Venerable Fa Hsien Thera is a Chinese Buddhist Monk who engaged in a quest to bring the sacred Buddhist texts from the then South Asian sites of Buddhism and translate them to propagate the Buddha Dhamma in China. His endeavour that started in 399 CE was to last more than 12 years before he could return to China. Venerable Fa Hsien Thera is regarded as a crucial historical link between China and other Asian Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka, where in the present day the Belt and Road Initiative has evoked the significance of the ancient land and maritime Silk Roads he travelled.
Born in 337 CE in Shanxi, Ven. Fa Hsien lived under the influence of Buddhism which enjoyed imperial favour during the Eastern Jin Dynasty and adopted his spiritual name which translates as the “Splendour of Dhamma”. His travelogue - Foguoji (“Record of Buddhist Kingdoms”) gives vivid details of his travels from China to India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and then to Sri Lanka which was then one of the most flourishing centres of learning Buddhism at the time. What is incredible is that his travel on land was mostly on foot, despite the dangers ever-present and obvious.
On an account of his terrifying crossing of the wastelands of Central Asia, he writes:
In the desert were numerous evil spirits and scorching winds, causing death to anyone who would meet them. Above there were no birds, while on the ground there were no animals. One looked as far as one could in all directions for a path to cross, but there was none to choose. Only the dried bones of the dead served as indications.
Upon his arrival in North Western India in 402 CE, he settled into studying the Sanskrit scripts with Buddhist scholars and engaging in conversations with learned monks
Upon his arrival in North Western India in 402 CE, he settled into studying the Sanskrit scripts with Buddhist scholars and engaging in conversations with learned monks. He transcribed the Vinaya of Mahasanghika School and acquired another version of Vinaya from Sarvastivada School and the famous Mahaparinirvana-Sutra.He visited the most important sites of Buddhist learning - Udyana, Gandhara, Peshawar and Taxila, and the Buddhist Holy Sites - Lumbini, the Birthplace of Prince Siddhartha, Bodh Gaya where Enlightenment was attained, Baranas, the site of the first sermon and Kushinagar where the exalted one attained supreme bliss of Parinirvana.
On his return trip to China, Ven. Fa Hsien Thera took a different route from the one he adopted for his arrival and sailed to Sri Lanka where he added the Mahishasaka Vinaya and a selection of the Sarvastivada canon to his collection of Buddhist scripts. After 02 years in Sri Lanka, he set sail for China, where he spent the rest of his life translating and editing the scriptures, rendering a yeoman service to Buddhism in China till his passing away in around 422 CE.
May Venerable Fa Hsien Thera attain the Supreme Bliss of Nirvana!
Colonel Sudath Madugalle
Secretary General-Sri Lanka China Buddhist
Deputy Secretary General-World Fellowship of Buddhists.