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Memoirs of  Fa-Hein

First Online: April 25, 2001
Page Last Updated: May 09, 2017

Chinese Traveler Fa-Hein in India 

During A.D. 399-414, Chinese scholar Fa-Hien traveled to India in search of great Buddhist books of discipline. The faithful integrity of his notes and observations are an invaluable resource available to researchers of Buddhist period studies, and of ancient India. It provides exact dates of when Buddhism was introduced to China, the many Indian dynasties, and of the austere life led by the sages and monks of the period.

Excerpted from English translation of secondary translations. Link to complete full-text at Project Gutenberg is provided below. - Ed.

Crossing of the Indus River

The travelers went on to the south-west for fifteen days following the foot of the mountain range. The way was difficult and rugged, (running along) a bank exceedingly precipitous, which rose up there, a hill-like wall of rock, 10,000 cubits from the base. When one approaches the edge of it, his eyes become unsteady; and if he wished to go forward in the same direction, there was no place on which he could place his foot; and beneath where the waters of the river called the Indus (a.k.a. Sindhu). In former times men had chiseled paths along the rocks, and distributed ladders on the face of them, to the number altogether of 700, at the bottom of which there was a suspension bridge of ropes, by which the river was crossed, its banks being there eighty paces apart. Scholar Legge confirms this fact from secondary sources [JLegge] . The place and arrangements are to be found in the Records of the Nine Interpreters, but neither Chang K'een (a minister of the emperor Woo of Han -- B.C. 140-87 ) nor Kan Ying (A.D. 88) had reached the spot.

The monks asked Fa-Hien if it could be known when the Law of Buddha first went to the east. He replied, "When I asked the people of those countries about it, they all said that it had been handed down by their fathers from of old that, after the setting up of the image of Maitreya Bodhisattva, there were Brahmins who crossed this river, carrying with them Sutras and Books of Discipline. Now the image was set up rather more than 300 years after the nirvana of Buddha, which may be referred to the reign of king P'ing of the Chow dynasty. According to this account we may say that the diffusion of our great doctrines began from (the setting up of) this image. If it had not been through that Maitreya, the great spiritual master Purusha (who is to be) the successor of the Shakya (the Shakya  sage), who could have caused the 'Three Precious Ones (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha) to be proclaimed so far, and the people of those border lands to know our Law? We know of a truth that the opening of (the way for such) a mysterious propagation is not the work of man; and so the dream of the emperor Ming of Han had its proper cause."

After crossing the river, the travelers immediately came to the kingdom of Woo-chang (possibly Udyana (?) meaning a park) which is indeed a part of North India. The people all use the language of Central India, "Central India" being what we should call the "Middle Kingdom." The food and clothes of the common people are the same as in that Central Kingdom. The Law of Buddha is very (flourishing in Woo-chang). They call the places where the monks stay as the Sangharamas; and of these there are in all 500, the monks being all students of the Hinayana. When stranger bhikshus arrive at one of them, their wants are supplied for three days, after which they are told to find a resting-place for themselves. There is a tradition that when Buddha came to North India, he came at once to this country, and that here he left a print of his foot, which is long or short according to the ideas of the beholder (on the subject). It exists, and the same thing is true about it, at the present day. Here also are still to be seen the rock on which he dried his clothes, and the place where he converted the wicked dragon (Naga). "The rock is fourteen cubits high, and more than twenty broad, with one side of it smooth. From here my colleagues went on ahead towards (the place of) Buddha's shadow in the country of Nagara; but I  stayed here for the summer".


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