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Indian Savants' Obsrvations on China

P C Bagchi



If two different people like the Chinese and the Indians, who lived in different climates, spoke different languages, and possessed different traditions of culture and religion, could meet on a common platform and work harmoniously for a common civilization, the reason was probably much more deep-rooted than we are generally used to believe. The cultural and social ideals of the two peoples had many things in common, It is possible to discover a community between the two amidst the great diversities of expressions. The same reliance on some heavenly order, the same force of tradition, and similar social ideals characterized the two civilizations in the past.

T’ien and Varuna

The central point in the ancient religious belief of China was the conception of T’ien [Tian] "Heaven." The Heaven is the creator, the preserver as well as the destroyer of everything in the world. He is the august sovereign, full of majesty, who created and placed the people in their proper place. He is the guardian of the universal order. He controls the movement of the sun, the moon and the stars, the rotation of the seasons, and the ways of mankind. He sees everything and judges everything. He rules through a mandate which may be withdrawn in case those to whom it is entrusted do not preserve it according to his intentions. He is responsible for the security, prosperity and the good of mankind. Those who conform to his order never have to come to grief but those who violate it get destroyed. One of the old odes brings out his relations with man:

“May Heaven guard and keep yo

In great security,

Make you staunch and hale,

What blessing not vouchsafed?

Give you much in increase,

Send nothing but abundance.

May Heaven guard and keep you,

Cause your grain to prosper,

Send you nothing that is not good.

May you receive from Heaven a hundred boons,

May Heaven send down to you blessings so many

That the day is not long enough for them all.”

There is a god like T’ien in the Hindu pantheon of ancient times - he is the Vedic Varuna. Varuna who corresponds to Iranian Ahura Mazda, was the greatest Indo-Iranian god. In the Vedic hymns too he occupies the same position, The name meant “the Encompasser" and the god seems to have personified the entire shining heaven. He is conceived as, the king of all, both gods and men, - the universal monarch. He’ sends the dawns, makes the sun cross the sky and causes the rain. He is the upholder of both the physical and the moral orders, He is the great lord of the laws of nature. He established heaven and earth. He dwells in all the worlds. He is the guardian of the whole world and the supporter of the earth and the heaven. By Varuna’s ordinances the moon and the stars move and shine. He regulates the seasons and the months. He i$ also the regulator of the waters that bring prosperity to the earth.

Varuna is also the moral governor. His anger is roused by sin, the infringement of his ordinances, which he severely punishes. He is a punisher of falsehood. He is an omniscient god and there is nothing in the world which he does not know. He is a constant witness of men’s truth and falsehood. No creature can do, think, or devise anything without being noticed by him, So great and so powerful is the great god Varuna.

Varuna’s order is called rta. He is the chief guardian of this order. He does not allow anybody, either god or man, to infringe this order.  

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T’ien-tseu and Rajan

According to old Chinese belief the Emperor was the sole trustee of the mandate of the Heaven and hence he was called - the Son of Heaven, T’ientseu (Tianzi]. But the trustee could not afford to be an arbitrary ruler. The mandate which he received from the Heaven was not a perpetual mandate. It could be withdrawn the moment it was misused. We have seen that the Heaven was considered as the omniscient and all-powerful sovereign who could not brook the infringement of the universal order of which he was the sole guardian. So the Son of Heaven, the sovereign on earth by the heavenly mandate, had to know the heavenly intentions and follow strictly the heavenly order. Tradition records the fall of Emperors who had failed to understand these intentions and neglected the path of virtue.

Hence the Emperors are often reminded of their heavy duties. One of the ancient Emperors is reported to have said: "August is the Emperor above. Raise your aspirations above common level. I shall like your distinction and humility. When virtue shines on earth it is the glory of the Heaven. The Emperor who follows Him well gets abundance of good. Great is the mandate of the Heaven. It is not perpetual. It is not easy to keep it. In ancient times the Emperors had days of prosperity and happiness so long as they conformed to the intentions of the sovereign on high. Consequently I also fear the judgment of the Heaven day and night and thus conduct myself.” Thus a prince who aspires after the position of a true sovereign must make himself perfect. He should fulfill his duties towards his parents, should know the Heaven and the people. The manifold duties of the Emperor, the Son of Heaven, are set forth in the Great Law which is said to have been promulgated by the Emperor Wu-wang in the 12th century B.C. As it has many points of similarity with the duties of the king (rajadharrrra) as set forth in the law-books (dharmastras) it is better to give a full translation of the text. It is as follows:

“Firstly, the five elements. The first is water, the second fire, the third wood, the fourth metal and the fifth earth. The nature of water is to drench, and to flow down, that of fire is to burn and rise high. The wood lends itself to be bent and shaped. The metal obeys the hand of the worker and assumes different shapes. The earth receives the seeds and yields harvest. Water drenches, flows down and produces salt. Fire burns, rises high and produces bitter taste. Wood, bent and shaped, produces bitter taste. Metal obeys, changes its forms and produces acid taste. Earth receives seeds, yields harvest and produces sweet taste.”

“Secondly, the five acts. The first is external bearing, the second speech, the third looks, the fourth hearing and fifth reflection. The external bearing should be composed, the speech conforming to reason, the looks perspicacious, the ears extremely attentive and the mind meditative and penetrating. A well composed bearing is respectful, a speech conforming to reason is well regulated, a perspicacious look conduces to prudence, and application to hearing is the mother of good counsels, and a meditative and penetrating mind attains the highest wisdom.”

"Thirdly, the eight parts of administration. The first concerns the good (of the people), the second the commodities of life, the third sacrifices, the fourth public works, the fifth education, the sixth criminal law, the seventh hospitality and the eighth military service."

“Fourthly, the five regulators of time. The first is the year, the second the month, the third the day, the fourth the twelve zodiacal signs and the stars and the fifth the time calculation or the calendar."

“Fifthly, the highest perfection befitting an Emperor. Oh, Prince, by setting example of the highest perfection you will get the five blessings which you must divide among your numerous subjects. Your numerous subjects will imitate your sublime perfection and will help you to preserve it. When your numerous subjects do not create unrest and your ministers do not enter into a conspiracy against you it is the effect of the highest perfection of which you will set the example.”

“Do not oppress the weak that has neither brothers nor children. Do not fear those who hold a high rank. Among the officers who are talented and who administer the affairs well, excite the desire to advance always in the path of virtue and your state will be flourishing. Men entrusted to govern are virtuous when they are affluent. If you do not know the means of enabling them to maintain good harmony in their families which are also yours, they will commit crimes. If you shower favours on those who do not love the virtue you will have to repent for having vicious men in your service.”

“No partiality, no injustice, administer justice like a sovereign. No special and irregular affection, follow the principles which the sovereign teaches us by example. No special and unruly aversion, let us follow the way that is indicated by the sovereign by his example. Let us, all together, advance towards sublime perfection of which sovereign is the example. Let us reach, all together, this sublime perfection. The exposition of the sublime virtues of the Emperor, when developed, becomes the law of customs, the most perfect teaching.”

“Sixthly, the three virtues. The first is uprightness and equity, the second firmness in the government and the third softness in the government, It is necessary to govern the quiet and peace loving men with an equitable uprightness, those who resist and refuse to obey with firmness and those who are docile and obedient with softness. It is necessary to govern with firmness those who stagnate in indolence and with softness those who distinguish themselves by their talents and good disposition.”

"Seventhly, the examination of doubtful things. It is necessary to select and appoint soothsayers to ascertain the truth, some by means of the tortoise shell and some by means of the reeds. When you have doubts on an important affair, discuss it yourself, discuss it with your ministers and officers, consult the people and have the tortoise and the reeds consulted. If your undertaking is approved by yourself, by the tortoise, by the reeds, by your ministers and officers and by the people unanimously it will succeed.”

"Eighthly, the different effects. These are rain, fair weather, heat, cold and wind as well as the periods. While all the five things come in sufficient quantity and each of them in time, all the plants prosper. If one of them comes too abundantly or fails to come it is calamity. There are beneficent effects also. The seriousness of the Emperor causes rain at the proper time, his good administration causes serenity of the sky, his prudence causes heat, his mental application causes cold, and his great wisdom causes the wind. There are also unfortunate effects. The inconsiderateness of the Emperor makes the rain last long, his errors the serenity of the sky, his indolence the heat, his hastiness cold and his stupidity wind. Let therefore the Emperor examine them every year, let the high nobles examine them every month and let the officers examine them every day. If nothing untowards happens then you will see that the grains have ripened, that the administration is intelligent, that the talented men are honoured and the families enjoy peace and happiness”

"The people are like the constellations (the Emperor and his ministers are like the sun and the moon). Some constellations like the wind, some the rain. The sun and the moan accomplish their revolutions and thus bring the winter and the summer. The moon goes round the constellations and brings the wind and the rain.”

“Ninthly, the five blessings. The first is longevity, the second health, the third health and peace of mind, the fourth the love of virtue and the fifth a complete life. The six evils are: the first, a life shortened by misfortune, the second illness, the third sorrow, the fourth poverty, the fifth perversity and the sixth weakness (of character).”

Kingship was also largely regarded as a divine institution by the Hindus in ancient times, The Kings in the Vedic hymns associate themselves with the acts of the great god Varuna and consider themselves as the true representatives of Varuna on earth on whom the gods bestow their principal energies. Varuna is the rajan, king, samraj, universal monarch and the ksatra, the possessor of sovereign power on high. So also is the king on earth. He is the rajan, samraj, ksatriya. Varuna is the lord of rta or dharma - the cosmic law. The king on earth is also the protector of this law. Assumption of royalty was accompanied by a series of sacrifices beginning with abhiseka or consecration and ending with the asvamedha or the full consummation of the royal power. These sacrifices alone could establish complete unity between the gods and the kings and this unity was essential as authority was supposed to come from the divine guardian of the cosmic order, As the kings considered themselves the counterparts of the gods on earth, a moral sanction was necessary for their acts and this sanction could be procured by offering sacrifices alone that the divine intentions could be properly understood.

The position and the duties of the king are more fully described in the law-books (dharmasastras) as well as in the Great Epic (Mahabharta). The picture of the king as drawn in this literature is in every respect similar to that of the “Son of Heaven.”  it is that the king is a divinely appointed person. He combines in himself the essence of the presiding deities of the eight quarters of the earth, viz., Varuna, Indra, Vayu, Yama, Surya, Agni, Candra and Kuvera. He is not an ordinary man but the great god in the form of human being.

But this divinely ordained king cannot afford to be an arbitrary ruler. Acquisition of qualities, similar to those mentioned in the Chinese “Great Law,” is the sine qua non of his assumption of royalty. He must be an embodiment of fatherly love, protection and care. He is the model for his people who rise with him or fall with him. “As is the king so is the people.” Even the nature of the age is determined by the king’s personal conduct. It is categorically said: “Let a man be purified in heart, let his folks and ministers reverence his acts and he is a king, the best of kings.” He is responsible for the happiness of his kingdom. He must learn to control himself, overcome love and anger, and subdue his passions. The virtues of the king that became proverbial in the Epic and the Law-books are wisdom, breeding, self-respect, knowledge, courage, generosity, gratitude, and uprightness. The people suffer if the king is sinful and they enjoy prosperity if he is virtuous. He remains the custodian of the divine trust so long as he follows the path of virtue.  

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Ancestor Worship and Pitriyajna

The manes occupied a large place in the Chinese religion of early times. Next to the Heaven, their influence was considered as the most important in shaping the future of posterity. Sacrifices were offered to them periodically as it was by passing the departed ancestors that their children could expect to attain prosperity, longevity, happiness, peace, etc. Their way was considered as the straight road that was to be followed by their children. This is clearly stated in the old texts: “In the temples the musical instruments resound forcefully and harmoniously. The ancestors hear their sounds. They come down and bring with them all the blessings. They receive the offering through the intermediary of the personage that represents them. Through the mouth of the master of the ceremony they say: you will have a long life. You will have an endless life.” At the end of the sacrifice, the sacrifice exclaims as if under a divine inspiration: ‘The representative of our ancestors has eaten and drunk. Wealth and happiness will be showered on us. Misfortune will never visit us.”

Much about this sacrifice to the manes is said in the ancient odes preserved in the She-king, [Shijing]. These odes are often characterised by a simplicity and elegance that reminds us of the hymns of the Rig-Veda. One example from the fine translation of Arthur Waley will be sufficient to give an idea of this type of poetry. To take the Ode No. 204 addressed to the ancestors-

"Ah, the glorious ancestors -Endless -

Endless their blessings,

Boundless their gifts are extended;

To you too, their needs must reach.

We have brought them clear wine;

They will give victory.

Here too is soup well seasoned,

Well prepared, well mixed.

Because we come in silence,

Setting all quarrels aside,

They make safe for us a ripe old age,

We shall reach the withered cheek,

we shall go on and on.

with our leather-bound naves, our

bronze clad yokes,

With eight bells a-jangle

We come to make offering.

The charge put upon us is vast and mighty,

From heaven dropped our prosperity,

Good harvests, great abundance.

They come, they accept,

They send down blessings numberless.”

Thus it was not merely for long life and prosperity that sacrifice had to be offered to the ancestors. Good harvests also depended on their kindness. That is why they had to be offered all the best things available -the first fruits, good food and drink, the best animal for sacrifice and so on. The details of the sacrifice are also available from the odes. Thus we are told that one person while sacrificing to his ancestors presented cucumbers, the hairs, the blood and the fat of an ox that was killed for the occasion, He offered perfumed wine as libation. The hairs of the animal were offered to prove that the animal was pure. Its blood was offered to show that the animal had been really killed. The libations of scented wine were given so that its smell could attract the ancestors to the sacrificial place. That fat was burnt for the same purpose.

The Pitris, the departed ancestors, occupied the same important place in the life of the Hindu as in the life of the Chinese. Sacrifice to the manes (pitriyajna) was the most important duty of the householder. No social and religious ceremony would be complete without an offering to the manes. In the Vedic hymns the Pitris are regarded as the companions of the gods. They live in the highest heaven and revel with the gods. They receive oblations along with the gods as their food. Sacrifice is offered to them with the hope that they would intercede for and protect their votaries. They have the power to injure their descendants for any sin committed against them and hence their favour is implored. They are capable of giving wealth, offspring and long life to their sons who follow their way. The way of the Pitris (pitriyana) is regarded as more important than the way of the gods (devayana).

The sacrifice to the manes figure even more prominently in the Hindu social and religious life of later times. It gradually became more elaborate. It had to be performed regularly not only in the appointed season of the year but also at the time of the important social ceremonies such as investiture with sacred thread, marriage, etc. It was considered that without imploring their favour none of these family duties could be property fulfilled. In spite of considerable changes in the religious ideas the importance attached to the Pitriyajrra in ancient times is still maintained in the Hindu life of today.

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Taoism and Indian Thought

We have seen that according to the ancient Chinese belief it was of the utmost importance for the king and the people to ascertain the intentions of the T’ien (Heaven) and to work according to them for the preservation of the Heavenly order. The intentions of the Heaven were ascertained objectively by divination with tortoise shell and reeds at the time of the sacrifice. This was the traditional method. A subjective approach seems to have been discovered much earlier and it was further developed by a philosopher named Lao-tseu [Laozi].

Lao-tseu was an elder contemporary of Confucius and lived between 570 and 490 B.C. His personal history is not much known, He was most probably a librarian in the court of the Chou Emperors and it is said that while engaged in the study of the ancient archives there, he discovered his new philosophy. He has himself told us that his philosophy was not his own creation and that it was embedded in the old tradition. His credit was merely to discover it.

The word Tao has been differently understood. It is admitted by all that the word cannot be properly rendered into a foreign language. In the old texts it means : ‘way’, ‘way of virtue’, ‘principles of wisdom’, ‘the way of perfection; and so forth, T’ien Tao meant ‘the way of the Heaven’. It thus came to be considered as the unique principle behind the appearance of things. It is both transcendent and immanent. That is the reason for which it lends itself to be realized subjectively. Lao-tseu believed that it could be realized by religiosity, fervour and mystic union with the principle.

Lao-tseu’s philosophy is contained in a famous book entitled Tao-to-king [Daodejing]. Tao is defined in it as the eternal universal principle. It is said that it cannot be expressed or defined in language and that “if a name has been given to it, it is as a symbol, if not of its unfathomable essence, at least of the way in which it manifests itself on earth.” The text further says:

“This principle which is enunciated is not that which always existed. The being that may be named is not that which always existed. Before all times, there was an ineffable and unnamable being. When he was stilt unnamable he conceived the heaven and the earth. He then became namable and gave birth to all beings. Man’s knowledge of the universal principle depends on the state of his mind. The mind which is habitually free from passions knows its mysterious essence, The mind which is habitually full of passions knows only its effects.”

The disciples of Lao-tseu while explaining the passage say that before all times there was a being who was self-existent, eternal, infinite, complete and omnipresent. It is impossible to name him and speak of him because human words apply to perceptible beings. But the primordial being was at the beginning, as after, essentially imperceptible to the senses. Before the origin of the world there was nothing beyond him. His essence alone existed at the beginning. This essence possessed two immanent properties - the yin, that is the state of concentration and yang, its expansion. Their exteriortzation gave birth to the two perceptible forms of the heaven and the earth. The principle thus assumed a name. The state of yin, the state of concentration and repose, is the real state of the principle. The state of yang, the state of expansion and action or the state of manifestation   in perceptible beings, is its condition in time, a condition which is illusory.

To these two conditions of the principle correspond in the mental faculty of man the two states of repose and activity. As long as the mind is productive of ideas it is full of images. It is then moved by passions and recognizes only the effects of the principle. But when the cogitation of the mind stops and the mind becomes void and calm, it then becomes a pure and unstained mirror in which the ineffable and the unnamable essence of the principle reflects itself.

This principle is further defined in the Tao-to-king as the “true nature.” The superior kind of wisdom consists in knowing this true nature of self. It can be attained by imposing one’s own will on himself and in mastering his passions. It can be realized by renouncing all forms of conventional knowledge and worldly activities. In the words of Lao-tseu, a true sage “acts without acting, is busy without being busy, tastes without tasting, sees with the same eye the great and the small, much and little.” These words of Lao-tseu are capable of only one interpretation. Man ought to realise the universal principle or the true nature of his self. This principle which is identical with the true nature cannot be defined by words, it has to be realized. Realization is possible only when the passions have been mastered, the worldly ideas and images have been removed from the mind and a perfect calm has been attained. The mind goes back to its real nature when it is completely clean and void. This cannot be attained through conventional knowledge. When it is attained, the mind undergoes a complete change. The man then moves in the world but not as others do. As he is then free from passions he acts but he is not moved by any of his actions: he looks at others but sees in them only one universal principle. He does not then distinguish this man from that man.

There is a practical side of this mysticism. The method by which the transcendental state can be reached is indicated by Lao-tseu in the following words: “Close your mouth and nostrils and you will run to the end of your days without any decay. To talk too much and to indulge in too many anxieties is to waste yourself and to shorten your life. To concentrate the rays of intelligence on the intelligence and not to allow the mental functions to disturb your body is to cover (or to protect) the body so that it may endure long." This method is set forth much more elaborately by his disciple Chuang-tseu [Zhuangzi] (380-320 B.C.?) in the following words: “One should retire to river banks or solitary places and abstain from doing anything just as those who really love nature and like to enjoy leisure do. To take in breath in a measured way, to evacuate the air contained in the lungs and to refresh it by fresh air lengthens one’s life.”

There is no doubt a close similarity between this conception of Tao and that of the Upanishadic Brahman. Like Tao, Brahman is also conceived as the unique reality behind the universe. He is eternal, omniscient and omnipresent. He is both transcendent and immanent. He is the cosmic atman while the individual atman or self is one with him. It is not possible to describe this Brahman in language. It is not possible to know him with our senses. It is only by purifying our mind, by tapas or by religiosity and fervour that we can realize him. The whole science of yoga was evolved as an expedient of this realization. It required complete concentration, expulsion from the mind of all impressions of the exterior world, either through breath control or meditation in secluded places. Realization of the Brahman meant the establishment of perfect unity between the cosmic and the individual atman. This could be possible in a mind completely free from the grasp of the objective world. This realization also meant a going back or return to the original principle (karana). Further, in the Yoga texts it is clearly stated that Prakrti or the creative principle has two movements, outward and inward, and when its inward movement reaches completion, liberation is attained. The outward movement leads to the creation of illusory objects which bind down the mind to the objective world. These two movements are similar to the conceptions of the yin and the yang, the states of concentration and expansion inherent in the Tao.

The analogy can be carried even farther. But what has been said above makes it quite clear that the philosophy of Lao-tseu and the Upanishadic philosophy had some striking similarities. It is impossible to maintain that Tao was a borrowed conception. There is no evidence of any contact between India and China before the 1st century B.C. The ancient Taoism was by then a fully developed philosophy. Besides, we have seen that the conception of Tao was a logical development of some of the old Chinese religious ideas.

The similarity was due to a natural and inevitable development of similar religious ideas of a more distant past. As in China so also in India the old religion gave rise to ritualism (karma) on the one hand and philosophy (jnana) on the other. In China the former was developed in the hands of the literati headed by Confucius who upheld the traditional and elaborate sacrifice to the Tien and the manes, the divination, etc. The latter, the philosophical aspect, was developed by Lao-tseu and his followers. Lao-tseu had probably his predecessors. They advocated a subjective approach for the realization of the divine will. In India too the traditionalism was advocated and developed by the makers of the Law-books (dharmasastras) while the philosophical approach defined for the first time in the Upanishads was further developed in the various systems of later times.

(Form India and China : A Thousand Years of Sina-lndia Cultural Contact, Calcutta: China Press Limited, 1944, pp. 184-203)  

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Cultural relations between India and China seem to have been mostly a one-way traffic. That is why no serious attempt has ever been made to discover any Chinese influence on Indian life and thought. In fact the impact of Indian cultural influence on China has been so heavy that the possibility of any Chinese influence on India has not occurred to anybody. Besides, from the Han to the Song period the number of Chinese scholars that came to India were much less than the number of Indian scholars that went to China.

It is always difficult to trace the influence of any foreign idea on ancient Indian thought. The ancient texts do not as a rule indicate the provenance of an idea even if it be borrowed. India, faithful to her time-honoured tradition, had no interest in the history of an idea. Her real interest was in the idea itself and in how far it could contribute to the advancement of her own cultural ideals. When an assimilation seemed possible the synthesis became so perfect that M trace of its foreign origin could be discovered.

It is however possible to trace certain Chinese influences on Indian life and thought at the very first sight. In material culture we had borrowed a number of Chinese things since very early times. Trade relations with China were as old as the time of Chang Kien [Zhang Qian]. Chang Kien speaks of these relations by the Burma road and refers to Chinese commodities imported from South-Western China by Indian merchants. Hiuan-tsang[Xuanzang], ..... speaks of the introduction of peaches and pears in India from China in the Kushan period. Vermilion, I have suggested, probably came from China. Porcelain industry known in later periods in certain parts of India seems to have been introduced from China. It is well known that some varieties of silks(cinamsuka) came from China. Besides, plantations of tea and leechee were also introduced from China in comparatively later times.

What is however more important is the Chinese influence on certain types of literary compositions and mystic cults. Strictly speaking we never developed the tradition of writing history or historical annals in ancient times. There is reference to Itihasa in old texts but we do not know what sort of composition it really was. In some of the Puranas we get the list of ruling dynasties and the names of kings but there is no attempt to record the political events of any particular reign or give a chronological picture of the succession of rulers. It cannot be considered as a historical annal in the real sense of the term. Albiruni states that the Shahi rulers who claimed descent from the ancient Kushans possessed dynastic annals which were written on silk. These annals were preserved in the fort of Nagarkot but were destroyed during the Muslim invasion. These are probably the same records which Hiuan-tsang refers to as ni-Io-pi-t'u (nilapitam) which contained official annals and State papers. The colour “blue and yellow” evidently speaks of the colour of the silk on which the records were inscribed. It is needless to say that the custom of keeping such records on silk is Chinese. The Kushans had very intimate relations with China and it is quite likely that they introduced the practice of keeping State annals from that country.

Since early medieval times some of the Hindu States in India started appointing official annalists to keep historical records of the reigns of their rulers. This is first noticed in Kashmir and Nepal. The Rajatarangini and its supplement are systematic annals of the kingdom of Kashmir. The Vamsavalis of Nepal go back to about the 9th century. The treatment of historical data is more accurate in these Vamsavalis than in the Kashmir chronicles as they indicate the dates of the reigns and the events occurring during a particular reign. In the East the Ahoms introduced the practice of writing such annals which are called Buranjis. The practice of writing dynastic annals is so new to Man tradition that one is tempted to attribute it to Chinese influence. In China alone this tradition was developed since very early times. In India it was followed mostly in the outlying kingdoms which were in close contact with China for several centuries.

The Indian Buddhist world used to take real interest in China and the Chinese. The Chinese records tell us that a king named Sri-Gupta had built a monastery at Bodhgaya for the use of the Chinese monks. We do mot know who this Sri-Gupta was But he might have been connected with the early rulers of the Gupta dynasty, Hiuan-tsang was held in high esteem even long after his departure from India. A story reported by a Japanese Buddhist traveller in India in the 9th century says : "In large number of Buddhist temples in Middle India, Hiuan-tsang was represented in paintings with his hemp shoes, spoon and chop-sticks mounted on multicoloured clouds. The monks paid respect to the image on every fast day.”

In the Brahmanical mystic literature, the Tantras, Maha-cina (“the Great China”) occupies a very important place as being the seat of a special type of mystic cult called Cinacara or the practice of China. The object of this cult is a goddess called Mahacinatara. The cult was held to be so important that a great sage like Vasistha is made to travel to China to get his initiation to this cult. It is said that he got his initiation to this new form of mysticism from Buddha whom he found there practising the cult in the company of women, However mythological the account might appear, it seems to contain some historical truth. Its implication may be better understood from a comparison of later Taoism with certain forms of Indian mysticism.

Attempts to trace the philosophy of Lao-Tseu to Indian sources have not achieved any positive result. Historical relations between China and India started much later than the times of Lao-tseu or even the time when the famous Taoist classic Tao to king appeared in its completed form. But the resemblance of Taoism with the ancient Indian philosophy was so striking that the Indian scholars who first went to China could not but be impressed by it. They found something of their own in the Taoist. philosophy. The first Buddhist missionaries in China were sheltered in the Taoist temples and got mixed up with the Taoist priests. It is not unlikely that some of these priests on their return to India would make use of their knowledge of Taoism in developing their own philosophy. Kumarajiva who was a follower of Mahayana and a great exponent of the philosophy of Nagajuna is reported to have written a commentary of the Tao to /dig. Some of his Chinese disciples made deliberate attempts at a synthesis of the Madhyamika philosophy of Nagajuna and the Taoist philosophy.

In later times, specially in the T’ang period, India seems to have taken some interest in Taoism. Towards the middle of the 7th century, a king of Eastern India (Kamarupa, Assam) named Kumara also caked Bhaskaravarman who was a follower of the brahmanical faith, spoke of his keen interest in Laotseu and his philosophy to two Chinese envoys in India - Li Yi-piao and Wang Hiuan-ts'o [Wang Xuance]. He asked the latter for a portrait of Lao-tseo and requested the former to send him a Sanskrit translation of the Tao to king.

The request was communicated by the Chinese envoy to the Emperor and the latter immediately promulgated an edict by which Hiuan-tsang was entrusted with the work of the Sanskrit translation of the text in collaboration with Taoist scholars. The text was discussed and scrutinized during several days. The Taoist teachers were mixing up Buddhist technical terms as found in the Abhidharma and Madiryamika texts with Taoist terms but Hiuan-tsang was against it. He was of opinion that to use Buddhist terms in translating Taoist terms would lead to a misunderstanding of both the philosophies.

There was some difficulty in translating the word Tao. Hiuan-tsang proposed to translate the word as mok’ie-marga “the way" but the Taoists would translate it as p’u-ti--bohi “illumination”. After a long discussion Hiuan-tsang succeeded in convincing his Taoist opponents that a correct translation of the word would be marga "the way”. The Sanskrit translation was then complete without further hindrance.

There is however no information as to whether the translation was sent to the Indian king. The translation was completed in 647. Wang Hiuan-ts’o, we know, led three more missions to India, the first in 647 and the last two in 657 and 664. So occasions were not wanting for presenting the translation to King Bhaskaravarman. There are reasons to believe that the translation reached India and was introduced in the circle of Buddhist mystics who utilized it in their own way to develop a new school.

The school of Buddhism is called Sahajayana. Whereas some of its tenets can be traced back to the fundamental Mahayana philosophy, there are others which seem to be quite exotic. The literature of this school does not seem to be very old. It flourished mostly between the 7th and the 12th centuries and its oldest text the Hevajatantra may go back to the 7th century. The fundamental metaphysical doctrine of the school is called Sahaja or “the doctrine of Sahaja”. Sahaja literally means “nature” and hence “the true nature” and it is not used in that sense in any other early Indian philosophy The Sahaja is defined in the standard of the school thus: "The whole creation is bound by this Sahaja nature. It is neither positive nor negative. It has the character of emptiness. It cannot be defined in words, It is something to be realized by self. “The method of realization involves Yoga-meditation, breathing exercises, postures, etc., and also a number of mystic practices in the company of women.

It is needless to go into a detailed comparison between the Taoist and the Buddhist Sahajayana practices here. Such a comparison will show a perfect agreement between the ideologies of the two schools. Hiuan-tsang’s translation of the word Tao as marga was only a literal translation. It did not convey the metaphysical implications of the word and so a new and more appropriate translation was Sahaja. The author of the translation has been forgotten but he was without doubt an Indian Buddhist mystic.

A Vaisnavite sect of Eastern India called Sahajiya is in fact a later development of the Sahajayana sohod of Buddhism. It originated most probably in the 11th century. Its adherence to Vaisnavism is only superficial. Its mystic practices have much in common with the Buddhist mysticism of later times. It retains the doctrine of Sahaja, sets forth methods for its realization which are similar to the Buddhist and Taoist methods and uses technical terms which are similar to those used by the later Taoists and the Buddhist mystics.

Later Taoism therefore was known in India and was extensively utilized by the Indian mystics, whether Buddhist, Brahmanical, or Vaisnavite, in developing their doctrines. Both in India and China their practice was confined to secret societies.

(From India and China: A Thousand Years of Sine-Indian Cultural Relations, Calcutta: Saraswat Library, 1981, pp. 247-54.)  

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© 1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi

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