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Chinese Sources of South Asian History in Translation- The Buddhist Trilogy (Vol-III)

Chinese Sources of South Asian History in Translation- The Buddhist Trilogy (Vol-III)
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Item Code: NAV335
Author: Haraprasad Ray
Language: English
Edition: 2009
Pages: 324
Other Details: 8.50 X 5.50 inch
weight of the book: 0.46 kg
About the Book

This book reconstructs an interesting chapter in the history of Buddhism in China, and how China absorbed and internalised the teachings of Buddha. It forms the third volume of Chinese Sources of South Asian History in Translation.... Subtitled "Buddhist Trilogy" the work includes three texts not studied thoroughly before in India. Gaoseng Zhuan (c.530A.D.) by Hui Jiao affords us an insight into how the major Buddhist proselytisers from South Asia carried out the Herculean and hazardous task of disseminating their creed in a foreign and unknown land under hostile conditions. By the time we come across Luoyang Qielan Ji (547) by Yang Xuanzhi, Buddhism had already become a flourishing creed in China, its capital, Luoyang, being turned into a picturesque city dotted with Buddhist temples of all descriptions scattered all over the city. The author's inclusion of travels of Song Yun and Hui Sheng to Udyana and Gandhara in 518 (map provided) is an important contribution.

The last text in the book is the piece on Sakyamuni, the Buddha, included in juan 114 of the History of the Wei Dynasty (Weishu) (554) by Wei Shou which provides the only official account of Buddhism ever included in a dynastic history of China. It sums up the growth of Buddhism in China through various stages of ups and downs. Less than a century thereafter came the Tang dynasty rightly called the Golden Period of our relations which constitutes the fourth volume of this set.

By the time a reader finishes reading this tome he will be convinced of the historical process under which Buddhism became a religion and philosophy encompassing all aspects of Chinese life after overcoming all vicissitudes.


We have great sense of relief, short of satisfaction, in being ableo complete translation of these three Buddhist texts. In case of GSZ only ten biographies could be translated, three of them being quite long, each almost as big as a monograph in its translated form. We had to rationalise and restrict the content of each volume in view of the total project extending to 19th century, about one-third of which will be completed with the present volume. If the present author survives after completing the entire scheme, the remaining part of the GSZ may be taken up again. For the same reason one chapter (ch-II) of LYQLJ has been disposed of with a short note (Geng Yinzeng has omitted the entire chapter). From WS. 114 the part related to the Buddha, which comprises about sixty per cent of the entire chapter-Juan has been translated.

The author has taken great risk in venturing upon the hazardous task of translating these religio-historical texts written in highly stylised literary form couched in Buddhist technical terms, translated and transliterated into Chinese, which, indeed, is a daunting task for a translator.

GSZ (c. 5 3 0A.D.) has been placed first in this volume as its biographies afford us an insight into how the major Buddhist personalities played their role in the dissemination of their creed. The second, LYQLJ (547) gives a graphic and picturesque details of the temples and monasteries (Sangharamas, transliterated as Qielan in Chinese), after Buddhism had become a part and parcel of Chinese life. The last one, Ws. 114 (Shi Lao Zhi) (554) sums up the initial stage, the ups and downs and growth of Buddhism in China as seen by an official historian. However, the portion on Taoism has been omitted for obvious reason. Less than a century thereafter in 618 came the Tang dynasty which is legitimately called the Golden Period of Indo-China relations; this period will constitute the next volume of this series.

The author is indebted to various scholars and friends in India and in China, specially to Dr. R. K. Rana of the University of Delhi who had ungrudgingly provided dictionaries and rare books that facilitated our work immensely. To Ge Weijum, Wang Bangwei, Wang Shuying in China, and over and above, to Ware, Wright, Zurcher and Link whose articles and books especially the translations of the Buddhist works have shown me the way. Finally, I shall consider my labour worth the candle if it is of some help to the scholars pursuing Buddhist studies. For their convenience various glossaries etc. have been added.


Professor Haraprasad Ray is a senior Sinologist who has been writing highly valuable books on Chinese sources of South Asian History. His aim is to unravel the Chinese version's of some special features of India civilization. such as Buddhism, which was disseminated in China long ago. Perfect knowledge of the Chinese language is a sine qua non for this purpose. Professor Ray mastered this language, and deeply Studied what the ancient Chinese historians wrote about Buddhism in their country from the downfall of the Han dynasty in B.C. 206-220 onwards. These writings of inestimable value are presented in this volume in the form of biographical accounts called Gaoseng Zhuan. In which the Chinese versions of the Buddhist scriptures and the biographies of those who preached them in alien situation are incorporated. This work therefore, is indispensable for students of Chinese Buddhism in troubles times, when the Chinese civilization was achieving significant growth through the simultaneous cultivation of competing religious, philosophical and ethical systems like Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Gaoseng Zhuan, as presented in this volume in translation, makes it evident that such great Indian Buddhist monks it evident that such great Indian Buddhist monks as Kumarajiva achieved considerable success in making Buddhism an inalienable ingredient of Chinese civilization. Many Buddhist preachers, about whom the Indian Buddhist tradition is dim, are vivified in this work. This work, therefore, is of great importance in Buddhist studies. It is indubitably a highly valuable publication of the Asiatic Society.


The Political Scenario

After the fall of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) in 220 China saw the break up of the empire into three kingdoms in which the rival states of Wei, Shu and Wu existed side by side approximately from 220 to 266. Then, the Western Jin, ruled by four emperors of three generations, lasted 51 years, from 266 to 316 ; the Eastern Jin, ruled by 11 emperors of four generations, extended over 103 years, from 317 to 420. The Southern and Northern Dynasties period, 420-589, covers 169 years, starting from the two rival dynasties of Song and Northern Wei and ending with the conquest of the Chen by the Sui, and going through the intertwining period of the Qi and the Liang in the south, and the Eastern Wei, the Western Wei, the Northern Qi and the Northern Zhou in the north. The dynasty of Sui, 581-618, had just two emperors of two generations on the, throne for only 37 years. The 289-year-old Tang Dynasty, 618- 907, was ruled by 20 emperors and 1 empress belonging to 14 generations. The Western and Eastern Jin dynasties also saw a number of independent local regimes, known in Chinese history as the Sixteen States.

To mention some remarkable facts related to our texts translated, we may mention that the Later Zhao was set up in 319 by Shi Le, a Jie tribesman and previously general of Liu Yuan (of Former Zhao with capital at Changan) ; its capital was first at Xiang-guo (southwest of present-day Xingtai city, Hebei) and then at Ye (southwest of present-day Linzhang county, Hebei). At its height, the Later Zhao occupied present-day Hebei, Shandong, Shaanxi (Shensi) and Henan, as well as parts of Gansu, Jiangsu, Anhui, Hubei and Liaoning provinces making itself the largest of the Sixteen States. Former Yan, established by the Xianbei tribe noble Murong Huang in 337, had its capital at Longcheng (now Chaohang county, Liaoning province) and then at Ye. It was a powerful state in the north. In 317, Sima Rui proclaimed himself emperor of Eastern Jin making Jiankang (Jianye, now Nanjing city) his capital.

The Former Qin was founded in 351 with its capital in Changan by the Di tribesman Fu Jian who was succeeded by another Fu Jian (Jian written differently) in 352. In 383, Fu Jian attacked the Eastern Jin with a massive infantry and cavalry force, but was defeated completely by the Eastern Jin army. This battle is known as the Battle of Feishui (now Feihe River in Anhui) and brought about a great change in the situation in northern China. Between 384 and 385, a number of states appeared in what had been the Former Qin’s territory, such as the Later Qin set up by the Qiang tribesman Yao Chang, the Later Yan by the Xianbei tribesman Murong Chui, the Western Qin by another Xianbei , Qifu Guoren, and the later Liang by the Di tribesman Lu Guang. Fu Jian was captured and killed by Yao Chang in 385. In the 12 years between 397 and 409, six more states appeared as the Northern Liang, the Southern Liang and the Western Liang split off from the Later Liang ; the Southern Yan and Northern Yan from Later Yan : and the Xia from Later Qin. These last ten States were the last independent regimes to emerge among the sixteen states. Plagued by internecine wars among these states, northern China was thrown into confusion which ended in 439 when the Northern Wei reunified that part of the country Nothern Wei was set up by the Tuoba clan of the Xianbei tribe in 386 with Pingcheng (east of present Datong City, Shanxi) as the capital.

In such a melee Buddhism flourished amidst struggle for power among palace factions and racial groups through use of their power to cure diseases, magic power and through judicious use of their wisdom to win the confidence of the rulers Fotudeng was the most prominent among such monk-scholars. These proselytisers knew the art of winning the confidence of the rulers who had on their side gifted and versatile advisors on whose loyalty and resourcefulness they could depend.

Advent of Buddhism and After

There is doubt about the exact date of introduction of Buddhism into China. So long, the historians have believed that it happened during the later part of 1st century A.D. But clear evidences are now available about a Chinese scholar-official named Jinglu having received lessons in Buddhism from a Kushana (Da Yuezhi ) prince or official during 2 B.C. The story has been repeated in later histories' also. After deliberating the various aspects of the problem, we are of the opinion that the story has stamp of authority in it.

Buddhism of Sakyamuni was destined not simply to remain a religion of the Indian people alone. Rather, it possessed characteristics of universal appeal that permitted it to transcend national and racial boundaries and present itself as a religion for all humanities. It is a remakable and unique fact of history that it spread beyond the country of its origin and was received in China, a country with a wholly different cultural background.

Indian Buddhism falls into two major categories. One is Mahayana Buddhism, sometimes referred to as northern Buddhism because it was the type of Buddhism that in the main spread to the countries to the north and east of India. The other is Theravada or Hina-yana Buddhism, sometimes called southern Buddhism, as it was the type that spread to the countries south and east of India such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia. Southern Buddhism was also known to some extent in the Greek and Roman world to the west of India.

When the religion of Sakyamuni was transmitted from India to other countries with very different languages and culture, it naturally did not remain unchanged- Though the philosophical core of the religion stayed the same, various adaptations in matters of customs and procedure custom and various shifts of doctrinal emphasis took place in the new environments into which it was introduced so that in course of time China, for example, developed its own distinctive Chinese Buddhism, and the same process was repeated later in Japan. In the other hand, Theravada Buddhism as it developed in India and South-east Asia can be perceived as essentially an extension of the original Buddhism of India. The text translated by us may form the prelude to the understanding of Chinese Buddhism as it developed through the medium of the great Indian monk-scholars and their Chinese collaborators.

For about seventy years after the contact of Jinglu with Buddhism, and then after about the same period following Kasyapa Matanga and Dharmaratna’s arrival in China we do not hear of any other missionary activity in China. This is because the communications between the Western region and China were still very uncertain on account of the political condition in eastern Central Asia. In order to command the routes of Central Asia better, General Ban Chao continued military Operations for more than twenty years from 74 to 102 A.D. These operations were renewed in A.D. 124 by his son Ban Yong. As a result of these expeditions communication between China and the West became more secure and regular. The Xiongnus, the eternal enemies of China, who were responsible for this insecurity in communication between China and the West, were brought under such complete submission as not to raise their heads again.

In the meantime, by the first century B.C. Buddhism had already been established in Central Asia and was Poised for the leap across the desert sands to the populous and civilised centres of China. In China the mighty and expanding Han empire was in power at the western end of the trans-Asiatic Highway at the Scythians were consolidating their domain in areas where Buddhism had already taken root. The Kusanas were ensconced on the northwest and central India. Commercial travellers had already made the journey between the two centres of civilisation-India and China. At the beginning of the Christian era some missionaries had already made the trip. Without knowing it, the first Buddhist missionary to negotiate the perilous distance initiated one of the greatest cultural move movements in history. Our account in the Gaoseng Zhuan (GSZ) begins as early as that.

The time was ready. During the tumultous from the Western Jin (A.D. 290-316) to the Sixteen States (347-436), the ruling classes, mostly non Chinese races, needed some spiritual guidance and advice in the sphere of material life and in times of crisis. These the outstanding monks like Fotudeng, Kumarajiva, Shi Daon and others provided efficiently as will be evident from the texts. The ordinary people oppressed from all sides also required respite and spiritual refuge. Buddhism with its tenets of reincarnation and transmigration enabled people to find an escape from their cares by pinning their hopes for happiness on a next life. For the time, its doctrines were more attractive than those of Confucianism and Taoism. Famous Buddhist monks in this period included Zhu Fahu of the Western Jin, and Zhu Fotudeng, Daoan, Huiyuan and Kumarajiva (Jiumoluoshi ) of the Eastern Jin, (the biographies of the last four monks have been translated by us from GSZ ) From the time of Emperor Wen (424-453) of Song (420-479), many venerable Buddhist monks came to China from the West, and Buddhism of various sects flourished during the Southern and Northern Dynasties. Large numbers of Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures were translated into Chinese. Among the emperors and princes, the most devout Buddhists were Xiao Ziliang, Prince of Jingling of the Qi, and Emperor Wu of the Liang. Emperor Wu many times retired to a Buddhist temple to become a novice, and each time had to be bought out of the temple by his ministers. At one time, Jiankang (Nanjing) alone boasted more than 500 Buddhist monasteries housing upwards of 100,000 monks and nuns. Famous Buddhist monks were held in awe by people of rank and title.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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