Hinduism and Buddhism, An Historical Sketch, Vol. 3 (of 3)
by Charles Eliot
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The paintings of Central Asia resemble its manuscripts. It is impossible to look through any collection of them without feeling that currents of art and civilization flowing from neighbouring and even from distant lands have met and mingled in this basin. As the reader turns over the albums of Stein, Grunwedel or Le Coq he is haunted by strange reminiscences and resemblances, and wonders if they are merely coincidences or whether the pedigrees of these pictured gods and men really stretch across time and space to far off origins. Here are coins and seals of Hellenic design, nude athletes that might adorn a Greek vase, figures that recall Egypt, Byzantium or the Bayeux tapestry, with others that might pass for Christian ecclesiastics; Chinese sages, Krishna dancing to the sound of his flute, frescoes that might be copied from Ajanta, winged youths to be styled cupids or cherubs according to our mood.[481]

Stein mentions[482] that he discovered a Buddhist monastery in the terminal marshes of the Helmund in the Persian province of Seistan, containing paintings of a Hellenistic type which show "for the first time in situ the Iranian link of the chain which connects the Graeco-Buddhist art of extreme north-west India with the Buddhist art of Central Asia and the Far East."

Central Asian art is somewhat wanting in spontaneity. Except when painting portraits (which are many) the artists do not seem to go to nature or even their own imagination and visions. They seem concerned to reproduce some religious scene not as they saw it but as it was represented by Indian or other artists.


Only one side of Central Asian history can be written with any completeness, namely its relations with China. Of these some account with dates can be given, thanks to the Chinese annals which incidentally supply valuable information about earlier periods. But unfortunately these relations were often interrupted and also the political record does not always furnish the data which are of most importance for the history of Buddhism. Still there is no better framework available for arranging our data. But even were our information much fuller, we should probably find the history of Central Asia scrappy and disconnected. Its cities were united by no bond of common blood or language, nor can any one of them have had a continuous development in institutions, letters or art. These were imported in a mature form and more or less assimilated in a precocious Augustan age, only to be overwhelmed in some catastrophe which, if not merely destructive, at least brought the ideas and baggage of another race.

It was under the Emperor Wu-ti (140-87 B.C.) of the Han dynasty that the Chinese first penetrated into the Tarim basin. They had heard that the Hsiung-nu, of whose growing power they were afraid, had driven the Yueh-chih westwards and they therefore despatched an envoy named Chang Ch'ien in the hope of inducing the Yueh-chih to co-operate with them against the common enemy. Chang Ch'ien made two adventurous expeditions, and visited the Yueh-chih in their new home somewhere on the Oxus. His mission failed to attain its immediate political object but indirectly had important results, for it revealed to China that the nations on the Oxus were in touch with India on one hand and with the more mysterious west on the other. Henceforth it was her aim to keep open the trade route leading westwards from the extremity of the modern Kansu province to Kashgar, Khotan and the countries with which those cities communicated. Far from wishing to isolate herself or exclude foreigners, her chief desire was to keep the road to the west open, and although there were times when the flood of Buddhism which swept along this road alarmed the more conservative classes, yet for many centuries everything that came in the way of merchandize, art, literature, and religion was eagerly received. The chief hindrance to this intercourse was the hostility of the wild tribes who pillaged caravans and blocked the route, and throughout the whole stretch of recorded history the Chinese used the same method to weaken them and keep the door open, namely to create or utilize a quarrel between two tribes. The Empire allied itself with one in order to crush the second and that being done, proceeded to deal with its former ally.

Dated records beginning with the year 98 B.C. testify to the presence of a Chinese garrison near the modern Tun-huang.[483] But at the beginning of the Christian era the Empire was convulsed by internal rebellion and ceased to have influence or interest in Central Asia. With the restoration of order things took another turn. The reign of the Emperor Ming-ti is the traditional date for the introduction of Buddhism and it also witnessed the victorious campaigns of the famous general and adventurer Pan Ch'ao. He conquered Khotan and Kashgar and victoriously repulsed the attacks of the Kushans or Yueh-chih who were interested in these regions and endeavoured to stop his progress. The Chinese annals do not give the name of their king but it must have been Kanishka if he came to the throne in 78. I confess however that this silence makes it difficult for me to accept 78-123 A.D. as the period of Kanishka's reign, for he must have been a monarch of some celebrity and if the Chinese had come into victorious contact with him, would not their historians have mentioned it? It seems to me more probable that he reigned before or after Pan Ch'ao's career in Central Asia which lasted from A.D. 73-102. With the end of that career Chinese activity ceased for some time and perhaps the Kushans conquered Kashgar and Khotan early in the second century. Neither the degenerate Han dynasty nor the stormy Three Kingdoms could grapple with distant political problems and during the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries northern China was divided among Tartar states, short-lived and mutually hostile. The Empire ceased to be a political power in the Tarim basin but intercourse with Central Asia and in particular the influx of Buddhism increased, and there was also a return wave of Chinese influence westwards. Meanwhile two tribes, the Hephthalites (or White Huns) and the Turks,[484] successively became masters of Central Asia and founded states sometimes called Empires—that is to say they overran vast tracts within which they took tribute without establishing any definite constitution or frontiers.

When the T'ang dynasty (618-907) re-united the Empire, the Chinese Government with characteristic tenacity reverted to its old policy of keeping the western road open and to its old methods. The Turks were then divided into two branches, the northern and western, at war with one another. The Chinese allied themselves with the latter, defeated the northern Turks and occupied Turfan (640). Then in a series of campaigns, in which they were supported by the Uigurs, they conquered their former allies the western Turks and proceeded to organize the Tarim basin under the name of the Four Garrisons.[485] This was the most glorious period of China's foreign policy and at no other time had she so great a position as a western power. The list of her possessions included Bokhara in the west and starting from Semirechinsk and Tashkent in the north extended southwards so as to embrace Afghanistan with the frontier districts of India and Persia.[486] It is true that the Imperial authority in many of these regions was merely nominal: when the Chinese conquered a tribe which claimed sovereignty over them they claimed sovereignty themselves. But for the history of civilization, for the migration of art and ideas, even this nominal claim is important, for China was undoubtedly in touch with India, Bokhara and Persia.

But no sooner did these great vistas open, than new enemies appeared to bar the road. The Tibetans descended into the Tarim basin and after defeating the Chinese in 670 held the Four Garrisons till 692, when the fortunes of war were reversed. But the field was not left clear for China: the power of the northern Turks revived, and Mohammedanism, then a new force but destined to ultimate triumph in politics and religion alike, appeared in the west. The conquests of the Mohammedan general Qutayba (705-715) extended to Ferghana and he attacked Kashgar. In the long reign of Hsuan Tsung China waged a double warfare against the Arabs and Tibetans. For about thirty years (719-751) the struggle was successful. Even Tabaristan is said to have acknowledged China's suzerainty. Her troops crossed the Hindu Kush and reached Gilgit. But in 751 they sustained a crushing defeat near Tashkent. The disaster was aggravated by the internal troubles of the Empire and it was long before Chinese authority recovered from the blow.[487] The Tibetans reaped the advantage. Except in Turfan, they were the dominant power of the Tarim basin for a century, they took tribute from China and when it was refused sacked the capital, Chang-an (763). It would appear however that for a time Chinese garrisons held out in Central Asia and Chinese officials exercised some authority, though they obtained no support from the Empire.[488] But although even late in the tenth century Khotan sent embassies to the Imperial Court, China gradually ceased to be a Central Asian power. She made a treaty with the Tibetans (783) and an alliance with the Uigurs, who now came to the front and occupied Turfan, where there was a flourishing Uigur kingdom with Manichaeism as the state religion from about 750 to 843. In that year the Kirghiz sacked Turfan and it is interesting to note that the Chinese who had hitherto tolerated Manichaeism as the religion of their allies, at once began to issue restrictive edicts against it. But except in Turfan it does not appear that the power of the Uigurs was weakened.[489] In 860-817 they broke up Tibetan rule in the Tarim basin and formed a new kingdom of their own which apparently included Kashgar, Urumtsi and Kucha but not Khotan. The prince of Kashgar embraced Islam about 945, but the conversion of Khotan and Turfan was later. With this conversion the connection of the Tarim basin with the history of Buddhism naturally ceases, for it does not appear that the triumphal progress of Lamaism under Khubilai Khan affected these regions.


The Tarim basin, though sometimes united under foreign rule, had no indigenous national unity. Cities, or groups of towns, divided by deserts lived their own civic life and enjoyed considerable independence under native sovereigns, although the Chinese, Turks or Tibetans quartered troops in them and appointed residents to supervise the collection of tribute. The chief of these cities or oases were Kashgar in the west: Kucha, Karashahr, Turfan (Idiqutshahri, Chotscho) and Hami lying successively to the north-east: Yarkand, Khotan and Miran to the south-east.[490] It may be well to review briefly the special history of some of them.

The relics found near Kashgar, the most western of these cities, are comparatively few, probably because its position exposed it to the destructive influence of Islam at an early date. Chinese writers reproduce the name as Ch'ia-sha, Chieh-ch'a, etc., but also call the region Su-le, Shu-le, or Sha-le.[491] It is mentioned first in the Han annals. After the missions of Chang-Ch'ien trade with Bactria and Sogdiana grew rapidly and Kashgar which was a convenient emporium became a Chinese protected state in the first century B.C. But when the hold of China relaxed about the time of the Christian era it was subdued by the neighbouring kingdom of Khotan. The conquests of Pan-Ch'ao restored Chinese supremacy but early in the second century the Yueh-chih interfered in the politics of Kashgar and placed on the throne a prince who was their tool. The introduction of Buddhism is ascribed to this epoch.[492] If Kanishka was then reigning the statement that he conquered Kashgar and Khotan is probably correct. It is supported by Hsuan Chuang's story of the hostages and by his assertion that Kanishka's rule extended to the east of the Ts'ung-ling mountains: also by the discovery of Kanishka's coins in the Khotan district. Little is heard of Kashgar until Fa-Hsien visited it in 400.[493] He speaks of the quinquennial religious conferences held by the king, at one of which he was present, of relics of the Buddha and of a monastery containing a thousand monks all students of the Hinayana. About 460 the king sent as a present to the Chinese Court an incombustible robe once worn by the Buddha. Shortly afterwards Kashgar was incorporated in the dominions of the Hephthalites, and when these succumbed to the western Turks about 465, it merely changed masters.

Hsuan Chuang has left an interesting account of Kashgar as he found it on his return journey.[494] The inhabitants were sincere Buddhists and there were more than a thousand monks of the Sarvastivadin school. But their knowledge was not in proportion to their zeal for they read the scriptures diligently without understanding them. They used an Indian alphabet into which they had introduced alterations.

According to Hsuan Chuang's religious conspectus of these regions, Kashgar, Osh and Kucha belonged to the Small Vehicle, Yarkand and Khotan mainly to the Great. The Small Vehicle also flourished at Balkh and at Bamian.[495] In Kapisa the Great Vehicle was predominant but there were also many Hindu sects: in the Kabul valley too Hinduism and Buddhism seem to have been mixed: in Persia[496] there were several hundred Sarvastivadin monks. In Tokhara (roughly equivalent to Badakshan) there was some Buddhism but apparently it did not flourish further north in the regions of Tashkent and Samarkand. In the latter town there were two disused monasteries but when Hsuan Chuang's companions entered them they were mobbed by the populace. He says that these rioters were fire worshippers and that the Turks whom he visited somewhere near Aulieata were of the same religion. This last statement is perhaps inaccurate but the T'ang annals expressly state that the population of Kashgar and Khotan was in part Zoroastrian.[497] No mention of Nestorianism in Kashgar at this date has yet been discovered, although in the thirteenth century it was a Nestorian see. But since Nestorianism had penetrated even to China in the seventh century, it probably also existed in Samarkand and Kashgar.

The pilgrim Wu-K'ung spent five months in Kashgar about 786, but there appear to be no later data of interest for the study of Buddhism.

The town of Kucha[498] lies between Kashgar and Turfan, somewhat to the west of Karashahr. In the second century B.C. it was already a flourishing city. Numerous dated documents show that about 630 A.D. the language of ordinary life was the interesting idiom sometimes called Tokharian B, and, since the Chinese annals record no alien invasion, we may conclude that Kucha existed as an Aryan colony peopled by the speakers of this language some centuries before the Christian era. It is mentioned in the Han annals and when brought into contact with China in the reign of Wu-ti (140-87 B.C.) it became a place of considerable importance, as it lay at the junction[499] of the western trade routes leading to Kashgar and Aulieata respectively. Kucha absorbed some Chinese civilization but its doubtful loyalty to the Imperial throne often involved it in trouble. It is not until the Western Tsin dynasty that we find it described as a seat of Buddhism. The Tsin annals say that it was enclosed by a triple wall and contained a thousand stupas and Buddhist temples as well as a magnificent palace for the king.[500] This implies that Buddhism had been established for some time but no evidence has been found to date its introduction.

In 383 Fu-chien, Emperor of the Tsin dynasty, sent his general Lu-Kuang to subdue Kucha.[501] The expedition was successful and among the captives taken was the celebrated Kumarajiva. Lu-Kuang was so pleased with the magnificent and comfortable life of Kucha that he thought of settling there but Kumarajiva prophesied that he was destined to higher things. So they left to try their fortune in China. Lu-Kuang rose to be ruler of the state known as Southern Liang and his captive and adviser became one of the greatest names in Chinese Buddhism.

Kumarajiva is a noticeable figure and his career illustrates several points of importance. First, his father came from India and he himself went as a youth to study in Kipin (Kashmir) and then returned to Kucha. Living in this remote corner of Central Asia he was recognized as an encyclopaedia of Indian learning including a knowledge of the Vedas and "heretical sastras." Secondly after his return to Kucha he was converted to Mahayanism. Thirdly he went from Kucha to China where he had a distinguished career as a translator. Thus we see how China was brought into intellectual touch with India and how the Mahayana was gaining in Central Asia territory previously occupied by the Hinayana. The monk Dharmagupta who passed through Kucha about 584 says that the king favoured Mahayanism.[502] That Kucha should have been the home of distinguished translators is not strange for a statement[503] has been preserved to the effect that Sanskrit texts were used in the cities lying to the west of it, but that in Kucha itself Indian languages were not understood and translations were made, although such Sanskrit words as were easily intelligible were retained.

In the time of the Wei, Kucha again got into trouble with China and was brought to order by another punitive expedition in 448. After this lesson a long series of tribute-bearing missions is recorded, sent first to the court of Wei, and afterwards to the Liang, Chou and Sui. The notices respecting the country are to a large extent repetitions. They praise its climate, fertility and mineral wealth: the magnificence of the royal palace, the number and splendour of the religious establishments. Peacocks were as common as fowls and the Chinese annalists evidently had a general impression of a brilliant, pleasure-loving and not very moral city. It was specially famous for its music: the songs and dances of Kucha, performed by native artists, were long in favour at the Imperial Court, and a list of twenty airs has been preserved.[504]

When the T'ang dynasty came to the throne Kucha sent an embassy to do homage but again supported Karashahr in rebellion and again brought on herself a punitive expedition (648). But the town was peaceful and prosperous when visited by Hsuan Chuang about 630.

His description agrees in substance with other notices, but he praises the honesty of the people. He mentions that the king was a native and that a much modified Indian alphabet was in use. As a churchman, he naturally dwells with pleasure on the many monasteries and great images, the quinquennial assemblies and religious processions. There were more than 100 monasteries with upwards of 5000 brethren who all followed the Sarvastivada and the "gradual teaching," which probably means the Hinayana as opposed to the sudden illumination caused by Mahayanist revelation. The pilgrim differed from his hosts on the matter of diet and would not join them in eating meat. But he admits that the monks were strict according to their lights and that the monasteries were centres of learning.

In 658 Kucha was made the seat of government for the territory known as the Four Garrisons. During the next century it sent several missions to the Chinese and about 788 was visited by Wu-K'ung, who indicates that music and Buddhism were still flourishing. He mentions an Abbot who spoke with equal fluency the language of the country, Chinese and Sanskrit. Nothing is known about Kucha from this date until the eleventh century when we again hear of missions to the Chinese Court. The annals mention them under the heading of Uigurs, but Buddhism seems not to have been extinct for even in 1096 the Envoy presented to the Emperor a jade Buddha. According to Hsuan Chuang's account the Buddhism of Karashahr (Yenki) was the same as that of Kucha and its monasteries enjoyed the same reputation for strictness and learning.

Turfan is an oasis containing the ruins of several cities and possibly different sites were used as the capital at different periods. But the whole area is so small that such differences can be of little importance. The name Turfan appears to be modern. The Ming Annals[505] state that this city lies in the land of ancient Ch'e-shih (or Ku-shih) called Kao Ch'ang in the time of the Sui. This name was abolished by the T'ang but restored by the Sung.

The principal city now generally known as Chotscho seems to be identical with Kao Ch'ang[506] and Idiqutshahri and is called by Mohammedans Apsus or Ephesus, a curious designation connected with an ancient sacred site renamed the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. Extensive literary remains have been found in the oasis; they include works in Sanskrit, Chinese, and various Iranian and Turkish idioms but also in two dialects of so-called Tokharian. Blue-eyed, red-haired and red-bearded people are frequently portrayed on the walls of Turfan.

But the early history of this people and of their civilization is chiefly a matter of theory. In the Han period[507] there was a kingdom called Ku-shih or Kiu-shih, with two capitals. It was destroyed in 60 B.C. by the Chinese general Cheng-Chi and eight small principalities were formed in its place. In the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. Turfan had some connection with two ephemeral states which arose in Kansu under the names of Hou Liang and Pei Liang. The former was founded by Lu-Kuang, the general who, as related above, took Kucha. He fell foul of a tribe in his territory called Chu-ch'u, described as belonging to the Hsiung-nu. Under their chieftain Meng-hsun, who devoted his later years to literature and Buddhism, this tribe took a good deal of territory from the Hou Liang, in Turkestan as well as in Kansu, and called their state Pei Liang. It was conquered by the Wei dynasty in 439 and two members of the late reigning house determined to try their fortune in Turfan and ruled there successively for about twenty years. An Chou, the second of these princes, died in 480 and his fame survives because nine years after his death a temple to Maitreya was dedicated in his honour with a long inscription in Chinese.

Another line of Chinese rulers, bearing the family name of Ch'iu, established themselves at Kao-ch'ang in 507 and under the Sui dynasty one of them married a Chinese princess. Turfan paid due homage to the T'ang dynasty on its accession but later it was found that tributary missions coming from the west to the Chinese court were stopped there and the close relations of its king with the western Turks inspired alarm. Accordingly it was destroyed by the imperial forces in 640. This is confirmed by the record of Hsuan Chuang. In his biography there is a description of his reception by the king of Kao-ch'ang on his outward journey. But in the account of his travels written after his return he speaks of the city as no longer existent.

Nevertheless the political and intellectual life of the oasis was not annihilated. It was conquered by the Uigurs at an uncertain date, but they were established there in the eighth and ninth centuries and about 750 their Khan adopted Manichaeism as the state religion. The many manuscripts in Sogdian and other Persian dialects found at Turfan show that it had an old and close connection with the west. It is even possible that Mani may have preached there himself but it does not appear that his teaching became influential until about 700 A.D. The presence of Nestorianism is also attested. Tibetan influence too must have affected Turfan in the eighth and ninth centuries for many Tibetan documents have been found there although it seems to have been outside the political sphere of Tibet. About 843 this Uigur Kingdom was destroyed by the Kirghiz.

Perhaps the massacres of Buddhist priests, clearly indicated by vaults filled with skeletons still wearing fragments of the monastic robe, occurred in this period. But Buddhism was not extinguished and lingered here longer than in other parts of the Tarim basin. Even in 1420 the people of Turfan were Buddhists and the Ming Annals say that at Huo-chou (or Kara-Khojo) there were more Buddhist temples than dwelling houses.

Let us now turn to Khotan.[508] This was the ancient as well as the modern name of the principal city in the southern part of the Tarim basin but was modified in Chinese to Yu-t'ien, in Sanskrit to Kustana.[509] The Tibetan equivalent is Li-yul, the land of Li, but no explanation of this designation is forthcoming.

Traditions respecting the origin of Khotan are preserved in the travels of Hsuan Chuang and also in the Tibetan scriptures, some of which are expressly said to be translations from the language of Li. These traditions are popular legends but they agree in essentials and appear to contain a kernel of important truth namely that Khotan was founded by two streams of colonization coming from China and from India,[510] the latter being somehow connected with Asoka. It is remarkable that the introduction of Buddhism is attributed not to these original colonists but to a later missionary who, according to Hsuan Chuang, came from Kashmir.[511]

This traditional connection with India is confirmed by the discovery of numerous documents written in Kharoshthi characters and a Prakrit dialect. Their contents indicate that this Prakrit was the language of common life and they were found in one heap with Chinese documents dated 269 A.D. The presence of this alphabet and language is not adequately explained by the activity of Buddhist missionaries for in Khotan, as in other parts of Asia, the concomitants of Buddhism are Sanskrit and the Brahmi alphabet.

There was also Iranian influence in Khotan. It shows itself in art and has left indubitable traces in the language called by some Nordarisch, but when the speakers of that language reached the oasis or what part they played there, we do not yet know.

As a consequence of Chang Ch'ien's mission mentioned above, Khotan sent an Embassy to the Chinese Court in the reign of Wu-ti (140-87 B.C.) and the T'ang Annals state that its kings handed down the insignia of Imperial investiture from that time onwards. There seems however to have been a dynastic revolution about 60 A.D. and it is possible that the Vijaya line of kings, mentioned in various Tibetan works, then began to reign.[512] Khotan became a powerful state but submitted to the conquering arms of Pan-Ch'ao and perhaps was subsequently subdued by Kanishka. As the later Han dynasty declined, it again became strong but continued to send embassies to the Imperial Court. There is nothing more to mention until the visit of Fa-Hsien in 400. He describes "the pleasant and prosperous kingdom" with evident gusto. There were some tens of thousands of monks mostly followers of the Mahayana and in the country, where the homes of the people were scattered "like stars" about the oases, each house had a small stupa before the door. He stopped in a well ordered convent with 3000 monks and mentions a magnificent establishment called The King's New Monastery. He also describes a great car festival which shows the Indian colour of Khotanese religion. Perhaps Fa-Hsien and Hsuan Chuang unduly emphasize ecclesiastical features, but they also did not hesitate to say when they thought things unsatisfactory and their praise shows that Buddhism was flourishing.

In the fifth and sixth centuries Khotan passed through troublous times and was attacked by the Tanguts, Juan-Juan and White Huns. Throughout this stormy period missions were sent at intervals to China to beg for help. The pilgrim Sung Yun[513] traversed the oasis in 519. His account of the numerous banners bearing Chinese inscriptions hung up in the temple of Han-mo proves that though the political influence of China was weak, she was still in touch with the Tarim basin.

When the T'ang effectively asserted their suzerainty in Central Asia, Khotan was included in the Four Garrisons. The T'ang Annals while repeating much which is found in earlier accounts, add some points of interest, for they say that the Khotanese revere the God of Heaven (Hsien shen) and also the Law of Buddha.[514] This undoubtedly means that there were Zoroastrians as well as Buddhists, which is not mentioned in earlier periods. The annals also mention that the king's house was decorated with pictures and that his family name was Wei Ch'ih. This may possibly be a Chinese rendering of Vijaya, the Sanskrit name or title which according to Tibetan sources was borne by all the sovereigns of Khotan.

Hsuan Chuang broke his return journey at Khotan in 644. He mentions the fondness of the people for music and says that their language differed from that of other countries. The Mahayana was the prevalent sect but the pilgrim stopped in a monastery of the Sarvastivadins.[515] He describes several sites in the neighbourhood, particularly the Go'sringa or Cow-horn mountain,[516] supposed to have been visited by the Buddha. Though he does not mention Zoroastrians, he notices that the people of P'i-mo near Khotan were not Buddhists.

About 674 the king of Khotan did personal homage at the Chinese Court. The Emperor constituted his territory into a government called P'i-sha after the deity P'i-sha-men or Vai'sravana and made him responsible for its administration. Another king did homage between 742 and 755 and received an imperial princess as his consort. Chinese political influence was effective until the last decade of the eighth century but after 790 the conquests of the Tibetans put an end to it and there is no mention of Khotan in the Chinese Annals for about 150 years. Numerous Tibetan manuscripts and inscriptions found at Endere testify to these conquests. The rule of the Uigurs who replaced Tibet as the dominant power in Turfan and the northern Tarim basin does not appear to have extended to Khotan.

It is not till 938 that we hear of renewed diplomatic relations with China. The Imperial Court received an embassy from Khotan and deemed it of sufficient importance to despatch a special mission in return. Eight other embassies were sent to China in the tenth century and at least three of them were accompanied by Buddhist priests. Their object was probably to solicit help against the attacks of Mohammedans. No details are known as to the Mohammedan conquest but it apparently took place between 970 and 1009 after a long struggle.

Another cultural centre of the Tarim basin must have existed in the oases near Lob-nor where Miran and a nameless site to the north of the lake have been investigated by Stein. They have yielded numerous Tibetan documents, but also fine remains of Gandharan art and Prakrit documents written in the Kharoshthi character. Probably the use of this language and alphabet was not common further east, for though a Kharoshthi fragment was found by Stein in an old Chinese frontier post[517] the library of Tun-huang yielded no specimens of them. That library, however, dating apparently from the epoch of the T'ang, contained some Sanskrit Buddhist literature and was rich in Sogdian, Turkish, and Tibetan manuscripts.


Ample as are the materials for the study of Buddhism in Central Asia those hitherto published throw little light on the time and manner of its introduction. At present much is hypothetical for we have few historical data—such as the career of Kumarajiva and the inscription on the Temple of Maitreya at Turfan—but a great mass of literary and artistic evidence from which various deductions can be drawn.

It is clear that there was constant intercourse with India and the Oxus region. The use of Prakrit and of various Iranian idioms points to actual colonization from these two quarters and it is probable that there were two streams of Buddhism, for the Chinese pilgrims agree that Shan-shan (near Lob-nor), Turfan, Kucha and Kashgar were Hinayanist, whereas Yarkand and Khotan were Mahayanist. Further, much of the architecture, sculpture and painting is simply Gandharan and the older specimens can hardly be separated from the Gandharan art of India by any considerable interval. This art was in part coeval with Kanishka, and if his reign began in 78 A.D. or later the first specimens of it cannot be much anterior to the Christian era. The earliest Chinese notices of the existence of Buddhism in Kashgar and Kucha date from 400 (Fa-Hsien) and the third century (Annals of the Tsin, 265-317) respectively, but they speak of it as the national religion and munificently endowed, so that it may well have been established for some centuries. In Turfan the first definite record is the dedication of a temple to Maitreya in 469 but probably the history of religion there was much the same as in Kucha.

It is only in Khotan that tradition, if not history, gives a more detailed narrative. This is found in the works of the Chinese pilgrims Hsuan Chuang and Sung Yun and also in four Tibetan works which are apparently translated from the language of Khotan.[518] As the story is substantially the same in all, it merits consideration and may be accepted as the account current in the literary circles of Khotan about 500 A.D. It relates that the Indians who were part-founders of that city in the reign of Asoka were not Buddhists[519] and the Tibetan version places the conversion with great apparent accuracy 170 years after the foundation of the kingdom and 404 after the death of the Buddha. At that time a monk named Vairocana, who was an incarnation of Manjusri, came to Khotan, according to Hsuan Chuang from Kashmir.[520] He is said to have introduced a new language as well as Mahayanism, and the king, Vijayasambhava, built for him the great monastery of Tsarma outside the capital, which was miraculously supplied with relics. We cannot be sure that the Tibetan dates were intended to have the meaning they would bear for our chronology, that is about 80 B.C., but if they had, there is nothing improbable in the story, for other traditions assert that Buddhism was preached in Kashmir in the time of Asoka. On the other hand, there was a dynastic change in Khotan about 60 A.D. and the monarch who then came to the throne may have been Vijayasambhava.

According to the Tibetan account no more monasteries were built for seven reigns. The eighth king built two, one on the celebrated Gosirsha or Gosringa mountain. In the eleventh reign after Vijayasambhava, more chaityas and viharas were built in connection with the introduction of the silkworm industry. Subsequently, but without any clear indication of date, the introduction of the Mahasanghika and Sarvastivadin schools is mentioned.

The Tibetan annals also mention several persecutions of Buddhism in Khotan as a result of which the monks fled to Tibet and Bruzha. Their chronology is confused but seems to make these troubles coincide with a persecution in Tibet, presumably that of Lang-dar-ma. If so, the persecution in Khotan must have been due to the early attacks of Mohammedans which preceded the final conquest in about 1000 A.D.[521]

Neither the statements of the Chinese annalists about Central Asia nor its own traditions prove that Buddhism flourished there before the Christian era. But they do not disprove it and even if the dream of the Emperor Ming-Ti and the consequent embassy are dismissed as legends, it is admitted that Buddhism penetrated to China by land not later than the early decades of that era. It must therefore have been known in Central Asia previously and perhaps Khotan was the place where it first flourished.

It is fairly certain that about 160 B.C. the Yueh-chih moved westwards and settled in the lands of the Oxus after ejecting the Sakas, but like many warlike nomads they may have oscillated between the east and west, recoiling if they struck against a powerful adversary in either quarter. Le Coq has put forward an interesting theory of their origin. It is that they were one of the tribes known as Scythians in Europe and at an unknown period moved eastwards from southern Russia, perhaps leaving traces of their presence in the monuments still existing in the district of Minussinsk. He also identifies them with the red-haired, blue-eyed people of the Chotscho frescoes and the speakers of the Tokharian language. But these interesting hypotheses cannot be regarded as proved. It is, however, certain that the Yueh-chih invaded India,[522] founded the Kushan Empire and were intimately connected (especially in the person of their great king Kanishka) with Gandharan art and the form of Buddhism which finds expression in it. Now the Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hsien (c. 400) found the Hinayana prevalent in Shan-shan, Kucha, Kashgar, Osh, Udyana and Gandhara. Hsuan Chuang also notes its presence in Balkh, Bamian, and Persia. Both notice that the Mahayana was predominant in Khotan though not to the exclusion of the other school. It would appear that in modern language the North-West Frontier province of India, Afghanistan, Badakshan (with small adjoining states), the Pamir regions and the Tarim basin all accepted Gandharan Buddhism and at one time formed part of the Kushan Empire.

It is probably to this Gandharan Buddhism that the Chinese pilgrims refer when they speak of the Sarvastivadin school of the Hinayana as prevalent. It is known that this school was closely connected with the Council of Kanishka. Its metaphysics were decidedly not Mahayanist but there is no reason why it should have objected to the veneration of such Bodhisattvas as are portrayed in the Gandhara sculptures. An interesting passage in the life of Hsuan Chuang relates that he had a dispute in Kucha with a Mahayanist doctor who maintained that the books called Tsa-hsin, Chu-she, and P'i-sha were sufficient for salvation, and denounced the Yogasastra as heretical, to the great indignation of the pilgrim[523] whose practical definition of Mahayanism seems to have been the acceptance of this work, reputed to have been revealed by Maitreya to Asanga. Such a definition and division might leave in the Hinayana much that we should not expect to find there.

The Mahayanist Buddhism of Khotan was a separate stream and Hsuan Chuang says that it came from Kashmir. Though Kashmir is not known as a centre of Mahayanism, yet it would be a natural route for men and ideas passing from any part of India to Khotan.


The Tarim basin and the lands of the Oxus[524] were a region where different religions and cultures mingled and there is no difficulty in supposing that Buddhism might have amalgamated there with Zoroastrianism or Christianity. The question is whether there is any evidence for such amalgamation. It is above all in its relations with China that Central Asia appears as an exchange of religions. It passed on to China the art and thought of India, perhaps adding something of its own on the way and then received them back from China with further additions.[525] It certainly received a great deal from Persia: the number of manuscripts in different Iranian languages puts this beyond doubt. Equally undoubted is its debt to India, but it would be of even greater interest to determine whether Indian Buddhism owes a debt to Central Asia and to define that debt. For Tibet the relation was mutual. The Tibetans occupied the Tarim basin during a century and according to their traditions monks went from Khotan to instruct Tibet.

The Buddhist literature discovered in Central Asia represents, like its architecture, several periods. We have first of all the fragments of the Sanskrit Agamas, found at Turfan, Tun-huang, and in the Khotan district: fragments of the dramas and poems of Asvaghosha from Turfan: the Pratimoksha of the Sarvastivadins from Kucha and numerous versions of the anthology called Dharmapada or Udana. The most interesting of these is the Prakrit version found in the neighbourhood of Khotan, but fragments in Tokharian and Sanskrit have also been discovered. All this literature probably represents the canon as it existed in the epoch of Kanishka and of the Gandharan sculptures, or at least the older stratum in that canon.

The newer stratum is composed of Mahayanist sutras of which there is a great abundance, though no complete list has been published.[526] The popularity of the Prajna-paramita, the Lotus and the Suvarna-prabhasa is attested. The last was translated into both Uigur (from the Chinese) and into "Iranien Oriental." To a still later epoch[527] belong the Dharanis or magical formulae which have been discovered in considerable quantities.

Sylvain Levi has shown that some Mahayanist sutras were either written or re-edited in Central Asia.[528] Not only do they contain lists of Central Asian place-names but these receive an importance which can be explained only by the local patriotism of the writer or the public which he addressed. Thus the Suryagarbha sutra praises the mountain of Gosringa near Khotan much as the Puranas celebrate in special chapters called Mahatmyas the merits of some holy place. Even more remarkable is a list in the Chandragarbha sutra. The Buddha in one of the great transformation scenes common in these works sends forth rays of light which produce innumerable manifestations of Buddhas. India (together with what is called the western region) has a total of 813 manifestations, whereas Central Asia and China have 971. Of these the whole Chinese Empire has 255, the kingdoms of Khotan and Kucha have 180 and 99 respectively, but only 60 are given to Benares and 30 to Magadha. Clearly Central Asia was a very important place for the author of this list.[529]

One of the Turkish sutras discovered at Turfan contains a discourse of the Buddha to the merchants Trapusha and Bhallika who are described as Turks and Indra is called Kormusta, that is Hormuzd. In another Brahma is called Asrua, identified as the Iranian deity Zervan.[530] In these instances no innovation of doctrine is implied but when the world of spirits and men becomes Central Asian instead of Indian, it is only natural that the doctrine too should take on some local colour.[531]

Thus the dated inscription of the temple erected in Turfan A.D. 469 is a mixture of Chinese ideas, both Confucian and Taoist, with Indian. It is in honour of Maitreya, a Bodhisattva known to the Hinayana, but here regarded not merely as the future Buddha but as an active and benevolent deity who manifests himself in many forms,[532] a view which also finds expression in the tradition that the works of Asanga were revelations made by him. Akasagarbha and the Dharmakaya are mentioned. But the inscription also speaks of heaven (t'ien) as appointing princes, and of the universal law (tao) and it contains several references to Chinese literature.

Even more remarkable is the admixture of Buddhism in Manichaeism. The discoveries made in Central Asia make intelligible the Chinese edict of 739 which accuses the Manichaeans of falsely taking the name of Buddhism and deceiving the people.[533] This is not surprising for Mani seems to have taught that Zoroaster, Buddha and Christ had preceded him as apostles, and in Buddhist countries his followers naturally adopted words and symbols familiar to the people. Thus Manichaean deities are represented like Bodhisattvas sitting cross-legged on a lotus; Mani receives the epithet Ju-lai or Tathagata: as in Amida's Paradise, there are holy trees bearing flowers which enclose beings styled Buddha: the construction and phraseology of Manichaean books resemble those of a Buddhist Sutra.[534] In some ways the association of Taoism and Manichaeism was even closer, for the Hu-hua-ching identifies Buddha with Lao-tzu and Mani, and two Manichaean books have passed into the Taoist Canon.[535]

Nestorian Christianity also existed in the Tarim basin and became prominent in the seventh century. This agrees with the record of its introduction into China by A-lo-pen in 635 A.D., almost simultaneously with Zoroastrianism. Fragments of the New Testament have been found at Turfan belonging mostly to the ninth century but one to the fifth. The most interesting document for the history of Nestorianism is still the monument discovered at Si-ngan-fu and commonly called the Nestorian stone.[536] It bears a long inscription partly in Chinese and partly in Syriac composed by a foreign priest called Adam or in Chinese King-Tsing giving a long account of the doctrines and history of Nestorianism. Not only does this inscription contain many Buddhist phrases (such as Seng and Ssu for Christian priests and monasteries) but it deliberately omits all mention of the crucifixion and merely says in speaking of the creation that God arranged the cardinal points in the shape of a cross. This can hardly be explained as due to incomplete statement for it reviews in some detail the life of Christ and its results. The motive of omission must be the feeling that redemption by his death was not an acceptable doctrine.[537] It is interesting to find that King-Tsing consorted with Buddhist priests and even set about translating a sutra from the Hu language. Takakusu quotes a passage from one of the catalogues of the Japanese Tripitaka[538] which states that he was a Persian and collaborated with a monk of Kapisa called Prajna.

We have thus clear evidence not only of the co-existence of Buddhism and Christianity but of friendly relations between Buddhist and Christian priests. The Emperor's objection to such commixture of religions was unusual and probably due to zeal for pure Buddhism. It is possible that in western China and Central Asia Buddhism, Taoism, Manichaeism, Nestorianism and Zoroastrianism all borrowed from one another just as the first two do in China to-day and Buddhism may have become modified by this contact. But proof of it is necessary. In most places Buddhism was in strength and numbers the most important of all these religions and older than all except Zoroastrianism. Its contact with Manichaeism may possibly date from the life of Mani, but apparently the earliest Christian manuscripts found in Central Asia are to be assigned to the fifth century.

On the other hand the Chinese Tripitaka contains many translations which bear an earlier date than this and are ascribed to translators connected with the Yueh-chih. I see no reason to doubt the statements that the Happy Land sutra and Prajna-paramita (Nanjio, 25, 5) were translated before 200 A.D. and portions of the Avatamsaka and Lotus (Nanjio, 100, 103, 138) before 300 A.D. But if so, the principal doctrines of Mahayanist Buddhism must have been known in Khotan[539] and the lands of Oxus before we have definite evidence for the presence of Christianity there.

Zoroastrianism may however have contributed to the development and transformation of Buddhism for the two were certainly in contact. Thus the coins of Kanishka bear figures of Persian deities[540] more frequently than images of the Buddha: we know from Chinese sources that the two religions co-existed at Khotan and Kashgar and possibly there are hostile references to Buddhism (Buiti and Gaotema the heretic) in the Persian scriptures.[541]

It is true that we should be cautious in fancying that we detect a foreign origin for the Mahayana. Different as it may be from the Buddhism of the Pali Canon, it is an Indian not an exotic growth. Deification, pantheism, the creation of radiant or terrible deities, extreme forms of idealism or nihilism in metaphysics are tendencies manifested in Hinduism as clearly as in Buddhism. Even the doctrine of the Buddha's three bodies, which sounds like an imitation of the Christian Trinity, has roots in the centuries before the Christian era. But late Buddhism indubitably borrowed many personages from the Hindu pantheon, and when we find Buddhas and Bodhisattvas such as Amitabha, Avalokita, Manjusri and Kshitigarbha without clear antecedents in India we may suspect that they are borrowed from some other mythology, and if similar figures were known to Zoroastrianism, that may be their source.

The most important of them is Amitabha. He is strangely obscure in the earlier art and literature of Indian Buddhism. Some of the nameless Buddha figures in the Gandharan sculptures may represent him, but this is not proved and the works of Grunwedel and Foucher suggest that compared with Avalokita and Tara his images are late and not numerous. In the earlier part of the Lotus[542] he is only just mentioned as if he were of no special importance. He is also mentioned towards the end of the Awakening of Faith ascribed to Asvaghosha, but the authorship of the work cannot be regarded as certain and, if it were, the passage stands apart from the main argument and might well be an addition. Again in the Mahayana-sutralankara[543] of Asanga, his paradise is just mentioned.

Against these meagre and cursory notices in Indian literature may be set the fact that two translations of the principal Amidist scripture into Chinese were made in the second century A.D. and four in the third, all by natives of Central Asia. The inference that the worship of Amitabha flourished in Central Asia some time before the earliest of these translations is irresistible.

According to Taranatha, the Tibetan historian of Buddhism,[544] this worship goes back to Saraha or Rahulabhadra. He was reputed to have been the teacher of Nagarjuna and a great magician. He saw Amitabha in the land of Dhingkota and died with his face turned towards Sukhavati. I have found no explanation of the name Dhingkota but the name Saraha does not sound Indian. He is said to have been a sudra and he is represented in Tibetan pictures with a beard and topknot and holding an arrow[545] in his hand. In all this there is little that can be called history, but still it appears that the first person whom tradition connects with the worship of Amitabha was of low caste, bore a foreign name, saw the deity in an unknown country, and like many tantric teachers was represented as totally unlike a Buddhist monk. It cannot be proved that he came from the lands of the Oxus or Turkestan, but such an origin would explain much in the tradition. On the other hand, there would be no difficulty in accounting for Zoroastrian influence at Peshawar or Takkasila within the frontiers of India.

Somewhat later Vasubandhu is stated to have preached faith in Amitabha but it does not appear that this doctrine ever had in India a tithe of the importance which it obtained in the Far East.

The essential features of Amidist doctrine are that there is a paradise of light belonging to a benevolent deity and that the good[546] who invoke his name will be led thither. Both features are found in Zoroastrian writings. The highest heaven (following after the paradises of good thoughts, good words and good deeds) is called Boundless Light or Endless Light.[547] Both this region and its master, Ahuramazda, are habitually spoken of in terms implying radiance and glory. Also it is a land of song, just as Amitabha's paradise re-echoes with music and pleasant sounds.[548] Prayers can win this paradise and Ahura Mazda and the Archangels will come and show the way thither to the pious.[549] Further whoever recites the Ahuna-vairya formula, Ahura Mazda will bring his soul to "the lights of heaven,"[550] and although, so far as I know, it is not expressly stated that the repetition of Ahura Mazda's name leads to paradise, yet the general efficacy of his names as invocations is clearly affirmed.[551]

Thus all the chief features of Amitabha's paradise are Persian: only his method of instituting it by making a vow is Buddhist. It is true that Indian imagination had conceived numerous paradises, and that the early Buddhist legend tells of the Tushita heaven. But Sukhavati is not like these abodes of bliss. It appears suddenly in the history of Buddhism as something exotic, grafted adroitly on the parent trunk but sometimes overgrowing it.[552]

Avalokita is also connected with Amitabha's paradise. His figure, though its origin is not clear, assumes distinct and conspicuous proportions in India at a fairly early date. There appears to be no reason for associating him specially with Central Asia. On the other hand later works describe him as the spiritual son or reflex of Amitabha. This certainly recalls the Iranian idea of the Fravashi defined as "a spiritual being conceived as a part of a man's personality but existing before he is born and in independence of him: it can also belong to divine beings."[553] Although India offers in abundance both divine incarnations and explanations thereof yet none of these describe the relationship between a Dhyani Buddha and his Boddhisattva so well as the Zoroastrian doctrine of the Fravashi.

S. Levi has suggested that the Bodhisattva Manjusri is of Tokharian origin.[554] His worship at Wu-tai-shan in Shan-si is ancient and later Indian tradition connected him with China. Local traditions also connect him with Nepal, Tibet, and Khotan, and he is sometimes represented as the first teacher of civilization or religion. But although his Central Asian origin is eminently probable, I do not at present see any clear proof of it.

The case of the Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha[555] is similar. He appears to have been known but not prominent in India in the fourth century A.D.: by the seventh century if not earlier his cult was flourishing in China and subsequently he became in the Far East a popular deity second only to Kuan-yin. This popularity was connected with his gradual transformation into a god of the dead. It is also certain that he was known in Central Asia[556] but whether he first became important there or in China is hard to decide. The devotion of the Chinese to their dead suggests that it was among them that he acquired his great position, but his role as a guide to the next world has a parallel in the similar benevolent activity of the Zoroastrian angel Srosh.

One of Central Asia's clearest titles to importance in the history of the East is that it was the earliest and on the whole the principal source of Chinese Buddhism, to which I now turn. Somewhat later, teachers also came to China by sea and still later, under the Yuan dynasty, Lamaism was introduced direct from Tibet. But from at least the beginning of our era onwards, monks went eastwards from Central Asia to preach and translate the scriptures and it was across Central Asia that Chinese pilgrims went to India in search of the truth.


[Footnote 459: See Luders, Bruchstucke Buddhistischer Dramen, 1911, and id., Das Sariputra-prakarana, 1911.]

[Footnote 460: See Senart, "Le ms Kharoshthi du Dhammapada," in J.A., 1898, II. p. 193.]

[Footnote 461: Luders, "Die Sakas und die Nordarische Sprache," Sitzungsber. der Kon. Preuss. Akad. 1913. Konow, Gotting. Gel. Anz. 1912, pp. 551 ff.]

[Footnote 462: See Hoernle in J.R.A.S. 1910, pp. 837 ff. and 1283 ff.; 1911, pp. 202 ff., 447 ff.]

[Footnote 463: An old Turkish text about Maitreya states that it was translated from an Indian language into Tokhri and from Tokhri into Turkish. See F.K.W. Muller, Sitzungsber. der Kon. Preuss. Akad. 1907, p. 958. But it is not clear what is meant by Tokhri.]

[Footnote 464: The following are some words in this language: Kant, a hundred; rake, a word; por, fire; soye, son (Greek: uios); suwan, swese, rain (Greek: uei huetos); alyek, another; okso, an ox.]

[Footnote 465: The numerous papers on this language are naturally quickly superseded. But Sieg and Siegling Tokharisch, "Die Sprache der Indoskythen" (Sitzungsber. der Berl. Ak. Wiss. 1908, p. 815), may be mentioned and Sylvain Levi, "Tokharien B, Langue de Kouteha," J.A. 1913, II. p. 311.]

[Footnote 466: See Radloff Tisastvustik (Bibl. Buddh. vol. xii.), p. v. This manuscript came from Urumtsi. A translation of a portion of the Saddharma-pundarika (Bibl. Buddh. xiv.) was found at Turfan.]

[Footnote 467: Laufer in T'oung Pao, 1907, p. 392; Radloff, Kuan-si-im Pursar, p. vii.]

[Footnote 468: See especially Stein's Ancient Khotan, app. B, and Francke in J.R.A.S. 1914, p. 37.]

[Footnote 469: Chavannes, Les documents chinois decouverts par Aurel Stein, 1913.]

[Footnote 470: See especially Chavannes and Pelliot, "Traite Manicheen" in J.A. 1911 and 1913.]

[Footnote 471: Hsuan Chuang notes its existence however in Kabul and Kapisa.]

[Footnote 472: See for these Fergusson-Burgess, History of Indian Architecture, I. pp. 125-8.]

[Footnote 473: J.R.A.S. 1909, p. 313.]

[Footnote 474: E.g. Grunwedel, Altbuddhistische Kultstatten, fig. 624.]

[Footnote 475: Stein, Ancient Khotan, plates xiii-xvii and xl, pp. 83 and 482 ff.]

[Footnote 476: See Grunwedel, Buddh. Kultstatten, pp. 129-130 and plate. Foucher, "L'Art Greco-Bouddhique," p. 145, J.R.A.S. 1886, 333 and plate i.]

[Footnote 477: See Wachsberger's "Stil-kritische Studien zur Kunst Chinesisch-Turkestan's" in Ostasiatische Ztsft. 1914 and 1915.]

[Footnote 478: See Grunwedel, Buddh. Kultstatten, pp. 332 ff.]

[Footnote 479: Ancient Khotan, vol. II. plates lx and lxi.]

[Footnote 480: Le Coq in J.R.A.S. 1909, pp. 299 ff. See the whole article.]

[Footnote 481: For some of the more striking drawings referred to see Grunwedel, Buddh. Kultstatten, figs. 51, 53, 239, 242, 317, 337, 345-349.]

[Footnote 482: In Geog. Journal, May 1916, p. 362.]

[Footnote 483: Chavannes, Documents chinois decouverts par Aurel Stein, 1913.]

[Footnote 484: These of course are not the Osmanlis or Turks of Constantinople. The Osmanlis are the latest of the many branches of the Turks, who warred and ruled in Central Asia with varying success from the fifth to the eighth centuries.]

[Footnote 485: That is Kashgar, Khotan, Kucha and Tokmak for which last Karashahr was subsequently substituted. The territory was also called An Hsi.]

[Footnote 486: See for lists and details Chavannes, Documents sur les Tou-kiue Occidentaux, pp. 67 ff. and 270 ff.]

[Footnote 487: The conquest and organization of the present Chinese Turkestan dates only from the reign of Ch'ien Lung.]

[Footnote 488: Thus the pilgrim Wu-K'ung mentions Chinese officials in the Four Garrisons.]

[Footnote 489: See for this part of their history, Grenard's article in J.A. 1900, I. pp. 1-79.]

[Footnote 490: Pelliot also attributes importance to a Sogdian Colony to the south of Lob Nor, which may have had much to do with the transmission of Buddhism and Nestorianism to China. See J.A. Jan. 1916, pp. 111-123.]

[Footnote 491: These words have been connected with the tribe called Sacae, Sakas, or Sok.]

[Footnote 492: See Klaproth, Tabl. Historique, p. 166, apparently quoting from Chinese sources. Specht, J.A. 1897, II. p. 187. Franke, Beitr.-zur Kenntniss Zentral-Asiens, p. 83. The passage quoted by Specht from the Later Han Annals clearly states that the Yueh-chih made a man of their own choosing prince of Kashgar, although, as Franke points out, it makes no reference to Kanishka or the story of the hostages related by Hsuan Chuang.]

[Footnote 493: Fa-Hsien's Chieh-ch'a has been interpreted as Skardo, but Chavannes seems to have proved that it is Kashgar.]

[Footnote 494: About 643 A.D. He mentions that the inhabitants tattooed their bodies, flattened their children's heads and had green eyes. Also that they spoke a peculiar language.]

[Footnote 495: At Bamian the monks belonged to the Lokottaravadin School.]

[Footnote 496: Beal, Records, II. p. 278. The pilgrim is speaking from hearsay and it is not clear to what part of Persia he refers.]

[Footnote 497: See Chavannes, Documents sur les Tou-kiue Occidentaux, pp. 121, 125. The inhabitants of K'ang (Samarkand or Sogdiana) are said to honour both religions. Ib. p. 135.]

[Footnote 498: Known to the Chinese by several slightly different names such as Ku-chih, Kiu-tse which are all attempts to represent the same sound. For Kucha see S. Levi's most interesting article "Le 'Tokharien B' langue de Koutcha" in J.A. 1913, II. pp. 311 ff.]

[Footnote 499: J.A. 1913, ii. p. 326.]

[Footnote 500: See Chavannes in Stein's Ancient Khotan, p. 544. The Western Tsin reigned 265-317.]

[Footnote 501: The circumstances which provoked the expedition are not very clear. It was escorted by the king of Turfan and other small potentates who were the vassals of the Tsin and also on bad terms with Kucha. They probably asked Fu-chien for assistance in subduing their rival which he was delighted to give. Some authorities (e.g. Nanjio Cat. p. 406) give Karashahr as the name of Kumarajiva's town, but this seems to be a mistake.]

[Footnote 502: S. Levi, J.A. 1913, ii. p. 348, quoting Hsu Kao Seng Chuan.]

[Footnote 503: Quoted by S. Levi from the Sung Kao Seng Chuan. See J.A. 1913, II. p. 344 and B.E.F.E.O. 1904, p. 562.]

[Footnote 504: As a proof of foreign influence in Chinese culture, it is interesting to note that there were seven orchestras for the imperial banquets, including those of Kucha, Bokhara and India and a mixed one in which were musicians from Samarkand, Kashgar, Camboja and Japan.]

[Footnote 505: Quoted by Bretschneider, Mediaeval Researches, ii. 189.]

[Footnote 506: Pelliot, J.A. 1912, i. p. 579, suggests that Chotscho or Qoco is the Turkish equivalent of Kao Ch'ang in T'ang pronunciation, the nasal being omitted.]

[Footnote 507: Chavannes, Tou-kiue Occidentaux, p. 101.]

[Footnote 508: For the history of Khotan see Remusat, Ville de Khotan, 1820, and Stein's great work Ancient Khotan, especially chapter vii. For the Tibetan traditions see Rockhill, Life of the Buddha, pp. 230 ff.]

[Footnote 509: Ku-stana seems to have been a learned perversion of the name, to make it mean breast of the earth.]

[Footnote 510: The combination is illustrated by the Sino-Kharoshthi coins with a legend in Chinese on the obverse and in Prakrit on the reverse. See Stein, Ancient Khotan, p. 204. But the coins are later than 73 A.D.]

[Footnote 511: The Tibetan text gives the date of conversion as the reign of King Vijayasambhava, 170 years after the foundation of Khotan.]

[Footnote 512: See Sten Konow in J.R.A.S. 1914, p. 345.]

[Footnote 513: See Stein, Ancient Khotan, pp. 170, 456.]

[Footnote 514: Chavannes, Tou-kiue, p. 125, cf. pp. 121 and 170. For Hsien shen see Giles's Chinese Dict. No. 4477.]

[Footnote 515: Beal, Life, p. 205.]

[Footnote 516: Identified by Stein with Kohmari Hill which is still revered by Mohammedans as a sacred spot.]

[Footnote 517: Desert Cathay, II. p. 114.]

[Footnote 518: See Watters, Yuan Chwang, II. p. 296. Beal, Life. p. 205. Chavannes, "Voyage de Sung Yun." B.E.F.E.O. 1903, 395, and for the Tibetan sources, Rockhill, Life of the Buddha, chap. VIII. One of the four Tibetan works is expressly stated to be translated from Khotanese.]

[Footnote 519: The Tibetan Chronicles of Li-Yul say that they worshipped Vaisravana and Srimahadevi.]

[Footnote 520: A monk from Kashmir called Vairocana was also active in Tibet about 750 A.D.]

[Footnote 521: It is also possible that Buddhism had a bad time in the fifth and sixth centuries at the hands of the Tanguts, Juan-Juan and White Huns.]

[Footnote 522: The Later Han Annals say that the Hindus are weaker than the Yueh-chih and are not accustomed to fight because they are Buddhists. (See T'oung Pao, 1910, p. 192.) This seems to imply that the Yueh-chih were not Buddhists. But even this was the real view of the compiler of the Annals we do not know from what work he took this statement nor to what date it refers.]

[Footnote 523: See Beal, Life, p. 39, Julien, p. 50. The books mentioned are apparently the Samyuktabhidharmahridaya (Nanjio, 1287), Abhidharma Kosha (Nanjio, 1267), Abhidharma-Vibhasha (Nanjio, 1264) and Yogacaryabhumi (Nanjio, 1170).]

[Footnote 524: The importance of the Tarim basin is due to the excellent preservation of its records and its close connection with China. The Oxus regions suffered more from Mohammedan iconoclasm, but they may have been at least equally important for the history of Buddhism.]

[Footnote 525: E.g. see the Maitreya inscription of Turfan.]

[Footnote 526: Or at least is not accessible to me here in Hongkong, 1914.]

[Footnote 527: I do not mean to say that all Dharanis are late.]

[Footnote 528: It is even probable that apocryphal Sutras were composed in Central Asia. See Pelliot in Melanges d'Indianisme, Sylvain Levi, p. 329.]

[Footnote 529: The list of manifestations in Jambudvipa enumerates 56 kingdoms. All cannot be identified with certainty, but apparently less than half are within India proper.]

[Footnote 530: See Bibl. Budd. XII. pp. 44, 46, XIV. p. 45.]

[Footnote 531: The Turkish sutras repeatedly style the Buddha God (t'angri) or God of Gods. The expression devatideva is applied to him in Sanskrit, but the Turkish phrases are more decided and frequent. The Sanskrit phrase may even be due to Iranian influence.]

[Footnote 532: An Chou, the Prince to whose memory the temple was dedicated, seems to be regarded as a manifestation of Maitreya.]

[Footnote 533: J.A. 1913, I. p. 154. The series of three articles by Chavannes and Pelliot entitled "Un traite Manicheen retrouve en Chine" (J.A. 1911, 1913) is a most valuable contribution to our knowledge of Manichaeism in Central Asia and China.]

[Footnote 534: E.g. see J.A. 1911, pp. 509 and 589. See also Le Coq, Sitzb. preuss. Akad. der Wiss. 48, 1909, 1202-1218.]

[Footnote 535: J.A. 1913, I. pp. 116 and 132.]

[Footnote 536: See especially Havret, "La stele chretienne de Si-ngan-fu" in Varietes Sinologues, pp. 7, 12 and 20.]

[Footnote 537: See Havret, l. c. III. p. 54, for some interesting remarks respecting the unwillingness of the Nestorians and also of the Jesuits to give publicity to the crucifixion.]

[Footnote 538: See Takakusu, I-tsing, pp. 169, 223, and T'oung Pao, 1896, p. 589.]

[Footnote 539: Turfan and Kucha are spoken of as being mainly Hinayanist.]

[Footnote 540: See Stein, Zoroastrian deities on Indo-Scythian coins, 1887.]

[Footnote 541: See S.B.E. IV. (Vendidad) pp. 145, 209; XXIII. p. 184, V. p. III.]

[Footnote 542: Chap. VII. The notices in Chaps. XXII. and XXIV. are rather more detailed but also later.]

[Footnote 543: XII. p. 23.]

[Footnote 544: Transl. Schiefner, pp. 93, 105 and 303, and Pander's Pantheon, No. 11. But Taranatha also says that he was Aryadeva's pupil.]

[Footnote 545: Sara in Sanskrit.]

[Footnote 546: The doctrine of salvation by faith alone seems to be later. The longer and apparently older version of the Sukhavati Vyuha insists on good works as a condition of entry into Paradise.]

[Footnote 547: S.B.E. IV. p. 293; ib. XXXIII. pp. 317 and 344.]

[Footnote 548: It may also be noticed that Ameretat, the Archangel of immortality, presides over vegetation and that Amida's paradise is full of flowers.]

[Footnote 549: S.B.E. XXIII. pp. 335-7.]

[Footnote 550: S.B.E. XXXI. p. 261.]

[Footnote 551: S.B.E. XXIII. pp. 21-31 (the Ormasd Yasht).]

[Footnote 552: Is it possible that there is any connection between Sukhavati and the land of Saukavastan, governed by an immortal ruler and located by the Bundehish between Turkistan and Chinistan? I imagine there is no etymological relationship, but if Saukavastan was well known as a land of the blessed it may have influenced the choice of a significant Sanskrit word with a similar sound.]

[Footnote 553: E.R.E. sub voce.]

[Footnote 554: J.A. 1912, I. p. 622. Unfortunately only a brief notice of his communication is given with no details. See also S. Levi, Le Nepal, pp. 330 ff.]

[Footnote 555: Ti-tsang in Chinese, Jizo in Japanese. See for his history Visser's elaborate articles in Ostasiatische Ztsft. 1913-1915.]

[Footnote 556: He was accepted by the Manichaeans as one of the Envoys of Light. J.A. 1911, II. p. 549.]



Prefatory note.

For the transcription of Chinese words I use the modern Peking pronunciation as represented in Giles's Dictionary. It may be justly objected that of all dialects Pekingese is perhaps the furthest removed from ancient Chinese and therefore unsuited for historical studies and also that Wade's system of transcription employed by Giles is open to serious criticism. But, on the other hand, I am not competent to write according to the pronunciation of Nanking or Canton all the names which appear in these chapters and, if I were, it would not be a convenience to my readers. Almost all English works of reference about China use the forms registered in Giles's Dictionary or near approximations to them, and any variation would produce difficulty and confusion. French and German methods of transcribing Chinese differ widely from Wade's and unfortunately there seems to be no prospect of sinologues agreeing on any international system.


The study of Chinese Buddhism is interesting but difficult.[557] Here more than in other Asiatic countries we feel that the words and phrases natural to a European language fail to render justly the elementary forms of thought, the simplest relationships. But Europeans are prone to exaggerate the mysterious, topsy-turvy character of the Chinese mind. Such epithets are based on the assumption that human thought and conduct normally conform to reason and logic, and that when such conformity is wanting the result must be strange and hardly human, or at least such as no respectable European could expect or approve. But the assumption is wrong. In no country with which I am acquainted are logic and co-ordination of ideas more wanting than in the British Isles. This is not altogether a fault, for human systems are imperfect and the rigorous application of any one imperfect system must end in disaster. But the student of Asiatic psychology must begin his task by recognising that in the West and East alike, the thoughts of nations, though not always of individuals, are a confused mosaic where the pattern has been lost and a thousand fancies esteemed at one time or another as pleasing, useful or respectable are crowded into the available space. This is especially true in the matter of religion. An observer fresh to the subject might find it hard to formulate the relations to one another and to the Crown of the various forms of Christianity prevalent in our Empire or to understand how the English Church can be one body, when some sections of it are hardly distinguishable from Roman Catholicism and others from non-conformist sects. In the same way Chinese religion offers startling combinations of incongruous rites and doctrines: the attitude of the laity and of the government to the different churches is not to be defined in ordinary European terms and yet if one examines the practice of Europe, it will often throw light on the oddities of China.

The difficulty of finding a satisfactory equivalent in Chinese for the word God is well known and has caused much discussion among missionaries. Confucius inherited and handed on a worship of Heaven which inspired some noble sayings and may be admitted to be monotheism. But it was a singularly impersonal monotheism and had little to do with popular religion, being regarded as the prerogative and special cult of the Emperor. The people selected their deities from a numerous pantheon of spirits, falling into many classes among which two stand out clearly, namely, nature spirits and spirits of ancestors. All these deities, as we must call them for want of a better word, present odd features, which have had some influence on Chinese Buddhism. The boundary between the human and the spirit worlds is slight. Deification and euhemerism are equally natural to the Chinese. Not only are worthies of every sort made into gods,[558] but foreign deities are explained on the same principle. Thus Yen-lo (Yama), the king of the dead, is said to have been a Chinese official of the sixth century A.D. But there is little mythology. The deities are like the figures on porcelain vases: all know their appearance and some their names, but hardly anyone can give a coherent account of them. A poly-daemonism of this kind is even more fluid than Hinduism: you may invent any god you like and neglect gods that don't concern you. The habit of mind which produces sects in India, namely the desire to exalt one's own deity above others and make him the All-God, does not exist. No Chinese god inspires such feelings.

The deities of medieval and modern China, including the spirits recognized by Chinese Buddhism, are curiously mixed and vague personalities.[559] Nature worship is not absent, but it is nature as seen by the fancy of the alchemist and astrologer. The powers that control nature are also identified with ancient heroes, but they are mostly heroes of the type of St. George and the Dragon of whom history has little to say, and Chinese respect for the public service and official rank takes the queer form of regarding these spirits as celestial functionaries. Thus the gods have a Ministry of Thunder which supervises the weather and a Board of Medicine which looks after sickness and health.

The characteristic expression of Chinese popular religion is not exactly myth or legend but religious romance. A writer starts from some slender basis of fact and composes an edifying novel. Thus the well-known story called Hsi-Yu-Chi[560] purports to be an account of Hsuan Chuang's journey to India but, except that it represents the hero as going there and returning with copies of the scriptures, it is romance pure and simple, a fantastic Pilgrim's Progress, the scene of which is sometimes on earth and sometimes in the heavens. The traveller is accompanied by allegorical creatures such as a magic monkey, a pig, and a dragon horse, who have each their own significance and may be seen represented in Buddhist and Taoist temples even to-day. So too another writer, starting from the tradition that Avalokita (or Kuan-Yin) was once a benevolent human being, set himself to write the life of Kuan-Yin, represented as a princess endued with every virtue who cheerfully bears cruel persecution for her devotion to Buddhism. It would be a mistake to seek in this story any facts throwing light on the history of Avalokita and his worship. It is a religious novel, important only because it still finds numerous readers.

It is commonly said that the Chinese belong to three religions, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, and the saying is not altogether inaccurate. Popular language speaks of the three creeds and an ordinary person in the course of his life may take part in rites which imply a belief in them all.[561] Indeed the fusion is so complete that one may justly talk of Chinese religion, meaning the jumble of ceremonies and beliefs accepted by the average man. Yet at the same time it is possible to be an enthusiast for any one of the three without becoming unconventional.

Of the three religions, Confucianism has a disputable claim to the title. If the literary classes of China find it sufficient, they do so only by rejecting the emotional and speculative sides of religion. The Emperor Wan-li[562] made a just epigram when he said that Confucianism and Buddhism are like the wings of a bird. Each requires the co-operation of the other. Confucius was an ethical and political philosopher, not a prophet, hierophant or church founder. As a moralist he stands in the first rank, and I doubt if either the Gospels or the Pitakas contain maxims for the life of a good citizen equal to his sayings. But he ignored that unworldly morality which, among Buddhists and Christians, is so much admired and so little practised. In religion he claimed no originality, he brought no revelation, but he accepted the current ideas of his age and time, though perhaps he eliminated many popular superstitions. He commended the worship of Heaven, which, if vague, still connected the deity with the moral law, and he enjoined sacrifice to ancestors and spirits. But all this apparently without any theory. His definition of wisdom is well known: "to devote oneself to human duties and keep aloof from spirits while still respecting them." This is not the utterance of a sceptical statesman, equivalent to "remember the political importance of religion but keep clear of it, so far as you can." The best commentary is the statement in the Analects that he seldom spoke about the will of Heaven, yet such of his utterances about it as have been preserved are full of awe and submission.[563] A certain delicacy made him unwilling to define or discuss the things for which he felt the highest reverence, and a similar detached but respectful attitude is still a living constituent of Chinese society. The scholar and gentleman will not engage in theological or metaphysical disputes, but he respectfully takes part in ceremonies performed in honour of such venerated names as Heaven, Earth and Confucius himself. Less willingly, but still without remonstrance, he attends Buddhist or Taoist celebrations.

If it is hard to define the religious element in Confucianism, it is still harder to define Taoism, but for another reason, namely, that the word has more than one meaning. In one sense it is the old popular religion of China, of which Confucius selected the scholarly and gentlemanly features. Taoism, on the contrary, rejected no godlings and no legends however grotesque: it gave its approval to the most extravagant and material superstitions, especially to the belief that physical immortality could be insured by drinking an elixir, which proved fatal to many illustrious dupes. As an organized body it owes its origin to Chang-Ling (c. 130 A.D.) and his grandson Chang-Lu.[564] The sect received its baptism of blood but made terms with the Chinese Government, one condition being that a member of the house of Chang should be recognized as its hereditary Patriarch or Pope.[565] Rivalry with Buddhism also contributed to give Taoism something of that consistency in doctrine and discipline which we associate with the word religion, for in their desire to show that they were as good as their opponents the Taoists copied them in numerous and important particulars, for instance triads of deities, sacred books and monastic institutions.

The power of inventive imitation is characteristic of Taoism.[566] In most countries great gods are children of the popular mind. After long gestation and infancy they emerge as deities bound to humanity by a thousand ties of blood and place. But the Taoists, whenever they thought a new deity needful or ornamental, simply invented him, often with the sanction of an Imperial Edict. Thus Yu-Ti,[567] the precious or jade Emperor, who is esteemed the supreme ruler of the world, was created or at least brought into notice about 1012 A.D. by the Emperor Chen Tsung[568] who pretended to have correspondence with him. He is probably an adaptation of Indra and is also identified with a prince of ancient China, but cannot be called a popular hero like Rama or Krishna, and has not the same hold on the affections of the people.

But Taoism is also the name commonly given not only to this fanciful church but also to the philosophic ideas expounded in the Tao-te-ching and in the works of Chuang-tzu. The Taoist priesthood claim this philosophy, but the two have no necessary connection. Taoism as philosophy represents a current of thought opposed to Confucianism, compared with which it is ascetic, mystic and pantheistic, though except in comparison it does not deserve such epithets. My use of pantheistic in particular may raise objection, but it seems to me that Tao, however hard to define, is analogous to Brahman, the impersonal Spirit of Hindu philosophy. The universe is the expression of Tao and in conforming to Tao man finds happiness. For Confucianism, as for Europe, man is the pivot and centre of things, but less so for Taoism and Buddhism. Philosophic Taoism, being somewhat abstruse and unpractical, might seem to have little chance of becoming a popular superstition. But from early times it was opposed to Confucianism, and as Confucianism became more and more the hall-mark of the official and learned classes, Taoism tended to become popular, at the expense of degrading itself. From early times too it dallied with such fascinating notions as the acquisition of miraculous powers and longevity. But, as an appeal to the emotional and spiritual sides of humanity, it was, if superior to Confucianism, inferior to Buddhism.

Buddhism, unlike Confucianism and Taoism, entered China as a foreign religion, but, in using this phrase, we must ask how far any system of belief prevalent there is accepted as what we call a religion. Even in Ceylon and Burma people follow the observances of two religions or at least of a religion and a superstition, but they would undoubtedly call themselves Buddhists. In China the laity use no such designations and have no sense of exclusive membership. For them a religion is comparable to a club, which they use for special purposes. You may frequent both Buddhist and Taoist temples just as you may belong to both the Geographical and Zoological Societies. Perhaps the position of spiritualism in England offers the nearest analogy to a Chinese religion. There are, I believe, some few persons for whom spiritualism is a definite, sufficient and exclusive creed. These may be compared to the Buddhist clergy with a small minority of the laity. But the majority of those who are interested or even believe in spiritualism, do not identify themselves with it in this way. They attend seances as their curiosity or affections may prompt, but these beliefs and practices do not prevent them from also belonging to a Christian denomination. Imagine spiritualism to be better organized as an institution and you will have a fairly accurate picture of the average Chinaman's attitude to Buddhism and Taoism. One may also compare the way in which English poets use classical mythology. Lycidas, for instance, is an astounding compound of classical and biblical ideas, and Milton does not hesitate to call the Supreme Being Jove in a serious passage. Yet Milton's Christianity has never, so far as I know, been called in question.

There is an obvious historical parallel between the religions of the Chinese and early Roman Empires. In both, the imperial and official worship was political and indifferent to dogma without being hostile, provided no sectary refused to call the Emperor Son of Heaven or sacrifice to his image. In both, ample provision was made outside the state cult for allaying the fears of superstition, as well as for satisfying the soul's thirst for knowledge and emotion. A Roman magistrate of the second century A.D. may have offered official sacrifices, propitiated local genii, and attended the mysteries of Mithra, in the same impartial way as Chinese magistrates took part a few years ago in the ceremonies of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. In both cases there was entire liberty to combine with the official religious routine private beliefs and observances incongruous with it and often with one another: in both there was the same essential feature that no deity demanded exclusive allegiance. The popular polytheism of China is indeed closely analogous to the paganism of the ancient world.[569] Hinduism contains too much personal religion and real spiritual feeling to make the resemblance perfect, but in dealing with Apollo, Mars and Venus a Roman of the early Empire seems to have shown the mixture of respect and scepticism which is characteristic of China.

This attitude implies not only a certain want of conviction but also a utilitarian view of religion. The Chinese visit a temple much as they visit a shop or doctor, for definite material purposes, and if it be asked whether they are a religious people in the better sense of the word, I am afraid the answer must be in the negative. It is with regret that I express this opinion and I by no means imply that there are not many deeply religious persons in China, but whereas in India the obvious manifestations of superstition are a superficial disease and the heart of the people is keenly sensitive to questions of personal salvation and speculative theology, this cannot be said of the masses in China, where religion, as seen, consists of superstitious rites and the substratum of thought and feeling is small.

This struck me forcibly when visiting Siam some years ago. In Bangkok there is a large Chinese population and several Buddhist temples have been made over to them. The temples frequented by Siamese are not unlike catholic churches in Europe: the decoration is roughly similar, the standard of decorum much the same. The visitors come to worship, meditate or hear sermons. But in the temples used by the Chinese, a lower standard is painfully obvious and the atmosphere is different. Visitors are there in plenty, but their object is to "get luck," and the business of religion has become transformed into divination and spiritual gambling. The worshipper, on entering, goes to a counter where he buys tapers and incense-sticks, together with some implements of superstition such as rods or inscribed cards. After burning incense he draws a card or throws the rods up into the air and takes an augury from the result. Though the contrast presented in Siam makes the degradation more glaring, yet these temples in Bangkok are not worse than many which I have seen in China. I gladly set on the other side of the account some beautiful and reverent halls of worship in the larger monasteries, but I fear that the ordinary Chinese temple, whether Taoist or Buddhist, is a ghostly shop where, in return for ceremonies which involve neither moral nor intellectual effort, the customer is promised good luck, offspring, and other material blessings.

It can hardly be denied that the populace in China are grossly superstitious. Superstition is a common failing and were statistics available to show the number and status of Europeans who believe in fortune-telling and luck, the result might be startling. But in most civilized countries such things are furtive and apologetic. In China the strangest forms of magic and divination enjoy public esteem. The ideas which underlie popular practice and ritual are worthy of African savages: there has been a monstrous advance in systematization, yet the ethics and intellect of China, brilliant as are their achievements, have not leavened the lump. The average Chinese, though an excellent citizen, full of common sense and shrewd in business, is in religious matters a victim of fatuous superstition and completely divorced from the moral and intellectual standards which he otherwise employs.

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