Fa Hien's Chronicle of India

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by Flint, Jul 17, 2009.

  1. Flint

    Flint Senior Member Senior Member

    Mar 10, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Fa Xian (Traditional Chinese: 法顯; Simplified Chinese: 法显; Pinyin: Fǎxiǎn; also romanized as Fa-Hien or Fa-hsien) (ca. 337 – ca. 422) was a Chinese Buddhist monk who traveled to Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka to acquire Buddhist scriptures between 399 and 412 . His journey is described in his work A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms, Being an Account by the Chinese Monk Fa-Hien of his Travels in India and Ceylon in Search of the Buddhist Books of Discipline. He is most known for his pilgrimage to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha.





    From this place they travelled south-east, passing by a succession of
    very many monasteries, with a multitude of monks, who might be counted
    by myriads. After passing all these places, they came to a country
    named Ma-t'aou-lo.(1) They still followed the course of the P'oo-na(2)
    river, on the banks of which, left and right, there were twenty
    monasteries, which might contain three thousand monks; and (here) the
    Law of Buddha was still more flourishing. Everywhere, from the
    Sandy Desert, in all the countries of India, the kings had been firm
    believers in that Law. When they make their offerings to a community
    of monks, they take off their royal caps, and along with their
    relatives and ministers, supply them with food with their own hands.
    That done, (the king) has a carpet spread for himself on the ground,
    and sits down in front of the chairman;--they dare not presume to sit
    on couches in front of the community. The laws and ways, according
    to which the kings presented their offerings when Buddha was in the
    world, have been handed down to the present day.

    All south from this is named the Middle Kingdom.(3) In it the cold and
    heat are finely tempered, and there is neither hoarfrost nor snow.
    The people are numerous and happy; they have not to register their
    households, or attend to any magistrates and their rules; only those
    who cultivate the royal land have to pay (a portion of) the grain from
    it. If they want to go, they go; if they want to stay on, they stay.
    The king governs without decapitation or (other) corporal punishments.
    Criminals are simply fined, lightly or heavily, according to the
    circumstances (of each case). Even in cases of repeated attempts at
    wicked rebellion, they only have their right hands cut off. The king's
    body-guards and attendants all have salaries. Throughout the whole
    country the people do not kill any living creature, nor drink
    intoxicating liquor, nor eat onions or garlic. The only exception is
    that of the Chandalas.(4) That is the name for those who are (held to
    be) wicked men, and live apart from others. When they enter the gate
    of a city or a market-place, they strike a piece of wood to make
    themselves known, so that men know and avoid them, and do not come
    into contact with them. In that country they do not keep pigs and
    fowls, and do not sell live cattle; in the markets there are no
    butchers' shops and no dealers in intoxicating drink. In buying
    and selling commodities they use cowries.(5) Only the Chandalas are
    fishermen and hunters, and sell flesh meat.

    After Buddha attained to pari-nirvana,(6) the kings of the various
    countries and the heads of the Vaisyas(7) built viharas for the
    priests, and endowed them with fields, houses, gardens, and orchards,
    along with the resident populations and their cattle, the grants being
    engraved on plates of metal,(8) so that afterwards they were handed
    down from king to king, without any daring to annul them, and they
    remain even to the present time.


    (1) Muttra, "the peacock city;" lat. 27d 30s N., lon. 77d 43s E.
    (Hunter); the birthplace of Krishna, whose emblem is the peacock.

    (2) This must be the Jumna, or Yamuna. Why it is called, as here, the
    P'oo-na has yet to be explained.

    (3) In Pali, Majjhima-desa, "the Middle Country." See Davids'
    "Buddhist Birth Stories," page 61, note.

    (4) Eitel (pp. 145, 6) says, "The name Chandalas is explained by
    'butchers,' 'wicked men,' and those who carry 'the awful flag,' to
    warn off their betters;--the lowest and most despised caste of India,
    members of which, however, when converted, were admitted even into the
    ranks of the priesthood."

    (5) "Cowries;" {.} {.}, not "shells and ivory," as one might suppose;
    but cowries alone, the second term entering into the name from the
    marks inside the edge of the shell, resembling "the teeth of fishes."

    (6) See chapter xii, note 3, Buddha's pari-nirvana is equivalent to
    Buddha's death.

    (7) See chapter xiii, note 6. The order of the characters is different
    here, but with the same meaning.

    (8) See the preparation of such a deed of grant in a special case, as
    related in chapter xxxix. No doubt in Fa-hien's time, and long before
    and after it, it was the custom to engrave such deeds on plates of

    Online Reader - Project Gutenberg
  3. Flint

    Flint Senior Member Senior Member

    Mar 10, 2009
    Likes Received:


    Having crossed the river, and descended south for a yojana, (the
    travellers) came to the town of Pataliputtra,(1) in the kingdom of
    Magadha, the city where king Asoka(2) ruled. The royal palace and
    halls in the midst of the city, which exist now as of old, were all
    made by spirits which he employed, and which piled up the stones,
    reared the walls and gates, and executed the elegant carving and
    inlaid sculpture-work,--in a way which no human hands of this world
    could accomplish.

    King Asoka had a younger brother who had attained to be an Arhat, and
    resided on Gridhra-kuta(3) hill, finding his delight in solitude and
    quiet. The king, who sincerely reverenced him, wished and begged him
    (to come and live) in his family, where he could supply all his
    wants. The other, however, through his delight in the stillness of the
    mountain, was unwilling to accept the invitation, on which the king
    said to him, "Only accept my invitation, and I will make a hill for
    you inside the city." Accordingly, he provided the materials of a
    feast, called to him the spirits, and announced to them, "To-morrow
    you will all receive my invitation; but as there are no mats for you
    to sit on, let each one bring (his own seat)." Next day the spirits
    came, each one bringing with him a great rock, (like) a wall, four or
    five paces square, (for a seat). When their sitting was over, the king
    made them form a hill with the large stones piled on one another, and
    also at the foot of the hill, with five large square stones, to make
    an apartment, which might be more than thirty cubits long, twenty
    cubits wide, and more than ten cubits high.

    In this city there had resided a great Brahman,(4) named
    Radha-sami,(5) a professor of the mahayana, of clear discernment and
    much wisdom, who understood everything, living by himself in spotless
    purity. The king of the country honoured and reverenced him, and
    served him as his teacher. If he went to inquire for and greet him,
    the king did not presume to sit down alongside of him; and if, in his
    love and reverence, he took hold of his hand, as soon as he let it go,
    the Brahman made haste to pour water on it and wash it. He might be
    more than fifty years old, and all the kingdom looked up to him. By
    means of this one man, the Law of Buddha was widely made known, and
    the followers of other doctrines did not find it in their power to
    persecute the body of monks in any way.

    By the side of the tope of Asoka, there has been made a mahayana
    monastery, very grand and beautiful; there is also a hinayana one;
    the two together containing six or seven hundred monks. The rules of
    demeanour and the scholastic arrangements(6) in them are worthy of

    Shamans of the highest virtue from all quarters, and students,
    inquirers wishing to find out truth and the grounds of it, all resort
    to these monasteries. There also resides in this monastery a Brahman
    teacher, whose name also is Manjusri,(7) whom the Shamans of greatest
    virtue in the kingdom, and the mahayana Bhikshus honour and look up

    The cities and towns of this country are the greatest of all in the
    Middle Kingdom. The inhabitants are rich and prosperous, and vie with
    one another in the practice of benevolence and righteousness. Every
    year on the eighth day of the second month they celebrate a procession
    of images. They make a four-wheeled car, and on it erect a structure
    of four storeys by means of bamboos tied together. This is supported
    by a king-post, with poles and lances slanting from it, and is rather
    more than twenty cubits high, having the shape of a tope. White and
    silk-like cloth of hair(8) is wrapped all round it, which is then
    painted in various colours. They make figures of devas, with gold,
    silver, and lapis lazuli grandly blended and having silken streamers
    and canopies hung out over them. On the four sides are niches, with
    a Buddha seated in each, and a Bodhisattva standing in attendance on
    him. There may be twenty cars, all grand and imposing, but each one
    different from the others. On the day mentioned, the monks and laity
    within the borders all come together; they have singers and skilful
    musicians; they pay their devotion with flowers and incense. The
    Brahmans come and invite the Buddhas to enter the city. These do so
    in order, and remain two nights in it. All through the night they keep
    lamps burning, have skilful music, and present offerings. This is the
    practice in all the other kingdoms as well. The Heads of the Vaisya
    families in them establish in the cities houses for dispensing charity
    and medicines. All the poor and destitute in the country, orphans,
    widowers, and childless men, maimed people and cripples, and all who
    are diseased, go to those houses, and are provided with every kind
    of help, and doctors examine their diseases. They get the food and
    medicines which their cases require, and are made to feel at ease; and
    when they are better, they go away of themselves.

    When king Asoka destroyed the seven topes, (intending) to make
    eighty-four thousand,(9) the first which he made was the great tope,
    more than three le to the south of this city. In front of this there
    is a footprint of Buddha, where a vihara has been built. The door of
    it faces the north, and on the south of it there is a stone pillar,
    fourteen or fifteen cubits in circumference, and more than thirty
    cubits high, on which there is an inscription, saying, "Asoka gave the
    jambudvipa to the general body of all the monks, and then redeemed
    it from them with money. This he did three times."(10) North from the
    tope 300 or 400 paces, king Asoka built the city of Ne-le.(11) In it
    there is a stone pillar, which also is more than thirty feet high,
    with a lion on the top of it. On the pillar there is an inscription
    recording the things which led to the building of Ne-le, with the
    number of the year, the day, and the month.


    1) The modern Patna, lat. 25d 28s N., lon. 85d 15s E. The Sanskrit
    name means "The city of flowers." It is the Indian Florence.

    (2) See chap. x, note 3. Asoka transferred his court from Rajagriha
    to Pataliputtra, and there, in the eighteenth year of his reign, he
    convoked the third Great Synod,--according, at least, to southern
    Buddhism. It must have been held a few years before B.C. 250; Eitel
    says in 246.

    (3) "The Vulture-hill;" so called because Mara, according to Buddhist
    tradition, once assumed the form of a vulture on it to interrupt the
    meditation of Ananda; or, more probably, because it was a resort of
    vultures. It was near Rajagriha, the earlier capital of Asoka, so that
    Fa-hien connects a legend of it with his account of Patna. It abounded
    in caverns, and was famous as a resort of ascetics.

    (4) A Brahman by cast, but a Buddhist in faith.

    (5) So, by the help of Julien's "Methode," I transliterate the Chinese
    characters {.} {.} {.} {.}. Beal gives Radhasvami, his Chinese text
    having a {.} between {.} and {.}. I suppose the name was Radhasvami or

    (6) {.} {.}, the names of two kinds of schools, often occurring in
    the Li Ki and Mencius. Why should there not have been schools in those
    monasteries in India as there were in China? Fa-hien himself grew up
    with other boys in a monastery, and no doubt had to "go to school."
    And the next sentence shows us there might be schools for more
    advanced students as well as for the Sramaneras.

    (7) See chap. xvi, note 22. It is perhaps with reference to the famous
    Bodhisattva that the Brahman here is said to be "also" named Manjusri.

    (8) ? Cashmere cloth.

    (9) See chap. xxiii, note 3.

    (10) We wish that we had more particulars of this great transaction,
    and that we knew what value in money Asoka set on the whole world. It
    is to be observed that he gave it to the monks, and did not receive it
    from them. Their right was from him, and he bought it back. He was the
    only "Power" that was.

    (11) We know nothing more of Ne-le. It could only have been a small
    place; an outpost for the defence of Pataliputtra.

Share This Page