The Travels of Fa-Hien
CROSSING OF THE INDUS. WHEN BUDDHISM FIRST CROSSED THE
RIVER FOR THE EAST
The travellers went on to the south-west for fifteen days (at the foot
of the mountains, and) following the course of their range. The way
was difficult and rugged, (running along) a bank exceedingly
precipitous, which rose up there, a hill-like wall of rock, 10,000
cubits from the base. When one approaches the edge of it, his eyes
become unsteady; and if he wished to go forward in the same direction,
there was no place on which he could place his foot; and beneath where
the waters of the river called the Indus.
In former times men had
chiselled paths along the rocks, and distributed ladders on the face
of them, to the number altogether of 700, at the bottom of which there
was a suspension bridge of ropes, by which the river was crossed, its
banks being there eighty paces apart.
The (place and arrangements)
are to be found in the Records of the Nine Interpreters,
neither Chang K'een
nor Kan Ying
had reached the spot.
asked Fa-hien if it could be known when the Law of Buddha
first went to the east. He replied, "When I asked the people of those
countries about it, they all said that it had been handed down by
their fathers from of old that, after the setting up of the image of
Maitreya Bodhisattva, there were Sramans of India who crossed this
river, carrying with them Sutras and Books of Discipline. Now the
image was set up rather more than 300 years after the nirvana
Buddha, which may be referred to the reign of king P'ing of the Chow
According to this account we may say that the diffusion of
our great doctrines (in the east) began from (the setting up of) this
image. If it had not been through that Maitreya,
(who is to be) the successor of the Sakya, who
could have caused the 'Three Precious Ones'
to be proclaimed so
far, and the people of those border lands to know our Law? We know of
a truth that the opening of (the way for such) a mysterious
propagation is not the work of man; and so the dream of the emperor
Ming of Han
had its proper cause."
The Sindhu. We saw in a former note that the earliest name in
China for India was Shin-tuh. So, here, the river Indus is called by a
name approaching that in sound.
Both Beal and Watters quote from Cunningham (Ladak, pp. 88, 89)
the following description of the course of the Indus in these parts,
in striking accordance with our author's account:--"From Skardo to
Rongdo, and from Rongdo to Makpou-i-shang-rong, for upwards of 100
miles, the Indus sweeps sullen and dark through a mighty gorge in the
mountains, which for wild sublimity is perhaps unequalled. Rongdo
means the country of defiles. . . . Between these points the Indus
raves from side to side of the gloomy chasm, foaming and chafing with
ungovernable fury. Yet even in these inaccessible places has daring
and ingenious man triumphed over opposing nature. The yawning abyss is
spanned by frail rope bridges, and the narrow ledges of rocks are
connected by ladders to form a giddy pathway overhanging the seething
The Japanese edition has a different reading here from the Chinese
copies,--one which Remusat (with true critical instinct) conjectured
should take the place of the more difficult text with which alone he
was acquainted. The "Nine Interpreters" would be a general name for
the official interpreters attached to the invading armies of Han in
their attempts to penetrate and subdue the regions of the west. The
phrase occurs in the memoir of Chang K'een, referred to in the next
Chang K'een, a minister of the emperor Woo of Han (B.C. 140-87),
is celebrated as the first Chinese who "pierced the void," and
penetrated to "the regions of the west," corresponding very much to
the present Turkestan. Through him, by B.C. 115, a regular intercourse
was established between China and the thirty-six kingdoms or states of
that quarter;--see Mayers' Chinese Reader's Manual, p. 5. The memoir
of Chang K'een, translated by Mr. Wylie from the Books of the first
Han dynasty, appears in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute,
referred to already.
Less is known of Kan Ying than of Chang K'een. Being sent in A.D.
88 by his patron Pan Chao on an embassy to the Roman empire, he only
got as far as the Caspian sea, and returned to China. He extended,
however, the knowledge of his countrymen with regard to the western
regions;--see the memoir of Pan Chao in the Books of the second Han,
and Mayers' Manual, pp. 167, 168.
Where and when? Probably at his first resting-place after crossing
This may refer to Sakyamuni's becoming Buddha on attaining to
nirvana, or more probably to his pari-nirvana and death.
As king P'ing's reign lasted from B.C. 750 to 719, this would
place the death of Buddha in the eleventh century B.C., whereas recent
inquirers place it between B.C. 480 and 470, a year or two, or a few
years, after that of Confucius, so that the two great "Masters" of the
east were really contemporaries. But if Rhys Davids be correct, as I
think he is, in fixing the date of Buddha's death within a few years
of 412 B.C. (see Manual, p. 213), not to speak of Westergaard's still
lower date, then the Buddha was very considerably the junior of
This confirms the words of Eitel, that Maitreya is already
controlling the propagation of the faith.
The Chinese characters for this simply mean "the great scholar or
officer;" but see Eitel's Handbook, p. 99, on the term purusha.
"The precious Buddha," "the precious Law," and "the precious
Monkhood;" Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha; the whole being equivalent to
Fa-hien thus endorses the view that Buddhism was introduced into
China in this reign, A.D. 58-75. The emperor had his dream in A.D. 61.