To see with his own eyes the domain of sacred events to touch the ground where Lord Buddha trod, to pay homage to shrines and stupas renowned over the centuries to collect authoritative Buddhist sutras Hsuan-tsang resolved to journey to India. The sanctity of places at the margins of the mundane became a threshold into the spiritual. The pilgrimage of Hsuantsang was to find the presence of the Buddha on earth in his relics and to discover the Buddha within in the immensity of the Prajnaparamita which ran into six hundred rolls and in the depth of other sutras and philosophical treatises. In the words of Rock Edict 8 of Asoka, it was a dharma-yatra to the sacred Buddhist cosmos of Serindia and India proper. Knowledge and sanctity jnana-sambhara and puryasambhara, of Hsuan -tsang's journey of two decades became the historic experience of China. It was the final flowering of the dream of the Chinese emperors to tread the deep sands of Central Asia and beyond them to the Queen Mother of the West (His-wang-mu). The Queen Mother was associated with a mythic mountain Kunlun to the far west of China. Prof. Wang Bengwei of the Peking University tells me that she is Uma-devi King Mu who riled 1001-946 BC had a brief audience with her. The story is found in the Bamboo Annals said to have been excavated from a tomb of the third century BC. It is a story of imperial expansion as well as self- understanding and transcendence. The subtle psychology of China saw in the travels of Hsuan-tsang the cosmogony of classical texts like the "Inner Chapters" of the Zhuangzi (c. 300 BC).
Hsuan-tsang (ca.*600-664) is the greatest translator of Buddhist texts into Chinese along with Kumarajiva. He became interested in Yogacara at an early date but soon realized that the Chinese texts were inadequate. He set on his journey in 627 to obtain the authentic teaching and the encyclopaedic Yogacara - bhumi. He traveled and studied in India for fourteen years (629-643). He studied Yogacara, Sarvastivada, Madhyamaka logic, grammar and Vedas under eminent Indian teacher. On return to China he translated 75 of the 657 works he brought home. In 645 he was received by Emperor Tai-ts 'ung who had him write the Record of Travels to the Western Regions. His biography was compiled by Hui-li who died before finishing it. It was completed by Yen-tsung on 20th April 688 (K1071) in ten chapters. The first five chapters narrate his family background travels from China to Central Asian kingdoms, and his homeward journey ending with his arrival in China. The following five chapters 6-10 relate his activities in China. They are by monk Yen-ts 'ung who completed the final redaction of the entire work. These last chapters are based on contemporary documents quoted at length. The 'Life' supplements and provided vivid personal glimpses of the events in Hsuan-tsang's own travel account 'Records of the Western World'. The two complement each other in understanding the historic achievements of Hsuan-tsang, the role of Buddhism in the seventh century Central Asian states, in India and in China.
Hsuan-tsang stands out in the translation of Buddhist texts from Sanskrit into Chinese. He combined the two approaches of translation where precision of the original and the readable character of the end product gave a transcreation. The early method of zhiyi'direct translation' was close to the Sanskrit and hard to comprehend in Chinese. Kumarajiva's yiyi 'concept translation' was free and readable. Hsuan-tsang evolved a via media and created magnificent renderings that are a unique style in Chinses literature. His second achievement is the establishments of the Vinaptimatra school of Buddhism in China. His creation of an appropriate terminology for Buddhist philosophical concepts marks him out as an original master philosopher of East Asia. The literary quality of his translations is outstanding. His fluency in Sanskrit made him translate Lao-tzu into Sanskrit. Thirdly, we cannot understand the silk Rout without his 'Record' and 'Life'. Fourthly, he initiated diplomatic relations between India and China. Prof. Ji Xianlin (named Prajnadeva by my father Prof. RaghuVira during his expedition to China in 1955) of the Beijing University says that several embassies were exchanged between Harsavardhana of India and T 'ai- tsung of China, when the pilgrim convinced both of the political importance of the two countries. Fifthly, he informed the Chinese about India's invention of sugar known as shimi 'stone honey' in Chinese (Sarkara 'sugar, crystals, granules, stonelets'). The Chinses emperor sent Ambassador Wang Hsuan-st'e to get sugar technology from India.
Stanislas translated the 'Life' into amorden language by Stanislas julien in 1853 under the title Histoire de la vie de Hisouen-thsand et de ses voyages dans l'Inde (depuis l'an 629 jusqu'en 645 par Hoei-li et Yenthsong). Ever since it has been the major source of studies. The First English translation from the Chinese by Samuel Beal appeared in 1888. Only the first five chapters by Hui-li were done in full, and the five final chapters (6-10) by Yen-ts 'ung were summarised.
In 1951 the famous British Sinologist Arthur Waley wrote: "
almost everything European writers have said about him is taken, directly or indirectly, from an incomplete or very imperfect French translation of his biography by Stanislas julien published nearly a hundred years ago". Waley gave an outline of the historical career of Hsuan-tsang from the 'Life' and other sources in The Real Tripitaka and Other Pieces (London, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1952). It is addressed to the general reader and is an absorbing account of the Master's life and achievements. The 'Life' is his main source supplements by a report on the career of the Master by monk Ming-hsiang, dating to 664 (Taisho Tripitaka 50.214), and the notice in the Continuation of the Lives of Eminent Monks by Tao- hsun (d.667) had close relations with Hsuan-tsang (Taisho 50. 446).
Mrs. D. Devahuti translated the correspondence of Hsuan-tsang Prajnadeva and Jnanaprabha from the Chinese of the 'Life'. These letters also appear in the Uigur translation of the 'Life' done by Singqu Sali Tutung of Bishbaliq in the tenth century. The letters were translated and annotated into German from Uigur by A. von Gabian. Devahuti also made their English versions. She also presented a resume of chapters 6-10 from Julien along with his notes. These were published in 2001 under the title The Unknown Hsuantsang(New Delhi Oxford University Press).
The translation of the complete 'Life' by Mr. Li Yung-his is reproduced in this volume as a tribute to his memory and to his pioneering effort to give us a feel of the spirit and ardent faith of the disciples of Hsuan-tsang towards their Master. This translation is a valuable addition to literature on Buddhism Hsuan-tsang and the silk Route. It will deepen our knowledge of the history of a seminal period.
From the Jacket
Hsuan-tsang stands out as a pilgrim scholar, master-translator, epic hero of Chinese narrative literature and as the most outstanding source for the history and archaeology, philosophy and geography, of India, Central Asia and China. His 'Record' has been translated and annotated in full and several times. His 'Life' written by his direct disciples Hui-li and Yen-ts'ung was summarised in French by S. Julien in 1853. Its first half was translated into English by Samuel Beal in 1888, but the second half was just summarised. As late as 1951, the famous British sinologist Arthur Waley regretted: "
almost everything European writers have said about him is taken directly or indirectly from an incomplete or very imperfect French translation of his biography by Stanislas Julien, published nearly a hundred years ago".
Mr. Li Yung-his was the first Chinese scholar to translate the complete ten chapters of the 'Life' of Hsuan-tsang into English. They were published in 1959 by The Chinese Buddhist Association, Peking. This translation presents the personality of the Master in vivid terms. It is a fresh and lively narrative that captures the ambience of the master and his disciple-biographers. It contains interesting correspondence between Hsuan-tsang and Indian teacher Jnanaprabha and Prajnadeva. It is reproduced in this volume by the gracious permission of Mrs. Zhang Hui Ji the wife of late Mr. Li Yung-his. It differs in details from the renderings of Beal and is an important work to be compared with the earlier translation. The limpid flow of the language gives a flavour of the Chinese style and a first hand account by the disciples of Hsuan-tsang who were witnesses to his strenuous efforts. This translation is a valuable addition to literature on Buddhism, Hsuan-stang and the silk Route. It will deepen our knowledge of the history of a seminal period.
Interest: Buddhism, History of India, Central Asia and China, Ancient Geography and allied disciplines.
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