dish; when the bowl has disappeared, then the law of Buddha will gradually perish; after which the years of man’s life will begin to contract until it be no more than five years in duration. At the time of its being ten years in length, rice and butter will disappear from the world, and men will become extremely wicked. The sticks they grasp will then transform themselves into knives and clubs, with which they will attack one another, and wound and kill each other. In the midst of this, men who have acquired religious merit will escape and seek refuge in the mountains; and when the wicked have finished the work of mutual destruction, they will come from their hiding-places, and will converse together and say, ‘Men of old lived to a very advanced age, but now, because wicked men have indulged without restraint in every transgression of the law, our years have dwindled down to their present short span, even to the space of ten years. Now, therefore, let us practise every kind of good deed, encouraging within ourselves a kind and loving spirit; let us enter on a course of virtue and righteousness.’

Thus, as each one practises faith and justice, their years will begin to increase in double ratio till they reach 80,000 years of life. At the time when Maitreya is horn, when he first begins to declare his doctrine (turn the wheel of the law), his earliest converts will be the followers of the bequeathed law of Sakya Buddha, those who have forsaken their families, those who have sought refuge in the three sacred names, those who have kept the five great commandments, and attended to their religious duties in making continued offerings to the three precious objects of worship. His second and third body of converts shall be those who, by their previous conduct, have put themselves in a condition for salvation.” Fa-Hian, on hearing this discourse, wished to copy it down, on which the man said, “This has no Scripture-original; I only repeat by -word of mouth (I have learned).”

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