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Deborah Hernandez

September 28,2016
History 450
The Silk Roads
Dr. Igmen

The Symbolic Route of the Buddhistic Religion

On his journey in search of the Vinaya, Fa Hsien accomplished far more than one could foresee.

For Fa Hsien, the journey to India made aware the capability of human exertion across the Taklimakan

desert, or as they traveled south west from Kara-Shahr through the desert into the prosperous town of

Khotan. Traveling through Tajikistan, the Pamir mountains tested the body its limits. The Jarous

mountains took the lives of Fa Hsien traveling companion, as written by him, regarding the physical

demands of the topography. The physical demands of travels were eased by local villagers who provided

sustenance materials, and culture to Fa Hsien and his companions. Fa Hsiens road to India, encountered

the hospitality and open nature of those along the road. Likewise, kings, and monks display welcoming

gestures as was the case in Khotan. Lastly, Fa Hsiens journey, is a prime example of an innate human

quest for answers and a symbolic route of how far the Buddhist religion spread out of India along the Silk


The journey out of central Asia encountered the Taklamakan Desert, a 70 day travel, bounded by

Kunlun Mountains to the south, the Pamir Mountains to the west and Gobi Desert to the east. The desert

was the edge of the north and south routes of the Silk road. The extreme heat and bitter cold temperatures

push the limits of the human body. Travelers along the Silk roads, were often prepared by locals who

provided the essentials, as was the case for Fa Hsien and his fellow companions. All along the silk roads

were villages and the oasis cities of to who survival relied on establishing connections and relationships

for trade.

The kingdom of Khotan, was a prosperous city, along the Silk roads. Its geographical location

made it so, as well as indigenous mulberry groves for the production of silks, and trade relationship with

China as a source of jade. Located on the southern end of the desert, between the Pamir mountain ranges,
the steep terrain and hospitable desert weather, kept it largely unattainable for invaders. The Pamir

mountains joined the Himalayas, Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun and Hindu Kush. A vast, steep mountain

range with extreme cold and very little shelter, left Fa Hsien in sheer astonishment as he describes, The

mountain side is simply a stone wall standing up 10,000 feet. Looking down, the sight is confused and

there is no sure foothold... (22)

The villagers on the outskirts of the Silk roads and the kingdom of Khotan are only a few acts of

generosity and hospitality Fa Hien and his men benefited from during their journey. The kingdom of

Khotan provided shelter in monasteries, food and clothing to Fa Hsien and the those that remained who

remained with him for three months. The kingdom was open to Fa Hsien. Although outsiders, Fa Hsien

and his companions were allowed to witness ceremonial practices like the grand procession of the image,

and the vihara Buddha skull, in Hadda city. Khotan was a Buddhist kingdom, and represented the

symbolic route of the Buddhist religion as well as its influence. It also, demonstrated the amount of

wealth during the time of the Silk roads. Mathura country, held a prized possession, unknown to the Han

Chinese, the book believed to be the earliest of the Buddhist schools, Mahasanghikas. Fa Hsien would

eventually take the book back to China, given to him as a gift at the Jetavana Monastery.

Making their way out through the Pamir mountains into Udyana present day north Pakistan, Fa

Hien and his men encountered five hundred monasteries belonging to Vajjian monks, practicing

Mahayana Buddhism, also practice in China. This is again, a symbolic route of the Buddhist religion and

its journey out of India. The remainder of the journey saw casualties among Fa Hsien and monks, most

notably at the Safed Koh mountain range crossing the Punjab heading into Mathura country. The extremes

of Desert and mountain climates combined with the physical demands of the journey to find the Monastic

Rules lead to exhaustion and deaths.

The purpose of Fa Hsien journey to India expresses more than a search for the Vinaya. His travels

through thirty countries, demonstrates human capability in search of answers and knowledge on a human

level. It also, illustrates the Silk roads during its prime, in which a rich and vast amounts of culture,

philosophies, and religion were being exchanged and manipulated. Fa Hsien's descriptions of oasis cities
such as Khotan demonstrate the prosperity of wealth and the literal and physical attitudes of outsider

acceptance. The practice of the Buddhist religion along the Silk roads expresses the degree to which

Buddhism was practiced. Originating in India, through Fa Hsiens, Record of Buddhist Country, we are

able to trace the symbolic route of the Buddhism out of India by way of the Silk roads.