FA-HIEN (fl. A.D. 399-4 1 4), Chinese Buddhist monk, pilgrimtraveller, and writer, author of one of the earliest and most valuable Chinese accounts of India. He started from Changgan or Si-gan-fu, then the capital of the Tsin empire, and passing the Great Wall, crossed the " River of Sand "or Gobi Desert beyond, that home of " evil demons and hot winds," which he vividly describes, - where the only way-marks were the bones of the dead, where no bird appeared in the air above, no animal on the ground below. Arriving at Khotan, the traveller witnessed a great Buddhist festival; here, as in Yarkand, Afghanistan and other parts thoroughly Islamized before the close of the middle ages, Fa-Hien shows us Buddhism still prevailing. India was reached by a perilous descent of " ten thousand cubits " from the " wall-like hills " of the Hindu Kush into the Indus valley (about A.D. 402); and the pilgrim passed the next ten years in the " central " Buddhist realm, - making journeys to Peshawur and Afghanistan (especially the Kabul region) on one side, and to the Ganges valley on another. His especial concern was the exploration of the scenes of Buddha's life, the copying of Buddhist texts, and converse with the Buddhist monks and sages whom the Brahmin reaction had not yet driven out. Thus we find him at Buddha's birthplace on the Kohana, north-west of Benares; in Patna and on the Vulture Peak near Patna; at the Jetvana monastery in Oudh; as well as at Muttra on the Jumna, at Kanauj, and at Tamluk near the mouth of the Hugli. But now the narrative, which in its earlier portions was primarily historical and geographical, becomes mystical and theological; miraclestories and meditations upon Buddhist moralities and sacred memories almost entirely replace matters of fact. From the Ganges delta Fa-Hien sailed with a merchant ship, in fourteen days, to Ceylon, where he transcribed all the sacred books, as yet unknown in China, which he could find; witnessed the festival of the exhibition of Buddha's tooth; and remarked the trade of Arab merchants to the island, two centuries before Mahomet. He returned by sea to the mouth of the Yangtse-Kiang, changing vessels at Java, and narrowly escaping shipwreck or the fate of Jonah.
Fa-Hien's work is valuable evidence to the strength, and in many places to the dominance, of Buddhism in central Asia and in India at the time of the collapse of the Roman empire in western Europe. His tone throughout is that of the devout, learned, sensible, rarely hysterical pilgrim-traveller. His record is careful and accurate, and most of his positions can be identified; his devotion is so strong that it leads him to depreciate China as a " border-land," India the home of Buddha being the true " middle kingdom " of his creed.
See James Legge, Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms, being an account by the Chinese Monk Fd-hien of his travels in India and Ceylon; translated and edited, with map, &c. (Oxford, 1886); S. Beal, Travels of Fah-Hian and SungYun, Buddhist pilgrims from China to India, 400 and 518 A.D., translated, with map, &c. (1869); C. R. Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, vol. i. (1897), pp. 478-485.
Faxian (also known as Fa-Hien and Fa-hsien) was a Chinese Buddhist monk who travelled by foot from China to India, visiting many sacred Buddhist sites in what are now Xinjiang, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka between 399-412 to acquire Buddhist texts. His journey is described in his important travelogue, A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms, Being an Account by the Chinese Monk Fa-Xian of his Travels in India and Ceylon in Search of the Buddhist Books of Discipline. Antiquated transliterations of his name include Fa-Hien and Fa-hsien.
Biography: He visited India during the reign of Chandragupta II and is most known for his pilgrimage to Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautama Buddha in modern Nepal. Faxian claimed that demons and dragons were the original inhabitants of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He is said to have walked all the way from China across icy desert and rugged mountain passes. He entered India from the northwest and reached Pataliputra. He took back with him Buddhist texts and images sacred to Buddhism.
On Faxian's way back to China, after a two-year stay in Ceylon, a violent storm drove his ship onto an island that was probably Java. After five months there, Faxian took another ship for southern China but, again, it was blown off course and they ended up landed at Laoshan in what is now the Shandong peninsula in northern China, 30 km east of the city of Qingdao. He spent the rest of his life translating and editing the scriptures he had collected.
Faxian wrote a book on his travels, filled with accounts of early Buddhism, and the geography and history of numerous countries along the Silk Roads as they were, at the turn of the 5th century CE.
The information given about our author, beyond what he himself has told us. Fa-hien was his clerical name, and means "Illustrious in the Law," or "Illustrious master of the Law." The Shih which often precedes it is an abbreviation of the name of Buddha as Sakyamuni, "the Sakya, mighty in Love, dwelling in Seclusion and Silence," and may be taken as equivalent to Buddhist.
Death:In the end that after his return to China, he went to the capital May be Nanking , and there, along with the Indian Sramana Buddha-bhadra, executed translations of some of the works which he had obtained in India; and that before he had done all that he wished to do in this way, he removed to King-chow (in the present Hoo-pih), and died in the monastery of Sin, at the age of 88, to the great sorrow of all who knew him.