Jump to: navigation, search

I-tsing


I-tsing a 7th century Chinese Buddhist pilgrim who has left behind an account of his travels to India. His name may correctly be pronounced as Yijing, and is also written as I-ching. Born in 635 AD in Fan-Yang (modern Cho-Chou) near present-day Beijing, he began a secular education at the age of seven. His teacher died when he was twelve; it was at this time that he devoted himself to the study of the Buddhist Canon. In his fourteenth year (648 AD) he was admitted to the Order.

After his ordination in 654, I-tsing spent five years in the study of the rules of discipline (Vinayapitaka) which remained his main interest and formed the main topic of his writing. The pilgrim was aware of fa-hien's travels and also of the immediate example of hiuen-tsang, - he was in Changan when Hiuen-tsang's funeral took place there in 664 AD - and was inspired by them to go to India.

I-tsing left for India from Canton by sea in 671, arriving in India in 673. After visiting the sacred Buddhist sites in Magadha, he resided at the great Nalanda monastery for ten years (676-685), devoting himself to the study of the Vinya. He left India in 685 for the city of Shri Bhoja (or Sri Boja, known as Shri Vijaya, ie Palembang in Sumatra), which at that time was very much under the cultural influence of India. Here he devoted himself to the translation of Buddhist Sanskrit texts.

In 689 I-tsing returned to China to obtain assistance for his translations. He then returned to Sri Vijaya, and remained there for five more years, returning to China in 695 during the reign of the well-known patron of Buddhism, the Empress Wu Zetian. Thus, I-tsing's stay abroad roughly covers a period of twenty-five years (671-695). He received much acclaim on his return, but like his predecessor Hiuen-tsang, I-tsing devoted the remaining years of his life to the translation of Buddhist works. He died in 713 AD at the age of 79, during the reign of the Chinese Emperor Zhongzong.

Apart from his translations, I-tsing has left behind two important works. The Qiufa Gaoseng Zhuan (Ch' iu-fa Kao-seng Chuan) is a series of brief biographies of Chinese Buddhist pilgrims he met or heard of while he was in India. This work is interesting in that it gives an impression of the numbers of pilgrims who went to India but have left no records of their own. His major work, Nanhai Jigui Neifa Zhuan (Nan-hai Chi-kuei Nei-fa Chuan) meaning 'A Record of the Buddhist Religion sent Home from the Southern Sea', is quite unique among the records left by the Buddhist pilgrims. It is possible that because of the monumental Xiyu Ji of Hiuen-Tsang, I-tsing did not write any travelogue describing India and the surrounding areas. He, however, described the Buddhist practices in India in their orthodox interpretation of the Rules of Discipline (the Vinaya). [Haraprasad Ray and Sharita Khettry]