Indian Monk-scholars in China
THE roll of Indian monk-scholars cannot be closed without a glance at those who migrated to and settled in China and whose names are interwoven with the history of Buddhism in that country. The largest number of them appears in a definite chapter of the history of Sino-Indian relationship. It covers roughly a period of five centuries from the third to the eighth AD, but overflows into later times.
Sino-Indian relations during these centuries were founded upon Buddhism. It was a common ground of spiritual and intellectual interest between India and China. The relations that arose from this ground were purely cultural in character, carried on by Buddhist monks in the cause of Buddhism.
The cultural intercourse of these five centuries actually stemmed from China and put forth two spreading branches. On one hand, a stream of Chinese monks came out to India during these centuries, and on the other a large number of Indian monks emigrated to and settled in China. The object of the former was a twofold one--to earn spiritual merit by pilgrimage and to study Buddhism in its homeland and collect authentic Buddhist texts. Very few of them settled in India. The Indian monks on the other hand who went out to China were not transients. Moved solely by the desire to promote Buddhism in that country, they made China the land of their adoption and lived and worked there continuously over long years. Very few are known to have come back from China to India.
As this intercourse was initiated and developed by the Chinese, the source-materials of its history are in the Chinese language. The materials have not been fully explored yet, though modern scholars of China have been engaged in the task for several years now.
The carrying on of this Sino-Indian cultural intercourse was a vast and difficult enterprise. It was attended with hardships and perils that seem legendary in modern times when science has made nothing of distance and foreign travel a luxury.
The routes along which passage and communication between China and India lay were both overland and by sea. They were long and perilous, hardly possible to negotiate in less than a couple of years; often considerably more time was needed. The overland route was more ancient; and the sea-route became slightly less difficult with China's progress during these centuries in shipbuilding and seamanship.