Sunday, January 19, 2014

Xuanzang in Bactria/Kapisa/Udiyana (c.630-644 AD)


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"In the course of Xuanzang’s 16 year travels, he characterizes each kingdom, describing the length and breadth of the kingdom, the size of the capital, tells us about the soil, products, climate, describes the inhabitants, their clothes, style of writing, money government, kings, codes of law along with his purely Buddhist concerns….he carefully notes the characteristics of the people, their education, customs, products, dress…..those of the higher altitudes dressed in wool….those of the temperate valleys dressed in cotton…..

"The people of Uddiyana, according to Huen Tsiang, were gentle, soft and effeminate. In our imagination he conjures a scene of healthy, tanned people, mostly clothed in pure white cotton. The men have white turbans, the women soft flowing saris, also white. These are a gentle, happy people, rarely endangered by war or calamity. They are a society appreciative of fine culture, and they are all, reported Huen Tsiang, great lovers of learning.

"....The houses in the villages of Shambhala are two storied. The people have fine bodies and appearances and they are very wealthy. The men of Shambhala wear caps, and white or red cotton clothes. Women wear white or blue garments pleated and patterned with beautiful designs." (John R. Newman....1985)

"There is another characteristic which Huen Tsiang noted concerning the people of this amazing Kingdom of Uddiyana. In what we take to be a disapproving tone, Huen Tsiang wrote, "They are addicted to the art of reciting charms."1 In fact, this statement may well be one of the earliest references concerning the Buddhist use of mantra that is known to scholars. Huen Tsiang, an adherent of a form of Buddhism that knows nothing of the Vajra Way, perceived mantra recitation not as a type of yoga, but rather as the utterance of superstitious spells…..already by the seventh century the usage of secret mantra, i.e., a system of Tantra, was already prevalent in Uddiyana. For in later ages, the Kingdom of Uddiyana is spoken of as the land of Tantra par excellence. Huen Tsiang's statement shows that Tantra was an ancient tradition in the Northwest, long before it gained popularity in India."……

"Xuanzang (Hsuan-tsang; Chinese: 玄奘; pinyin: Xuánzàng; Wade–Giles: Hsüan-tsang; Sanskrit: ह्वेनसांग) (c. 602–664)….was a Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler, and translator who described the interaction between China and India in the early Tang Dynasty."

"He became famous for his seventeen-year overland journey to India, which is recorded in detail in the classic Chinese text Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, which in turn provided the inspiration for the novel Journey to the West written by Wu Cheng'en during the Ming Dynasty, around nine centuries after Xuanzang's death."

Xuanzang was fully ordained as a monk in 622, at the age of twenty. The myriad contradictions and discrepancies in the texts at that time prompted Xuanzang to decide to go to India and study in the cradle of Buddhism. He subsequently left his brother and returned to Chang'an to study foreign languages and to continue his study of Buddhism. He began his mastery of Sanskrit in 626, and probably also studied Tocharian. During this time, Xuanzang also became interested in the metaphysical Yogacara school of Buddhism.

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"Xuanzang subsequently travelled across the Gobi Desert to Kumul (Hami), thence following the Tian Shan westward, arriving in Turpan in 630. Here he met the king of Turpan, a Buddhist who equipped him further for his travels with letters of introduction and valuables to serve as funds……Moving further westward, Xuanzang escaped robbers to reach Yanqi, then toured the non-Mahayana monasteries of Kucha. Further west he passed Aksu before turning northwest to cross the Tian Shan's Bedel Pass into modern Kyrgyzstan. He skirted Issyk Kul before visiting Tokmak on its northwest, and met the great Khan of the Western Türk, whose relationship to the Tang emperor was friendly at the time. After a feast, Xuanzang continued west then southwest to Tashkent (Chach/Che-Shih), capital of modern Uzbekistan. From here, he crossed the desert further west to Samarkand. In Samarkand, which was under Persian influence, the party came across some abandoned Buddhist temples and Xuanzang impressed the local king with his preaching. Setting out again to the south, Xuanzang crossed a spur of the Pamirs and passed through the famous Iron Gates. Continuing southward, he reached the Amu Darya and Termez, where he encountered a community of more than a thousand Buddhist monks.
Further east he passed through Kunduz, where he stayed for some time to witness the funeral rites of Prince Tardu, who had been poisoned. Here he met the monk Dharmasimha, and on the advice of the late Tardu made the trip westward to Balkh (modern day Afghanistan), to see the Buddhist sites and relics, especially the Nava Vihara, or Nawbahar, which he described as the westernmost monastic institution in the world. Here Xuanzang also found over 3,000 non-Mahayana monks, including Prajnakara (般若羯羅 or 慧性), a monk with whom Xuanzang studied early Buddhist scriptures. He acquired the important Mahāvibhāṣa (大毗婆沙論) text here, which he later translated into Chinese. Prajnakara then accompanied the party southward to Bamyan, where Xuanzang met the king and saw tens of non-Mahayana monasteries, in addition to the two large Bamyan Buddhas carved out of the rockface. The party then resumed their travel eastward, crossing the Shibar Pass and descending to the regional capital of Kapisi (about 60 km north of modern Kabul), which sported over 100 monasteries and 6,000 monks, mostly Mahayana. This was part of the fabled old land of Gandhara. Xuanzang took part in a religious debate here, and demonstrated his knowledge of many Buddhist schools. Here he also met the first Jains and Hindus of his journey. He pushed on to Adinapur (later named Jalalabad) and Laghman, where he considered himself to have reached India. The year was 630."

"Based on the account of the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang, who visited in AD 644, it seems that in later times Kapisa was part of a kingdom ruled by a Buddhist kshatriya king holding sway over ten neighboring states, including Lampaka, Nagarahara, Gandhara, and Banu.[12] Hiuen Tsang notes the Shen breed of horses from the area, and also notes the production of many types of cereals and fruits, as well as a scented root called Yu-kin…..

"The journey to west was very long for Xuanzang. He had to cross the area controlled by Khan of the West Turks first, then Pamirs, and then cross the snow-covered mountain to India from today’s Afghanistan through Middle Asian countries. The road he covered is what we call the Silk Road today. The Silk Road can be divided into the north, the central and the south routes. Xuanzang basically took the north and the central one. It was an untraversed road and he met numerous difficulties and dangers, sometimes inhospitable natural environments and sometimes unfriendly or complex human relations….

"His first important stop was in Bactria, part of modern Afghanistan. Balkh was a city of prodigious antiquity which Alexander the Great chose for his home base from 329 to 327 BC. The successors of Alexander and the Kushan kings who succeeded them contributed to the distinctive art which we call Gandharan. Xuanzang stayed a month at the New Monastery there, one of the finest in the Buddhist world, where he admired its relics. After Balkh, he struggled through the treacherous Hindu Kush mountains to reach the valley of Bamiyan. It was a station of primary importance on the road from Central Asia to India. The pilgrim visited the colossal Gandharan statues carved in the cliff face.[v] Modern art historians continue to quote his description of a giant Buddha, the largest stone statue in the world, actually 180 feet, a little larger than the pilgrim reported….."On a declivity of a hill to the northeast of the capital was a standing image of the Buddha made out of stone 140 or 150 feet high, of a brilliant golden color and resplendent with ornamentation of precious substances. This famous statue has become known all over the world when it was deliberately destroyed in March 2000……From this important center of Buddhism, Xuanzang and his caravan made their way through the Black Mountains to the plain of Kapisa, whose capital Kapisi, is 40 miles north of Kabul. This was the first capital of the Kushan empire established in the first century C.E. Kanishka I,(BCE 78-225 CE?) its most famous king, ruled over much of present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and part of Central Asia.[vii] He was a great supporter of Buddhism and especially of Gandharan sculpture, that hybrid of Buddhism and Graeco/Roman art. which produced classical figures of calm and serene Buddhas…..Xuanzang met Jain and Hindu ascetics for the first time on this part of his journey. He contrasts the mountain-dwelling Afghans with their harsh uncultivated ways, wearing fur garments and coarse wool, to the Hindus who were slight, active and impetuous in comparison, and whose garments were made of white linen or cotton for the most part. A modern view marks British India as beginning at the eastern side of the Khyber Pass, but Xuanzang considered he had entered India at Jalalabad, his next important resting place…..When Xuanzang finally reached the area near Jalalabad in Pakistan, he felt as Alexander the Great did 9 centuries earlier, that he had entered a new world. He stops his travel narrative to devote a long chapter to a consideration of the land of India."….

"He then gives us Indian measures of space and time, tells us about the castes of India, notes the characteristics of the people, their education, customs, products, dress (“the people have no tailoring”) in a kind of ethnographic survey. He describes the Indian languages as did the Muslim historian Alberuni(973-1094 C.E.) in his book about India in the 11th century. Both Xuanzang and Alberuni took great pains to master Sanskrit so they describe India not merely as observers but as scholars. Although both writers regarded Brahmins as heretics, both do justice to their intelligence, love of learning and intellectual labors. In the broadest sense, both devoted themselves to “Indian” thought at a very high level; Alberuni to Hinduism and Xuanzang to Buddhism. Alberuni,as a Muslim, deplored the worship of idols and Xuanzang as a moderation-loving Chinese, deplored Hindu excesses such as “the Hindu who covers himself with ashes like a cat who has slept in a chimney.”…..

" A survey of Hsüan-tsang's prolific translations demonstrates that he was anything but a narrow sectarian. His translations cover the gamut of Buddhist literature including: sūtras and śāstras of interest to Yogācāra; Madhyamaka texts; Pure Land texts; Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma works; Tantric texts; a Hindu Vaiśeṣika text; works on logic and epistemology; Abhidharma texts; Dhāranī texts; Avadāna texts; Mahāyāna sūtras; Vaipulya sūtras; Sūtras concerned with pratītya-samutpāda, Buddha's teachings just before his parinirvāṇa, instructions to rulers; Pratimokṣa texts; Prajṅāpāramitā texts; his travelogue; texts devoted to Avalokiteśvara, Maitreya, Bhaiṣajya-guru (the Medicine Buddha), Kṣitigarbha, Amitābha; etc. His works are spread throughout the Taishō edition of the Chinese Buddhist canon, which is organized according to literary or sectarian type, demonstrating that he contributed to every genre. Some of his translations, such as the Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra, have remained at the center of East Asian Buddhist study and devotion. Others, such as his translation of the Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa sūtra, were overshadowed by translations done by others. Some are very short works, others are of unparalleled length (his translation of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtras fills three Taishō volumes! No other Chinese Buddhist text comes close)."…..

"Aurel Stein, the great Central Asian explorer and archeologist, credits Xuanang with the first ethnographic survey of Kashmir, where the pilgrim studied Buddhist philosophy for two years from 631-633 C.E. This long stay was not surprising for as his biographer reports: This country from remote times was distinguished for learning, and these priests were all of high religious merit and conspicuous virtue, as well as of marked talent, and power of clear exposition of doctrine: and though the other priests {i.e, of other nations} were in their own way distinguished, yet they could not be compared with these so different were they from the ordinary class."…..

"….As he drew closer to the Buddhist Holy Land in the northeastern part of India, he tells us more about Buddhist history and doctrines. He relates the famous legends or incidents from the life of the Buddha, as well as the many tales of the Buddha in previous incarnations. He also gives a history of the Great Buddhist Councils and locates the places associated with the famous philosophers such as Vasubandu and Arjuna, often citing their principal works. Like many another Chinese pilgrim who visited India, he was also interested in observing the practice of Buddhism outside China and so he reports on the number of monks and monasteries, the variety of sects, Buddhist festivals and the custom of Buddhist debates. Xuanzang is sure to tell us about the good works of kings who were patrons of Buddhism like King Asoka , King Kanishka or King Harsha (7th CE) …….

"King Harsha…..Toward the end of his stay, Xuanzang had the heady experience of being quarreled over by two kings -- the King of Assam and the illustrious King Harsha (reigned 607-647 C.E.) who was one of the last of the great Buddhist rulers before the triumph of Hinduism and the invasion of Islam. The year before he had finally met the pilgrim in 642 C.E., King Harsha had already established diplomatic relations with China. King Harsha was so impressed with the pilgrim that he staged a great debate to show off his skills. He invited the kings of 18 vassal kingdoms, 3,000 Buddhist monks, 2,000 Hindus and Jains to hear him proclaim the superiority of Mahayana Buddhism over Hindu and Jain beliefs as well as other kinds of Buddhism. It was a grand finale for his years in India….When Xuanzang finally departed in 643 CE he was given a military escort to carry the books and images he had been collecting from the Indian subcontinent. King Harsha presented him with his best and biggest elephant capable of carrying eight men as well as the thousands of gold and silver pieces given him for expenses along the way. The king also provided him with letters to rulers on the homeward route. Only 4 years later this remarkable, versatile monarch was gone; for the next 3 centuries there would be disorder and famine in northern India. Spear, the modern historian,notes, ….. Beginning with the fall of the Guptas and becoming complete after the death of Harsha in 647 A.D., north Indian history is confused and obscure for some five or six hundred years. As the Dark Ages divide the classical age of the Greek and the Roman, so do these centuries divide modern from ancient India.[xvii]"….…….

"….. in 644 CE Xuanzang arrived at Hund on the Indus River but here a storm rose up and overturned his boats so that he lost 50 of his precious manuscripts. He sent to Udyana for extra copies of his scriptures, waiting 2 months hoping for their arrival at Kapisa. ….At length his caravan reached the Hindu Kush mountains. Like Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps with his elephant and baggage train, their crossing in 644 CE proved to be far more difficult than they had imagined. Xuanzang’s biographer stated that their caravan consisted only of 5 priests, 20 followers, 1 elephant, 10 asses and 4 horses. At length they descended to Kunduz on the Oxus river where they waited another month for copies of the lost manuscripts.
Instead of returning the way he had come to India on the northern caravan roads to Samarkand he ascended to the upper reaches of the Oxus River, climbing the Pamir range to reach Kashgar.(This was the route Marco Polo followed on his way to China in 1271 C.E.) Xuanzang crossed near the Tagdumbash Pamirs which Marco Polo has called the Roof of the World. This is where the ranges of the Hindu Kush crossing modern-day Afghanistan, the Karakorum in northern Pakistan and the Pamirs in Afghanistan and Tajikistan and the Tian Shan range in China all meet in the Pamir knot."…

Xi You Ji : Buddhist Records of the Western World: Travels of Faxian, or Fo ...By Xuanzang…….

The Silk Road Journey With Xuanzang……By Sally Wriggins…..



John Hopkins.....Northern New Mexico….January 2014


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