Fa Xian, also known as Fa-hsien and Fa Xian (Shanxi, China, around 337 A.D. – ? about 422 A.D.).
Pilgrim, Explorer, Historian, Translator and Buddhist Monk of Chinese origin, recognized for having undertaken in 402 AD a long journey to India, with the mission of collecting the ancient texts and discourses of Buddha, thus fostering the first relationships Indian-Chinese.
On his return to China he devoted himself to translating the texts from Sanskrit into Chinese, profoundly influencing the Buddhist faith in this country on the Asian continent, endowing them with important study texts.
Early Life and Start of Mission
Very little is known about his personal life. He is believed to have been born around 337 A.D., during the Eastern Jin dynasty, in Shanxi Province, China, under the name Sehi. He would apparently be the only survivor of his three older brothers.
From an early age he was exposed to the Buddhist religion, as his father was a practitioner. As a child, Sehi became seriously ill, which is why his father sent him to a monastery to be cared for until he was healed.
However, after his recovery, Sehi decided to remain in the monastery, to devote himself to the service of Buddha. When he was ten, he lost his parents.
Fa Xian lived in an age when Buddhism lived one of the greatest support on the part of the empire. Concluding that his people lacked important texts to delve into the study of Buddha’s teachings, he decided to embark on a journey, taking him to the main villages where the Indian sage had lived.
In 399, Fa Xian began his pilgrimage, accompanied by four monks, with whom he entered central Asia, following the route traveled by the commercial caravans. During their journey they faced desert conditions of the terrain, as they passed through the Talimaka desert.
Visit to India
After a three-year long road, in the year 402, he arrived in India, arriving in the village of Punjab, where he visited the monasteries of Gandhara, Peshawar and Taxila. They also set out on a tour to visit the sites where Buddha had developed his life as a man of the world and a spiritual leader.
In this sense they traveled first to Kapilavastu, Buddha’s hometown. They also decided to visit Bodh Gaya where Buddha acquired the enlightenment. As well as Benares, where the Indian sage is believed to have preached his first sermon and Kushinagara, where the sage came to perfect nirvana.
After these trips, Fa Xian decided to settle in Pataliputra, where he maintained contact with Buddhist monks and entered the study of the Maha-parinirvana Sutra and the Vinaya, which he managed to translate with the help of the Buddhist Indian Buddha bhadra monk.
Return to China and Legacy
Fa Xian collected all the experience of his journey to and through India in his work entitled Fo Kuo Chi (Relationship of the Buddhist Kingdoms or The Travels of Fa Xian) where this Chinese pilgrim captures in great detail the territories, customs and appearance of its inhabitants and buildings, which allows historians to know a little bit how life developed in India, before the Muslim influence, occurred in the wake of invasions of this country.
Considering his mission accomplished, Fa Xian decided to return to China, embarking on his return journey in 413. This time, however, he decided the sea route as a return route.
He then moved to the island of Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) where he remained for a couple of years, in which he devoted himself to study, this region being one of the most prominent Buddhist studies centers of the time, where he was also able to acquire other important texts Buddhists, including the Mahishasaka Vinaya and a selection of sarvastivada.
After that time, he finally embarked on Guangzhou. However, a storm deflected its course by making it land in what some historians believe may be the island of Java, where it again took a ship to Guangzhou.
After more than two hundred days of sailing and several storms, Fa Xian managed to return to China, where he devoted himself for years to translating from Sanskrit into Chinese the texts he had collected on his trip to India. Finally, according to tradition, around 422 AD, at the age of eighty-five he died, leaving as a legacy one of the greatest bibliographic contributions to the Buddhist religion of China, as well as to the historians and geographers of the world.
Image source: storyofindia.com
July 31, 2019