Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Xuanzang

Xuanzang (Chinese: ; pinyin: Xuán Zàng; Wade-Giles: Hsüan-tsang, pronounced Shwan-dzang) [602/603? - 664 CE] was a famous Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler, and translator that brought up the interaction between China and India in the early Tang period.

South Asia

Xuanzang left Adinapur, which had few Buddhist monks, but many stupas and monasteries. His travels (in the present day Pakistan) included, passing through Hunza and the Khyber Pass to the east, reaching the former capital of Gandhara, Peshawar, on the other side. Peshawar was nothing compared to its former glory, and Buddhism was declining in the region. Xuanzang visited a number of stupas around Peshawar, notably the Kanishka Stupa. This stupa was built just southeast of Peshawar, by a former king of the city. In 1908 it was rediscovered by D.B. Spooner with the help of Xuanzang's account.

Xuanzang left Peshawar and travelled northeast to the Swat Valley. Reaching Oḍḍiyāna, he found 1,400 old monasteries, that had previously supported 18,000 monks. The remnant monks were of the Mahayanaschool. Xuanzang continued northward and into the Buner Valley, before doubling back via Shabaz Gharni to cross the Indus river at Hund. Thereafter he headed to Taxila, a Mahayana Buddhist kingdom that was a vassal of Kashmir, which is precisely where he headed next. Here he found 5,000 more Buddhist monks in 100 monasteries. Here he met a talented Mahayana monk and spent his next two years (631-633) studying Mahayana alongside other schools of Buddhism. During this time, Xuanzang writes about the Fourth Buddhist council that took place nearby, ca. 100 AD, under the order of King Kanishka of Kushana. He visitedLahore as well and provided the earliest writings available on the ancient city.

In 633, Xuanzang left Kashmir and journeyed south to Chinabhukti, thought to be modern Firozpur in present day India, where he studied for a year with the monk-prince Vinitaprabha.

In 634 he went east to Jalandhar in eastern Punjab, before climbing up to visit predominantly non-Mahayana monasteries in the Kulu valley and turning southward again to Bairat and then Mathura, on the Yamuna river. Mathura had 2,000 monks of both major Buddhist branches, despite being Hindu-dominated. Xuanzang travelled up the river to Srughna before crossing eastward to Matipura, where he arrived in 635, having crossed the river Ganges. At Matipura Monastery Xuanzang studied under Mitrasena[3] From here, he headed south to Sankasya (Kapitha), said to be where Buddha descended from heaven, then onward to the northern Indian emperor Harsha's grand capital of Kanyakubja (Kannauj). Here, in 636, Xuanzang encountered 100 monasteries of 10,000 monks (both Mahayana and non-Mahayana), and was impressed by the king's patronage of both scholarship and Buddhism. Xuanzang spent time in the city studying early Buddhist scriptures, before setting off eastward again for Ayodhya (Saketa), homeland of the Yogacara school. Xuanzang now moved south to Kausambi (Kosam), where he had a copy made from an important local image of the Buddha.

Xuanzang now returned northward to Sravasti, travelled through Terai in the southern part of modern Nepal (here he found deserted Buddhist monasteries) and thence to Kapilavastu, his last stop before Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. Reaching Lumbini, he would have seen a pillar near the old Ashoka tree that Buddha is said to have been born under. This was from the reign of emperor Ashoka, and records that he worshipped at the spot. The pillar was rediscovered by A. Führer in 1895.

In 637, Xuanzang set out from Lumbini to Kusinagara, the site of Buddha's death, before heading southwest to the deer park at Sarnath where Buddha gave his first sermon, and where Xuanzang found 1,500 resident monks. Travelling eastward, at first via Varanasi, Xuanzang reached Vaisali, Pataliputra (Patna) and Bodh Gaya. He was then accompanied by local monks to Nalanda, the great Buddhist university of Bengal, where he spent at least the next two years. He was in the company of several thousand scholar-monks, whom he praised. Xuanzang studied logic, grammar, Sanskrit, and the Yogacara school of Buddhism during his time at Nalanda. René Grousset notes that it was at Nalanda (where an "azure pool winds around the monasteries, adorned with the full-blown cups of the blue lotus; the dazzling red flowers of the lovely kanaka hang here and there, and outside groves of mango trees offer the inhabitants their dense and protective shade") that Xuanzang met the venerable Silabhadra, the monastery's superior.[4] Silabhadra had dreamt of Xuanzang's arrival and that it would help spread far and wide the Holy Law.[5] Grousset writes: "The Chinese pilgrim had finally found the omniscient master, the incomparable metaphysician who was to make known to him the ultimate secrets of the idealist systems...The founders of Mahayana idealism, Asanga and Vasubandhu...Dignaga...Dharmapala had in turn trained Silabhadra. Siladhadra was thus in a position to make available to the Sino-Japanese world the entire heritage of Buddhist idealism, and the Siddhi Hiuan Tsang's great philosophical treatise...is none other than the Summa of this doctrione, the fruit of seven centuries of Indian [Buddhist] thought."[6]

From Nalanda, Xuanzang also went east to the ancient city of Pragjyotishpur (modern Guwahati) in the kingdom of Kamarupa (modern Assam) at the invitation of its Buddhist king Kumar Bhaskaravarman. Later the king escorted Xuanzang back to the Kannauj at the request of king Harshavardhana who was an ally of Kumar Bhaskaravarman to attend a great Buddhist council there which was attended by both the kings.

Xuanzang turned southward and travelled to Andhradesa to visit the famous Viharas at Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. He stayed at Amaravati and studied 'Abhidhammapitakam'. He observed that there were many Viharas at Amaravati and some of them were deserted. He later proceeded to Kanchi, the imperial capital of Pallavas and a strong centre of Buddhism.

Traveling through the Khyber Pass of the Hindu Kush, Xuanzang passed through Kashgar, Khotan, and Dunhuang on his way back to China. He arrived in the capital, Chang'an, on the seventh day of the first month of 645, and a great procession celebrated his return[7].

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