Brahmi Publication

Mithila, History, Literature and Art

Hiuen-tsang’s Description: Vaishali to Vajji and Nepal

2. Original Sources on the History of Mithila

Si-yu-ki, Buddhist records of the Western world; by Hiuen-tsang, (ca.596-664😉 translated from Original Chinese into English by Beal, Samuel, (1825-1889) published in 1884.

Vaishali to Vajji and Nepal

[According to this route of Yuan-chwang’s journey he turned towards south from present Kesariya and reached Ananad-stupa at present Chechar village near Bidupur in Vaishali. Thereafter he went straight in North-east direction to Nepal passing through Musari-gharari, Samastipur, Darbhanga, Ahalya-sthan and Sitamadhi, the present Mihila Paragana which seems to be the original Mithila town. This description also proves that there was a straight route for Nepal in ancient time also which was passing through Darbhanga and was used also by Rama, Lakshamana and Vishvamitra.]

A Stupa

Going north-west of the chief city 50 or 60 li, we come to a great stupa. This is where the Lichhavas (Li-ch’e- p’o) took leave of Buddha. Tathagata having left the city of Vaisali on his way to Kusinagara, all the Lichhavas, hearing that Buddha was about to die, accompanied him wailing and lamenting. The Lord of the “World having observed their fond affection, and as words were useless to calm them, immediately by his spiritual power caused to appear a great river with steep sides and deep, the waves of which flowed on impetuously. Then the Lichhavis were abruptly stopped on their way, moved with grief as they were. Then Tathagata left them his patra as a token of remembrance.

An old and long-deserted city, (Kesariya)

Two hundred li to the north-west of the city of Vaishalli, or a little less, is an old and long-deserted city, with but few inhabitants. In it is a stupa. This is the place where Buddha dwelt when, in old days, for the sake of an assembly of Bodhisattvas, men, and Devas, he recited an explanatory jataka of himself when as a Bodhisattva he was a Chakravartin monarch of this city and called Mahadeva (Ta-tien).

He was possessed of the seven treasures, and his rule extended over the world (the four empires). Observing the marks of decay in himself, 93 and concluding in his mind about the impermanency of his body, he took a high resolve (being secretly affected by Ms reflections), left his throne, gave up his country, and, becoming a hermit, assumed the dark robes and gave himself to study.

A great stupa

Going south-east from the city 14 or 15 li, we come to a great stupa. It was here the convocation of the seven hundred sages and saints was held. One hundred and ten years after the Nirvana of Buddha there were in Vaishali some Bhikshus who broke the laws of Buddha and perverted the rules of discipline. At this time Yashada (Ye-she-t’o) Ayushmat was stopping in the country of Kosala (Kiao-so-lo); Sambogha (San-pu-kia) Ayushmat was dwelling in the country of Mathura ; Kevata (Li-po-to) Ayushmat was stopping in the country of Han-jo (Kanyakubja? ); Sala (Sha-lo) Ayushmat was stopping in the country of Vaishali; Pujasumira (Fu-she-su-mi-lo=Kujjasobhita?) Ayushmat was stopping in the country of Sha-lo-li-fo (Salaiibhu?): all these were great Arhats, possessed of independent power, faithful to the three pitakas, possessed of the three enlightenments (mdy&s), of great renown, knowing all that should be known, all of them disciples of Ananda.

At this time Yashada sent a message to summon the sages and saints to convocation at the city of Vaishali. There only wanted one to make up the 700, when Fu-she-su-mi-lo by the use of his divine sight saw the saints and sages assembled and deliberating about religious matters. By his miraculous power he appeared in the assembly. Then Sambogha in the midst of the assembly, baring his right breast and prostrating himself, (arose) and exclaimed with a loud voice,

“Let the congregation be silent, respectfully thoughtful! In former days the great and holy King of the Law, after an illustrious career, entered Nirvana. Although years and months have elapsed since then, his words and teaching still survive. But now the Bhikshus of Vaisali have become negligent and pervert the commandments. There are ten points in which they disobey the words of the Buddha (the ten-poiver-das-abdla). Now then, learned sirs, you know well the points of error; you are well acquainted with the teaching of the highly virtuous (bhadanta) Ananda: in deep affection to Buddha let us again declare his holy will.”

Then the whole congregation were deeply affected; they summoned to the assembly the Bhikshus, and, according to the Vinaya, they charged them with transgression, bound afresh the rules that had been broken, and vindicated the holy law.

Svetapura

Going south 80 or 90 li from this place, we come to the sangharama called Svetapura (Shi-fei-to-pu-lo); its massive towers, with their rounded shapes and double storeys, rise in the air. The priests are calm and respectful, and all study the Great Vehicle. By the side of this building are traces where the four past Buddhas sat and walked.

By the side of these is a stupa built by Asoka-raja. It was here, when Buddha was alive, that, on going south-wards to the Magadha country, he turned northwards to look at Vaiali, and left there, on the road where he stopped to breathe, traces of his visit.

Going south-east from the Svetapura sangharama 30 li or so, on either (south or north) side of the Ganges River there is a stupa; this is the spot where the venerable Ananda divided his body between the two kingdoms. Ananda was on his father’s side cousin of Tathagata. He was a disciple (saiksha 98) well acquainted with the doctrine (collectanea), thoroughly instructed in ordinary mat-ters (men and things), and of masculine understanding.

After Buddha’s departure from the world he succeeded the great Kasyapa in the guardianship of the true law, and became the guide and teacher of men devoted to religion (men not yet Arhats). He was dwelling in the Magadha country in a wood; as he was walking to and fro he saw a Sramanera (novice) repeating in a bungling way a sutra of Buddha, perverting and mistaking the sentences and words. Ananda having heard him, his feelings were moved towards him, and, full of pity, he approached the place where he was; he desired to point out his mistakes and direct him in the right way. The Sramanera, smiling, said,

“ Your reverence is of great age; your interpretation of the words is a mistaken one. My teacher is a man of much enlightenment; his years (springs and autumns) are in their full maturity. I have received from him personally the true method of interpreting (the work in question); there can be no mistake.”

Ananda remained silent, and then went away, and with a sigh he said,

“Although my years are many, yet for men’s sake I was wishful to remain longer in the world, to hand down and defend the true law. But now men (all creatures) are stained with sin, and it is exceedingly difficult to instruct them. To stay longer would be useless: I will die soon.”

On this, going from Magadha, he went towards the city of Vaisali, and was now in the middle of the Ganges in a boat, crossing the river. At this time the king of Magadha, hearing of Ananda’s departure, his feelings were deeply affected towards him, and so, preparing his chariot, he hastened after him with his followers (soldiers) to ask him to return. And now his host of warriors, myriads in number, were on the southern bank of the river, when the king of Vaisali, hearing of Ananda’s approach, was moved by a sorrowful affection, and, equipping his host, he also went with all speed to meet him. His myriads of soldiers were assembled on the opposite bank of the river (the north side), and the two armies faced each other, with their banners and accoutrements shining in the sun. Ananda, fearing lest there should be a conflict and a mutual slaughter, raised himself from the boat into mid-air, and there displayed his spiritual capabilities, and. forthwith attained Nirvana. He seemed as though encompassed by fire, and his bones fell in two parts, one on the south side, and the other on the north side of the river. Thus the two kings each took a part, and whilst the soldiers raised their piteous cry, they all returned home and built stupas over the relics and paid them religious worship.

Vrijji

Going north-east from this 500 li or so, we arrive at the country of Fo-li-shi (Vrijji).

This kingdom is about 4000 li in circuit. From east to west it is broad, and narrow from north to south. The soil is rich and fertile; fruits and flowers are abundant.

The climate is rather cold; the men are quick and hasty in disposition. Most of the people are heretics; a few believe in the law of Buddha. There are about ten sangharamas; the disciples (priests) are less than 1000.

They study assiduously both the Great and Little Vehicles. There are several tens of Deva temples, with a great number of unbelievers. The capital of the country is called Chen-shu-na. It is mostly in ruins. In the old royal precinct (citadel or inner city) there are yet some 3000 houses; it may be called either a village or a town.

To the north-east of the great river is a sangharama. The priests are few, but they are studious and of a pure and dignified character.

From this going west along the side of the river, we find a stupa about 30 feet high. To the south of it is a stretch of deep water. The great merciful Lord of the World converted here some fishermen. In days long past, when Buddha was living, there were 500 fishermen who joined in partnership to fish for and catch the finny tribes, whereupon they entangled in the river stream a great fish with eighteen heads ; each head had two eyes. The fisher-men desired to kill it, but Tathagata being then in the country of Vaishali, with his divine sight saw what was going on, and raising within him a compassionate heart, he used this opportunity as a means for converting and directing (men). Accordingly, in order’ to open their minds, he said to the great congregation,

“In the Vrijji country there is a great fish; I wish to guide it (into the right way), in order to enlighten the fishermen; you therefore should embrace this opportunity.”

On this the great congregation surrounding him, by their spiritual power passed through the air and caine to the river-side. He sat down as usual, and forthwith addressed the fisherme :

“ Kill not that fish. By my spiritual power I will open the way for the exercise of expedients, and cause this great fish to know its former kind of life ; and in order to this I will cause it to speak in human language and truly to exhibit human affections (feelings).”

Then Tathagata, knowing it beforehand, asked (the fish),

“ In your former existence, what crime did you commit that in the circle of migration you have been born in this evil way and with this hideous body ? “

The fish said,

“Formerly, by the merit I had gained, I was born in a noble family as the Brahman Kapitha (Kie-pi-tha). Belying on this family origin, I insulted other persons ; relying on my extensive knowledge, I despised all books and rules, and with a supercilious heart I reviled the Buddhas with opprobrious words, and ridiculed the priests by comparing them to every kind of brute beast, as the ass, or the mule, or the elephant, or the horse, and every unsightly form. In return for all this I received this monstrous body of mine. Thanks, however, to some virtuous remnants during former lives, I am born during the time of a Buddha’s appearance in the world, and permitted to see his sacred form, and myself to receive his sacred instruction and to confess and repent of my former misdeeds.”

On this Tathagata, according to the circumstance, instructed and converted him by wisely opening his understanding. The fish having received the law, expired, and by the power of this merit was born in heaven. On this he considered his body, and reflected by what circum- stances he was thus born. So, knowing his former life and recollecting the circumstances of his conversion, he was moved with gratitude to Buddha, and, with all the Devas, with bended form he bowed before him and worshipped, and then having circumambulated him, he with- drew, and, standing apart, offered precious flowers and unguents in religious service. The Lord of the World having directed the fishermen to consider this, and on their account preached the law, they were all forthwith enlightened and offered him profound respect. Repenting of their faults, they destroyed their nets, burnt their boats, and having taken refuge in the law, they assumed the religious habit, and by means of the excellent doctrine they heard came out of the reach of worldly influences and obtained the holy fruit (of Arhats).

An Ashoka Stupa

Going north-east from this spot about 100 li, we come to an old city, on the west of which is a stupa built by Asoka-raja, in height about 100 feet. Here Buddha, when living in the world, preached the law for six months and converted the Devas. Going north 140 or 150 paces is a little sttipa ; here Buddha, for the sake of the Bhikshus ,established some rules of discipline. West of this not far is a stttpa containing hair and nail relics. Tathagata formerly residing in this place, men from all the neighbouring towns and villages flocked together and burnt incense, and scattered flowers, and lighted lamps and torches in his honour.

Going north-west from this 1400 or 1500 li, crossing some mountains and entering a valley, we come to the country of Ni-po-lo (Nepala).

NI-PO-LO (Nepal)

This country is about 4000 li in circuit, and is situated among the Snowy Mountains. The capital city is about 20 li round. Mountains and valleys are joined together in an unbroken succession. It is adapted for the growth of cereals, and abounds with flowers and fruits. It produces red copper, the Yak and the Mingming bird (jivanjiva). In commerce they use coins made of red copper. The climate is icy cold; the manners of the people are false and perfidious. Their temperament is hard and fierce, with little regard to truth or honour. They are unlearned but skilful in the arts; their appearance is ungainly and revolting. There are believers and heretics mixed together. The sangharamas and Deva temples are closely joined. There are about 2000 priests, who study both the Great and Little Vehicle. The number of heretics and sectaries of different sorts is uncertain. The king is a Kshattriya, and belongs to the family of the Licchavas. His mind is well-informed, and he is pure and dignified in character. He has a sincere faith in the law of Buddha.

Lately there was a king called Amsuvarman, (An-clm-fa-mo), who was distinguished for his learning and ingenuity. He himself had composed a work on “sounds “ (shabdavidyd); he esteemed learning and respected virtue, and his reputation was spread everywhere.

To the south-east of the capital is a little stream and a lake. If we fling fire into it, flames immediately arise; other things take fire if thrown in it, and change their character.

From this going back to Vaishali, and crossing the Ganges to the south, we arrive at the country of Mo-kie- t’o (Magadha).

Next ⇒ Champa as seen by Hiuen-tsang

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