Faxian and the Establishment of the Pilgrimage Tradition of Qiufa (Dharma-searching)

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45 Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies, 2.1 (2019): 45–94


Buddhist College of Singapore jiyun@bcs.edu.sg

Keywords: Faxian, pilgrimage, qiufa, paragon, elite Buddhism, secular Buddhism

DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.15239/hijbs.02.01.03

Abstract: The present article starts by evoking various forms of pil- grimage in major world religions and the religious needs that could be fulfilled through pilgrimage, including purification of the soul, communion with the divine and worship of sacred lands. Under this general context, the article delves into pilgrimage in Chinese Buddhism regarding its spread into China, and its rise and historical development. Faxian, as the first India-bound Chinese Buddhist who wrote a travelogue, exerted clear influences on later pilgrims as an exemplary pilgrim. In particular, we should pay attention to Fax- ian’s intention of pilgrimage, which bears on the search of canonical Vinaya texts rather than the fulfilment of abstract religious needs such as salvation. After Faxian, numerous pilgrims have undertaken pilgrimages to the Western Regions, including Xuanzang, Yijing and monks recorded in Da Tang Xiyu qiufa gaoseng zhuan 大唐西域求法 高僧傳 by Yijing 義淨 and Nittō guhō junrei kōki 入唐求法巡禮行記

by the Japanese monk Ennin 圓仁. Regardless of the historical reality, we could at least observe, on the textual level, that qiufa (the search of Dharma) represents the main objective for Chinese pilgrims. This

Faxian and the Establishment of

the Pilgrimage Tradition of Qiufa



1 Turner, Image, xxix–xxx.

2 For more on this topic in Chinese, please see Huang, Kanteboli gushi ji.

3 The Pilgrim’s Progress is a Christian allegory and one of the earliest Western

characteristic sets Chinese Buddhist pilgrimage apart from other religions and even from Tibetan Buddhism, for which qiufa is never a common goal. Does this imply that qiufa was the mainstream form of pilgrimage in Chinese Buddhism and in other Buddhist traditions in East Asia influenced by Chinese Buddhism (e.g. Korean and Japa- nese Buddhism)? Could there be a difference between an elite and a non-elite form of pilgrimage? The present article will investigate the influence of the qiufa tradition that was inspired by Faxian’s travel- ogue; and through this discussion, reveal some traits about Chinese Buddhism in general.

I. Pilgrimage: What is it for?


e it a local cult or an institutionalized religion, as long as a group is deemed sacred by its followers, it can be associated with certain locations. This could be a place where the founder or the early disci- ples travelled, performed miracles or experienced transformations; or a place significant for the doctrine or other elements of that religion.

Throughout history, the sacred status accorded to such places has attracted a great number of followers who, through rituals or prac- tices, would attempt to enter into communion with the site. We can find this phenomenon in medieval Europe, but also in Far East and pre-Columbian America. It is a religious phenomenon common to humankind and present in every social group that has reached a certain degree of development.1 Literature is also brimming with references to sacred sites and their legends. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (1342–1400)2 or Pilgrim’s Progress penned by John Bunyan (1628–1688) are just two examples. In this last work, the protagonist undertakes a pilgrimage that symbolize the spiritual purification of Christianity, as the protagonist experiences repentance, conversion, and eventually redemption.3 For modern scholars, these sites are valu-


novels translated into Chinese. It played an important role in the transmission of Christianity during the late Qing period. For the studies of its Chinese translation, see Wu, Yingguo chuanjiaoshi. The Pilgrim’s Progress also bears a number of sim- ilarities with the Chinese classic Journey to the West. For comparative studies, see Chen, Pingxing bijiao. Also see Pang, Jingshen zhigui.

4 There is plenty of research in Chinese that bears on the Christian and Mid- dle-Eastern pilgrimage: Huang, Tanwei; Wang, Chaosheng xing; Zhang, Shehui gengyuan; Jia, Cishan yuanzhu, chapter one. There are relatively few studies that compare Buddhist pilgrimage with the pilgrimage in Western European and Middle Eastern religions, but there are comparative studies that involve Asian folk religions, such as: Huang, Chaosheng yu jinxiang. For Buddhist pilgrimage among Yunnan ethnical minorities, see Zhang and Gao, Jinggu ‘foji’.

5 In the past decade, there has been an increasing amount of research on popular rituals, including incense-offering at sacred mountains. For instance:

Zhang, Jingxiang. On the mountain worship in the same area and its character- istics, see Wu, Miaofeng shan. Zhang, Wuhui Yanjiu; Zhang, Zhongguo shehui jiegou. For the incense-offering in Central China, see Can, Jinxiang zhi lü. For pilgrimage rituals in Tai Mountain, see Meng, Dili; Liu, Miaohui. For pilgrim- age rituals in Southern Fujian, see Fan and Lin, Ming Tai gongmiao; Lin, Mazu;

Yao, Mazu. For the mountain incense-offering in E’mei Mountain in Southwest China, see the studies on the incense fair in Baoguo Monastery, included in Fan, E’mei shan.

able sources to study the ritual, doctrine and history of a religion.4 In China, for instance, mountains are a common object of worship for Buddhists, Daoists and folk religious followers.5 By studying their be- haviours, especially through anthropological methods, we can tap into a new perspective to study the ancient pilgrimage from China to India.

We can also use this new perspective in our reading of the pilgrimage writing and discover nuances that we are prone to ignore.

I.1 Faxian and His Legacies

Foreign missionaries from the Indian subcontinent played a vital role in transmitting Buddhism to China, but Chinese Buddhists had also been travelling in the reverse direction, namely, towards Central


Asia and India, in search of the Buddhist teachings. Zhu Shixing

朱士行 (203–282),6 a monk from China proper, is the earliest record- ed Chinese pilgrim who reached Central Asia or India. According to the anonymous Fangguang jing ji 放光經記 (Record on Sutra of the Emission of Light), Zhu Shixing travelled to the Kingdom of Khotan in 260 in his quest for the ninety-volume Fangguang banruo jing 放 光般若經 [Light-Emitting Prajñā Sūtra]7. It is noteworthy that Zhu Shixing seems keener on seeking Buddhist scriptures than visiting sacred sites. Tang Yongtong 湯用彤 observantly pointed out that this peculiarity about Zhu Shixing’s journey may have influenced the future Buddhists—at least certain groups of Buddhists—in the way they perform pilgrimages.8

As Tang Yongtong suggested, Zhu Shixing was the original para- gon who inspired later Buddhist elites to travel to India and search for Buddhist scriptures. The figure with an even greater influence, however, was Faxian 法顯 (trad. 337–ca. 423) born a century after Zhu Shixing. Let us now look at Faxian’s pilgrimage. In the process, I want to point out some features about his pilgrimage that have thus far been somehow overlooked.

We know little about Faxian’s family background.9 It is said

6 Zhu Shixing is a monk but is not known for his monastic name, because early monastics did not yet have the tradition of acquiring a monastic name in China. See Yan, Faming, 88. For Zhu Shixing’s biography, see Chu sanzang ji ji, T no. 2149, 55: 7.47c11–25.

7 Chu sanzang ji ji, T no. 2149, 55: 7.47c11–25. For Zhu Shixing’s achieve- ment, see Tang, Fojiao shi, 86–87.

8 Tang, Fojiao shi, 86–87. Tang Yongtong writes, ‘Shixing is called “fofa zhe”

(a man of Dharma) because of his scholarly achievement. He did not follow the tradition of the Eastern Han Dynasty [that emphasized] fasting and rituals. Four hundred years later, Xuanzang disregarded the danger and travelled to the West in pursuit of Shiqi di lun (Skt. Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra). [Shixing and Xuanzang]

differed in their achievements but their spirit and aspiration indeed match with each other.’

9 For Faxian’s biographical sources, see Chu sanzang ji ji, T no. 2149, 55: 15., 111b–112b. Also see Gaoseng zhuan, T no. 2059, 50: 3.337b–338b. For Faxian’s


that he entered the monastery at the age of three and became fully ordained at twenty. Faxian’s life would have been quite uneventful if not for his great journey to India and the adventurous episode recorded in his biography.10 We also know from his travelogue11 that he went to India because he ‘lamented over the inadequacy of Vinaya texts [in China]’ 慨律藏殘闕.12 In other words, Faxian shared a simi- lar sense of mission with Zhu Shixing, in that both were searching for a particular collection of Buddhist texts.

Tang Yongtong proposed to divide the early pilgrimages into four categories: the pilgrims searching for Buddhist texts (e.g. Zhi Faling 支 法領 [active: 392–418]); those who aspired to study after great Indian masters (e.g. Yu Falan 于法蘭, Zhiyan 智嚴); the pilgrims with a goal to visit sacred sites (e.g. Baoyun 寶雲, Zhimeng 智猛), or those who wanted to invite masters to China to spread the Dharma (e.g. Zhi Faling)13. We can simply conflate four categories into two: the search for teachings (either through Buddhist text or discipleship) and the wor- ship of sacred sites. In Faxian’s case, if we disregard his occasional visits to sacred sites in India, he would roughly fall into the first category.

The first kind of pilgrimage has inspired generations of Buddhists.

biographical studies, see Tang, Fojiao shi, 212–214; Zhang, Faxian, 1–4; Hu-von Hinüber, Faxian, 150–52.

10 For the original record of this anecdote, see Faxian zhuan in Chu sanzang ji ji, T no. 2149, 55: 15.111c6–11.

11 Many researchers have investigated the title of Faxian’s travelogue. See Zhang, Faxian, 5–8; Guo, ‘Faxian’, 201–06. For the sake of convenience, I will only cite passages from the most commonly used Foguo ji rather than Faxian zhuan included in Gaoseng zhuan, which draws heavily from Foguo ji; see my work for elaboration: Ji, Huijiao, 156–59.

12 Gaoseng Faxian zhuan, T no. 2085, 51: 1.857a6. This passage originally came from Faxian zhuan, the fifteenth juan of Chu sanzang ji ji, which says ‘ 慨經律舛闕’ (T no. 2145, 55: 15.111c12). The source from which the Gaoseng zhuan borrowed is unknown. This article uses Foguo ji. Huijiao’s later work Gaoseng zhuan includes an expanded record of Faxian; see my work on Gaoseng zhuan: Ji, Huijiao, 159.

13 Tang, Fojiao shi, 210.


Shi Fayong 釋法勇, for instance, traveled to India with his twenty-five companions. He not only safely returned to China but continued translating Buddhist texts upon his return and wrote a travelogue (now lost). Shi Fayong’s original inspiration was precisely Faxian.14 Likewise, Tang Dynasty monks Xuanzang 玄奘 (600–664) and Yijing 義凈 (635–713) also revered Faxian as their inspiration.

According to Da Tang Da Ci’en si sanzang fashi zhuan 大唐大 慈恩寺三藏法師傳 [Biography of the Tripiṭaka Master of the Great Ci’en Monastery of the Great Tang Dynasty]. Xuanzang travelled to India not only to seek Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra 瑜伽師地論 but also, in Xuanzang’s own words, follow the tradition started by Faxian and other like-minded pilgrims.15 In another case, according to Zhisheng’s 智昇 (active circa 730) record, the famous pilgrim Yijing, as a teenager, greatly admired Faxian and Xuanzang and vowed to

‘seek the Dharma’ (qiufa 求法) one day in the Western Regions.16 What are the commonalities that connect these three famous pilgrims? First of all, like Zhu Shixing, they all wanted to contribute to Buddhism by bringing back Buddhist texts. Secondly, they were all scholar-monks and—with the exception of Faxian—all descended from a family of scholars.17 Their family background influenced

14 Chu sanzang ji ji, T no. 2145, 55: 15.113c18–19: 常聞沙門法顯寶雲諸僧 躬踐佛國.

15 Da Tang Da Ci’en si sanzang fashi zhuan, T no. 2053, 50: 1.222c6–8: 昔法 顯、智嚴亦一時之士, 皆能求法導利群生, 豈使高跡無追, 清風絕後? 大丈夫會當 繼之.

16 Kaiyuan shijiao lu, T no. 2154, 55: 9.68b7–8: (義凈)年十有五志遊西域, 仰法顯之雅操, 慕玄奘之高風. This same passage is also recorded in Song gaoseng zhuan, T no. 2061, 50: 1.710b10–11. But two texts do not agree on Yijing’s age when he decided to travel; see Wang, Nanhai jigui neifa zhuan, 4–5.

17 Yijing’s great-great grandfather was the governor of the commandery of Dongqi; see Emperor Zhongzong’s ‘Longxing sanzang shengjiao xu’ 龍興三藏 聖教序, Wang, Nanhai jigui neifa zhuan, 3. Xuanzang also descended from a family of Confucian scholars; see Ji, Xiyu ji, 103–04, where Ji Xianlin pointed out, ‘Xuanzang completely inherited the family tradition of Confucian learning, unlike later monks who entered the monastic order due to the family poverty.’


their education and worldview, but also determined their financial capacity. Thirdly, all three eventually returned to China and used their proficiency in Indic languages to translate Buddhist scriptures and help develop the Chinese Buddhist canon.18 Lastly, they all left a travelogue.19 These commonalities are noteworthy because they are deeply embedded in the popular representation of Indian-bound Chinese Buddhist pilgrims. According to this representation, a pilgrim travels to search for Buddhist texts and ‘authentic texts’

(zhenjing 真經); ideally, he should also return to China and become a translator. Therefore, the Chinese word for ‘pilgrimage’ (chaosheng

朝聖) became gradually replaced by the word ‘the search of Dharma’

(qiufa 求法). In other words, qiufa seng, or ‘dharma-seeker monk’

gradually became the standard representation of a pilgrim, shaped by the unique cultural conditions of Chinese Buddhism at the time. It represents a pilgrim who is determined to search for ‘authentic texts’, resists the temptation to remain in the sacred land of India, and re- turns to China to start a career of translation. If possible, he would also write a travelogue.

Returning to our previous discussion, we can now see that as far as intellectual elites and their writings are concerned, qiufa seems to have developed into a standardized religious ritual and behavior, pioneered by Faxian. Faxian’s goal, as mentioned earlier, was to search for a particular type of Buddhist texts. We can find passages in Gaoseng Faxian zhuan 高僧法顯傳 [Biography of the Eminent Monk Faxian] in which Faxian explicitly states that his goal was to

18 For studying the trade route between China and India, the following three sources are the most important and also the most convenient references (in addi- tion to Faxian’s Foguo ji): Xuanzang, Da Tang Xiyu ji, T no. 2087 (for the anno- tated version, see Ji, Xiyu ji); Yijing, Nanhai jigui neifa zhuan, T no. 2125 (for the annotated version, see Wang, Nanhai jigui neifa zhuan); and Yijing, Da Tang Xiyu qiufa gaoseng zhuan, T no. 2066 (for annotated version, see Wang, Da Tang Xiyu qiufa gaoseng zhuan).

19 Xuanzang and Yijing are acknowledged as the master translators in China, but Faxian also made his contribution to the scriptural translation; see Zhang, Sengren yanjiu, 48–51.


‘seek Dharma’.20 But it is Xuanzang who fully embodied the ideal of a qiufa monk. A standard biography for Xuanzang records that when his mother gave birth to him, she saw a Buddhist master dressed in white and traveling westward. The monk said he was

‘travelling to seek Dharma’ 為求法故去.21 In addition, whenever Xu- anzang was asked about his identity, he invariably said he came for

‘seeking Dharma’ (and not for pilgrimage or other reasons).22 This response reflects a clear identity with which Xuanzang associated himself.

From this perspective, we can better appreciate Yijing’s decision to title his book Da Tang Xiyu qiufa gaoseng zhuan 大唐西域求法 高僧傳 (Great Tang Chronicle of Eminent Monks who Traveled to the West Seeking the Dharma), a collection of biographies of Chinese monks who have been to the Western Regions. Additionally, the ideal of qiufa monk later spread to Korea and Japan.23

This particular tradition of pilgrimage, started by Faxian and fos- tered by later travelers such as Xuanzang and Yijing, conveys an ide- alistic vision about pilgrimage, though it may not be fully accurate.

On the one hand, this tradition inspired a great number of Buddhist monks to join the cause, but at the same time, it overshadowed non-

20 Gaoseng Faxian zhuan, T no. 2085, 51: 866a4–5.

21 Da Tang Da Ci’en si sanzang fashi zhuan, T no. 2019, 50: 1.222c14–15.

The same passage is recorded in his ‘conduct account’ (xingzhuang 行狀). See Da Tang gu sanzang Xuanzang fashi xingzhuang, T no. 2052, 50: 214c15–18.

22 Da Tang Da Ci’en si sanzang fashi zhuan, T no. 2019, 50: 1.215c27–28;

216a8; 223a10; 223b26–27; no. 50: 234a24–25; no. 50: 273c4. Emperor Taizong also said Xuanzang travelled to the West for ‘qiufa’ and not for other reasons (T no. 50: 253a13–14).

23 Gakhun 각훈 (覺訓, active in early thirteenth). Haedong goseungjeon 海東 高僧傳. T no. 2065. In this work, Gakhun commented on a number of monks travelling to China or India for ‘qiufa’. Examples could be found in: T no. 2065, 50:2.1020a23–24, 1020b16, 1022a28. Similar instances could be found in the Japanese work: Ennin 円仁 (Jikaku Daishi 慈覺大師, 794?–864), Nittō Guhō Junrei Kōki 入唐求法巡禮行記. For the academic studies on Ennin’s text, see Katsutoshi, Nittō Guhō Junrei Kōki.


elite Buddhists who pilgrimed for various other reasons. Non-elite pilgrimages, however, were in reality more common and dynamic than their elite counterpart.

I. 2 A Wider Context: Dharma-Seeker Monks during the Jin and Tang Dynasty

Mingseng zhuan 名僧傳 [Biographies of Famous Monks], composed by the famous monk Baochang 寶唱 (465?–?) during the Southern Dynasties (420–589), is no longer extant, but thanks to the Japanese monk Sōshō 宗性 (1202–1278) who took some excerpts from the Mingseng zhuan in 123524, we could still glimpse its twenty-sixth chapter titled ‘Austere Practices of Dharma-Searching and Translat- ing’ 尋法出經苦節. The chapter contains the biographies of eleven qiufa monks who reached the Western Regions during the Eastern Jin (265–420) and Qi Dynasty (479–502).25 The fact that ‘qiufa monks’

stands alone as a separate theme seems to acknowledge that qiufa, as an ascetic practice, had already become a recognizable tradition. On the other hand, Biographies of Eminent Monks 高僧傳 [Biographies of Eminent Monks composed by Huijiao 慧皎 (497–554) during the Liang Dynasty (502–557), though based on Mingseng zhuan, intriguingly chose to omit the category of ‘qiufa monks’. We can at- tribute this omission to Huijiao’s decision to simplify the taxonomy,26

24 The catalogue is included in Manji Dai Nippon zoku zōkyō 卍字續藏經, no. 77. But this edition contains numerous mistakes, as pointed out by Ding,

‘Mingseng zhuan’.

25 These monks are: Zhu Fonian 竺佛念 from Chang’an during Jin; Faxian from Daochang Monastery during Jin; Zhu Fawei 竺法維 from Andong Mon- astery during Jin; Sengbiao 僧表 from Tongxuan Monastery during Jin and Wu;

Zhiyan 智嚴 from Zhiyuan Monastery during Song; Baoyun 寶雲 from Daoc- hang Monastery during Song; Zhimeng 智猛 from Dingling Shang Monastery during Song; Fayong 法勇 from Huanglong during Song; Daopu 道普 from Ga- ochang during Song; Fasheng 法盛 from Qichang during Song; Faxian 法獻 from Dingling Shang Monastery during Qi. X no. 77: 350a14–20.

26 Ji, Huijiao, 118–12; 210–15. Gaoseng zhuan’s structure is also largely influ-


but perhaps it also reflects his differing attitude from Baochang vis- à-vis the qiufa practice. But Huijiao, as much as we can know about him from the available sources, is relatively unknown compared to the prolific and distinguished Baochang.27 This disparity perhaps also suggests that Buddhists with different social status and knowledge structure may harbor different attitudes towards the qiufa model. I will elaborate on this point later on.

By skimming through the biographies in Mingseng zhuan, we can see that not all monks are concerned with seeking Dharma or translating scriptures. In fact, if we do a comprehensive survey on Buddhist pilgrims during the Jin and Tang Dynasty who travelled to the Western Regions (see Appendix I), we can discover a multitude of reasons for pilgrimage. The present survey includes twenty-six monks. Thirteen among them show a clear or ambiguous goal to seek Buddhist scriptures and teachings; five visited sacred sites, two of which overlap with the first category; six are unknown for their motivation. The survey reveals that qiufa monks occupy almost half of all cases, but the pilgrims who visited sacred sites also feature prominently in the survey. In particular, Fasheng 法盛28 and Faxian

法獻29 stated respectively that they were inspired by Zhimeng 智猛

and Sengmeng 僧猛, suggesting that they were following a tradition that existed separately from the qiufa tradition.

In the record by Faxian, Xuanzang and Yijing, we find numerous references to their pilgrimage in sacred sites, but we also have records of pilgrims with less stature who also participated in worship rituals during their pilgrimage, such as Sengbiao 僧表 and Hulan 慧欖(覽) who practiced the alms-bowl offering.30

enced by Mingseng zhuan, though it simplified the structure and removed several categories.

27 Ji, Huijiao, 36–40.

28 Meisō den shō, X no. 77: 1.358c17–18: 遇沙門智猛, 從外國還. 述諸神迹, 因有志焉.

29 Gaoseng zhuan, T no. 2059, 50: 13.411b28–29: 先聞猛公西遊, 備矚靈異.

乃誓欲忘, 身往觀聖迹.

30 Meisō den shō, X no. 77: 1.358, b13–16: 聞弗樓沙國有佛鉢, 鉢今在罽賓臺


There are certainly more reasons to start a pilgrimage. For in- stance, some travelers harboured the wish to meet prominent masters in the Western Regions, including Zhiyan 智儼, Zuqu Jinsheng 沮 渠京聲 (?–464) and Huilan 慧覽 (d.u.); these last two respectively became the disciple of Buddhasena 佛陀斯那 (d.u.) and Damo Biqiu

達摩比丘 (d.u.). There is another kind of motive recorded in Baoy- un’s 寶雲 (376–449) biography in Meisō den shō. Baoyun went on a pilgrimage because he had killed a calf when he ‘carried stones and worked the earth’ (負石筑土). His ‘remorse and melancholy’ 慚恨惆 悵 pressed him to travel to India so that he could ‘witness miracles and perform repentances’ (眼睹神跡, 躬行懺悔).31

This last motive may seem rare, especially among elite Buddhists, but it reflects the ritual aspect of Buddhism that emphasizes repen- tance and abstinence. Its popularity among non-elite Buddhists far exceeds what we tend to believe. For proof, it suffices to regard contemporary Mongolian and Tibetan Buddhists whose pilgrimage invariably has to do with repentance and salvation. But this motive is seldom written down in both official and popular record. What this suggests is that there is not only a gap that divides the popular and the official representation of Buddhist pilgrimage, but also between the popular record and the historical reality itself.

Repentance is also an important theme in the novel Journey to the West 西遊記. For instance, the protagonist Tangseng, Xuanzang’s fictional counterpart, used to be a monk named Jinchanzi in his pre- vious life. Jinchanzi once ‘listened mindlessly to Buddha’s sermon’

and as a consequence, he is reborn as Tangseng and has to overcome countless obstacles for repenting the past sin.32 His disciples also committed transgressions in one way or another: Sun Xingzhe 孫 行者 ravaged the Heavenly Palace; Zhu Wuneng 豬悟能 flirted with Chang’e; Sha Seng 沙僧 broke the precious glazed lamp while the

寺, 恒有五百羅漢供養鉢. 鉢經騰空至涼洲. 有十二羅漢隨鉢. 停六年, 後還罽賓.

僧表恨不及見, 乃至西踰蔥嶺, 欲致誠禮.

31 Meisō den shō, X no. 77: 1.358c8–11. Also see Zhang, Sengren yanjiu, 48–50.

32 Li, Xiyou ji, 203.


White Dragon Horse 白龍馬 set a precious pearl on fire. Their pilgrimage, therefore, is tantamount to a journey of repentance and represents a common type of pilgrimage in China. It is only in the elite writing that repentance becomes stripped of its importance.

We should also be mindful that the survey only used a limited sample group. For instance, Shi Fayong travelled with twenty-five companions and Shi Fasheng with twenty-nine fellow travelers, but among them only a handful returned to China and left evidence of their journey. Most travelers, however, did not even reach India.

They either died from illness or abandoned their journey for miscel- laneous reasons. But even among the travelers who reached India, many chose to remain in India rather than return to China, which is perceived as the borderland in the Buddhist world. We could not know the exact motive behind each pilgrimage, but it is perhaps plau- sible to assume that pilgrims who visited sacred places outnumber those who searched for the Buddhist teachings. After all, Buddhism is a religion that demands faith and comprises more Buddhists who perform rituals than those who study and translate Buddhist texts, as it is case among Mongolian and Tibetan pilgrims today. But without sufficient evidence, we shall leave this matter aside for now.

I. 3 A Larger Context: Dharma-Seeker Monks in Tang

The Tang Dynasty saw two great monk-travelers who followed Fax- ian’s footsteps: Xuanzang and Yijing. They were among an increasing number of monk-travelers that flourished during this period, thanks to the improved means of transportation between India and China.

We have biographies of these traveler-monks in Da Tang Xiyu qiufa gaoseng zhuan 大唐西域求法高僧傳 (Great Tang Chronicle of Emi- nent Monks who Traveled to the West Seeking the Dharma), which includes sixty monks who travelled to the Western Regions, India or Southern Sea. By examining closely these precious records (see Appendix II), some surprising discoveries could emerge from the seemingly banal details.


I. 3.1 The Forgotten Qiufa Monks

In the popular culture, Xuanzang stands as the singular icon for all Buddhist pilgrims. In academia, scholars hardly know better than the general public and are familiar only with such famous pilgrims as Faxian and Yijing. But these figures, even though familiar to us, are the rarest cases. In reality, the percentage of pilgrims who safely returned to China is staggeringly low. For every twenty or thirty pilgrims, only one or two returned to China. It is even rarer to find returned pilgrims who would translate scriptures and write about their journey. Faxian, Xuanzang and Yijing are only the visible tip of a colossal iceberg composed of countless pilgrims who never accom- plished their goal and sank to the oblivion of history.

We can find many ‘failed’ pilgrims in Yijing’s record. For instance, Daosheng 道生 (d.u.) traveled through Tibet and reached India during the last year of the Zhenguan 貞觀 era (627–649). After visiting sacred sites in India, Daosheng commenced his studies at the Nālandā University. He was known for his erudition and impressed even the king Bhaskaravarman.33 Daosheng later settled down in a Theravada monastery and spent years studying foundational Bud- dhist doctrines. When Daosheng decided to return to China, he brought along many scriptures and intended to translate them upon his return. Unfortunately, when Daosheng passed through Nepal, he caught a disease and died at the age of fifty. If a master such as Daos- heng had returned to China, his outstanding education would have prepared him to become an important translator and a prominent figure in the history of Buddhism.

Another lamentable traveler is Xuanhui 玄會 (d.u.). He came from a prestigious family and was still young when he reached India.

In India, his scholarship won the admiration of kings from several kingdom. Like Kumārajīva (Jiumoluoshi 鳩摩羅什, 344–413?), Xuanhui was superbly gifted and knowledgeable. He was fluent in Sanskrit and planned to bring back Buddhist texts and translate

33 Seventh century King of the Kingdom of Kāmarūpa; see Wang, Da Tang Xiyu qiufa gaoseng zhuan, 50.


34 On Xuanzheng and Da Xingshan Monastery, see Wang, Da Tang Xiyu qiufa gaoseng zhuan, 14. Not much is known about Xuanzheng, but regarding Da Xingshan Monastery, it was an important centre for Tantric Buddhism, the practice of which required a basic knowledge of Sanskrit alphabet. For more on this monastery, see Chou, Tantrism in China, 294 and footnote 52.

them. But unfortunately, he passed away in Nepal and was barely thirty years old!

The Vinaya scholar-monk Huining 會寧 (d.u.) also passed away young. Huining entered the monastery as a child where he received an excellent education. He later traveled to the Kingdom of Heling

訶陵國 in Southeast Asia and translated a Buddhist sūtra in collab- oration with a foreign monk. He later continued his travel towards India, but we do not have any record about his subsequent journey.

At the time, he was only thirty-four or thirty-five years old.

Among all the cases in Yijing’s record, Xuanzhao 玄照 (620?–

682?) stands out as perhaps the most regrettable case. Xuanzhao met all the prerequisites to becoming a great master but an incident abruptly ended his brilliant career. Let us take a closer look at his biography, recorded at the beginning of Yijing’s text. Xuanzhao came from an aristocratic family and received a good education.

During the Zhenguan reign (627–649), Xuanzhao learned basic Sanskrit with Xuanzheng 玄證 (d.u.) in the Da Xingshan Mon- astery 大興善寺.34 It is probably during this time that Xuanzhao made the resolve to search for the Dharma in India. He first reached Central Asia before heading south to Tibet where he met Princess Wencheng (625–680). The princess subsequently arranged Xuanzhao’s journey to Northern India. Xuanzhao arrived in the Kingdom of Shelantuo 闍闌陀國 and stayed for four years with the financial support from the king, where he continued the studies of Sanskrit. Xuanzhao then arrived at the Mahābodhi Monastery 大 菩提寺 in Bodh Gaya where he stayed for another four years and resumed his studies of Abhidharmakośakārikā 俱舍論. Xuanzhao finally arrived at the famous Nālandā University and studied exegeses with great masters such as Jinaprabha 勝光 (active in the second half of the seventh century) and Ratnasiṃha 寶師子 (active


in the second half of the seventh century). Xuanzhao studied at the university for three years with the sponsorship from the king.

In his return journey, Xuanzhao passed again through Nepal and Tibet, and met again with Princess Wencheng. Sometime during the Lingde 麟德 reign (664–665), Xuanzhao returned to the eastern capital Luoyang. At the time of his return, he was still in his most vigorous years. We can calculate his age at the time based on a number of biographical information. First of all, when Xuanzhao became Xuanzheng’s disciple, he was barely twenty years old. More precisely, this discipleship happened in the last year of the Zhenggu- an reign, based on the timing of Xuanzhao’s encounter with Prin- cess Wencheng. Additionally, according to Yijing, Xuanzhao died in Central India at over sixty years old (when Xuanzhao deceased, Yijing was present at the Nālandā University where he left in 685).

From these biographical data, we could determine that Xuanhao was born around 620, so when he returned to the capital, he should be just over forty years old.

By now, a number of similarities should have emerged clearly between Xuanzhao and other prominent pilgrims, including Xuan- zang. Like his predecessors, Xuanzhao received the necessary training for becoming a master translator: he acquired language skills and mastered Buddhist doctrines. Most importantly, he safely returned to China. It only awaited him the actual work of translation. Perhaps he would also record his journey in India, thereby completing what would have been a brilliant career.

As for Xuanzhao himself, he was ready to dedicate himself to translation. Upon his return to the eastern capital Luoyang, he arranged a meeting with local Buddhist masters and received fervent requests to translate Mūlasarvāstivādavinayayasangraha (Sapoduo bu lüshe 薩婆多部律攝). If history had continued as such, we would have seen another great translator. But unfortunately, an imperial decree came and squandered all the knowledge that Xuanzhao had painstakingly acquired.

The decree sent Xuanzhao on a diplomatic mission, which required him to travel immediately to the Kingdom of Kaśmīra

羯濕彌囉國; the goal was to search for the long-lived Brahman Lokāditya (Lujiayiduo 盧迦溢多) who supposedly held the secret


of longevity.35 Following the order, Xuanzhao left his Sanskrit texts in the capital and departed for North India. Xuanzhao relived the dangerous journey through Tibet before he arrived in his destination where he met Lokāditya who was heading towards China with a Tang emissary. Lokāditya, in turn, told Xuanzhao that he could find the longevity elixir in West India. Xuanzhao then had to undergo another dangerous trip to the kingdom. Xuanzhao stayed in the kingdom for four years before obtaining the elixir and getting ready for his return journey. On the way, he encountered Yijing who was studying at the Nālandā University. But the remaining trip to China turned out to be extremely difficult as the route through Nepal and Tibet was obstructed. Xuanzhao tried the northern route through the Kingdom of Kāpiśa 迦畢試國 in North India but failed again.

Xuanzhao had no choice but to remain in Central India where he eventually died from illness.

While we could say that an untimely death was the cause that ended the brilliant career of these masters, we should also bear in mind that there was a cultural undervaluation of pilgrimage, which was caused by the writing of the elites who depicted pilgrimage as an exclusive activity. The consequence is that a pan-religious behavior became reduced to a narrow religious-cultural phenomenon.

I. 3.2 Pilgrimage is Optional

There are signs that Yijing deliberately degraded the chaosheng (versus qiufa) pilgrimage in his Chronicle. A case in point is the biography of Siṃha 僧訶 at the end of the book. His biography in- cludes no mention at all of his pilgrimage activity. The biography is concerned exclusively with his honorific name (and whether he had a Sanskrit name), his place of origin, the places he visited, his knowl- edge of Sanskrit and Buddhist texts as well as the location of his death.

35 According to Tang shu 唐書 and Tang huiyao 唐會要, Lokāditya was known for his occult ability and caught the attention of the Civilizing General during Gaozong’s reign; see Wang, Nanhai jigui neifa zhaun, 29 and footnote 42. For more on the long-lived Lokāditya, see Takata, Baramon; Chen, Śākyamitra.


36 Da Tang Xiyu qiufa gaoseng zhuan, T no. 2066, 51: 1.5a7–8: 但以義有異 同, 情生舛互, 而欲思觀梵本, 親聽微言.

Chaosheng pilgrimage, commonly featured in monastic biographies, becomes only an optional piece of information in Yijing’s writing.

The same pattern repeats in the biography of Cittavarman (Zhiduobamo 質多跋摩). Yijing knows little about him but still records his travel motive and that he disappeared during his return journey to China via the northern route. In particular, the biography includes an elaborate episode about Cittavarman being forced to eat meat in India. It is surprising that Yijing would allocate much more space to this episode regarding Cittavarman’s vegetarianism, than to the information about pilgrimage. This discrepancy is jarring and warrants our attention. Yijing omits pilgrimage again in his writing of two Tibetan pilgrims, and only records their age, family background, Sanskrit level and the monasteries in India in which they have studied.

The biography of Yunqi 運期 (d.u.) is even more interesting.

Yunqi is from Jiaozhou (Vietnamese: Giao Châu) 交州 and travelled to Southeast Asia to study local dialects, Sanskrit and Buddhist doc- trines. After he became a layman, he continued spreading Dharma.

Interestingly, during his entire career, he never once considered trav- elling to the Western region. For Yunqi, pilgrimage was less import- ant than the responsibility to learn and spread the Dharma. Yunqi’s biography is a telling example of the elite attitude towards pilgrimage.

Yihui 義輝 also bears a number of resemblances with Xuanzang.

Yihui was a scholar-monk and went to the Western Regions because he also encountered difficulties with comprehending certain doc- trines. In his own words, ‘because doctrines contain differences, I feel conflicted emotionally and desire to investigate Sanskrit texts and listen to the subtle teaching in person.’36 The entire biography, how- ever, does not mention that Yihui bore any thought or performed any action to worship sacred sites. Such omission repeats in other biographies, including the biography of Huiyan 慧琰, Lingyun 靈運

and Sengzhe 僧哲.

Some biographies do include passages on chaosheng pilgrimage, but they are short and apparently not the focus of the biography.


37 T no. 2066, 51: 1.6c16–17: 後乃觀化中天, 頂禮金剛御座、菩提聖儀.

For instance, the biography of Daolin 道林, included in the second volume, starts by introducing his clerical title, hometown and family background before explaining that Daolin travelled to India because China lacked dhyana and Vinaya texts. Daolin first travelled to Southeast Asia where he was cordially received by the king and stayed for a couple of years. He then headed to the Kingdom of Tāmralipti

耽摩立底國 in India. He stayed in the kingdom and studied esoteric mantras and the vinaya texts of Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya (Shuoy- iqieyou bu lü 說一切有部律). But in the entire 725-words text, there is only one sentence which bears on his pilgrimage experience (‘After- wards, [Daolin] pilgrimed in North-Central India and paid homage to the royal throne of vajra and the divine appearance of bodhi’).37 Subsequently, Daolin spent years at the Nālandā University studying Mahāyāna scriptures and treatises and the Theravada text Abhidhar- makośa-bhāṣya (Jushe lun 俱舍論). Daolin then continued his studies in West and South India. At this point in the biography, Yijing in- terjects an elaborate introduction to the esoteric mantra. Yijing even made a personal remark about his own unfulfilled desire to learn the mantra when he was a student at the Nālandā University. Yijing con- cluded the biography by writing that Daolin arrived in North India to learn meditation and search for Prajñāpāramitā-sūtra, but was never heard back from since, except two men from Central Asia who may have told Yijing about Daolin’s whereabout. The meticulous record on Daolin’s studies forms a salient contrast with the cursory mention of his pilgrimage in sacred sites. From this contrast, we could sense Yijing’s bias towards chaosheng pilgrimage.

Yijing’s book may mislead us to believe the majority of traveler- monks did not travel for the sake of chaosheng, but this is not the case. We will look at another survey on Da Tang Xiyu qiufa gaoseng zhuan. Despite the word ‘qiufa’ in the title, the text does not only include qiufa monks. Among sixty monks in this survey (see Appen- dix II), nineteen of them have an unknown reason for travel; twenty travelled for chaosheng; only three were qiufa monks. As for those who travelled for both chaosheng and qiufa, we can count only six


38 Another category is those who accompanied their masters to the Western Regions; eight monks fall under this category. There are also those with unclear motives. For instance, according to the biography of Yunqi 運期,he learned Bud- dhist teachings in countries in Southeast Asia, but never expressed the desire to seek scriptures or worship sacred sites in the Western Regions.

39 Durkheim, Elementary, 33.

cases.38 By any standard, chaosheng pilgrims outnumbers any other type of pilgrim.

We should also realize that Yijing himself falls under the category of qiufa monk. He was already biased in his choice of monks. In reality, there may be more chaosheng pilgrims than what his writing includes. In other words, his writing is already influenced by the elite perception of chaosheng. Yijing, as an aspirant towards the ideal of the qiufa monks, he imposed this ideal on his representation of pilgrims. In this process, Yijing obscured the rich assortment of motives behind pilgrimage and, either consciously or unconsciously, overlooked or debased activities that involved any worship ritual.

But as Émile Durkheim reminds us, ‘religion is a whole composed of parts—a more or less complex system of myths, dogmas, rites and ceremony’.39 Ritual and ceremony are integral elements of a religion, but in the eyes of Yijing and other Buddhist elites, ritual and ceremo- ny only come second in importance to the Buddhist doctrine.

In Yijing’s record, but also in monastic biographies in general, we can detect another phenomenon; namely, it is not necessary that a qiufa monk returned to China. After all, the Western Regions is the land where Buddha lived and preached. As far as the early Buddhist texts are concerned, China is considered a borderland. We can sense this attitude in the following passage, in which Faxian describes his travel companion Daozheng 道整 (d.u.):

(In India), he witnessed the monastic regulations and the dignified demeanors of monks, which he could observe everywhere. He de- ploringly recalled the borderland of Qin with the lacunary and faulty precepts and disciplines practiced by the monks there. Therefore, he took the oath: ‘From this time forth until I reach the state of


40 Gaoseng Faxian zhuan, T no. 2085, 51: 1.864b29–c3.

41 Da Tang Xiyu qiufa gaoseng zhuan, T no. 2066, 51: 1.4b18–c10.

42 T no. 2066, 51: 2.8b25–c17.

Buddha, I vowed not to be reborn in a borderland’. He consequently remained (in India) and never returned to China.40

沙門法則, 眾僧威儀, 觸事可觀. 乃追歎秦土邊地, 眾僧戒律殘缺, 誓言自今已去至得佛, 願不生邊地, 故遂停不歸.

In Yijing’s record, there are many travelers who died during the travel, but we also find other travelers who remained and died in India by their own choice or due to external circumstances. Dasheng- deng 大乘燈 is one such example. He learned from Xuanzang for several years and probably because of the latter’s influence, he longed to travel to the Western Regions. He took the sea route and arrived in Sri Lanka where he paid homage to the relic of Buddha’s teeth. He then travelled to India where he remained for twelve years.

During this time, he mastered Sanskrit and could recite and read Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures. Later with Yijing, they together went on a pilgrimage in various places in India. According to the biogra- phy, Dashengdeng said that he feels compelled to stay in India and could only expect to return to China in the next life. Dashengdeng eventually passed away at the Parinirvāṇa Monastery 般涅槃寺 in Kushinagar 俱尸城41. Dashengdeng represents many Chinese monks in India who, after enduring numerous hardships, felt compelled to remain in India. Their decision to stay thus ended their prospect for becoming a great translator. Sengzhe and his disciples are among these expatriated monks.42 They broke away from the tradition estab- lished by Faxian and other qiufa monks.

II. External Points of Reference: Pilgrimage in Tibet and Mongolia In Religious Studies in the West, Pilgrimage Studies is a vibrant disci- pline. In comparison, Pilgrimage Studies in China is yet to emerge as


43 Turner, Ritual, 166.

44 According to the 2001 population census, there are 5.41 million Tibetans in China. In addition to a small number of Tibetans who hold Bon, Muslim and Christian faith, the majority are Buddhists; see Zeng, ‘Baogao’.

45 For an overview of the Western scholarship on the topic, consult this Chi- nese article: Cai, ‘Fenxi’.

46 Muchi, ‘Xianzhuang’.

a well-developed field. Regarding pilgrimage as a pan-religious prac- tice, V. W. Turner made an analysis and proposed that all pilgrimages share the following features: (1) The pilgrimage site is often located in a mountain or a forest far away from the residence of the pilgrim and generally far away from the city; (2) pilgrimage is perceived as outside a regular livelihood, the fixed social system and the secular world; (3) all marks of stratification, such as social or moral status, are temporarily erased; all pilgrims are equal; (4) pilgrimage is a personal choice but also a religious behavior that involves faith and asceticism;

(5) pilgrims share a common matrix of values that transcend the regulations of religion and transcend even the political and ethnical demarcations.43 In the case of Buddhism, Turner’s observation does not seem entirely suitable, but we should keep in mind that our knowledge about Chinese pilgrimage came from Chinese Buddhist sources whose accuracy in regard to reality should be put into doubt.

We should also analyze the cultural factors that influenced the Bud- dhist authors to intentionally distort the reality of pilgrimage.

Tibetan Buddhists are the most numerous among Buddhist pil- grims. In our studies of Chinese pilgrims, they could serve as a point of reference.44 A large number of Western scholarships on Tibetan pilgrimage has revealed that despite modernization, Tibetans retain their earlier Buddhist paradigm relatively well and continue to value pilgrimage as a duty and an aspiration in their life.45 Each pilgrimage is a significant life event that involves years of preparation with the entire family. Each year, over a million Tibetans will expend a costly sum of their savings in order to travel to Lhasa and other sacred places.46 During the pilgrimage, a Tibetan would perform a number of rituals, including reciting mantra, hanging prayer flags and pros-


47 Chen, ‘Xinli’, 18–20.

48 Chen, ‘Xinli’, 13.

49 I will not venture deeper into this topic for the time being, but hope that others could. At least on the surface, we could see a number of differences be- tween two forms of pilgrimages. For instance, Mongolian and Tibetan pilgrims pursue the singular goal of pilgrimage; and do not aspire to learn Buddhist teachings nor to retrieve texts, unlike qiufa monks such as Faxian. For them,

trating. Tibetan pilgrimage, comparing to that of other kinds, is more demanding physically, psychologically and financially.47 Besides, as a Tibetan, one is deeply influenced by one’s religious environment and has internalized two existential needs: the need to repent in order to overcome the difficulties in life and the need to accumulate merit which prepare for their eventual enlightenment. Pilgrimage, in the mind of Tibetan, is the most effective means to fulfill both needs, which explains why pilgrimage is the most commonly practiced ritual in Tibetan Buddhism.48

II.1 Causes behind the Separation of Two Pilgrimages: Social Class, Pilgrimage Distance and Finance

With Tibetan pilgrimage and other forms of pilgrimage as our point of reference, we can now return to the pilgrimage tradition estab- lished by Faxian and his followers and ask some essential questions:

what intention did they bear in mind when they started the journey?

In other words, what were the needs, the motives and the causes behind the pilgrimage? What spiritual experiences did they undergo?

What personal transformation has occurred by the end of their jour- ney? What was their gender, age, origin, religious sect, social status and intellectual disposition, etc.; and how did these factors influence the way they chose the site for pilgrimage? How did the style of the pilgrimage (timing, material condition, pattern of movement, etc.) differ from those of other religious groups? If we take into account the above questions in our studies of the tradition established by Faxian, Yijing and Xuanzang, we should be able to see the differences that set Chinese pilgrimage apart from its foreign counterparts.49


repentance and transformation are at the heart of the pilgrimage experience, which are not obvious components of Chinese pilgrimage. In terms of gender and age, Tibetan and Mongolian pilgrims show a wider spectrum than their Chi- nese counterparts, since pilgrimage encompasses almost the entire population in Mongolia and Tibet. In Chinese Buddhism, pilgrims were mostly young men, even though there were occasionally senior pilgrims such as Faxian (his age, how- ever, is still debatable). In regard to the social and education level, Tibetan and Mongolian pilgrims also show more diversity than Chinese pilgrims. Besides, they also prefer more arduous mode of pilgrimage, such as prostration and walk- ing, whereas Chinese pilgrims prefer the convenient means of transportation. In other words, Chinese pilgrims were not concerned with increasing the difficulty of travel as a means to satisfy their religious need. As for other more subtle differ- ences between Tibetan and Chinese Buddhists, a more nuanced analysis would be required.

50 Durkheim, Form, 41.

The anthropologist of religion, Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) has made the following remark about religion:

Religious beliefs proper are always shared by a definite group that professes them and that practices the corresponding rites. Not only are they individually accepted by all members of that group, but they also belong to the group and unify it. The individuals who comprise the group feel joined to one another by the fact of common faith.50 Interestingly, in the case of Faxian, Xuanzang and Yijing, even though their tradition is biased towards the ritual aspect of pilgrim- age, they created their own ‘ritual’ through the writing and inspired later Buddhists to imitate their ‘ritual’. From this perspective, we can say that pilgrimage is not only about religious faith but represents a way to reinforce one’s religious and social identity. By imitating a role model, one inherits one’s tradition. In Faxian’s case, we can thus say that Faxian was a model later imitated by Xuanzang, Yijing and other scholar-monks. As the tradition was repeated and reinforced by more travelers in history, it eventually morphed into a part of the collective memory shared by both Chinese Buddhists and laymen.


51 Chen, ‘Xinli’, 82. Chen commented on the collective identity among Ti- betan pilgrims.

It is also important to realize that two kinds of pilgrims—the elite monks (e.g. Faxian, Xuanzang, Yijing) and non-elite Buddhists—both view their respective pilgrimage as honorable. Each pilgrimage evolved to become a micro-culture within the general Buddhist culture and served as a ritual to reinforce a collective identity.51 This is not only true for mass believers who strengthened their Buddhist identity through pilgrimage, as exemplified by Tibetans, but it is also true for Buddhist elites who cemented a common identity by pursuing the goal of qiufa.

For Faxian and other elite Buddhists, their pilgrimage seems like purely an intellectual pursuit, but some subtle motives were involved at a deeper level, such as faith, repentance and the longing for religious protection. These motives, however, gradually lost their relevance in the writing. As this happened, the pattern of pilgrimage in China and India also shifted. In other words, intellectual elites reduced the sacredness and the ritual function that tended to be associated with India (though it is impossible to completely efface its sacredness; it is only relatively weakened in comparison to Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism). The elite representation of pilgrimage in turn influenced the non-elite population and compromised the general perception of India as being sacred. As Indian sacredness decreased, the sacred sites within China rose to prominence and filled the vacuum of sacred geography now unsatisfied by India. Cultural factors such as the cultural and ethnical pride and identity further fostered this rise of Chinese sacred geography.

II.2 Causes Underlying the Differences: Factor of Social Class, Geographical Distance and Wealth Transfer in Pilgrimage We should also be mindful that the participants of the qiufa tradition belong to a specific social class and that the qiufa tradition involves a secular dimension in addition to the sacred one. On this point, we can compare Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims. In her studies on Mongol pilgrims in Mount Wutai, Isabelle Charleux pointed out


52 Charleux, Nomads, 4.

53 Charleux, 60.

54 Charleux, 40.

that not only Mongolian aristocrats and lamas travelled to Mount Wutai, but so did Mongolian commoners.52 What caused this differ- ence between Tibetan and Chinese pilgrimage? First of all, the Bud- dhist population in Tibet and Mongolia is broader than in China.

In Chinese Buddhism, even at its peak of popularity, the percentage of Buddhist followers in relation to the overall Chinese population still lagged far behind the percentage in Tibet; and as for (historical) Mongolia, Buddhism encompassed almost the entire population.

Even in modern times, the majority of Tibetans and Mongolians still remain Buddhists, at odds with the situation in ancient China where only elite Buddhists possess the financial and material means and the will to travel to India. Isabelle Charleux, after a meticulous historical and anthropological investigation, concluded that ‘[Buddhism]

played a more important role than what we have previously thought [in Mongolia]’.53 This popularity of Buddhist faith in Mongolia fos- tered the popular participation in pilgrimage among all Mongolians.

On the other hand, even though Chinese Buddhists continuously travelled to India during the several hundred years lasting from the Six Dynasties period to the end of the Northern Song Dynasty, the popularity of pilgrimage never reached the same extent as in Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism.

When we study the pilgrimage phenomenon, we should place the qiufa tradition within a large context that includes other Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions. At the same time, we should also inves- tigate the act of pilgrimage itself and discover its various dimensions.

After all, pilgrimage is not only a performance of rite or a pursuit of intellect; it also involves the consumption and transference of a large sum of wealth. Mongolian pilgrimage, for example, always required the transference of commerce, wealth and commodities.54 Besides, different routes of pilgrimage demand different levels of material preparedness. The varying demands, as a result, stratifies Buddhist pilgrims according to their ability to fulfill them. On this last point,


55 Charleux, Nomads, 62.

we could still consult Charleux’s studies. She concluded that all Mongolians, regardless of the social class, could go on a pilgrimage, but Charleux also pointed out that the pilgrimage destination varied.

For Mongolian lamas, devout laymen and businessmen, they were willing to undertake a long journey, but the general population and women preferred nearby sites. Women, especially, were limited by their physical stamina so they favored Mount Wutai.55 In short, pilgrimage requires varying degrees of financial fitness. This reality stratified pilgrims according to their social status.

Bearing the above discussion in mind, we can detect a pattern in Chinese pilgrimage: India-bound Chinese pilgrims generally travelled a longer distance than their Tibetan and Mongolian counterparts, even when compared to Mongolians who travelled to Lhasa. Since longer travel demanded more physical stamina, religious devotion, Buddhist knowledge and financial capitals, pilgrimage in China nec- essarily remained the privilege of the elites who, in their turn, dictat- ed the ideal of pilgrimage in their writing and influenced the future pilgrims. Lastly, it is worth pointing out the domestic pilgrimage in China differed from the elite-centered international pilgrimage.

Domestic pilgrimage required less physical, financial and intellectual capacity, and therefore bears more similarities with the Tibetan and Mongolian pilgrimage.

Conclusion: How Faithful is the Written History to History Itself?

Pilgrimage is not a phenomenon tied to a particular Buddhist tra- dition and pervades other Buddhist and non-Buddhist religions.

Chinese pilgrimage, however, is somewhat unusual. It is a pilgrimage tradition with extensive written records which, through writing, morphed into a rigid form and influenced the way later Buddhists performed pilgrimage. It is an elitist vision of pilgrimage that empha- sizes the goal of seeking the Buddhist teaching. The present study has closely analyzed the sources that bear on the monks during the


56 Hou, Zaoxiang ji.

Jin and Tang Dynasty; and also established Tibetan and Mongolian pilgrimage as the point of references to study Chinese pilgrimage.

By now, hopefully it has become clear that Faxian, Xuanzang, Yijing and other qiufa monks have created their own tradition of pilgrimage which they established through the authority of their writing. The tra- dition is also responsible for concealing the true complexity of Chinese pilgrimage, chiefly due to the overpowering cultural trend dictated by Buddhist elites, but also due to Indian and Chinese geography. In short, this tradition, as well as the written records that it spawned, only reflects the elite perception of history rather than the actual history.

Even among the elite pilgrims who subscribed to the qiufa ideal, they still showed substantial differences in the style of their pilgrim- age, because of their diverse cultural and social backgrounds (e.g.

financial capacity). In the analysis of the Jin and Tang pilgrims, we discovered that some lesser-known pilgrims broke away from the tra- dition pioneered by Faxian. In fact, they shared more similarities with general Buddhist followers. At this point, we need to ask an apparent question: to what extent does the mainstream history of Buddhism, authored by Buddhist elites, reflect the true picture of Buddhist ac- tivities at the time?

Even among Buddhist elites who shared a common vision of pil- grimage, their actual pilgrimage still differed due to the differences in their culture and financial capacity. We could identify a number of qiufa monks during Jin and Tang whose pilgrimage seemed quite dif- ferent from Faxian, Xuanzang and other Buddhist elites, and shared more similarities with non-elite Buddhist pilgrims. Given these jar- ring observations, we have to question the accuracy of the historical account, written by Buddhist elites, in relation to the reality. Some studies have compared inscription with elites’ writing and revealed the discrepancy between the two.56 The present study focuses on the representation of pilgrimage in the Buddhist elite writing and discov- ers a similar deviation from reality. Then how much faith could we still place on the narrative in the Buddhist texts? This is a question that needs further meditation.


57 Chu sanzang ji ji. T no. 2145, 55: 13.97a21–22: 常謂入道資慧, 故專務經 .

58 T no. 2145, 55: 13.97c25–26: 方等深經蘊在西域. 護乃慨然發憤, 志弘大 道. 遂隨師至西域.

59 T no. 2145, 55: 13.97c27–28: 外國異言三十有六, 書亦如之. 護皆遍學, 貫 綜古訓, 音義字體, 無不備曉.

60 Gaoseng zhuan, T no. 2059, 50: 4.347a28–b2: 嘗讀經見雙樹鹿苑之處, 欝 而歎曰:“吾已不值聖人, 寧可不覩聖處.”於是誓往迦夷, 仰瞻遺迹.

61 T no. 2059, 50: 4.347a28b15: 唯朗更遊諸國, 研尋經論.

62 These three figures are not recorded in monastic biographies but are only mentioned in some catalogues; see Zhang, Sengren yanjiu, 13.

63 Huichang was involved in translating Bhikṣuṇīs Precepts 比丘尼大戒; see Chu sanzang ji ji, T no. 2145, 55: 11.81b24.

64 T no. 2145, 55: 11.81b24.

Appendix I

Qiufa Monks During Jin and Tang

No. Monastic

Name (s) Motive Background / Education Indic

Language Whether Arrived in India and Returned to China

Record of

pilgrimage Translation, Travelogue

1 朱士行 誓志捐 身, 遠迎《大 品》

不明, 學問

57 不明 到達西域,

未返 皆無

2 竺法護 求大 乘佛58

月氏人, 學

問僧 精通59 到達西域, 又返回了中原


無行記 3 康法朗 西天朝

60 不明 似通西

域文字61 到西域

折返 皆無

4 5 6



似為取62 不明 不明 曾到西域, 似返回了中原63

不明 慧常曾筆

受《比丘尼 戒本》64




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