AKIRA MIYAJI (1999) "Xuanzang Sanzang, a Bridge Between China and India: His Personality, Footsteps, and the Schools of Indian Art in his Times" a The Silk Road and the World of Xuanzang, Tokyo, Japan Unesco Association.
1. Personality of Xuanzang SanzangSanzang was originally the title given to any eminent monk, who had a thorough knowledge of the three "baskets" (Sanzang or tripitaka) of the Canon of Buddhist scriptures: the sutra (which contains discourses attributed to the Buddha himself, the vinaya (which deals with monastic discipline), and the abhidharma (which comprises analyses of the discourses of the Buddha). Sanzang did not refer to any particular person. Over the years, however, Monk Sanzang came to refer exclusively to Monk Xuanzang. He has had a strong impact down through the ages owing to his distinguished personality. What kind of person was he? What were his extraordinary attributes? These questions will he answered in light of the following three perspectives: (1) a religious man seeking truth, (2) a man determined to carry out his mission and a level-headed information gatherer, and (3)a pragmatic man.
First, he was a religious man seeking truth. This forms the core of his personality. He was extraordinary in that his ardent passion for the truths of Buddhist philosophy continued throughout his life. He studied Mahayanasamgraha translated by Paramartha and pursued his studies of Buddhist philosophy in China. Although his knowledge was then admired, he could not find solutions to numerous discrepancies and contradictions he encountered in his studies,. This led him to the decision to go to India, the holy land of Buddhism. The primary objective of his pilgrimage was to obtain the original text of Yogacarabhumi, the fundamental sutra of the Yogacara school, and to thoroughly study it. After he achieved his goal in India, he returned to China. Emperor Taizong was so enthralled by Xuanzang’s talent and extensive knowledge that he asked the monk to return to secular life and assist him in ruling the country. However, Xuanzang respectfully declined the Emperor’s offer and told the Emperor that he wotild like to devote himself to translating the sutras he brought back with him from India at the remote Shaolinsi Temple on Mt. Songyue. The Emperor wanted to have Xuanzang close to him, thus allowing him to engage in translation at the Zen temple of the Hongfusi Temple complex in Chang’an. Although the monk was frequently requested to come and see the Emperor, he devoted all his energies to translating Buddhist scriptures. He translated for the 19 years preceding his death in 664. By the time he completed the translation of the Mahaprajnaparamitasutra, composed of 600 volumes of sacred scrolls, he had exhausted himself physically and mentally. As shown above, he remained an ardent man of religion through his entire life.
Secondly, he was a man determined to carry out his mission and a level-headed information gatherer. His determination to set out on a pilgrimage to India in search of the authentic teachings of Buddhism derived from his passion as a seeker after truth. He actutally carried out his plan and successfully completed his mission. He was extraordinarily determined and talented in putting a plan into practice. He not only conmpleted his pilgrimage to India, learning Buddhist philosophy with great success at the holy place of Buddhism, but also recorded in detail a wide variety of information on the countries and regions he visited. He was a distinguished information gatherer with a level-headed perspective. After his return to China, Emperor Taizong first asked Xuanzang about the rulers, climate, products, manners and customs of the countries and regions he had visited in Central Asia and India, The monk gave the Emperor such detailed information that the Etnperor was deeply impressed. The Emperor, being ambitious to expand his territory, requested that the monk return to secular life and become one of his political advisors. However, the monk’s devotion to his religious mission was so strong that the Emperor instead ordered him to write a book containing the information ahout the various countries. In response to the Emperor’s request, Da Tang Xiyouji (Records of the Western Regions of the Great Tang Dinasty) was completed. Bianji, a disciple of Xuanzang, spent a little more than one year editing the records of Xuanzang’s journey on hehalf of his master who devoted himself to translating the sutras he had brought back with him.
Records of the Western Regions contains extremely systematic descriptions of the state of affairs in Central Asia and India. It includes the country name, size, capital city, products, climate, characteristics of the people, langtuage, costume, currency, ruler, and religion (practicing Buddhism or other religion) for each country. This hook illustrates that Xuanzangs records contained abundant, accurate, information on a vanety of subjects. This book also includes secondhand infomration about countries Xuanzang did not visit. Some descriptions do not accurately reflect actual sittuations. This tendency is especially strong in descriptions about western India. Nevertheless, this book still provides preeminent resources regarding situations in ancient India and Central Asia, for its descriptions are generally accurate.
As mentioned earlier, Records of the Western Regions is a very important book, providing information on the natural conditions, society, culture, and other regional characteristics. However, it only provides brief descriptions about the state of affairs of the countries. In contrast, the situations concerning Buddhism and the histories of holy sites occupy an extremely large portion of the hook. It is natural that Monk Xuanzang was interested in the subjects concerning Buddhism such as the holy sites, temples, the number of monks, and the dominant school of Buddhism in each country, either Hinayana ("lesser vehicle") or Mahayana ("greater vehicle"); however, the stories explaining the origins of the holy sites are overly long. On top of that, almost all such stories are cited from other sutras, unlike a typical text providing geographical descriptions. Prof. Kuwayama assumes that there was an original version of Records of the W’estern Regions, which contained more detailed information about the counties Xuanzang had visited and learned about, and that the information needed by the Tang officials was hermetically sealed and omitted from the original which then was filled in with citations from other documents. There is no supporting evidence, but it may he possible considering that Xuanzang was an exceptional information gatherer, and that the Tang dynasty strived to extend its power over neighboring countries.
In any case, Records of the Western Regions was an unsurpassed information resource used to understand the state of affairs of various countrie.s in Central Asia and India at that time. Indians left a large corpus of documents on religion and myths; however, they wrote almost no history or geography books. It was probably because, for Indians who believe in reincarnation. seeking and practicing religious truths is the matter of utmost importance, and therefore, they found almost no significance in writing about their history or in recording and. analyzing the then current state of affairs and circumstances. In contrast, the Chinese have traditionally placed great significance on recording historical and geographical information. It was important for the Chinese to examine reality, record it, and use the information in the future. Xuanzang stood on this Chinese tradition during his religious journey. Furthermore, he displayed exceptional abilities to collect information and to objectively observe the state of affairs.
Records of the Western Regions had an immeasurable impact on people in later years as a resource on India and Central Asia. Together with A Biography, this text has been frequently copied since Japan’s Nara period. It played a major role in shaping people’s emotions, creating a yearning for India: the birthplace of the Buddha and the heartland of Buddhism.
Records of the Western Regions was an essential source for information for modern archaeologists and Orientalists. Particularly for archaeologists who attempted to excavate in India and Central Asia, this book was considered the most authoritative text due to the accuracy of the descriptions and the amount of information it contains, Sir Aurel Stein, an unparalleled archaeologist, admired Xuanzang for his ability to keep clear and coherent records, comparing it to that of Alexander the Great and of Marco Polo. This great archaeologist always carried the English translation of Records of the Western Regions with him.
Thirdly, Xuanzang was pragmatic. As a religious man, he had a lofty aspiration after wisdom and the truth of Buddhism. To realize his religious goal, he diplomatically became acquainted with the rulers of the countries he visited, and in some occasions he took advantage of their powers. In this sense, he was certainly pragmatic. This is closely related to his practicality as displayed by completing his mission and by information gathering.
The pilgrim monk first visited the kingdom of Turfan during his travels in Central Asia. There, he was given a very warm reception by King Qu Wentai, a powerful ruler of Chinese descent, and was awarded many articles of clothing, gold, silver, and silk. He was escorted across the Tian Shan Mountains.At Suyab, he met with the Great Khan of the Western Turks and handed over the letter and gifts of the king of Turfan. Xuanzang successfully earned the support of the Great Khan. The Western Turks then ruled a vast area of Central Asia as far as Kapisi in present day Afghanistan. Xuanzang also received a warm welcome from the king of Kashmir. With support from the rulers of the countries be passed through, he finally arrived at the holy land of Buddhism. On his way back to China, he was also welcomed and supported by rulers. Harshavardana, the king of Harsha who was at the height of his powers as the ruler of northern India, invited Xuanzang to come to his kingdom. The king held a grand tournament, in wich Xuanzang engaged in theological debate with his opponents. Xuanzang won the debate, which lasted for eighteen days. The king celebrated his victory, praising his greatness. The king of Marsha tendered the monk his help by giving him gold and silver pieces to defray his expenses along the way, and furnished him with an elephant, horses, and many escorts to ensure a safe journey and to carry back the articles he had acquired during his pilgrimage. He also commanded his vassal kings in northern India to support this great pilgrim monk by providing him with escorts.
As these examples illustrate, Xuanzang met with rulers of great influence, gained their confidence, and received immeasurable support from them to ensure a safe journey to and from India. Xuanzang's superb personality and tremendous knowledge played a major role in gaining the confidence of such rulers, No other Chinese pilgrim monks to India in search of the teachigs of Buddhism met with the rulers of the time and become acquainted with them as did Xuanzang.
Before entering Chang’an, the capital of the Tang dynasty, Xuanzang sent a letter to Emperor Taizong from Khotan in Central Asia. He stayed there for seven or eight months until he received the Emperors permission to enter China. Together with a large library of Buddhist scriptures and some Buddhist images, he was greeted with immense enthusiasm of a huge crowd. Finally, the pilgrim monk made a triumphant return to China. As seen above, his remarkable determination, grasp of situations, level-headed perspective, and other unique talents enabled him to successfully complete his mission.
2. Xuanzang’s Time and his Footsteps
Xuanzang was born in the late Sui period and was active in the early Tang period. After 300 years of political fragmentation known as the Period of Disunion, the Sui dynasty reunified China (ruled 581-618). Wendi, the founder of the Sui dynasty, fostered Buddhism, working against the anti-Buddlhist policy executed. by Wudi of the Northern Zhou court. He built a new capital called Daxingcheng, which, under the name of Chang’an, remained the capital through the Tang dynasty. The second emperor Yangdi constructed a Grand Canal across the Chinese continent, stretching from Zhuojun near present-day Beijing through Jangdu (Yangzhou) as far as Hanzhou. He pursued a very active foreign policy. He supported the Eastern Turks in northern Central Asia, extending China’s territory by conquering the Tu-yu-hun people in Central Asia. He also ruled Southeast Asia including Champa in southern Vietnam. In addition, he made three campaigns in the kingdom of Koguryo in the Korean peninsula. However, the labor imposed on people for the fashioning of the Grand Canal and the failure in the conquest of northern Korea generated popular rebellion, thus leading to the speedy demise of the dynasty.
Xuanzang was born in the province of Henan in approximately 602 and spent his boyhood there. He was taken to the Pure Land Monastery in Luoyang by one of his elder brothers and there entered the Buddhist priesthood. Luoyang fell into chaos caused by the political turmoil in the late Sui period. Xuanzang first fled to Chang'an. However, unable to find a good teacher, he found it difficult to pursue his studies. He then made his way to Chengdu in Sichuan. There he was fully ordained as a monk, in 622during the early Tang period. From the late Sui to the early Tang periods, he took firm steps to become a man of religion.
What was the situation in the early Tang period? Gaozu, the founder of the Tang diynasty, spent all his energy during his reign (618-626)to pacify the Sui remnants and the disorder which had prevailed in the country since the late Sui period. The second emperor Taizong (ruled 626-649) successfully established a centralized political system based on centrally codified law and procedure. In other words, the administration controlled the people based on the centralized legislation system, which was composed of the equal land allocation system; the tax system in which every adult male paid a head tax in grain and cloth, and in the form of labor; the system of conscription of men into the army; and the registration system. This manner of government established order, and at the same time, the central government gained enormotts power with the emperor as the head.
Based on such strong political power, Emperor Taizong established a vast empire in east Asia. He first conquered the Eastern Turks, a powerful country of nomads in the north, taking advantage of the split of the nomadic country in 630. He then defeated the powerful kingdom of Tibet which had invaded Sichuan, and then made peace. The Emperor made Princess Wencheng mrry the king of Tibet, Sron-btsan-sgam-po in 641, and exercised influence on Tibet. Taking advantage of the weakened influence of the Western Turks in Central Asia after the death of the Great Khan of the Western Turks, who ruled the area with his headquarters in the north of the Tian Shan Mountains, the Emperor conquered the kingdom of Turfan in 640. He succeeded in extending his territory as far as Central Asia. Finally, he turned his attention to the Korean peninsula. He invaded Kogumyo twice in 647 and 648, but his campaigns did not succeed. (The succeeding emperor Gaozong defeated the state of Paekche. He formed an alliance with the state of Silla and finally conquered Koguryo.)
Xuanzang retturned to Changan two years after he was fully ordained as a monk in Chengdu. A few years later, he decided to set out on a pilgrimage to India to study Buddhism at its fountainhead. Probably in 627 or 628, the monk left Chang'an, traveling across Central Asia to India. It was just before Emperor Taizong gained control over the entire east Asia.
Xuanzang proceeded from Chang'an through Taizhou (Tianshui) to Lanzhou. He arrived at Liangzhou (Wuwei) where he learned of the Emperors eddict prohibiting anyone from leaving the country. He hid by day and traveled by night along the Gansu corridor, and finally arrived at Guazhou (Anxi). From there onward, he traveled across a harsh desert, narrowly escaping death. He finally arrived at Hami. There, the famous pilgrim monk was welcomed by an escort sent by the king of Turfan. The King was so impressed with the monks knowledge that he tried to dissuade the monk from going to India and requested the monk stay in his kingdom for an extended period of time. The pilgrim monk promised to stop at Turfan on his return journey’ to China (however, this promise was not realized due to the conquest of the kingdom of Turfan by the Tang dynasty during his pilgrimage). He received from the King a royal letter and gifts to the Great Khan of the Western turks along with various articles and. substantial amount of gold and silver to cover his travel expenses.
Turfan flourished as an oasis linking the East and the West for many years. The kingdom of Turfao was founded by Qu, a monarch of Chinese descent, in 498. The kingdom was annexed to China in 640. The area was under the control of the Tang government until it fell to Tibet, which controlled it from 790 to the latter half of the 9th century. Records of the Western Regions starts with the kingdom of Karashahr with no mention of the kingdom of Turfan. It was probably because the kingdom of Turfan was under the control of the Tang dynasty when this hook was being compiled. Since the early 20th century, archaeological excavations and surveys have been conducted there. Many archaeological sites have been discovered: two ancient towns, Kharakhoja and Yarkhoto; cave temples of Toyok, Sangim-Agis, Bezekhik, and Murtuk; and Astana Graves.
After leaving Turfan, Xuanzang entered Kucha via Karashahr. According to Records of the Western Regions, the people in Kucha practiced the sarvastivadin school of the Hinayana Buddhism. Their Budldlhist doctrine and writing were highly influenced by those of India, and the people were extremely skillful with wind and stringed musical instruments. Kucha flourished as an important oasis kingdom on theNorthem Silk Road. The ruins of the Duldur-Aqur Temple and of the Subhasi Temple as well as the cave temples at Kizil, Kumtura, and Simsim are well-known today. The caves at Kizil are especially well-known as prominent cave temples in Central Asia, both for their size and for the many marvelous wall paintings they house. The motifs of those wall paintings are all related to Hinayana: tales of the Buddha’s previous lives, scenes from the Buddha’s life and legends, Buddhist tales, and Maitreya Bodhisattva. The strong influence of Hinayana Buddhism conforms to Xuanzang’s descriptions.
Xuanzang left Kutcha, went to Baluka (Asku?), then crossed the chain of the Tian Shan Mountains, traveling north by the Bedal Pass. The pilgrim monk met with the Great Khan of the Western Turks at Suyab (near Tokmak in present-day Kyrgyzstan). The young Chinese monk handed over the letter and gifts of the king of Turfan to the Great Khan, who became so delighted that the ruler ordered an escort to accompany the pilgrim as far as Kapisi in Afghanistan. Owing to support from the king, who ruled a vast area of Central Asia, the pilgrim monk traveled through Central Asia without mttch difficulty.
The pilgrim visited Tashkent, the capital of present-day Uzbekistan. and arrived at Samarkand, the ancient capital of Sogdiana. Over the pass called the Iron Gates, he entered Tokhara. A Biography records that the king and the people of Samarkand practiced Zoroastrianism, not Buddhism. Archaeological surveys have found almost no Buddhist ruins there. In contrast, the above book mentions that Buddhism flourished in Termez on the northern side of the Oxus River, and in Balkh on the southern side of the River in northern Afghanistan.
Xuanzang went south from Balkh in Afghanistan through the Hindu Kush Mountains to Bamiyan. Buddhism was flourishing remarkably in Bamiyan in Xuanzang’s time. The monk mentioned the magnificence of the two statues of the Great Buddha (38 meters and 55 meters high) cut into the face of the rock, and the great Buddha’s nirvana statute. There are also three images of the seated Buddha carved from the rock, as well as 750 caves. There remain some murals and clay ornamentation. These were the preeminent Buddhist cave temples in Afghanistan, and are thought to have been active primarily between the 6th and the 7th centuries.
Xuanzang descended the Hindu Kush Mountains to enter the capital of Kapisa. This powerful kingdom extended as far as Gandhara. The king gave him a warm welcome. Buddhism, chiefly belonging to Mahayana Buddhism, was remarkably influential. However, not a few people practiced Hinduism. The Kushan ruler Kanishka had his summer palace in Kapisi. The archaeological excavations of Begran (Kapisi) by a French mission discovered, from the ruins considered to have been that royal palace, glassware, bronze statuettes, and plaster tablets from the Mediterranean Roman world together with carved ivories from India. Shotorak and Paitava are also well-known Buddhist ruins in the area. However, almost no archaeological sites and artworks which existed in Xuanzangs time have been discovered. However, Shvetashvatara located to the south of the castle has been identified as Tapa Skandar, which was excavated by a Kyoto University expedition team.
Records of the Wastern Regions gives a long introdtiction to India following the Kapisa section. Then it describes Laghman, Nagarahara, in present-day southern Afghanistan and Gandhara in modern-day Pakistan. The placement of the descriptions concerning these areas after the Indian introductory section indicates that Xuanzang considered these areas as part of India. Historically, these areas were the melting pots of he Hellenistic-Roman, Iranian, and central Indian traditions. Many Buddhist ruins also remain in these areas.
Gandhara, which served as the center of northwest India is well-known for the flowering of Buddhist art beginning in the Kushan period. Gandharan stone and stucco Buddhist statues (from 1st to the 5th centuries) are on display. Many bronze statues originated in later periods. When Xuanzang visited there, Gandhara was under the control of the Kapisa kingdom.The region was desolate and Buddhism had lost its power. The pilgrim visited the tower stupa of King Kanishka and many of the holy places associated with tales of the Buddha’s previous lives. He also visitednumerous sacred places at Udyana in the Swat Valley and at Taxila. He wrote about such places and thought of the former flowering of Buddhism.
At that time, of all kingdoms in northwest India, Buddhism thrived chiefly in Kashmir, The kingdom of Kashmir was as powerful as Kapisa, and had many eminent Buddhist monks. Challenged by its intellectual atmosphere, Xuanzang spent two years studying Buddhism BEFORE entering the heartland of India.
Mathura, a gateway to central India. has stupas of the Buddhas disciples such as Shariputra and Matidgalyayana. Both Buddhism and hinduism were followed. A major school of Indian art flourished at Mathura dluring the period from the Kushan to the Gupta periods. The Mathura school produced substantial numbers of beautiful Buddhist images carved from red sandstone. Mathura is also known as the birth place of Krishna, a Hindu god, thus housing many sculptures of Hindu divinities.
Xuanzang traveled to the following sites in central India: Kapithaka or Sankashya, which is famous for the legend of Buddha’s descent from Trayastrimsha heaven; Kanyakubja, the capital of King Harshavardana; Kaushamhi, the capital of King Udayana, for whom, according to legend, the first image of the Buddha was made; Shravasti, where the Jetavana Monastery or Jetavanavihara was located; Kapilavastu, where the Budldha was born and grew up; Kushinagara, where the Buddha died; Sarnath in Varanasi, where the Buddha preached his first sermon; Vaishali, where Vimalakirti, a lay follower of the Buddha, had lived and where the Stupa of the Monkey’s Gift is located; Pataliputra (near present-day Patna), the capital of King Ashoka; Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment; Rajagriha, where Vulture Peak and many other historic sites related to the life of the Budldlha are located; and Nalanda Monastery, his final destination.
There are substantial numbers of Buddhist vestiges in central India as expected of the birthplace of Budldlhism. Buddhist art also blossomed there. Especially in the Gupta period(the mid-4th to the mid-6th centuries), many meditative, graceful, images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas were carved from the buff Chunar sandstone in Sarnath. Together with the Mathura school, this Sarnath Gupta style greatly influenced later Buddhist statues. Particularly in the Pala period (the mid-8th to the 12th centuries), many stone and bronze images of Buddhist deities were produced in Bodh Gaya and Nalanda. They included images of the Buddha which illustrate scenes from his life, Buddhist triad, images of Bodhisattvas such as Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri, images of Mahavairochana and other esoteric Buddhist deities, and images of various female deities. Bodh Gaya became a holy place for Buddhist pilgrims because of its religious importance as the place where the Buddha achieved enlightenment. Many Buddhist images and votive stupas were donated, and miniature models of the Mahabodhi Temple became popular. Nalanda dlevelopedl as Asia’s largest monastery-university. Many monasteries were built and numerous Buddhist images were produced in Nalanda.
Nalandu made rapid prrogress after Xuanzang’s stay. Only a few remaining artworks date back to the 7th century. The pilgrim monk visited India during the post-Gupta period (the mid-6th to the mid 8th centuries), which is a transitional period from tile Gupta to the Pala dynasties. During this period, Hinduism gradually gained more ground in Indlia as a whole. In other words, the post-Gupta was immediately before the last flowering of Buddhism, above all, the flourishing esoteric Buddhism, under the Pala dynasty.
In all events, Xuanzang studied the Yogacara scriptures and other teachings of Buddhism for many years under the Venerable Shilabhadra at Nalanda Monastery. He finally mastered the secrets of Buddhism and was admired by Indian monks for his thorough knowledge of Buddhist philosophy.
Later, the eminent monk visited Samatata, Tamrallipti and Orissa in eastern India, He traveled to Kalinga, Andhra, Dhanyakataka, and Dravida in southern India. He recorded that Buddhism was popular in those areas, which are the present-day provinces of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu.
At Asuaravati near the former capital Dhanyakataka, there are remains of the Buddist stupa, where many limestone reliefs depicting scenes from the Bttdldha’s life and Buddhist images have been excavated. Buddhist ruins at Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda, both in the basin of the Krishna River, are we1l known in southern India. Approximately 50 Buddhist ruins have been excavated in the province of Andhra Pradesh, revealing that Buddhism there thrived primarily from the 2nd to the 4th centuries. Evidence suggests that Buddhism was followedl until approximately the 10th century in some areas. Many esoteric Buddhist artworks dating back to the 8th through the 10th centtiries have been excavated from Ratnagiri, Lalitagiri, Udayagin, and other Buddhist ruins in the province of Orissa. Stone and bronze Buddhist sculptures, which originated in the Hindu Chola dynasty (the 9th to the 13th centuries), have been found in the province of Tamil Nadu. This indicates that Buddhism was followed for a longer period in southern India.
Xuanzang apparently traveled to western India from southern India. However, descriptions about western India in A Biography and Records of the Western Regions are brief, and many of them contradict the actual situation at that time and historical fact, therefore, his travels in western India will not he described here. After returning to Nalanda, the Chinese monk prepared himself for his return journey to China.
On his way back to his homeland, Xuanzang was invited to the kingdom of Harsha by King Harshavardana, who exercised great influence over central India. Xuanzang participated in a religious debate in the grand tournament at Kanyakubja sponsored by the King, and attended the King’s sixth Quinquennial Almsgiving. Following those events, the pilgrim monk received immense support from the King and finally continued on his journey to China. He traveled west from Taxila in northwest India, and crossed the Hindu Kush Mountains with a guide and porters provided by the king of Kapisa. His caravan entered Kunduz. Then, the pilgrim monk traveled through the Wakhan corridor in the Pamir mountain ranges, and stayed at Tashkurghan before entering Khotan in present-day Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Like Kucha on the Northern Silk Road, Khotan was the largest oasis on the Southern Silk Road. The Mahayana Buddhism flourished. The king claimed to be a descendant of Pishamentian. There were many holy sites and temples. Substantial numbers of temple ruins, sculptures, wall paintings, and tablets were discovered by the archaeological expeditions of Sir Aurel Stein in the early 20th century. The excavated tablets include those depicting faith in Pishamentian, the legend of the Silk Princess, and the legend of the sacred rats, as described by Xuanzang; and Vairocana Buddha in the Mahayana.
On his return journey to China, Xuanzang did not stop at the kingdom of Turfan as he promised hecause it had been conquered by the Tang dynasty. In Khotan, Xuanzang wrote a letter requesting permission to return to China to Emperor Taizong and entrusted it to a messenger. Seven or eight months later, the Emperors permission finally reached him. At last, the great monk returned to Chang'an in 645 after his seventeen-year pilgrimage.
3. Art of the Holy Land of India, the Destination of Xuanzangs PilgrimageXuanzang reached India in the second quarter of the 7th century, when India was in the post-Gupta period (the mid-6th to the mid-8th centuries). India was making a major shift from its ancient to its medieval period. The Gupta period (the mid-4th to the mid-6th centtiries) is generally considered the golden age of ancient India. I’he Gupta dynasty flourished under a strong and stable political system. Based on economic prosperity through active trading, it saw cultural brilliance in a wide variety of fields such as religion, philosophy, literature, and art. However, the invasion by Hunas in the mid-5th century and the political independence of small kingdoms in the Gupta territory severely damaged the Gupta dynasty. Its territory was greatly reduced, and the dynasty finally collapsed in the mid-6th century. The post-Gupta period continued until the founding of the Pala dynasty in the mid-8th century. In the early 7th century when Xuanzang visited India, King Harshavardana reunited central India for a short period of time. After his death, the kingdom of Harsha immediately collapsed, leaving this region unstable again. The post-Gupta period was an unstable and transitional period, but at the same time, there was an indication of a new culture.
Historically, ancient Indian Buddhist art had two peaks: the first one in the 2nd century and the second in the 5th century. From the 1st to the 5th centuries, Indian Buddhist art showed relatively continuous development and flourished in the following three centers: Gandhara in northwest India, Mathura in central India, and Andhradesa in southern India with its most important centers being Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda until the mid-4th century. From the viewpoint of early exchanges with China, Gandhara and Mathura are important. In particular, Gandhara had the strongest influence on early Chinese art.
Gandhara is located in present dlay Pakistan in the area of the upper reaches of the Indus River. Around the 2nd cenutry BC and thereafter, the region had been invaded by Greeks, Scythians, and Parthians. Under the Kushan rtilers (the mid 1st to the 3rd. centuries AD), Gandharan art flourished. The Kushans established a large kingdom extending from Central Asia to northern India, and it flourished economically through overseas trading with Rome. Gandhara thrived as the center of the Kushan dinasty. Buddhism gained more ground primarily among the royal family, notables, and merchants. Accordingly, many temples were erected and Buddhist sculptures were donated. The Kushan dynasty was defeated by Sassanian Persia in the mid-3rd century. With the fall of the dynasty, the Gandhara style of Buddhist art temporally declined; however, it intermittently flourished until the mid-6th century. One century after the invasion of the Hephthalites (White Huns), this school did not survive.
Northwest India, with Gandhara functioning as its center was the most important Buddhist center from the Hou Han period to the Period of Disunion, when Buddhism was introduced into China and saw its first flowering there. Monks from Central Asia and India studied Buddhism in Gandhara. Many of them went to China while many Chinese monks in search of wisdom and the truth of Buddhism set out on pilgrimages to Gandhara.
The most typical image of the Gandharan Buddha is characterized by well-defined features, wavy hair, a thick cloak Covering both shoulders, the natural drapery of heavy and shallow lines, and an organic relationship between the body and the drapery. It is likely that Roman art influenced the Gandhara style. These statues seem to have been produced in large quantity around the 2nd and 3rd centuries. During the same perionl, many reliefs depicting scenes of the Buddha’s life and legends were produced along with single images of the Buddha and those of Bodhisattvas.
Besides these, there have been found reliefs depicting lay followers of Buddhism, especially those depicting worshippers annl donors who were kings, notables, and merchants. Many interesting subjects and motifs derived from cultural exchanges between the East and the West. They include Hellenic-Roman images of winged Atlas, and of Vajrapani which looks like Hercules, and Panchika, the general of yakshas (the tree god associated with fertility and wealth).
Together with stone sculpttures and carvings, many stucco statues were produced in Gandhara. They became especially popular in late Gandhara art from 4th to the 5th century. Many famous stucco statues were excavated from temple ruins in Hadda in Afghanistan and those in Taxila in Pakistan. Others were also excavated in Gandhara and Swat. The flexible nature of stucco allows these statues to demonstrate free, vivid, and realistic gestures and movements, and to further show the inner realm of spirituality.
The Gandhara school of art came to an end in the mid- 6th century. This school of Buddhist art was later strongly influenced by the Indian Gupta style. This new- blended form of art flourished in the mountainous areas in Swat and Kashmir. When Xuanzang visited India, Indian art was in the middle of changes in style. Beginning in the 8th century, esoteric Buddhist art and Hindu art also thrived.
So far, Gandharan art of northwest India has been described. What was central Indian art like? Buddhist art appeared in Bharhut, Bodh Gaya, and Sanchi in central India after the 2nd century BC. In the Kushan period, Mathura became the central Indian center of Buddhist art. Mathura thrived alongside the northwestern art center of Gandhara, functioning as one of the two great art centers of Buddhist sculpture. After the fall of the Kushan dynasty, like Gandhara, Mathura continued as the production center of Buddhist images until the mid-6th century of the Gupta period.
The Mathura school is characterized by red sandstone and the Indian tradition of strong and sensuous modeling. The Kushan Mathura statutes around the 2nd century display the appearance of youth with widely opened eyes and a strong hody, while the Gupta Mathura statutes in the 5th century are characterized by meditative features and a well-fleshed, graceful body. In any event. Mathura statues make a contrast with Gandharan images, which show Hellenic-Rotnan influences of realism.
Mathura sculptures and carvings include images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, and reliefs illustrating scenes of the Buddha’s life. Images of yaksbas and yakshis, indigenotus deities associated with fertility and wealth, are the distinctive feature of the Mathura school. The yaksha was originally a spirit hidden in a holy tree. Later, this tree god was adopted by Buddhism. Yakshas appeared as the four guardian kings and guardians of the gates. They also took the shape of a small, pottbellied, humorous, deity. The female deity yaksho was notably popular in Mathura. Many charming sculptures of the tree goddess taking a variety of postures decorated railing pillars surrounding stupas. Some Kushan sculptures of yakshos took the shape of secular female images, which resemble prostitutes who were active in prosperous cities.
The Mathura school not only produced Buddhist artworks, but also statuettes of Hindu divinities such as Shiva, Vishnu, and Durga (the wife of Shiva) in the late Kushan period. Especially in the Gupta period and thereafter, more Hindu sculptures appeared in increasing frequency.
As seen above, Mathura flourished as a great center of Buddhist art in central India from the 1st through the 5th centuries AD. From the beginning of the 5th century, a new developtnent of Buddhist art took place in central Asia. The Gandhara and Mathura schools blended into a unique Central Asian style. In the 6th and 7th centuries, this new style was influenced by the Sassassian Persian tradition, presenting a wider variety of styles.
Xuanzang visited India during the post-Gupta period (the mid-6th to the mid-8th centuries), when a major transformation was taking place. Gandhara and Mathura were no longer the two major art centers. Instead, several small centers were being developed in central India. Sculptures of the post-Gupta period have been found at sites related to the Buddha, chiefly in Bodh Gaya, Nalanda, and Patna in present-day Bihar as well as in Mathura and Sarnath. This suggests that Buddhist sculptune was produced in a wide area of central India, although particulars of the post-Gupta period are still unknown. Descniptions in Records of the Western Regions indicate that major Buddhist sites featured statuary related with local Buddhist legend.
Unfortunately, only a limited number of existing Buddhist sculptures originated in the 7th century. An overwhelming number of statues date back to the Pala period (the mid-8th to the 12 centuries). The Pala dynasty flourished primarily in Bihar and Bengal. The rulers protected Buddhism and erected large temples.
A substantial number of stone and metal sculpture originated in the Pala period. They inclttde traditional images of the Buddha; however, most of them are images of deities of esoteric Buddhism: figures of the Five Buddhas of Vajradhatti; Mahavairocana; Akshobhya; the crowned Buddha; four-armed, six-armed, annl twelve-armed Avalokiteshvara; eight great Budhisattvas; the Goddess Tara; and the Goddess Chunda. As seen above, sculptures appeared in an increasing variety.
Xuanzang visited India after the flowering of the two major styles of Buddhist art: the Gandhara and Mathura schools, and immediately before the rise of esoteric Buddhism. The post-Gupta style presumably followed the tradition of the Gupta style, and at the same time underwent regional development in several areas formed around Buddhist sites in central India.
Xuanzang brought back from India with him a large collection of 657 scrolls of Buddhist scriptures bound in 520 cases, 150 pellets of the Buddha’s relics, and seven statues of the Buddha. The pilgrim monk’s main interest was in the suttras.
These seven statutes, including one silver and two golden images, no longer exist. Judging from their sizes, the silver and golden images were presumably gilt. The remaining four statues were made of sandalwood. Ancient sandalwood statues no longer exist in India, however, sandalwood statues were common at that time, and it is likely that these small portable sandalwood images played a major role in the transmission of Buddhist art throughout Asia.
Xuanzang might have specifically ordered some of the above Buddhist statutes where he stayed. Some of them might have been prevalent at that time. In any case, judging from the names of the statues, they were likely to depict scenes of the Buddhas life.
In any event, when China was in the Period of Disunion, Gandhara was the center of India. During the time of Xuanzang, the center was shifted to central India. It was not one strong center. Instead, small centers appeared.