Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview

APPENDIX
(to Part IV, Sec. 7) (On I-tsing's 'Account of Fifty-one Monks')

A PASSING reference has been made to this important work by I-tsing. It throws a flood of light on the immense hardships and privations borne by pilgrims from the Far East to India, their varied experiences in the country, their indomitable spirit and insatiable desire for learning and also their acute longings to return to their homeland to give compatriots the benefit of their Indian learning and experiences.

The title of the work, rendered in English, is: 'Monks of the Buddhist Faith who went to the Western Country under the Tang Dynasty'. It is included in the fifty-first volume of the Taisho Tripiṭaka (No. 2,066).

The Tang dynasty was founded by Li Shih-min and lasted from AD 618 to AD 907, with its capital at Changan. The Dowager Empress Wu was ruling in the time of I-tsing. 'In 684 she assumed actual control of the government, and in 690, as substantive empress, she changed the name of the dynasty from Tang to Chou.'1 I-tsing was in India during AD 671-95.

The practice of adopting a Sanskrit name on ordination prevailed, as the record shows, among the monks of the Far East.

From I-tsing's account it will appear that in his time Nālandā was the most flourishing centre of Buddhist learning in India. Most of those who visited India from China and the Far East, except those who had already learnt the language in their own country or outside, used to spend some time on arrival in India in studying Sanskrit. Those who went in for advanced learning would spend a few years at Nālandā. Several monasteries, mentioned by the monks, however, cannot be exactly located or identified. The distances in Yojanas are computed from Chinese li.2

The following is I-tsing's epilogue to the work:

'I, Shamana I-tsing, returned to Śrī-vijaya in South Sea from the Western Country (i.e. India), and from there, carrying the map of Nālandā, came back to China. There were previously many noble monks, who, without caring for their lives, had gone to the Western Country in search of the Law. Fa-hsien went forth on the difficult and perilous route to the Western Country and Hsüan-tsang also, following his footsteps, went there. Some monks went by the South Sea route. The monks, while journeying by land or by sea route, remembered all along the traces of the Buddha and prostrated themselves before the law of the Buddha.

'Arriving in the Western Country, they always desired to go back to their motherland to report their experiences to the Emperor.

'Though it is a great fortune and luck to go out to the Western Country in search of the Law, it is an extremely difficult and perilous undertaking. . . . It

____________________
1
China, edited by MacNair ( Univesity of California Press, 1946), p. 85.
2
The following translations are more or less free. They have been supplied to me by Miss Latika Lahiri of Lady Irwin School, New Delhi. Miss Lahiri spent several years in China and made a special study of I-tsing's work under her Chinese teacher in Peking.

-311-

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