Monday, June 6, 2011

Reaching the Dhamma land

Of the early Buddhist pilgrimage to India from China and the surrounding areas, very few written records were actually left by the pilgrims. Even if they had left some records, these most likely would have been lost during persecution of the religion by hostile monarchs. Only the most important records like those of Fahein, Xuanzang and I-Tsing were preserved since over the centuries they were reproduced by many monasteries spread throughout Japan, Korea and China. Many kings also had these records reprinted and edited because they contained very important information about places of interest to them.  
The latest evidence suggests that Buddhism made inroads into China in the 3rd century BCE with Emperor Ming (58–75 CE) precipitating the first introduction of Buddhist teachings into China. Without any evidence to suggest when the pilgrimage from China to Mid-India actually began, we do have the pilgrimage record made by Fahein and a group of monks in 399 CE which suggests that already by the 5th century CE there was an established pilgrimage route reaching the “Main-land” (India). Around 250 CE, we find mention of Chi-Meng visiting to Hwa-Chi (Patliputra). Chi-Meng was from Turfan and took pilgrimage to Patliputra to collect the manuscript “Seng-Ki-Liuh” (Rules of Priesthood) (Ref. Travels of Fah-Hian and Sung-Yun Translated by S. Beal, P-XXV- Introduction). It was probably not until the 3rd century CE that the Buddhist pilgrimage left its nascent stages, when monks would take the journey along the trade route to the western region to learn, collect and experience the Dhamma. This pilgrimage lasted until the 13th century when the Dhamma slowly disappeared from the land of its origin. The records of the last official reported pilgrimages to the western regions are in 965 CE, when monk Tai-Yuen took the pilgrimage and returned with relics and a Sanskrit manuscript written on palm leaves. In that same year about 157 monks took permission from the emperor to visit India (Ref. Travels of Fah-Hian and Sung-Yun Translated by S. Beal, P-XLVI- Introduction).    

The route taken by the pilgrims was often based on the most convenient way to reach the mainland of the Dhamma. Prominent monks who left records of their pilgrimage to India wrote about the routes that they took, such as I-Tsing who took the sea route in 675-85 CE, Fahein (399-414CE) who took the Northern Silk Route to India and returned by the sea route, and Xuanzang (629-644CE) who took the northern route referred to as the Route of Desert and Mountains. We can divide the pilgrimage taken by the monk pilgrims from China and the surrounding areas into three parts:
1.       The routes
2.       The sacred places visited
3.       The places visited to collect the sastra/manuscripts.
Although there is sparse recorded information from pilgrims about the Buddhist pilgrimage from China, Korea and Japan to India, the few records we do have give us important information we need in order to understand the pilgrimage. For analysis we have prepared a matrix of the available information about pilgrims who took pilgrimage to India. The record is compiled from the records of Fahein, Xuanzang and I-Tsing, during a very small period of time, i.e., between the 5th century CE and 7th century CE. Tables 1 and 2 provide the route information and tables 3 and 4 provide the sacred places visited and the purpose of the visits.

Following Fahein’s pilgrimage route, we can see from Table 1 that four monks, Fahein, Hwui King, Tao Ching, and Hwui Ying, traveled from China to India via the Gobi Desert through Takshila, Purushapura and across the Khyber Mountain Range. Of these four, one completed the pilgrimage and returned by the Sea Route, one died along the way, one remained in India, and one turned back at the mountains.  Five other monks reportedly traveled the same route in but without any mention of crossing the Khyber Mountain Range.  Of these five, three most likely turned back early on and two turned back at Purushapura. One monk traveled through the Gobi Desert and then crossed the Tsung Ling Mountains.  He also turned back at Purushapura. Two monks took the land route through Khotan, Kashmir, Udayana, Gandhara, and Nagarhara. The records do not reveal the outcome of their pilgrimage.
       Table 1- The Pilgrimage Routes Part
Following the route of Xuanzang, Table 2 indicates that the majority of monks took a sea route to India and then 27 out of the 41 monks attempting the pilgrimage died at some point along the way. Only two monks, Xuanzang and I-Tsing are reported to have successfully completed their pilgrimage and returned to China. Records do not indicate whether or not 11 out of the 41 monks completed their pilgrimages.
Table-2- Pilgrimage route-2
 From the information in Table 3, the monks following in the footsteps of Fahein were determined to obtain sastras, complete copies of the Dhamma rules.  Although the records do not indicate how many of these monks were successful in collecting any sastras, it is most likely that most of the monks turned back before reaching the “Main-land” India. 
             Table 3- Purpose of the Pilgrimage Part 1

Following in the footsteps of Xuanzang, the monks took pilgrimage to India for a variety of reasons ranging from obtaining sculptures and manuscripts to paying reverence to sacred vestiges to searching for the true Dhamma teachings and sacred relics. Although we have the travelogues of Xuanzang, records of I-Tsing, and mention of Taou-Sing’s pilgrimage completion and return to China, very little is left of the other monk’s journeys. Because more than half of these monks taking pilgrimage to India died along the way, more research is needed to determine what exactly was collected by those that actually returned to China or via their traveling parties.
      Table 4- The Purpose of the Pilgrimage Part 2
                Analysis of the Pilgrimage

Graph A- Out of a total of 96 pilgrims, 44 returned back to their homelands after completing only half or less of the pilgrimage. Fifty-two pilgrims continued on the pilgrimage to reach the Main-Land (India). With 46% of monks completing only half or less of the pilgrimage and only 54% of monks continuing on the pilgrimage, it is safe to speculate that this journey was an arduous one and only the strongest and most dedicated of monks succeeded.
  Graph B- Of 96 Pilgrims who made the attempt for the Pilgrimage, 44 returned at or before the halfway point and eleven died along the way.  It is known from the records that a total of 55 out of the original 96 pilgrims failed to complete the pilgrimage to the Main-Land (India). Forty-one actually made it to the Main-Land, which brings the success rate to 43 percent.

     44 returned back midway (from table 1 and 2)
11 Died on the way (from table 1 and 2)
Total number = 55 couldn’t make it finally 
% of total Monks who made attempt for Pilgrimage, who finally completed the Pilgrimage by making it to Main-Land (India) - 43%
Graph C- Of 96 Pilgrims who made the attempt for the Pilgrimage and reached the Main-Land (India), seventeen monk pilgrims died in India and one confirmed report of a monk pilgrim who remained in India.  Only twenty-three pilgrims reached the Main-Land (India) and possibly successfully returned to their homelands (Of these 23 monks many were still In Main-Land in various monasteries when It-Sing prepared his accounts).
(From table-1 and 2)
44 returned back midway
 11 Died on the way
 17 Died in India
 1 Stayed back in India
Total number of Monks who could make it back to their country- 96- 44-11-17-1= 23 Pilgrims 

% of total Monks who made attempt for Pilgrimage, who returned back to their homeland making the Pilgrimage- 24%
Five different routes were taken by the pilgrims to reach the Main-Land (India): the Sea Route, the Northern Route, the Land and Sea Route, the Nepal-Tibet Route, and the Northern plus Nepal Route.  Of these routes, the Sea Route was the most popular.
This analysis is a very small fragment of the total number of pilgrimages that occurred during 13 centuries but is provided to give a general overview. About 46% of the pilgrims returned even before the arduous and long pilgrimage was halfway completed. Looking at this large number of pilgrims who returned midway, we can speculate that a reason for changing their minds midway may have been due in part to the tremendous difficulties that they encountered. 21% (12 of 52) of the pilgrims who were resolute to move ahead, died on the way due to disease or drowning when their ship sank in the deep oceans. Of the 40 pilgrims out of total 96 who made it to India, 18 either died in India or chose to remain in India. The number of monks who remained or died in India could be larger since many monks were still in India when I-Tsing wrote about them. Another revealing factor is the route taken by the pilgrims. The Sea route and the Northern land route (Silk Route) were equally popular among the pilgrims. Both the routes had flourishing Buddhist centres along the way that would help revitalize the pilgrims in what was otherwise a long and arduous journey.

The Routes
1-Northern Route also known as the Silk Route
  A- Wuwie, I-Gu, Kuchih, Poh-Lu-Ka, Su-She, Samei-Kin, Balkh, Kunduz, Bamiyan, Nagarhara, Mo-Tu-Lo (Route taken by Xuanzang)
  B- Hwo-Kunduz, Potona, Usa, Yarkiang, Khotan, Niya, Hami (Route taken by Xuanzang)
2- Southern Sea Route
    Condore (Guangzahou) / Hangzhou , Sribhoja (Palembang, in Sumatra), Quedah, Nagapatam-Ceylon
    Quedah- Arakan- Tamralipti (Taken by I-tsing, P- XXV, Life)
3- Nepal - Tibet Route (Taken by Hiuen-Chiu and a few other pilgrims mentioned by I-Tsing)

Pilgrims in their accounts have mentioned India and collectively called it the Western Region (Life, S. Beal, Book 1, p-16) or out of respect for the land of the Buddha, they at times would also call it the “Main-Land” (Mentioned by It-Sing, Life, P- XXXII). As mentioned in Introduction of “Records of the Buddhistic Kingdoms” by Fahein, (Translated by J. Legge), Fahein mentions Central India as “Main-Land” and not a border-land (to China), which was not looked upon kindly by many people in China. For devout Buddhists, the birth place of Buddhism was the centre of the earth, hence the Main-Land. Within India they further divided regions into Mid-Land, Martha Country, Northern India, Magadha, Eastern India, Southern India, etc. The whole of India from 1st century CE to 12th century CE was a hub of Buddhist activities and attracted many scholars from Buddhist countries (China, Japan, Korea).

As monk pilgrims joined caravans of Silk Route traders or boarded mercantile ships, the traders would benefit in the process by receiving the teachings of the Buddha from the eminent monk scholars. This exchange of Dhamma teachings for transportation allowed the monks to take the teaching of the Buddha to distant lands. Others traveling with the caravans would also take interest in attending the monk’s Dhamma talks, when the opportunities arose. We know from the Travelogues of Xuanzang how he traveled with big caravans and gave evening Dhamma talks. Xuanzang became so popular along the Silk Route that caravans preceding him would alert people of the cities and villages along the route that Xuanzang was coming. In this way, Xuanzang was received at the gate of many places like Okini and Kuccha by the king, monks and the laity of the area ((Life, S. Beal, Book 1, p-37, 38). Such stopovers would help the monks collect the necessary recommendations and replenishments needed to continue on their journey. This pilgrimage from Changan to Mainland India was estimated to be 6000 km in length. It would take more than a year to reach the heart of the Dhamma land. Many would perish and others would turn back, but only a few would successfully complete it.

1-       Northern Route – also known as the Silk Route
  A- Changan, Wuwie, I-Gu, Turfan, Kuchih, Poh-Lu-Ka, Su-She, Barmarkand, Samei-Kin, Kashgar, Balkh, Kunduz, Bamiyan, Nagarhara, Mo-Tu-Lo, Lahore, Main-Land (Mathura, Sarnath, Bodhi Tree) (Route taken by Xuanzang)
  B- Changan, Wuwei, Hwo-Kunduz, Potona, Usa, Yarkiang, Khotan,Yarkand, Niya, Hami, Kashgar, Balkh, Bamiyan, Lahore, Main-Land (Mathura, Sarnath, Bodhi Tree) ( Route taken by Xuanzang)

2- Sea Route – The Southern Sea Route
    Condore (Guangzahou) / Hangzhou ,Sribhoja (Palembang, in Sumatra), Quedah, Nagapatam-Ceylon
    Quedah- Arakan- Tamralipti (Taken by I-Tsing, P- XXV, Life)

An important objective of many pilgrims was to collect Buddhist literature and for this it was important to learn Sanskrit and other subjects. Before reaching the Main-Land, Xuanzang stayed in Kashmir to learn Hetuvidya (P- 70, Life), so that, he could debate well with the scholars there and to better understand the true teachings of the Buddha. I-Tsing stayed at Sribhoja (Near Sumatra, Indonesia) for six months (P- XXVI, Life), and also recommended sribhoja for aspirant monks interested in learning Sanskrit. Like Sribhoja, Tamralipti was another important centre for Sanskrit preferred by the pilgrims who took the sea route.  
The travelogues of Fahein motivated generations of pilgrims to take the arduous journey to the land of Buddha. Probably Xuanzang, himself, was motivated by the pilgrimage of Fahein. Xuanzang documented rich detailed accounts of villages and cities along the way, monasteries and Buddhist schools, finding of relics and collecting of sastras (Manuscripts). In fact, Xuanzang created a complete guide book for people seeking pilgrimage to relics and to learn the sastras. Xuanzang took pain in converting almost all distances along the pilgrimage route into Li, the standard Chinese unit. Because of all of his wonderful efforts, his book is still one of the classics in China. Almost all dynasties after the Tang Dynasty made a copy for each dynasty. The book has traveled wide and is still preserved in temples of Japan and Korea.

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