Fa Hien's Chronicle of India


Senior Member
Mar 10, 2009
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

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Mar 10, 2009


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.

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