Excerpt from Faxian, A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms

Translated by James Legge


In the year 399 CE, when he was about 60 years old, a Chinese Buddhist monk named Faxian went on a

pilgrimage from central China to West Bengal, India. Traveling primarily on foot, Faxian was on the road

for almost fourteen years, visiting places such as Sri Lanka and Sumatra along his way from China to

India and back. He returned to the Chinese mainland in 413 CE, carrying books of the Buddhist canon

and images of Buddhist deities. Faxian wrote down his experiences to the benefit of future travelers. The

information was compiled into A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms, sometimes also called The Travels of Faxian.

Below is an excerpt from Faxian’s account of his visit to central India.


From this place they travelled south-east, passing by a succession of very many monasteries, with

a multitude of monks, who might be counted by myriads. After passing all these places, they

came to a country named Mataoulo. They still followed the course of the Poona river, on the

banks of which, left and right, there were twenty monasteries, which might contain three

thousand monks; and here the Law of Buddha was still more flourishing. Everywhere, from the

sandy desert, in all the countries of India, the kings had been firm believers in that Law. When

they make their offerings to a community of monks, they take off their royal caps, and along with

their relatives and ministers, supply them with food with their own hands. That done, the king

has a carpet spread for himself on the ground, and he sits down in front of the chairman;—they

dare not presume to sit on couches in front of the community. The laws and ways, according to

which the kings presented their offerings when the Buddha was in the world, have been handed

down to the present day.

All south from this is named the Middle Kingdom. In it the cold and heat are finely tempered,

and there is neither frost nor snow. The people are numerous and happy; they do not have to

register their households, or attend to any magistrates and their rules; only those who cultivate

the royal land have to pay a portion of the grain from it. If they want to go, they go; if they want

to stay on, they stay. The king governs without decapitation or other corporal punishments.

Criminals are simply fined, lightly or heavily, according to the circumstances of each case. Even

in cases of repeated attempts at wicked rebellion, they only have their right hands cut off. The

king’s body guards and attendants all have salaries. Throughout the whole country the people

do not kill any living creature, nor drink intoxicating liquor, nor eat onions or garlic. The only

exception is that of the Kandalas. That is the name for those who are held to be wicked men, and

live apart from others. When they enter the gate of a city or a marketplace, they strike a piece of

wood to make themselves known, so that men know and avoid them, and do not come into

contact with them. In that country they do not keep pigs and fowls, and do not sell live cattle; in

the markets there are no butchers’ shops and no dealers in intoxicating drink. Only the Kandalas

are fishermen and hunters, and sell flesh meat.



The regular business of the monks is to perform acts of meritorious virtue, and to recite their

sutras and sit in meditation. When foreign monks arrive at any monastery, the old residents meet

and receive them, carry for them their clothes and alms-bowl, give them water to wash their feet,

oil with which to anoint them, and the liquid food permitted out of the regular hours. When the

foreigner has enjoyed a very brief rest, they further ask the number of years that he has been a

monk, after which he receives a sleeping apartment, according to his regular order, and

everything is done for him which the rules prescribe.

Where a community of monks resides, they erect topes to Sariputtra, to the Great

Maudgalyayana, and to Ananda, and also in honor of the Abhidharma, the Vinaya, and the

Sutras. A month after the annual season of rest, the families which are looking out for blessing

encourage one another to make offerings to the monks, and send round to them the liquid food

which may be taken out of the ordinary hours. All the monks come together in a great assembly

and preach the Law; after which offerings are presented for Sariputtra, with all kinds of flowers

and incense. All through the night lamps are kept burning, and skillful musicians are employed

to perform.

[…] When the monks are done receiving their annual tribute from the harvests, the Heads of the

Vaisyas and all the Brahmans bring clothes and other such articles as the monks require for use,

and distribute among them. The monks, having received them, also proceed to give portions to

one another. From the nirvana of the Buddha, the forms of ceremony, laws, and rules, practiced

by the sacred communities, have been handed down from one generation to another without