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FAXIAN (fl. 399418), Chinese Buddhist monk, translator, and the earliest successful Chinese Buddhist pilgrim to India. Faxian's family name was Gong; he was born in Wuyang in Pingyang Prefecture (in Shanxi province). After being fully ordained at the age of twenty, Faxian recognized that the Buddhist monastic rules (the Vinaya) available in China at the time were incomplete and confused and thus vowed to journey to India to search for Vinaya texts. After years of preparation he organized a party of five monks, who left Chang'an in 399 and passed out of China through Qiangui, Zhangye and Dunhuang (all in northwestern China). From Dunhuang they proceeded along the southern marches of the Tarim basin to the central Asian kingdoms of Shan-shan, Agni, and Khotan, where they watched the religious procession of the Buddha's image. From there they traveled to Chakarka, crossed the Pamirs and Agzi, and finally arrived at the kingdom of Uiyāna in North India, via Darada and the Indus River valley. So long and arduous was their journey that it took three years for the Chinese pilgrims to reach North India from China.

Faxian spent a summer retreat in Uiyāna then traveled to the south, passed through Suvastu, Gandhara, Takaśīla (Taxila), and arrived at Puruapura. There, three members of the mission decided to return to China. Faxian and the others continued the journey, traveling to Hilo and paying homage to the Buddha's shadow at Nagārhara. They crossed over the Lesser Snow Mountain, where Huijing, one of the three members of the party, died. Faxian then traveled to Lakki, where he had the summer retreat in 403, after which he went on to Mathura via Harana and Uccha. He passed the summer retreat in 404 at Śakāśya. Turning southeastward, he then passed through Kanyakubja (Kanauj), Vaiśākha, the Jetavana grove at Śrāvastī, and the birthplace of the Buddha at the Lumbinī near Kapilavastu on the Indo-Nepal border. From there he traveled eastward to Rāmagrāma, Kuśinagara, Vaiśālī, and finally arrived at Pā aliputra, the capital of Magadha kingdom. After a short stay at the city, Faxian went to the southeast. In Rājagha he performed a rite of worship at the top of Gdhrakūta. He worshiped the bodhi tree at Bodh Gayā, visited other places nearby, and returned to Pāaliputra. From there he went westward, made a pilgrimage to Vārāasī, the Mgadava, or the Deer Park at Sarnath, and concluded the trip with a visit to Kauśāmbi.

Between the years 405 and 407, Faxian stayed at the Mahāyāna monastery of Pāaliputra, concentrating on the study of the Sanskrit language and Buddhist scriptures. From the monastery, he obtained a collection of the widely observed monastic discipline of the Mahāsāghika school. He also obtained a condensed version of the monastic rules according to the Sarvāstivāda school along with several other texts, including the Sayuktābhidharma-hdaya Śāstra in six thousand verses, the Mahāparinirvāa Sūtra in two thousand five hundred verses, the Vaipulya-parinirvāa Sūtra in five thousand verses, and the Abhidharma collection of the Mahāsāghika school. Although most of these texts seem to have been copied by Faxian himself, at least one was presented to him by a lay Buddhist named Jialuo at the Mahāyāna monastery as a token of appreciation for Faxian's journey to India.

After the completion of his study at Pāaliputra, Dao-zheng, the other remaining member of the mission, declared his intention to stay in India permanently, leaving Faxian alone to complete his mission. In 407 he left Pāaliputra for Tāmraliptī via Champa. He remained at Tāmraliptī for two years (408409), after which he traveled to Sri Lanka. He stayed on the island for two years, made pilgrimages to the holy places, and attended lectures delivered by an Indian monk. He also obtained additional scriptures there, including the Vinaya of the Mahīśāsaka school, the Dīrghāgama, the Sayuktāgama, and the Zazang jing, none of which was available in China. In 411 he embarked on a merchant ship and sailed for home with the Sanskrit manuscripts he had collected during the trip. Ninety days later, after being blown off course by a typhoon, the ship arrived at the kingdom of Yavadvipa (South Sumatra island). The monk remained on the island for five months, then embarked on another ship for Guangzhou (Canton). A month into the voyage another typhoon disrupted the journey. After nearly ninety days the ship landed at a place that the travelers later discovered was Laoshan in Zhangguang prefecture (Shandong Peninsula). The year was 412. Eventually, Faxian went to Jiankang (Nanjing) and began to translate the Sanskrit texts he had collected in India and Sri Lanka. He had traveled to approximately thirty kingdoms in fifteen years, and was the first Chinese Buddhist monk to successfully journey to India and return with Buddhist scriptures.

In 416, Faxian was asked by his colleagues to write an autobiographical account of his journey. The resulting chronicle, known as Foguo ji (A record of the Buddhist countries), is an important historical and religious document for South Asian history and for the Buddhist tradition. Five of Faxian's translations are extant. All of them have been translated jointly by Faxian and Buddhabhadra (d. 429), an Indian Buddhist missionary. Two of these translations are of the Vinaya of the Mahāsāghika school (T.D. nos. 1425 and 1427), two are Mahāyāna scriptures (T.D. nos. 376 and 745), and one is a Hīnayāna scripture (T.D. no. 7). According to one catalog, a translation bearing the title Za ebitan xinlun in thirteen fascicles is also ascribed to him and Buddhabhadra, but the book has been lost. Two other Sanskrit texts brought back to China by Faxian have been translated into Chinese by Buddhajīva (T.D. no. 1421) and Guabhadra (T.D. no. 99) respectively. Faxian continued to translate until the time of his death in 418 at the Xin Monastery of Jingzhou (in Hubei province). His successful journey to India and his search for an authentic tradition of Buddhism remained a source of inspiration for later generations of Chinese Buddhists.

See Also

Pilgrimage, article on Buddhist Pilgrimage in South and Southeast Asia.


The earliest translation of Faxian's autobiographical account is the Foé Koué Ki, ou Relation des royaumes bouddhiques: Voyages dans la tartarie, dans l'Afghanistan et dans l'Inde, translated by Jean Pierre Abel Rémusat et al. (Paris, 1836). The French text was translated into English with additional notes by J. W. Laidley under the title The Pilgrimage of Fa Hian (Calcutta, 1848). James Legge's translation, A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms (1886; reprint, New York, 1965), still stands as a useful reference and is easily available. H. A. Giles's retranslation, The Travel of Fa-hsien, 399414 a.d. (1923; reprint, London, 1959), is good. Li Yung-hsi's version, A Record of the Buddhist Countries (Beijing, 1957), is the most recent and readable translation. Faxian's biography in the Gaoseng zhuan has been translated by Robert Shih in his Biographies des moines éminents (Kao seng tchouan) de Houei-kiao (Louvain, 1968), pp. 108115. A study of his translations and writing is found in Prabodh Chandra Bagchi's Le canon bouddhique en Chine, vol. 1 (Paris, 1927), pp. 347348.

New Sources

Giles, Herbert, trans. "From Record of the Buddhistic Kingdoms, a Chinese Pilgrim in Ceylon." In Classical Chinese Literature: An Anthology of Translations. Volume 1: From Antiquity to the Tang Dynasty, edited by John Minford and Joseph Lau, pp. 599605. New York, 2000.

Hazra, Kanai Lal. Buddhism in India as Described by the Chinese Pilgrims ad 399689. New Delhi, 1983.

Liu, Xinru. Ancient India and Ancient China: Trade and Religious Exchanges, a.d. 1600. New Delhi, 1988.

Liu, Xinru. The Silk Road: Overland Trade and Cultural Interactions in Eurasia. Washington D.C., 1998.

Rongxi, Li, and Albert A. Dalia, trans. Lives of Great Monks and Nuns. Berkeley, 2002.

Jan YÜn-hua (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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