Jump to: navigation, search

Hiuen-Tsang


Hiuen-Tsang seventh century Chinese Buddhist pilgrim who has left behind an account about India and Bengal. This master of the law's name may correctly be pronounced as Xuanzang, and is also written as Hsuan-tsang. Born in Henan province of China in 603 AD, he displayed signs of intellectual and spiritual greatness even at an early age. From boyhood he took to reading sacred books, mainly the Chinese Classics and the writings of the ancient sages.

While residing in the city of Luoyang, Hiuen-Tsang entered Buddhist monkhood at the age of thirteen. Due to the political and social unrest caused by the fall of the Sui dynasty, he went to Xingdu in Sichuan (Szechuan), where he was ordained at the age of twenty. From Xingdu, he travelled throughout China in search of sacred books of Buddhism. At length, he came to Changan, then under the peaceful rule of the Tang emperor Taizong. Here Hiuen-Tsang developed the desire to visit India. He knew about fa-hien's visit to India and like him was concerned about the incomplete and misinterpreted nature of the Buddhist scriptures that reached China.

Starting from China in AD 629, Hiuen-Tsang passed through Central Asia by the northern trade route via Kucha and reached Northern India, where, at the city of Kanauj, he was the guest of Harsavardhana, the great Indian emperor. He visited the sacred Buddhist sites in Magadha and spent much time studying at the great Nalanda monastery, then an important centre of Buddhist scholarship. The Pilgrim next travelled to parts of Bengal (western, northern and southeastern) and then to South and West India. He returned to China, again by way of Central Asia, though this time by the southern route via Khotan. Hiuen-Tsang recorded the details of all the countries he visited. He also included information on countries he had heard reports of; for example, he has recorded some stories about Sri Lanka when he was in South India, though he had not visited the island.

On his return to China in AD 645 Hiuen-Tsang was bestowed much honour but he refused all high civil appointments offered by the still-reigning emperor, Taizong. Instead, he retired to a monastery and devoted his energy to translating Buddhist texts until his death in AD 664.

Hiuen-Tsang's work, the Xiyu Ji (Hsi-yu Chi), is the longest and most detailed account of the countries of Central and South Asia that has been bestowed upon posterity by a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim. While Hiuen-Tsang's purpose was to obtain Buddhist books and to receive instruction on Buddhism while in India, he ended up doing much more. He has preserved the records of political and social aspects of the lands he visited. His record of the places visited by him in Bengal, mainlyRaktamrittikanear karnasuvarna, Pundranagar and its environ, samatata and tamralipti' have been very helpful in the recording of the archaeological history of Bengal. His account has also shed welcome light, on the history of 7th century Bengal, especially the Gauda kingdom under shashanka, although at times he can be quite partisan.

Hiuen-Tsang obtained and translated 657 Sanskrit Buddhist works. He received the best education on Buddhism he could find throughout India. Much of this activity is detailed in the companion volume to Xiyu JI, the biography of Hiuen-Tsang written by Huili, and titled Life of Hiuen-Tsang, the Tripitaka Master of the Great Zi En Monastery. [Haraprasad Ray]

See also chinese accounts (ancient).