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YIJING (635713), Chinese Buddhist translator and traveler to India. Born Zhang Wenming, a native of Qizhou (modern Shandong province), Yijing left his family at the age of seven and lived in a Buddhist monastery, where he studied under the guidance of two monks, Shanyu (d. 646) and Huizhi. The former was a learned scholar with a broad range of religious and secular knowledge; the latter was an expert on monastic discipline (Vinaya). Yijing was ordained at the age of fourteen and was urged by Huizhi to follow the Vinaya strictly. He studied the monastic rules for another five years and became well versed in its regulations as well as in the interpretations given by Fali (d. 635) and Daoxuan (d. 667), the two leading and influential masters of monastic discipline. He was then allowed to lecture on the subject at the monastery. With the encouragement of his teacher, Yijing left the monastery for Chang'an, the capital of Tang-dynasty China. It was a time when Xuanzang's (d. 664) famed journey to India and his translation of Buddhist texts into Chinese were still held in highest esteem, especially in the capital. Xuanzang's legacy inspired Yijing to make his own mission to India. He first returned to his monastery at Qizhou, then proceeded to Guangfu (Canton) with the blessings of his teacher. Although other monks had planned to join Yijing, all but one dropped out at the last moment.

In 671 the two monks boarded a Persian merchant ship and arrived at the kingdom of Śrīvijaya (South Sumatra), where Yijing's companion died. Yijing stayed on for six months and then embarked alone for Tāmraliptī in eastern India via the kingdoms of Malayu, Kacha, and one of the Nicobar islands. At Tāmraliptī he studied Sanskrit for a year. He then traveled to Nālandā with another Chinese monk, Dachengdeng (d. 675). They went on pilgrimages to Gdhrakūa at Rājagha and to Mahābodhi at Bodh Gayā. Thereafter, they traveled to Vaiśālī, Amaraba, and Kāśī (Banaras), visited Jetavana Monastery at Śrāvastī and the "heavenly stairs" (said to have been built by the god Śakra for the Buddha to use in descending from Heaven) at Sāmkāśya, and journeyed to Sārnāth and Kukkuapāda.

At the end of his journey, Yijing settled at Nālandā, where for a period of nine years he studied the five prevailing Buddhist curricula. These were Buddhist logic, the Abhidharmakośa, monastic discipline (Vinaya), and the Mādhyamika and Yogācāra philosophies. Yijing pointed out that each of these disciplines is for a specific purpose, but that none is absolute by itself.

With the manuscripts he had collected at Nālandā, Yijing left central India for Tāmraliptī in 685. He embarked on a ship from the same port in 686, and after short stops at Kacha and Malayu, arrived at Śrīvijaya in 687. When he had been there a little over two years, however, Yijing found himself short of supplies for copying Sanskrit manuscripts. He went to the port to send word to China for supplies, but the ship that was to carry his message unexpectedly set sail while he was still on board. This accident brought Yijing back to Guangfu on August 10, 689, leaving behind his collection of Sanskrit manuscripts, amounting to half a million words. He recruited four assistants and returned to Śrīvijaya on December 18, 689. Yijing remained in the country, copied scripture, and studied under the distinguished teacher Śākyakīrti. He also wrote an account of Buddhist practices and a report regarding a group of Chinese monks who had traveled to India in search of Buddhism. Yijing sent these reports, together with his translations of Buddhist texts, to China through one of his assistants in 692.

Accompanied by two assistants, Yijing himself returned to Guangfu in 694. Five months later he traveled to Luoyang, the eastern capital, where in 695 he was personally received with great honor by the empress Wu Zetian (r. 684704). He was accommodated at Foshouji Monastery and worked as an assistant translator in the bureau of translations headed by Siksananda. From 700 until his death, Yijing headed his own bureau of translation of Buddhist canons at Luoyang and Chang'an. Altogether he translated fifty-six works in 230 fascicles, among them scriptures, commentaries, and Vinaya texts. The empress and her successors patronized his work and even provided forewords to Yijing's translations. Various honors and rewards were bestowed upon the monk, and he was awarded the title "Master of the Tripiaka."

The works translated by Yijing include a broad range of Buddhist texts, including the Āgamas, the Avadānas, and Mahāyāna sūtras and sastra s. Also translated were eleven Buddhist tantra s and eighteen works on monastic discipline, as well as exegetic works that are important not only for Chinese Buddhism but also for the religion as a whole. His version of the Suvarnapra-bhasa-uttamaraja Sūtra (Golden light sūtra) is widely acknowledged by scholars as the best Chinese translation of that scripture and one that has influenced all East Asia. His translation of the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya texts has systematically preserved one of the most influential monastic traditions in India. His translations of the Yogācāra texts and of Buddhist logic are quite significant. Yijing's own writings are also valuable. His two records, of Buddhist practices in South Asia and of Chinese monks who traveled to India in the seventh century, are extremely important sources for historians of religion. His glossary, the Fanyu qianziwen (A thousand Sanskrit words), is the earliest extant Sanskrit-Chinese dictionary. Although Yijing's translations have been overshadowed by those of his predecessor, Xuanzang, a sample examination of both renderings of the Viśatikā (Liebenthal, 1934) concluded that Yijing was a better translator than Xuanzang.

Yijing died on February 16, 713. He was buried with grand honors, and was posthumously honored with the title Director of Foreign Office (honglu qing ). A memorial inscription was composed by Lu Can at imperial request. A temple called Jin'guangming ("gold light") was raised at his burial site in 758.

See Also

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


The best account of the life of Yijing in a European language and a translation of his record of his journey is Junjirō Takakusu's A Record of the Buddhist Religion as Practised in India and Malay Archipelago, a.d. 671695 (1896; reprint, Delhi, 1966). Other studies and translations are Mémoire composé à l'époque de la grande dynastie T'ang, sur les Religieux éminents qui allèrent chercher la loi dans les pays d'occident par I-Tsing, translated by Édouard Chavannes (Paris, 1894), and Suvaraprabhāsottamasūtra: Das Goldglanz-Sūtra, ein Sanskrittext des I-tsing's Chinesische version, 2 vols., translated by Johannes Nobel (Leiden, 1958). For discussion of the merit of Yijing's translated works, see Johannes Nobel and Walter Liebenthal's "The Versions of the Viśatikā by I-ching and Its Relation to That of Hsüan-tsang," Yenching Journal of Chinese Studies 17 (1934): 188ff. For a list of the works translated by Yijing, see Prabodh Chandra Bagchi's Le canon bouddhique en Chine, vol. 2 (Paris, 1938), pp. 525540. Additional Chinese materials related to the monk are contained in the Zhenyuan catalog of Buddhist canons by Yuanzhao (T. D. 55.867b872a); no translation yet exists.

Jan YÜn-ha (1987)