Jour­ney to the East

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Pan Yingzhao Edited by David Ball

Dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618–907), a Bud­dhist monk at­tempted to travel from China to Ja­pan to spread Dharma. After many years and five un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts, he fi­nally made it and contributed much to the de­vel­op­ment of Ja­pan.

Dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618–907), two em­i­nent monks were widely known: Mas­ter Xuan­zang, who lived dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Taizong of Tang (AD 626–649) and trav­elled west to col­lect Bud­dhist scrip­tures and Mas­ter Jianzhen, who lived dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Xuan­zong of Tang (AD 712–756) and voy­aged east to Ja­pan. Both men made great con­tri­bu­tions to the pro­mo­tion of the Dharma. After un­der­go­ing tremen­dous hard­ships, Mas­ter Xuan­zang fi­nally brought the au­then­tic scrip­tures back to China, whist Mas­ter Jianzhen, at the in­vi­ta­tion of Ja­panese emis­saries, at­tempted six sea voy­ages dis­re­gard­ing the safety of his life be­fore he fi­nally reached Ja­pan. With his knowl­edge of Chi­nese medicine, mu­sic and ar­chi­tec­ture, Jianzhen contributed much to the de­vel­op­ment of Ja­pan, earn­ing him the nick­names “Mas­ter from across the Sea” and “Fa­ther of Cul­ture.”

The story of Jianzhen’s sea voy­ages has been around for over 1,200 years. Fi­nally, in 2016, the Jiangsu Per­form­ing Arts Group cre­ated and per­formed the epic opera Jianzhen Goes East. Com­poser Tang Jian­ping, screen­writ­ers Feng Bom­ing and Feng Bilie and di­rec­tor Xing Shimiao worked to­gether to bring this grand his­tor­i­cal story of cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween China and Ja­pan to the opera stage.

Re­li­gious and Cul­tural En­voy

Orig­i­nally sur­named Chunyu, Mas­ter Jianzhen was born in Yangzhou in AD 688 and be­came a monk in the city’s Dam­ing Tem­ple at the age of 14. Later he trav­elled to Chang’an and Luoyang for study. After re­turn­ing to Yangzhou, he con­structed the Chongfu Tem­ple and Bud­dhist halls such as the Fengfa Hall as well as pago­das and stat­ues, and preached the Vi­naya Pi­taka. With his dili­gent and stu­dious spirit, he be­came an em­i­nent monk in his mid­dle age and was hon­oured as “Mas­ter Shou­jie” (“Mas­ter of Im­part­ing Pre­cepts”) hav­ing spent over 40 years ton­sur­ing lay­men and im­part­ing Bud­dhist knowl­edge.

At that time, the Ja­panese Bud­dhist pre­cepts were in­com­plete and so monks there were un­able to be or­dained. In AD 733, two Ja­panese monks named Yōei and Fushō trav­elled with Ja­panese diplo­mats to China, at­tempt­ing to in­vite em­i­nent monks to im­part the pre­cepts to Ja­pan. After a decade of search­ing, they fi­nally reached Yangzhou and re­quested Mas­ter Jianzhen sail east­ward to Ja­pan to im­part the Dharma. How­ever, the first voy­age failed be­fore it even be­gan.

Two years later, they at­tempted a sea voy­age for the sec­ond time. A to­tal of 17 monks in­clud­ing Mas­ter Jianzhen and over 80 hired crafts­men set off, but were ship­wrecked due to strong winds and waves in the Yangtze River Delta. After the ship was re­paired, they set off again. Caught in a gale this time, their ship drifted to a small is­land in the Zhoushan Ar­chi­pel­ago. Five days later they were fi­nally res­cued and taken to the Tem­ple of Asoka in Zhe­jiang. In early spring, tem­ples in Yuezhou, Hangzhou and Huzhou each in­vited Mas­ter Jianzhen to give lec­tures on the Dharma and so his sec­ond sea voy­age came to an end.

After his lec­ture tour, Mas­ter Jianzhen re­turned to the Tem­ple of Asoka and pre­pared for his third at­tempt. How­ever, lit­tle did he know that monks in Yuezhou had been in­formed of this mat­ter. To keep Mas­ter Jianzhen there, they re­ported to the lo­cal gov­ern­ment that some Ja­panese monks had in­fil­trated China in or­der to “lure” Mas­ter Jianzhen into go­ing to Ja­pan. As a re­sult, Yōei was thrown into prison and then sent back to Hangzhou, only manag­ing to es­cape by feign­ing his death through ill­ness. As such, the third at­tempted voy­age failed.

At his fourth at­tempt, Mas­ter Jianzhen pro­cured a ship in Fuzhou, then set off from the Tem­ple of Asoka with a team of 30. The mo­ment they ar­rived at Wen­zhou how­ever, they were in­ter­cepted. It turned out that Lingyou, a dis­ci­ple of Mas­ter Jianzhen back in the Dam­ing Tem­ple, was so wor­ried about his mas­ter that he be­seeched the Yangzhou gov­ern­ment to stop them. The caifang­shi [the of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble for im­pris­on­ment af­fairs and su­per­vis­ing of of­fi­cials] for Huainan then sent men to in­ter­cept the team and force them back to Yangzhou.

In AD 748, Yōei and Fushō again vis­ited the Dam­ing Tem­ple where they earnestly asked Mas­ter Jianzhen to at­tempt an­other sea voy­age. Mas­ter Jianzhen im­me­di­ately led a team of sev­eral dozen in­clud­ing monks, crafts­men and sailors in de­part­ing from the Chongfu Tem­ple, be­gin­ning his fifth east­ward jour­ney. By this time, Jianzhen was al­ready 60 years old.

In AD 753, Ja­panese emis­saries to the Tang Dy­nasty in­clud­ing Fu­ji­wara Kiyokawa, Kib­ino Mak­ibi, Chao Heng (orig­i­nal name Abeno Naka­maro) and

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