A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms, by Fa-hsien

Chapter XXXIV

On the Way Back to Patna. Varanasi, or Benares. Sakyamuni’s First Doings After Becoming Buddha.

Fa-hien1 returned (from here) towards Pataliputtra,2 keeping along the course of the Ganges and descending in the direction of the west. After going ten yojanas he found a vihara, named “The Wilderness,”— a place where Buddha had dwelt, and where there are monks now.

Pursuing the same course, and going still to the west, he arrived, after twelve yojanas, at the city of Varanasi3 in the kingdom of Kasi. Rather more than ten le to the north-east of the city, he found the vihara in the park of “The rishi’s Deer-wild.”4 In this park there formerly resided a Pratyeka Buddha,5 with whom the deer were regularly in the habit of stopping for the night. When the World-honoured one was about to attain to perfect Wisdom, the devas sang in the sky, “The son of king Suddhodana, having quitted his family and studied the Path (of Wisdom),6 will now in seven days become Buddha.” The Pratyeka Buddha heard their words, and immediately attained to nirvana; and hence this place was named “The Park of the rishi’s Deer-wild.”7 After the World-honoured one had attained to perfect Wisdom, men build the vihara in it.

Buddha wished to convert Kaundinya8 and his four companions; but they, (being aware of his intention), said to one another, “This Sramana Gotama9 for six years continued in the practice of painful austerities, eating daily (only) a single hemp-seed, and one grain of rice, without attaining to the Path (of Wisdom); how much less will he do so now that he has entered (again) among men, and is giving the reins to (the indulgence of) his body, his speech, and his thoughts! What has he to do with the Path (of Wisdom)? To-day, when he comes to us, let us be on our guard not to speak with him.” At the places where the five men all rose up, and respectfully saluted (Buddha), when he came to them; where, sixty paces north from this, he sat with his face to the east, and first turned the wheel of the Law, converting Kaundinya and the four others; where, twenty paces further to the north, he delivered his prophecy concerning Maitreya;10 and where, at a distance of fifty paces to the south, the dragon Elapattra11 asked him, “When shall I get free from this naga body?”— at all these places topes were reared, and are still existing. In (the park) there are two monasteries, in both of which there are monks residing.

When you go north-west from the vihara of the Deer-wild park for thirteen yojanas, there is a kingdom named Kausambi.12 Its vihara is named Ghochiravana13 — a place where Buddha formerly resided. Now, as of old, there is a company of monks there, most of whom are students of the hinayana.

East from (this), when you have travelled eight yojanas, is the place where Buddha converted14 the evil demon. There, and where he walked (in meditation) and sat at the place which was his regular abode, there have been topes erected. There is also a monastery, which may contain more than a hundred monks.

1 Fa-hien is here mentioned singly, as in the account of his visit to the cave on Gridhra-kuta. I think that Tao-ching may have remained at Patna after their first visit to it.

2 See chap. xxvii, note 1.

3 “The city surrounded by rivers;” the modern Benares, lat. 25d 23s N., lon. 83d 5s E.

4 “The rishi,” says Eitel, “is a man whose bodily frame has undergone a certain transformation by dint of meditation and ascetism, so that he is, for an indefinite period, exempt from decrepitude, age, and death. As this period is believed to extend far beyond the usual duration of human life, such persons are called, and popularly believed to be, immortals.” Rishis are divided into various classes; and rishi-ism is spoken of as a seventh part of transrotation, and rishis are referred to as the seventh class of sentient beings. Taoism, as well as Buddhism, has its Seen jin.

5 See chap. xiii, note 15.

6 See chap. xxii, note 2.

7 For another legend about this park, and the identification of “a fine wood” still existing, see note in Beal’s first version, p. 135.

8 A prince of Magadha and a maternal uncle of Sakyamuni, who gave him the name of Ajnata, meaning automat; and hence he often appears as Ajnata Kaundinya. He and his four friends had followed Sakyamuni into the Uruvilva desert, sympathising with him in the austerities he endured, and hoping that they would issue in his Buddhaship. They were not aware that that issue had come; which may show us that all the accounts in the thirty-first chapter are merely descriptions, by means of external imagery, of what had taken place internally. The kingdom of nirvana had come without observation. These friends knew it not; and they were offended by what they considered Sakyamuni’s failure, and the course he was now pursuing. See the account of their conversion in M. B., p. 186.

9 This is the only instance in Fa-hien’s text where the Bodhisattva or Buddha is called by the surname “Gotama.” For the most part our traveller uses Buddha as a proper name, though it properly means “The Enlightened.” He uses also the combinations “Sakya Buddha,”=“The Buddha of the Sakya tribe,” and “Sakyamuni,”=“The Sakya sage.” This last is the most common designation of the Buddha in China, and to my mind best combines the characteristics of a descriptive and a proper name. Among other Buddhistic peoples “Gotama” and “Gotama Buddha” are the more frequent designations. It is not easy to account for the rise of the surname Gotama in the Sakya family, as Oldenberg acknowledges. He says that “the Sakyas, in accordance with the custom of Indian noble families, had borrowed it from one of the ancient Vedic bard families.” Dr. Davids (“Buddhism,” p. 27) says: “The family name was certainly Gautama,” adding in a note, “It is a curious fact that Gautama is still the family name of the Rajput chiefs of Nagara, the village which has been identified with Kapilavastu.” Dr. Eitel says that “Gautama was the sacerdotal name of the Sakya family, which counted the ancient rishi Gautama among its ancestors.” When we proceed, however, to endeavour to trace the connexion of that Brahmanical rishi with the Sakya house, by means of 1323, 1468, 1469, and other historical works in Nanjio’s Catalogue, we soon find that Indian histories have no surer foundation than the shifting sand; — see E. H., on the name Sakya, pp. 108, 109. We must be content for the present simply to accept Gotama as one of the surnames of the Buddha with whom we have to do.

10 See chap. vi, note 5. It is there said that the prediction of Maitreya’s succession to the Buddhaship was made to him in the Tushita heaven. Was there a repetition of it here in the Deer-park, or was a prediction now given concerning something else?

11 Nothing seems to be known of this naga but what we read here.

12 Identified by some with Kusia, near Kurrah (lat. 25d 41s N., lon. 81d 27s E.); by others with Kosam on the Jumna, thirty miles above Allahabad. See E. H., p. 55.

13 Ghochira was the name of a Vaisya elder, or head, who presented a garden and vihara to Buddha. Hardy (M. B., p. 356) quotes a statement from a Singhalese authority that Sakyamuni resided here during the ninth year of his Buddhaship.

14 Dr. Davids thinks this may refer to the striking and beautiful story of the conversion of the Yakkha Alavaka, as related in the Uragavagga, Alavakasutta, pp. 29-31 (Sacred Books of the East, vol. x, part ii).

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:53