Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Chinese Buddhist Pilgrim Xuanzang in Bactria (635 AD)

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"Xuanzang was a Chinese Buddhist monk and translator who traveled across the Tarim basin via the northern route, Turfan, Kucha, Tashkent, Samarkand, Bactria, then over the Hindu Kush to India. He departed the Tang capitol (Chang'an) in 629 AD, and returned via the southern route in 645. The remainder of his life was spent translating into Chinese the sutras which he had collected in India. At the request of the Tang Emperor Taizong (r.626-649) he composed a description of the lands through which he traveled. After his death, his travels and story became fantastic legends which were used in plays and novels. The following text constitutes Book One of his description. It is taken from the translation of Samuel Beal, Buddhist Records of the Western World (London: Trubner & Co. Ltd., 1884).....(http://depts.washington.edu/silkroad/texts/xuanzang.html).

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"PO-HO [BALKH]. ........This country is about 800 li (250 miles) from east to west, and 400 li from north to south; on the north it borders on the Oxus. The capital is about 20 li in circuit. It is called generally the little Pajariha. This city, though well (strongly) fortified, is thinly populated. The products of the soil are extremely varied, and the flowers, both on the land and water, would be difficult to enumerate. There are about 100 convents and 3000 monks, who all study the religious teaching of the Little Vehicle. Outside the city, towards the south-west, there is a convent called Navasangharama, which was built by a former king of this country. The Masters (of Buddhism), who dwell to the north of the great Snowy Mountains, and are authors of Sastras, occupy this convent only, and continue their estimable labours in it. There is a figure of Buddha here, which is lustrous with (reflects the glory-of) noted gems, and the hall in which it stands is also adorned with precious substances of rare value. This is the reason why it has often been robbed by chieftains of neighbouring countries, covetous of pain.

This convent also contains (possesses) a statue of //[p.45] Pi-sha-men (Vaisravana) Deva, by whose spiritual influence, in unexpected ways, there is protection afforded to the pre- cincts of the convent. Lately the son of the Khan Yeh-hu (or She-hu), belonging to the Turks, becoming rebellious, Yeh-hu Khan broke up his camping ground; and marched at the head of his horde to make a foray against this convent, desiring to obtain the jewels and precious things with which it was enriched. Having encamped his army in the open ground, not far from the convent, in the night he had a dream. He saw Vaisravana Deva, who addressed him thus: "What power do you possess that you dare (to intend) to overthrow this convent?" and then hurling his lance, he transfixed him with it. The Khan, affrighted, awoke, and his heart penetrated with sorrow, he told his dream to his followers, and then, to atone somewhat for his fault, he hastened to the convent to ask permission to confess his crime to the priests; but before he received an answer he died.

Within the convent, in the southern hall of Buddha, there is the washing-basin which Buddha used. It contains about a peck [=approx. 10 pints] and is of various colours, which dazzle the eyes. It is difficult to name the Gold and stone of which it is made. Again, there is a tooth of Buddha about an inch long, and about eight or nine tenths of an inch in breadth. Its colour is yellowish white; it is pure and shining. Again, there is the sweeping brush of Buddha, made of the //[p.46] plant "Ka-she" (kasa). It is about two feet long and about seven inches round. Its handle is ornamented with various gems. These three relics are presented with offerings on each of the six fast-days by the assembly of lay and cleric believers. Those who have the greatest faith in worship see the objects emitting a radiance of glory.

To the north of the convent is a stupa, in height about 200 feet, which is covered with a plaster hard as the diamond, and ornamented with a variety of precious substances. It encloses a sacred relic (she-li), and at times this also reflects a divine splendour.

To the south-west of the convent there is a Vihdra. Many years have elapsed since its foundation was laid. It is the resort (of people) from distant quarters. There are also a large number of men of conspicuous talent. As it would be difficult for the several possessors of the four different degrees (fruits) of holiness to explain accurately their condition of saintship, therefore the Arhats (Lo-han), when about to die, exhibit their spiritual capabilities (miramdous powers), and those who witness such an exhibition found stupas in honour of. the deceased saints. These are closely crowded together here, to the number of several hundreds. Besides these there are some thousand others, who, although they had reached the fruit of holiness (i.e., Arhatship), yet having exhibited no spiritual changes at the end of life, have no memorial erected to them.

At present the number of priests is about 100; so irregular are they morning and night in their duties that it is hard to tell saints from sinners.

To the north-west of the capital about 50 li or so we arrive at the town of Ti-wei; 40 li to the north of this //[p.47] town is the town of Po-li. In each of these towns there is a stupa about three chang (30 feet) in height. In old days, when Buddha first attained enlightenment after advancing to the tree of knowledge, he went to the garden of deer; at this time two householders meeting him, and beholding the brilliant appearance of his person, offered him from their store of provisions for their journey some cakes and honey. The lord of the world, for their sakes, preached concerning the happiness of men and Devas, and delivered to them, his very first disciples, the five rules of moral conduct and the ten good qualities (shen, virtuous rules). When they had heard the sermon, they humbly asked for some object to worship (offer gifts). On this Tathagata delivered to them some of his hair and nailcuttings. Taking these, the merchants were about to return to their own country, when they asked of Buddha the right way of venerating these relics. Tathagata forthwith spreading out his Sanghati on the around as a square napkin, next laid down his Uttarasanga and then his Sankakshika; again over these he placed as a cover his begging-pot, on which he erected his mendicant's staff. Thus he placed them in order, making thereby //[p.48] (the figure of) a stupa. The two men taking the order, each went to his own town, and then, according to the model which the holy one had prescribed, they prepared to build a monument, and thus was the very first stupa of the Buddhist religion erected.

Some 70 li to the west of this town is a stupa about two chang (20 feet) in height. This was erected in the time of Kasyapa Buddha. Leaving the capital and going south- west, entering the declivities of the Snowy Mountains, there is the country of Jui-mo-to (Jumadh?)....This country is 50 or 60 li from east to west, and 100 li or so from north to south. The capital is about 10 li in circuit. Towards the south-west is the country of Hushi-kien (Juzgan).

"The li (里, lǐ) is a traditional Chinese unit of distance, which has varied considerably over time but now has a standardized length of 500 metres (1,640 feet) or half a kilometer. A modern li consists of 1,500 Chinese "feet" or chi..... the li has generally been about a third as long as the mile..."....http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_(unit)

"Hsuan Tsang (Xuanzang) – (629 – 645 CE) Chinese Buddhist Monk.....Xuanzang traveled on pilgrimage across the Tarim basin along the Silk Road via the northern route through Turfan, Kucha, Tashkent, Samarkand, Bactria, then over the Hindu Kush to India........K‟IU-CHI [KUCHE] - The kingdom of K'iu-Chi is from east to west some thousand li or so; from north to south about 600 li. The capital of the realm is from 17 to 18 li in circuit. The soil is suitable for rice and corn, also (a kind of rice called) keng-t'ao; produces grapes, pomegranates, and nu- merous species of plums, pears, peaches, and almonds, also grow here. The ground is rich in minerals--gold, copper, iron, and lead, and tin. The air is soft, and the manners of the people honest. The style of writing (literature) is Indian, with some differences. They clothe themselves with ornamental garments of silk and embroidery. They cut their hair and wear a flowing covering (over their heads). In commerce they use gold, silver, and copper coins."......http://mrgoethals.weebly.com/uploads/1/6/5/4/16542680/world_history_lesson_20_-_afro-eurasian_trade_patterns_before_600_ce_primary_sources.pdf

"composed a description of the lands through which he traveled. After his death, his travels and story became fantastic legends"
This city, though well (strongly) fortified, is thinly populated.
there is a convent called Navasangharama, which was built by a former king of this country.
The Masters (of Buddhism), who dwell to the north of the great Snowy Mountains, and are authors of Sastras, occupy this convent
the hall in which it stands is also adorned with precious substances of rare value."

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Email....okarresearch@gmail.com

John Hopkins.....Northern New Mexico….July 2013

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