In the year 721, a young Buddhist monk named Hyecho set out from the kingdom of Silla, on the Korean peninsula, on what would become one of the most extraordinary journeys in history. Sailing first to China, Hyecho continued to what is today Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, before taking the Silk Road and heading back east, where he ended his days on the sacred mountain of Wutaishan in China. With Hyecho’s Journey, eminent scholar of Buddhism Donald S. Lopez Jr. re-creates Hyecho’s trek. Using the surviving fragments of Hyecho’s travel memoir, along with numerous other textual and visual sources, Lopez imagines the thriving Buddhist world the monk explored. Along the way, Lopez introduces key elements of Buddhism, including its basic doctrines, monastic institutions, works of art, and the many stories that have inspired Buddhist pilgrimage. Through the eyes of one remarkable Korean monk, we discover a vibrant tradition flourishing across a vast stretch of Asia. Hyecho’s Journey is simultaneously a rediscovery of a forgotten pilgrim, an accessible primer on Buddhist history and doctrine, and a gripping, beautifully illustrated account of travel in a world long lost.
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About the Author
Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan. His recent books include Strange Tales of an Oriental Idol: An Anthology of Early European Portrayals of the Buddha.
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The Discovery of the Pilgrim's Account
In April 1908, the French scholar Paul Pelliot, age twenty-nine, sat crouched in a cave temple in far western China, surrounded by tens of thousands of texts, piled all around him, ten feet high. This came to be known as Cave 17, the "Library Cave" in the Mogao cave-temple complex near the town of Dunhuang, one of the last stops on the Silk Road for those leaving Han China, one of the first stops for those entering. Pelliot was not the first European scholar to examine the texts.
By 1900, the Mogao Caves, known as the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas, were sparsely populated and largely abandoned. Their caretaker and self-appointed "abbot" was a Daoist priest named Wang Yuanlu. On June 25, 1900, he was removing sand that had accumulated in Cave 16, in preparation for restoring the shrine there, when he discovered a sealed vestibule on the right side of the passageway into the cave. Opening it, he found it filled from wall to wall, from floor to ceiling, with all manner of bundles of scrolls, texts, paintings, and banners, as many as fifty thousand pieces. The cave seems to have been sealed in the earlier decades of the eleventh century; scholars continue to debate why the texts were kept there and why the cave was sealed.
Wang reported his discovery to the governor of Gansu Province, who ordered the cave to be resealed. A door was built into the wall, and only Wang had the keys. In 1907, Aurel Stein, a Hungarian archaeologist and a naturalized British subject, arrived in Dunhuang, having heard about the remarkable rock-cut caves from a member of a Hungarian expedition to northwestern China who had visited the site in 1879. Convincing Wang that he was something of a latter-day Xuanzang, the Tang Dynasty monk who had made the famous "journey to the west" to gather Buddhist scriptures, Stein persuaded Wang to give him several thousand texts and hundreds of paintings to return to India, in exchange for a contribution of the equivalent of £130 for the restoration of Cave 16. Stein's Chinese, however, was not good, and he took only those texts that Wang gave him, which included hundreds of duplicates of the same texts, especially the Lotus Sutra and the Diamond Sutra. Returning to London, Stein was knighted. Most of the works that he acquired (he made a second trip in 1915 and took even more documents) are found today in London. More than forty-five thousand manuscripts and printed documents on paper, wood, and other materials in many languages are now in the British Library, and almost four hundred paintings from Dunhuang are preserved in the British Museum.
Pelliot, arriving the next year, also gained the trust of Wang, largely because of his fluency in Chinese. Working by candlelight over a period of two weeks, he went through thousands of texts, many of them just fragments, placing those that he wanted in two piles: one pile for works that he considered important treasures and one pile for works he considered valuable but less essential. He found works in Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit, and a number of ancient Central Asian languages, such as Sogdian. Although the works were predominantly Buddhist, there were many Daoist and Confucian texts, as well as Nestorian Christian texts and an abundance of secular works and administrative documents.
In 1911, the Japanese nobleman Count Otani Kozui (1876–1948) led an expedition to Dunhuang, returning to Kyoto with more than four hundred manuscripts. The Russian scholar Sergei Oldenburg (1863–1934) arrived in 1914, taking 365 scrolls and some eighteen thousand fragments back to St. Petersburg. Not to be outdone, the American archaeologist Langdon Warner (1881–1955) did something that the previous visitors had not. He removed twenty-six paintings from the walls of four caves and took them to the Fogg Museum in Boston. Thus, apart from the texts, artifacts, and art that remained in China, the treasures of Dunhuang are to be found in London, Paris, Kyoto, St. Petersburg, and Cambridge.
Among the more than ten thousand documents and paintings that Paul Pelliot chose and took back to Paris was a fragment without a title. We do not know which of his two piles he had placed it in.
The text Pelliot found was a single handwritten scroll of 227 columns, each with some thirty characters per column. The scroll was made from nine sheets of paper, each about eleven inches high and sixteen and a half inches wide. Based on the type of paper and the calligraphic style, scholars date the manuscript to the eighth century. This suggests that Hyecho stopped in Dunhuang as he made his way back to China; the manuscript may be a copy of a draft that he left there. If this is the case, then the text that survives represents Hyecho's account of his travels as his journey drew to a close; it is not a record of memories written years later.
Paul Pelliot could not have known this, his task made all the more difficult by the fact that the scroll he discovered was a fragment. The beginning of the text, which would have included the title and the author's name, was missing. The end of the text, which would have included a colophon where the author and title would again be named, was also missing. Through a piece of brilliant detective work, Pelliot established that some of the terms that appeared in the manuscript also appeared in a pronunciation glossary called Pronunciations and Meanings of All the Scriptures (Yiqiejing yinyi).
Much of what we can infer about Hyecho's journey comes not from Hyecho's journal but from this glossary. With the introduction of Buddhism into China, translators were confronted with a vast vocabulary that included not only technical terms but also personal and place names. In order to render these into Chinese, a huge number of neologisms were required, with many terms transcribed phonetically rather than being translated. In the seventh century, scholars and translators sought to standardize these terms and their pronunciations, producing glossaries called "pronunciations and meanings" (yinyi) that compiled unusual terms gathered from various texts and provided their correct pronunciation; the terms include personal names and place names, as well as names of various foods and objects. The most comprehensive of these texts was produced by Huilin (733–817). Compiled between 783 and 807, it includes terms from more than thirteen hundred scriptures. Huilin was from Kashgar, an important oasis city on the Silk Road and one of Hyecho's stops on his long journey back to China. Although Huilin was somewhat younger than Hyecho, they likely knew each other. Like Hyecho, Huilin was a disciple of Amoghavajra, perhaps a more prominent disciple, renowned for his vast learning as well as for his knowledge of Indian philology. Unlike Hyecho, Huilin receives a detailed entry in Biographies of Eminent Monks of the Song Dynasty. Huilin thus might have known of Hyecho's otherwise obscure travel journal because he knew its author.
Huilin's volume not only provides a list of terms; he helpfully supplies their source and the chapter or section in which they occur in that source. Pelliot could therefore conclude that the title of the work was Memoir of a Pilgrimage to the Five Kingdoms of India and that the author was Hyecho (Huichao in Chinese).
A total of eighty-five terms from Hyecho's journal appear in Huilin's glossary, but the majority of those terms are missing from the extant manuscript of Hyecho's text. Pronunciations and Meanings of All the Scriptures suggests that the full version of Hyecho's text was in three parts. The first part described his journey from China to India. Huilin lists thirty-nine terms from this section, none of which appear in the surviving manuscript of Hyecho's journal. The second part describes his travels in India. Here, of the eighteen terms in Pronunciations and Meanings of All the Scriptures, only four appear in Hyecho, suggesting that the full version was much more detailed than the version that survives. The third part describes his return to China. Here, fourteen of the twenty-eight terms that appear in Huilin's work are found in Hyecho's. All of this implies that Hyecho's journal was originally a much longer and more detailed text; what survives appears to be the second half of the second part and the first half of the third part. To further complicate things, the terms listed in Pronunciations and Meanings of All the Scriptures do not always match those in Hyecho's text. Scholars have therefore speculated that the fragment of Hyecho's journal that survives is not simply a fragment of the larger text but is instead a fragment of a draft or of an abbreviated version. In that case, the full version that was read by Huilin is no longer extant.
Pronunciations and Meanings of All the Scriptures is nonetheless helpful in a number of ways, including in the reconstruction of Hyecho's route. For example, it provides place names that do not appear in the surviving fragment, including the Chinese names for Champa (Linyi) in modern Vietnam and the Nicobar Islands (Luoxingguo or "Land of the Naked" in Chinese), suggesting that Hyecho's ship stopped at these places on the way to India.
At the beginning of the introduction to this book, we cited a famous passage from the Great Discourse on the Final Nirvana (Mahaparinibbana Sutta), the account of the Buddha's final days, in which he instructs his followers to visit four places after his death: the places of his birth, enlightenment, first sermon, and death. The quotation is from the Pali version of the text. In most cases of texts in the Pali canon, a Sanskrit version is known (often preserved only in Chinese), which provides a similar, but not always identical, version of the same text. Thus, there is a Sanskrit text with the same title (Mahaparinirvana Sutra). However, this text, usually called simply the Nirvana Sutra, is a very different work. This is likely the version of the Buddha's final days that Hyecho would have known. The first artwork presented in this chapter (fig. 2) is a page from the Chinese translation of that sutra, discovered in the Library Cave at Dunhuang.
There are several versions of the text, in varying lengths. One version was brought back to China by the famous pilgrim Faxian; he completed his translation in 418. The page presented here is from the more famous and longer version, whose translation into Chinese was completed by the monk Dharmaksema in 423. This passage is from the fortieth chapter of the text. It reads:
[The Buddha said: "O good man! To illustrate: a father and mother couple have three sons. One is obedient, respects his parents, is sharp and intelligent, and knows well of the world.] The second son does not respect his parents, does not have a faithful mind, is sharp and intelligent, and knows well of the world. The third son does not respect his parents, and has no faith. He is dull-witted and has no intelligence. When the parents wish to impart a teaching, who should be the first to be taught, who is to be loved, to whom do the parents need to teach the things of the world?"
The bodhisattva Kasyapa said: "First must be taught the one who is obedient, who respects his parents, who is sharp and intelligent, and who knows what obtains in the world. Next, the second and then the third [son]. And although the second son is not obedient, for the sake of lovingkindness this son should be taught next."
"O good man! It is also the same with the Tathagata. Of the three sons, the first may be likened to the bodhisattva, the second to the sravaka, and the third to the icchantika."
This passage makes it clear that the Nirvana Sutra is a Mahayana sutra, extolling the bodhisattva over the sravaka, the stereotypical Hinayana disciple of the Buddha, and mentioning the icchantika, a strange figure in the Buddhist cast of characters; these are beings who are so incorrigible that they reject the Buddha's teachings and thus are doomed forever to samsara, with no hope of liberation. The Chinese monk Daosheng believed that such a teaching was contrary to the Buddha's compassionate declaration that all beings will one day become enlightened. Yet Faxian's version of the Nirvana Sutra contained no such promise. When Dharmaksema translated a longer version of the sutra, it contained a passage in which the Buddha declared that all beings are endowed with the Buddha nature, including icchantikas.
The page from the sutra here appears to come from a copy made in the early seventh century. The calligraphy is that of a professional scribe, rendered in a clear and balanced hand, with the standard seventeen characters per line. It likely comes from a version found in a large collection of sutras. To protect the text from insects, the paper was dyed with a yellow liquid made from the bark of the Amur cork tree. This text may be, in both content and form, like the copy of the Nirvana Sutra from which Hyecho learned of the powers of pilgrimage.
The second piece (fig. 3) is a beautiful painting from Dunhuang that conveys many of the meanings and motivations of Buddhist art. The central figure is the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, rare among the bodhisattvas of the Mahayana for appearing not in the raiment and jewelry of an Indian prince (like Mañjusri in chapter 12) but in the guise of a shave-pate monk. He is shown in his abode on the sacred mountain called Jiuhuashan in Anhui Province in China, a place strongly associated with the Korean monk Jijang (also known as Kim Kyogak, 696–794), a contemporary of Hyecho. "Jijang" is the Korean pronunciation of Dizang, the Chinese name of Ksitigarbha. Born into the royal family of Silla, he became a Buddhist monk and, like Hyecho, made his way to China. He took up residence on Jiuhuashan in southeastern China, where he devoted himself to meditation, winning the adoration of the local laity and of Korean pilgrims. So great was his piety that after his death he was considered to be a human manifestation of the bodhisattva. Jiuhuashan, in fact a chain of nine peaks, whose name means "Nine Flower Mountain," came to be regarded as the abode of Ksitigarbha and as one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains of China. Ksitigarbha is especially beloved not only for his simple mien but for his willingness to descend into hell to rescue sentient beings who have been reborn there; he was even depicted as the Lord of Hell. Indeed, in our painting, the figure to his left is one of the ten kings of hell.
The several purposes of the painting, which dates from the late tenth or early eleventh century, are clarified by the Chinese characters in the colored cartouches. The green one at the top reads, "Homage to the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, painted and donated on a memorial day," indicating that the painting was made on behalf of a deceased family member and donated on the anniversary of the person's death. The red cartouche on the right reads "General of the Five Paths." This is an epithet of King Zhuanlan, lord of the tenth of the ten courts of hell. In the cosmology of Chinese Buddhism (not reflected in Indian sources), hell has ten courts, each presided over by its own king. The damned must pass through each of these to be tried and judged for the misdeeds they have done. These trials occur at specific intervals after death. Over the course of the first seven weeks (according to standard Buddhist cosmology, the longest period of time between death and rebirth), the dead appear before the first seven kings, one each week, beginning on the seventh day after death. The court of the eighth king is reached on the hundredth day after death, the ninth court on the first anniversary, and the tenth and final court on the third anniversary. As the last opportunity for absolution, Ksitigarbha was particularly propitiated on the third anniversary, entreated one last time to descend into hell and intercede on behalf of the deceased. Hence, the king to the left of the bodhisattva is the king of the tenth court of hell. Ksitigarbha has two accoutrements, a wish-granting jewel (which he holds in his left hand) and a monk's staff (khakkhara), held here by the tenth king of hell.
The red cartouche to the left reads "Daoming heshang," the name of the monk who stands to Ksitigarbha's right. According to a story, a monk named Daoming was summoned to hell by Yama, king of the underworld. When he learned that he had been summoned by mistake, he was able to return to the land of the living when he saw a monk descending into hell with a lion. The monk was Ksitigarbha, and the lion was the mount of the bodhisattva Mañjusri (seechapter 12). Ksitigarbha instructed Daoming to return to earth and paint what he had seen; the more canine than feline creature at the bodhisattva's feet is presumably the lion.
Excerpted from "Hyecho's Journey"
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations About This Book About the Maps Introduction: Tracing Hyecho’s Route 1. Dunhuang: The Discovery of the Pilgrim’s Account 2. Silla: The Birthplace of the Pilgrim 3. At Sea: The Pilgrim Sails for the Holy Land 4. Kuśinagara: The Buddha Enters Nirvana 5. Vulture Peak: Two Buddhas Seated Side by Side 6. Bodh Gayā: The Buddha Attains Enlightenment 7. Lumbinī: The Buddha Is Born 8. Śrāvastī: City of the Buddha’s Miracles 9. Sāṃkāśya: The Buddha Descends from Heaven 10. Gandhāra: Past Lives of the Buddha 11. Arabia: Buddhism Encounters Islam 12. Wutaishan: The Pilgrim Passes Away Coda Acknowledgments Notes Bibliographic Note Index