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Chinese Buddhism, by Joseph Edkins, [1893], at

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Buddhist libraries presented to monasteries by emperors—Ch‘eng-tsu, of the Ming dynasty, was the first to print the entire series of the Buddhist accepted books—Prajna paramita, eighty times as large as our New Testament—The Pei-tsang, or second printed edition, dates from the sixteenth century—The Kia-hing edition of the Pei-tsang—Division into King, , Lun—First Council—Work of Ananda—The Mahayana of Northern Buddhism—Council of Cashmere—Authors of the Mahayana—Lung- shu wrote the Hwa-yen-king—Contrasts between the primitive and Mahayana books—List of translators A.D. 70 to A.D. 705—Sixteen hundred works are classified, inclusive of those by Chinese authors—On the councils for settling the canon—Translations by Burnouf and others—Lotus—Book of Forty-two Sections—Character of this and other early works—Stories illustrative of ancient life—Fan-wang-kingChan-tsï-king translated by Beal—Pratimoksha.

THE first fixing of the Buddhist canon was at the Councils of Rajagriha and Pataliputra. The Northern and Southern Buddhists held together till the Council of Pataliputra, under Ashôka. When an immense missionary development followed on the meeting of this Council, the separation was a natural result, because of the vast extent of country over which Buddhism shortly became the prevalent religion.

The origin of the primitive Buddhist books which are Common to the Northern and Southern Buddhists is, then, anterior to B.C. 246; and the addition to the canon of the Mahayana books containing the legends of Kwan-yin and of the Western heaven with its Buddha, Amitabha, was

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also previous to the Council of Cashmere, a little before the beginning of our era.

When the first books were translated into Chinese from Sanscrit, it was before the time of the introduction of paper. Bamboo tablets were still employed, and they were painted on with a brush. Paper-making soon came into use, and in the fourth century the present system of Chinese writing was fully in use. From that time till the invention of printing, seven hundred years later, copies of the sacred books would be made from time to time in the monasteries. As in countries where the palm grows the monks have continued to write on the palm-leaf, so in China, till printing was known, transcribed copies of all needed books would be made and preserved in monasteries.

The library of the larger Buddhist monasteries consists of a complete collection—presented by some former emperor—of the "books of the religion" (tsang-king). The visitor will see them in eight or ten large bookcases. In many instances they are preserved with great care and are highly valued. Even if worm-eaten and injured by damp, the priests always express unwillingness to part with any portions of them. Though they seldom make use of this library themselves, they consider that it would be an offence against the emperor to allow any of the books it contains to be removed.

The preface to one of the last imperial editions is dated A.D. 1410, in the Yung-lo period of the third emperor of the Ming dynasty. In addition to the erection of the porcelain tower at Nanking, previous to the removal of his residence from that place to Peking, he further signalised his zeal for Buddhism by causing blocks to be cut for the first time for the entire series of Buddhist books. They reached the number of 6771 kiuen or "sections." A little more than three-fourths of this extensive literature consists of translations from Sanscrit. According to a rough calculation, the whole work of the Hindoo translators in China, together with that of Hiuen-tsang the

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traveller, amounts to about seven hundred times the size of the New Testament in Chinese form. In this estimate lost translations, which are numerous, are not included.

One of these works, the Maha Prajna paramita (Ta-poh-je-king), consists of a hundred and twenty volumes. It is perhaps the most extensive single book ever translated in any age or country, being about eighty times as large as the New Testament. The celebrated Chinese translator, Hiuen-tsang, was engaged on it four years.

The edition of Buddhist books printed in the period Yung-lo is called Nan-tsang, the "Southern collection." There was another made in the time of Wan-li in the closing part of the sixteenth century. The imperial residence having been already removed from Nanking to Peking, this edition was called the Pei-tsang or "Northern collection."

A new set of blocks was cut at the expense of private persons from this last, by a priest called Tsï-pe to-shï, not many years after. They were placed in the Leng-yen monastery at Kia-hing near Hang-chew, and were still there before the T‘ai-ping rebellion.

In 1723, a former governor of Che-kiang repaired the blocks, and wrote a preface to a catalogue of these books under the title of Pei-tsang-mu-lu. It contains a reprint of the imperial preface to the first complete edition dating in the seventh century (T‘ang Chung-tsung). This document alludes to the labours of the successive translators, and dwells especially on the adventures of Hiuen-tsang who had recently returned from his twenty years’ travels in India, and had come to be regarded, on account of his successful journey and literary labours, as the most remarkable of all the Chinese Buddhists.

The primary division of the Buddhist books is into three parts, King, , Lun, or "Sutra, Vinaya, and Abhidharma." The first contains the immediate instructions of Buddha on dogma. It details those present as listeners,

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any remarkable circumstances that occurred, the conversations that took place between Buddha and any of his audience, and the direct instructions that he communicated to them. The Vinaya relates the discipline appointed by Buddha for his followers, and the circumstances that led to the establishment of particular rules and observances. The scene, audience, and conversations are detailed much in the manner of the Sutras or works of the first class. The word king is indeed often applied to works that are placed in the Vinaya division. The third part, Abhidharma, consists of discussions, in many instances by known authors, on the Buddhist creed and on heresies. They are not then like the works found in the first and second classes, necessarily spoken—according to Buddhist faith—by Shakyamuni; but include many that were written, in the first centuries after his death, by the more distinguished of his followers.

After Buddha's entrance into the Nirvâna, we are told his disciples met to agree on the books that should be regarded as the true traditions of their master's instructions. Kashiapa assembled them at the mountain Gi-ja-ku-ta (Gridhrakuta). They came there by the exercise of miraculous power. Ananda, who was young, had not yet attained to the rank of Arhan when the meeting began, but just at this time he was raised to the necessary elevation and took his seat with the rest. Kashiapa then said: "The 'Bikshu Ananda' (O-nan Pi-Neu) has great wisdom. Like a vessel receiving water, he imbibed the doctrine of Buddha, retaining no more and no less than what the teacher uttered. Let him be invited to compile the Sutra Pitaka (Collection of the king or discourses of Shakyamuni)." The assembly remained silent. Kashiapa then addressed Ananda: "It is for you now to promulgate the 'eye of the doctrine' (fa-yen)." Ananda assented, and after observing the countenances of the audience, said: "Bikshus and all here present. Without Buddha nothing is noble or beautiful, as in the expanse

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above, the stars cannot spare the moon." He then bowed to the assembly, and ascended the rostrum. He began: "Thus have I heard—At a certain time, when Buddha was a certain place, he delivered such instructions." In each instance Kashiapa asked the Bikshus if such were really the words of Buddha, and they all replied, "They were just these words." 1

A similar account is retained by the Singhalese of the origin of the Sutras. 2 The Vinaya division of the books was, according to their traditions, prepared by Upali, and the Shastras or Abhidharma by Kashiapa.

So far as this threefold arrangement of the books, the Northern and Southern Buddhists are at one. But for the literature of the North a further division must now be noticed. The distinction of Mahayana (Ta-ch’eng), or "Great Development," and Hinayana (Siau-ch’eng), or "Lesser Development," runs through the works of all the three classes above described. The works of the "Lesser Development" (or vehicle) there can be little doubt are the original books of Buddha, for their dogmas and legends agree with the religion as it is still professed in Ceylon and by all the Southern Buddhists. The Mahayana is, on the other hand, unknown there. Burnouf attributes the books of the Lesser Development to the first Buddhist council already described, and those of the Greater Development to another held a little more than four hundred years after Shakyamuni's death. It is his opinion that the Mahayana books were composed in Cashmere, in the reign of Kanishka, 3 a king of Northern India (Cabul). A council—the third or fourth—was then called to decide what books should be canonical, and it was then that these extensive additions to the Tripitaka or "Three collections" were agreed upon. The same learned writer

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interposes another council a hundred and ten years after the first, in the reign of Ashôka also called Piyadasi. This prince, from his extensive empire and his patronage of Buddhism, is called a wheel-king, i.e., a Buddhist king to whom the world is subject, and who causes the wheel of the holy doctrine to be kept turning.

There need be no hesitation in adopting Burnouf's view, for we know the names and many of the writings of influential Buddhists who lived at the time and place indicated, and whose opinions and qualifications were such as to render them fitted for the authorship of the Ta-ch’eng or "Mahayana" books, and much presumptive evidence of the fact will be found to exist.

Among them were—(1.) Ma-ming, or "Ashwagosha," the twelfth patriarch, who wrote K‘i-sin-lun, the "Shastra for awakening faith." 1 (2.) Lung-shu, or "Nagarjuna," the fourteenth patriarch, author of Vibhasha-lun, Chung-lun, Ta-chï-tu-lun, Prajna-teng-lun, Shï-er-men-lun, and several other works, including the most venerated of all the Buddhist books in China, the Hwa-yen-king. (3.) T‘ien-ts‘in, or "Vasubandu." It is said of him, that when he first became a monk he was a bitter enemy of the Mahayana books, and destroyed them whenever he had opportunity. By the influence of his elder brother Asengha, 2 he was brought to change his views. His remorse was such that he would have wrenched out his tongue, but Asengha said to him, "as he had formerly used his tongue to revile the Great Development books, he should now employ it to praise them. This would be an expiation for his fault." After this he wrote more than a hundred works, which were placed in the third division of the sacred books. 3

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(4.) Wu-cho, or "Asengha," brother of the last. (5.) Hu-fa, or "Dharmapara" (Protector of the law). He was born in the Dravida country in South India. He wrote the Shastra Ch‘eng-wei-shï-lun. (6.) Maitreya. (7.) Deva. (8.) Sheng-t‘ien. These and one or two more are mentioned among the authors of Shastras. All these persons are dignified with the name of Bodhisattwa.

The authorship of the Hwa-yen-king may be ascribed to Lung-shu, on the ground that he is said in a Chinese preface to have discovered it in the "Dragon palace," and first promulgated it as one of the Mahayana Sutras, or books of the "Great vehicle." He could not prefix his name to it as to works of the third division, because it is essential to a Sutra that it be a discourse of Buddha. In conformity with this principle, the Great Development "Sutras," or as they are called in Chinese King, are by a fiction ascribed to Shakyamuni, though their real authors were, as there is every reason to suppose, the acute-minded Hindoos whose names have just been given.

Two principal divisions of the Buddhist books, in reference to the time of their composition, are thus obtained. The former belonging to the fifth century B.C. contain, among other things, the monastic institutions, the moral code, the ascetic life, the metempsychosis, and the Nirvâna, of which the first two are Buddhist, and the latter three common to the native religions of India. The whole is interwoven with the fantastic notions of the Hindoos on geography, astronomy, and supernatural beings.

The second division embraces later developments in metaphysics and cosmogony. In the Prajna paramita, through a hundred and twenty volumes, the favourite dogma of extreme idealism, the non-existence of mind and matter in all their forms, is reiterated to satiety. In the legends of the Eastern and Western paradise—that of Ach‘obhya and that of Amitabha—and regarding the formation of various other vast worlds and powerful divinities, the new mythological tendencies of this system

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are exhibited. These books must be assigned to about the first century B.C.

By help of the catalogue of Buddhist books published A.D. 730 (K‘ai-yuen-shi-kiau-lu), the earliest and most noted translators may be divided between these two schools. Works of the Siau-ch‘eng or "Lesser Development," i.e., primitive Buddhism, were introduced by the following persons:—



Date A.D.


Central India



Central India









K‘ang-ku (Thibet)









"Massagetæ" or Ta-yue-chi



K‘ang-ku (Thibet)











Among the translators of the books of the Larger Development, were the following individuals:—



Date A.D.























Central India









Central India



Central India



Western India (Oujein)






Southern India


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To assist in numbering and distinguishing the books belonging to the great threefold collection, the characters contained in the "Book of a Thousand Characters" (Tsien-tsï-wen) are made use of.

The first subdivision of the "Sutras" or King under the heading, Ta-ch’eng, "Great Development," is that of "Prajna" (Po-je). It contains the work Maha-prajna-paramita in six hundred chapters, to mark which, sixty characters from the "Thousand Character Classic" are employed. Eighteen other works are placed in the same subdivision.

These are followed by books containing the legends of Amitabha and Ach‘obhya, the Western and Eastern Buddhas. These, with others, compose the Pau-tsi subdivision. After this comes that called Ta-tsi, or "Great Collection." Then succeed those called Hwa-yen, so named from the common book of that title in eighty chapters. The fifth comprises books on the Nirvâna. After these five chief subdivisions are arranged the names of many others, whether translated once or oftener. With the preceding they make in all five hundred and thirty-six Sutras of the Great Development class.

Of the Smaller Development school two hundred and twenty-eight works are contained in the collection, the chief of them belonging to the Agama subdivision. There were added in the Sung and Yuen dynasties three hundred altogether. Their names follow in the catalogue.

Many of these works are very small, ten or more being often placed together under one letter.

Under the denomination "Vinaya" or , "Discipline," twenty-five works belong to the Great Development school, while fifty-nine are assigned to the Siau-ch’eng department.

Among the works belonging to the third class, "Abhidharma" or Lun, are ninety-three of the Great Development school, and thirty-seven of the Lesser. To these twenty-three were added in the Sung and Yuen dynasties.

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After this occur works by various Western authors, in number ninety-seven, which do not admit of being classed with those that precede. Many of these consist of liturgical regulations and biographies of Hindoo Buddhists.

At the end of the collection are placed works by Chinese authors, in all a hundred and ninety-six. These consist of commentaries, biographical works, cyclopædias, travels in Buddhist countries, apologetic treatises, liturgical works, and the original works of authors belonging to the various native schools of Buddhism. Of these forty were appended in the Ming dynasty—as in all such cases—by imperial order.

These numbers give a total of about sixteen hundred separate works, of which fourteen hundred are translations from Sanscrit. Several hundred others are lost.

Many productions of less importance, probably amounting to several hundreds in number, by native authors, are commonly read. In an estimate of the extent of Chinese Buddhist literature these should be included. They consist of popular treatises, with anecdotes of the power of the Buddhas and Bodhisattwas, and the benefits of chanting the sacred books. Woodcuts are much used in these books, illustrative of the Buddhist future state, of Shakyamuni instructing his disciples, and of the Hindoo cosmogony and geography. Descriptions of remarkable monasteries and sacred places, and many works on the various schools of this religion in China, should be added to the list.

I place here some remarks on the councils held by the early Buddhists.

Professor Max Müller says: "The Northern Buddhists know but one Ashôka, the grandson of Chandragupta, and but one council held in his reign, viz., the Council of Pataliputra, under Dharmashôka, and this they place a hundred and ten years after Buddha's death."

The Singhalese Buddhists speak of two Ashôkas, viz.,

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[paragraph continues] Kalashôka and Dharmashôka. Twelve kings intervened between them. A council was held under each Ashôka.

If we admit the last, it must have taken place either B.C. 242 or B.C. 246 at Pataliputra.

The fourth council, under Kanishka, presided over by Vasumitra, was probably a little before the Christian era. Nagarjuna's works and system were recognised, and from this time the "Great Development" spread among all the Northern Buddhists.

The attention of the student of Buddhism may be directed especially to those works in the San-tsang, or "Three pitaka," of which translations have been made.

Of these the most elaborate is that of the Fa-hwa-king, "Lotus of the Good Law," by Eugene Burnouf. It is rendered from the Sanscrit, and illustrated by a vast body of notes.

On comparing it with the Chinese version of Kumarajiva, I found considerable lacunæ in the Chinese copy. Kumarajiva came under the influence of the Chinese literati, to whom the ponderous verbosity and extensive repetitions of the original were intolerable. He wisely cut it down, and made a much shorter book of it. Burnouf would have been wise to do so too.

The small books with a prominent moral element are extremely interesting. Some of these are translated by Mr. Beal in his Catena.

The "Book of Forty-two Sections" was translated from Sanscrit by the first Hindoo missionaries. An edition in five volumes, with very full notes, by Sü Fa, and published a century and a half ago, is a signal example of the industry and fulness of illustration and comment of a Chinese scholar when editing an ancient book.

In this and other small but interesting works may be seen the principles of primitive Buddhism as taught by Shakyamuni.

The monastic life is here portrayed, and the duties of those who entered upon it are clearly pointed out.

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But though vows of celibacy, and living in society with fellow-believers in the Buddhist doctrine, or in solitude in woods and caves, were recommended by Shakyamuni as the most suitable mode of carrying out his system, he did not make them absolutely essential. In the "Wei-ma Sutra," Vimakita (Wei-mo-kie), a layman native of Vaishali, living in society, is represented as having made great progress in the knowledge of the principles of Buddhism. He is contrasted with many who had taken the vows, but were far inferior to him. "Manjusiri" (Wen-shu p‘u-sa) and Vimakita are held up as equally good models of Buddhist excellence: the one, as to form, being without a rival in the monastic society; the other, as to action, being the most advanced student of the Buddhist law outside the circle of those who had taken the vows.

Many of the Buddhist books are valuable, on account of the stories illustrative of ancient life which they contain.

The following story of travellers killing a guide, to sacrifice to the Devas of a certain place, reminds the reader irresistibly of the narrative of Jonah.

“A company of merchants undertaking a journey selected a guide. With him they set out across an uninhabited region. On the way they arrived at a temple to the Devas, at which it was the custom, that a man must be sacrificed before the travellers could pass on.

“They consulted as to what should be done, and said one to another: 'We are all friends, neighbours, and relations. None of us can be sacrificed. Only the guide can be.' When they had put him to death and finished the offering, they proceeded and lost their way. Weary and brokenhearted, all one by one died.

"So it is with men. They wish to enter the sea of doctrine in order to get the pearls hidden in its depths. They must take virtue for their guide. If they slander and destroy virtue they will be sure to lose their way, and never emerge from the desert of life and death. Their sufferings must last for long ages."

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A story of the shadow of gold in water is told to illustrate how ignorant men seek for golden doctrine in places where they will never find it. The story says that "formerly a foolish man went to a lake and saw at the bottom of the water a shadow of what seemed true gold. He called out, 'Here is gold.' He then went into the water and sought it in vain till he was tired and the water grew muddy. He sat down and waited till the water was clear, when he saw it again, and once more he tried fruitlessly to get it. At last the father came to look for his son, and asked him why he was so weary. On learning, he said, after seeing the shadow, 'This gold is on the tree above. A bird must have taken it in his beak and placed it there.' The son climbed the tree and found it."

To illustrate the difficulty of creating, a story is told against the Brahmans, who ascribe creation to Brahma. They call him Maha Brahma Deva, and say that he is the father of the world, and can create all things. The story states that "this so-called creator had a disciple who said he could create all things. He was foolish, but thought himself wise. He said one day to Brahma, 'I desire to create all things.' Brahma replied, 'Do not think of it. You cannot create. Without being able to use the language of the Devas, you have the desire to create things.' Brahma saw what his disciple had made, and noticed that the head was too large and the crown too small, or the hand too large and the arm too small, or the foot too large and the leg too small. In fact, it was like the Pishâcha demons." 1

"We thus learn," continues the narrator, "that what every one brings into existence is not the creation of Brahma."


"Once there was a Brahman, who, according to his own statement, was extremely wise, and knew all the arts of

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astrologers and jugglers. Wishing to show his powers he went to another country, carrying his son in his arms, and weeping. When asked, 'Why do you weep?' he replied, This young child is to die in seven days. I mourn over his short life.' The people of the country remarked, 'It is hard to know when men will die. It is easy to err in such calculations. Wait till the seven days are past, and perhaps he will not die. Why weep now?' The Brahman answered, 'The sun and moon may be darkened, the stars may fall, but what I have said cannot fail of fulfilment.' On the seventh day, for the sake of fame and profit, the Brahman killed his son to confirm the truth of his own words. When men heard that the Brahman's son was dead precisely seven days after the time of the prediction, they all admired the wisdom of the Brahman, whose words proved true, and came to listen to his instructions. It is so among the four classes of Buddha's disciples, with those who for gain say they have attained eminent enlightenment. By their foolish doctrine they destroy the son of the good, falsely assume a benevolent character, and must in consequence endure much suffering. They resemble the Brahman who killed his son."

The book proceeds to speak of the Buddhas and their teaching. They are not liable to the errors of such men. The Buddhas in giving instruction keep a middle path, without encroachment on either side. They are neither too constant on the one hand, nor are they too interrupted and inconstant on the other. There is in their actions and teaching no disproportion. Various pretenders, however, try to imitate them, and fall into the errors of boasting, lying, and extravagance. Men, in exhibiting the form of the law, fail to present to view the true law.

These extracts are taken from the "Book of a Hundred Parables," Pe-yü-king, chapter ii., translated by Gunabidi.

There is a book of moral instructions, arranged in the form of the Gâtha, with headings, such as teaching, conversation, mercy, &c. It is called Fa-kü-king, "Book of

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the Dharma in Sentences." There are five hundred of these sentences. In India every student read this book at the beginning of his course. If he did not read this among the many books of his religion, he omitted the preface.

The sentences are of the following nature:—When rising in the morning you should think, "My life will not last long. It is like the vessel of the potter, easily broken. He who dies does not return." On this is grounded an appeal to men to learn Buddha's law.

It was translated from the work of Tau-lio by Kumarajiva. There are some other works specially devoted to fables and parables, such as Tsa-yü-king, "Book of Miscellaneous Parables."

Among works specially deserving attention is Fan-wang-king. This book on the "Discipline" or Vinaya, is the Brahmajala, "Net of Brahma."

Mr. Gogerly, in the Ceylon Friend, published a brief translation of the work. See Beal in Second Congress of Orientalists, p. 134. It states the rules which guide the Bodhisattwa.

The Chinese Fo-pen-hing-tsi-king is in Sanscrit "Abhinishkramana Sûtra." It has been translated by Beal, who thinks the narratives it contains will explain the "Sanchi topes," the inscriptions on which are hard to identify in any books. It is a life of Buddha, with many episodes, which may also illustrate the inscriptions at Bharhut, Amravati, &c.

Mr. Beal finds in the Chan-tsï-king the "Sâma Jâtaka," which contains part of the story of Dasaratha and Rama, and refers to an allusion in the travels of Fa-hien, to a festival in Ceylon, which may have light thrown on it by this book.

Sâma was Shakyamuni Buddha in a former life, living in a forest with his father and mother, who were blind. He fed them with fruits, fetched water for them, and was

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beloved by the deer and other wild animals of the woods. At last the king came on a hunting expedition, shot an arrow into a large herd of (leer by the water side, and killed Sâma with it, who happened to be in the middle of the herd. Sâma died, and the king was most penitent, while the parents wept over their son. The gods seeing this sad spectacle—the parents lamenting over their son, and the sympathising Raja—came and restored him to life.

The work Pratimoksha is mentioned in the last instructions of Buddha. It contains the rules of discipline for the disciples of Buddha. He left this, when dying, in the hands of his followers, as their guide for holy conduct.

A translation of the first chapter of the Leng-yen-king and of a short Shastra here follow.

The Leng-yen-king is praised by Chu Hi and other Confucianists as the best worth reading of the Buddhist sacred books.


277:1 Chï-yue-luh. "Biography of 'Kashiapa' (Kia-she)."

277:2 Hardy's Eastern Monachism.

277:3 Kanishka conquered the greater part of India. He was a second Ashôka in his patronage of Buddhism. He reigned B.C. 15 to A.D. 45, during the patriarchate of Vasumitra and others.

278:1 Tsing-tu-sheng-hien-luh contains notices of (1) to (4).

278:2 Eitel separates Vasubandu from Asengha by an interval of some centuries. My authority for making them brothers is the introduction to Ch‘eng-wei-shï-lun. They were natives of Purusha in Gandhara (north end of the Punjab).

278:3 For the names of several of his works and those of Asengha, see K‘ai-yuen-shi-kiau-lu, a catalogue of Buddhist books published in the T‘ang dynasty.

285:1 A sort of vampires. Retinue of the Deva king Dhritarashtra.

Next: Chapter XVIII. The Leng-Yen-King.—First Chapter