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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

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.

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


About the Author: Dr. George A. Keyworth is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. He received his Ph.D. in Chinese Buddhist Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Dr. Keyworth has received grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada to support research about and the publication of peer-reviewed articles on Northern Song dynasty (960–1127) Chinese Chan Buddhism and the figure of Juefan Huihong 覺範惠洪 (1071–1128); Japanese pilgrims to Song China (e.g., Jōjin 成尋 [1011–1081]); apocryphal Chinese Buddhist scriptures and the particular case of the Shoulengyan jing 首楞厳經 (*Śūraṃgama-sūtra) using sources from Dunhuang, Central Asia, and Japan; esoteric Buddhism in Tang (618–907) and Song China; Zen Buddhism in Edo Japan and the figure of Kakumon Kantetsu 覚門貫徹 (d. 1730); and old Japanese manuscript Buddhist canons, especially from Nanatsudera 七寺, Amanosan Kongōji 天野山金剛寺 and the Matsuo shrine 松尾大社 canon kept at Myōrenji 妙蓮寺. Dr. Keyworth is currently working on two books, tentatively titled: A History of Matsuo Shrine and Copying for the Kami: A Study and Catalog of Three 12th century Manuscript Buddhist Canons.


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.