of the Lives
of the High Masters
THE INLAND ROUTE IN SEARCH OF SUTRAS
WENT, NOT TEN RETURNED
Tripitaka Master Hua
by Disciple Bhiksuni Heng Ch’ih
from issue 53
Chinese people who went to India to seek the Buddhadharma exchanged their lives
for it. It was not to invade India, or to steal her treasures that they
renounced their very lives, but to seek the Buddhadharma. Americans have many blessings, for they have at their disposal, without
any particular effort on their parts, complete and accurate texts of the Sutras
which have been passed down from the virtuous high monks of China, Sutras which
have been studied and certified by Bodhisattvas and Arhats. Now they should be
translated into English, which is also not a particularly difficult task.
Jing froze to death and Fa Hsien caressed his corpse crying, "Our original
vow has not been fulfilled. Now you are dead, but I am not discouraged. With
even firmer resolve I will go on and get the Buddhadharma." So saying, he
continued on through more than thirty countries until he arrived at a temple
about thirty miles from Rajagrha.
his arrival he told the several hundred monks residing at the temple that he was
from China, and that he had come to seek the Buddhadharma. What he wished to do first, he said, was visit Vulture Peak.
can't go there!" was the monks' reaction. "It's too dangerous. Nobody
dares go to Vulture Peak these days. It was all right when the Buddha was in the
world, but it won't work now. You can't go."
not?" Fa Hsien asked, "why could the Buddha go there but we
replied, "When the Buddha was in the world he had spiritual powers to
defeat evil animals, beasts, and demons. Now on Vulture Peak the panthers alone
are ferocious, not to mention the other wild animals. The black cats devour men
on sight, and nobody could even begin to estimate the number of panthers roaming
been through all sorts of difficulties on my journey from China,” Fa Hsien
replied emphatically. "There were poisonous snakes and evil beasts every
day, and I wasn't afraid to die then. Now I am at the foot of Vulture Peak. How
could fear of death possibly stop me from paying my respects at a place where
the Buddha taught?"
monks from the temple were sent to accompany him. It took an entire day to get
to the top where Sakyamuni Buddha had dwelled. By the time they arrived night
had begun to fall. "We'll stay here," said Fa Hsien.
want to stay here?" repeated the two monks incredulously. "We'll be
eaten alive by the panthers! There are no two ways about it. We should start
not going back tonight," said Fa Hsien. "If you don't want to remain,
you can return."
soon as he said that, the two monks dropped all pretence of courtesy and left
saying, "If you want to stay here and be eaten by panthers, it's your
business. We still want to spread the Buddhadharma, and can't give up our
lives." Fa Hsien was left alone on the mountaintop.
began bowing just as if Sakyamuni Buddha were still there speaking the Dharma.
With the traces of the Sages right before his eyes, he bowed and bowed with
great sincerity. But eventually the prediction made by the monks at the temple
came true. Three panthers moved in on him. The cats were fiercer than tigers and
totally merciless. Their sleek bodies crept closer and closer while they licked
their chops and flipped their tails as prelude to the pounce.
Fa Hsien, who was
reciting mantras at the time, said to them, "If you wish to eat me you'll
have to wait until I finish reciting the Sutras and mantras. Once I've finished,
I'll give you my body so that you can tie up conditions with the Dharma.
However, if you don't wish to tie up conditions, but have just come to test me,
then get out of here immediately! Don't hang around."
he finished addressing them, the three panthers knelt at his feet and Fa Hsien
reached down and rubbed the tops of their heads just as if they were house cats.
After a while the cats left, probably deciding among themselves that since one
person wasn't enough for the three of them, it would be better if none of them
feasted. Fa Hsien, virtually in the panthers' mouths, got off with his life.
dawn he began to walk back. After about a mile he met an extremely large person
who wore rugged clothes and appeared to be over ninety years old. It was only
after they passed one another that Fa Hsien realized the man was no ordinary
person. Not really stopping to think who he might be, he turned around to take
another look, only to find that the huge man had disappeared. A little farther
along the road he met a monk and Fa Hsien said, "Who was that tall
monk laughed and said, "HIM? He is the Great Disciple Mahaksayapa."
Hearing this Fa Hsien turned to address the monk only to find that he too
had disappeared into thin air. Fa Hsien realized that he was having an
returned to the temple and took up the study of Sanskrit. One day he noticed a
food offering on the altar and recognized it as Chinese Realizing that a Chinese
merchant must have docked recently, he went out to find him, and was able to
secure passage on the return trip to China. He packed up the numerous Sangha
precepts, Bodhisattva precepts, Sutras, and other sections of Vinaya as well as
Agama texts, and the boat set sail for China.
the passage a violent windstorm blew the boat off course and it ended up on the
shores of some unknown land. It is due to this incident that there are in the
language of Mexico to this day features, which bear a similarity to ancient
Chinese. This also accounts for the occurrence of some Chinese-style
architecture evident in Mexico and also for similarities in the iconography.
When Fa Hsien and the hundred or so people on that merchant ship were blown
across the Pacific to Mexico they lived among the people there for five months
and during that time taught the natives their language and showed them various
the boat left Mexico it carried over two hundred people, as some Mexicans wished
to travel to China. Not long after it set sail the winds rose again, threatening
the safety of the ship. Everyone on board banded together to lay the blame on Fa
Hsien, saying that his presence on board was the reason for the repeated storms.
The mob was preparing to throw Fa Hsien overboard as a sacrifice to the god of
the sea in order to calm the winds and waves.
as they moved toward Fa Hsien, a devoted Dharma protector of his stepped in and
said loudly, "If you intend to throw this Sramana into the sea, you will
have to toss me in first. If you don't get rid of me, when we get to China I
will report you to the Emperor and you will all surely lose your lives. The
Emperor believes in the Buddha and venerates the Triple Jewel; therefore, if you
throw this monk into the sea, none of you will have long to live. The Dharma
protector, in addition to being persuasive, was very powerful as well. Sizing
him up, the merchants realized that they would have difficulty overcoming him,
and several at least would lose their lives. All cowards, they didn't dare throw
Fa Hsien into the sea. After more than twenty days, nei huo, a plant native only
to China, was sighted growing along a shore, and word spread that the boat had
natives of Shantung informed the Governor that Fa Hsien had arrived, and the
Governor, who believed in the Buddha, came personally to welcome him. He invited
Fa Hsien to reside at the Governor's mansion for a year, but the Dharma Master
declined saying that after his long stay in India he wanted to return to the
capital, Ch'ang An. Realizing that he couldn't detain Fa Hsien, the Governor
permitted him to go on his way. He went on to Tao Ch'ang Monastery where Chiao
Hsien (see VBS #59) resided, and began to translate the Sutras he had brought,
back from India. His translations include the Sangha Vinaya, the Nirvana Sutra,
and over a hundred other texts. At
age 86 he completed the stillness.
the Sutras he translated, the Nirvana Sutra was the One, which many people
particularly liked to study and recite. Once a layman, whose name has been
forgotten, had a handwritten copy of the Nirvana Sutra, which somehow got mixed
in with the secular books in his collection. One day his house caught fire and
all the books burned with the exception of the copy of the Nirvana Sutra, which
remained totally untouched by the flames. Everyone found the incident
incredible, and it caused many to take up the study of that Sutra.
other point of interest is that when Fa Hsien was in India he witnessed the
annual appearance of a white-eared dragon. This local dragon spirit protected
the area and caused there to be an abundant harvest every year provided that the
people in that locale made an annual offering to him. The dragon, which looked like a snake except for its white ears, made its
appearance while Fa Hsien was in the area.
Master Fa Hsien's merit and virtue with regard to the Buddhadharma is very
great, and he is an outstanding figure in the history of Chinese Buddhism.
The major Mahayana scriptures are explained every day at Gold Mountain
Monastery. At the present time an Avatamsaka assembly, rare because of the vast
scope of this Sutra, is in progress. The king of Sutras containing the complete
expression of the ultimate enlightenment of Buddhahood is being explained at
seven weekly lectures. Nights at 7:00 and weekends at 12:30 and 7:00 PM. There
is no charge for lectures on the Dharma; the public is welcome to attend.