Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies: E-journal, Vol 2.1, Keyworth

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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 2.1 (2019): 95–132;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Faxian)

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The Other Great Chinese Trepiṭaka in Japan: Faxian as Translator and Pilgrim in Medieval Japanese Manuscript Canons

University of Saskatchewan

Keywords: Faxian, old Japanese manuscripts, Chinese Buddhism, Chinese pilgrims to India, Faxian’s translations

Abstract: In what we may call the standard Sino-Japanese Buddhist canons of the medieval period in East Asia, two distinct biographies of eminent Chinese trepiṭakas and pilgrims to India, Xuanzang 玄奘 (Genjō, c. 602–664) and Faxian 法顯 (Hōgan, 337–ca. 422), figure prominently. Xuanzang enjoyed considerable repute in Japan since the establishment of Kōfukuji 興福寺 in Nara, by the powerful Fujiwara 藤原 family in the late seventh century. Little attention has been paid, however, to the notoriety of Faxian in Japan, where curious twelfth century copies of eighth century versions of his biography, Gaoseng Faxian zhuan 高僧法顯傳 (Z no. 1194, T no. 2085), are preserved within only three of the eight extant manuscript canons (Shōgozō 聖語藏, Nanatsudera 七寺一切經, Matsuo shrine 松尾社一切經). In this paper I investigate the provenance of these early and reliable manuscript editions of the Faxian zhuan, and reveal some of the textual differences between printed, received editions of this account of Faxian’s life and travels and these Japanese texts. Through analysis of colophons to Faxian’s translations of the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇā-sūtra (Da bannihuan jing 大般泥洹經, Z no. 137, T no. 376) and the so-called non-Mahāyāna version (Da banniepan jing 大般涅槃經, Z no. 774, T no. 7), which were widely—and explicitly—circulated in medieval Japan among Nara 南都六宗, Shingonshū 真言宗, and Tendai 天台宗 Buddhists, it is evident that the legacy of Faxian as an archetypal pilgrim, translator, and teacher may rival apparent admiration for Xuanzang in medieval Japan.


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