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从尼雅到犍陀罗——重走玄奘之路

(2011-03-27 23:44:52)
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                       From Niya to Gandhara: the Great Buddhist Route to China

 

       Standing in freezing wind of Beijing winter, 68-year-old monk Yasutaka Kojima(小岛康誉), with shaven head and dressed in thin fabric of Japanese-styled cassock, put his palms together and chanted “Amitabha” to me.

       The last time I saw him was last December when he came to Tsinghua University to present scholarships to my students.

       “Work well, eat well, drink well, sleep well and always smile heartily,” the Japanese monk told my students in a warm classroom. 

       Since the Japanese earthquake three weeks ago, I had been praying in anxiety for my monk friend until I got a letter from him last week.

       In his letter, he wrote, "People still have fear. Some people have left their homes in Tokyo and move to the west of Japan. But I am not worried. I don’t care even if I am dead today. I am a monk and I have died many times in my many trips to Niya(尼雅).

       He also told me in his letter that he is coming to Beijing this Wednesday for a meeting with me about holding a photo exhibition “From Gandhara(犍陀罗) to Niya: the Buddhist Route to China”.

       Gandhara was an ancient Buddhist kingdom in today’s Pakistan and Afghanistan. Between 330-325BC, Alexander the Great invaded India and introduced Hellenism into the region. Gandhara flourished under Buddhism and many Chinese Buddhists traveled there for Buddhist studies.

       Niya, which is called "Jingjue Kingdom(精绝国)" in China's Han Dynasty, was a Buddhist city state along the ancient Silk Road.

       In November 1993, with rough maps sketched by British explorer  Aurel Stein (1862-1943), compasses, telescopes, a GPS, 30 camels and three specially-made vehicles for deserts, I followed Kojima and a Sino-Japanese expedition team of archaeologists into the desert of Xinjiang in search of the sand-buried Buddhist city Niya.

       The moment Kojima saw the 6.5-meter high Buddhist stupa of Niya after riding camels seven days in the no-man's land of a desert, he lay prostrate before it, burning incense and praying.

       1300 years ago, Chinese great Buddhist traveler Xuan Zang(玄奘) also stopped at Niya and chanted in front of the shrine in his pilgrimage to Gandhara (犍陀罗).

       Around the stupa, we saw the remains of about 100 houses, graveyards, animal sheds, orchards, gardens, agricultural fields, trees, a dried river and a bridge. The fascinating findings were the Greek-style furniture and documents written in the long-dead Kharoshti language, a language used in the Henlenistic culture of Gandhara.

       And the most exciting excavations in Niya was the discovery of the tomb of the king and queen of Jingjue State.

       “We were all stunned by the gorgeous embroidered blue brocade that lay before us,” Kojima recalled. On it were embroidered 11 Chinese characters meaning "May this royal marriage be blessed with long life and a myriad of descendants."

       As the brocade was lifted, the mummies of a Caucasian man and a Caucasian woman were revealed. Inside the coffinthe greatest discovery was a color-embroidered brocade with lavish patterns that have eight Chinese characters (五星出东方利中国), which literally means "China will rise when the five stars appear together in the East."     Around the stupa lay 13 mummies, or skeletons, on the surface of the sand. In a small bag found under the clothing of a female mummy a wooden comb was found. Threads of the girl’s golden hair were still on the tomb.

       These findings led archaeologists to suggest these people were from Gandhara. Their theory was supported by close inspection of the bodies. High noses, narrow faces, long heads and yellow or brown hair persuaded the research team that the dead were in some way related to people of Indo-European ancestry. Others speculate they were the descendants of Alexander the Great's soldiers, who had launched expeditions to China from Gandhara.

      In a broken painted pottery jar buried in the sands, archaeologists found 28 tablets written in Kharoshiti.

       Kharoshiti dates back to the fifth century BC in Kandarara and was used as a common language as well as Buddhist teaching language in city states along the Silk Roads along the Taklimakan desert for nearly 800 years.

       “Once we started digging, we found the exciting story of an ancient civilization at the crossroads of Chinese cultural and Gandhara culture embraced the peoples of the east and the west together,” Kojima said.

       Niya was a major stop on the Silk Road, the long, overland trading route that once linked the two great civilizations of China and the Gandhara. Camel caravans carried Chinese silks westward and Gandhara gold, sculptures, Buddhist scriptures and the art of dancing, music and painting eastward.

       “Niya witnessed the rise and decline of the Buddhist Roads,” Kojima said. “I fell in love with Niya and the desert the first time I saw it. I will very much like to have my ashes buried in the Desert."

     (Li Xiguang, Professor of Tsinghua University, Co-author of “Niya: Paradise Regained.” A photo exhibition “From Gandhara to Niya: the Buddhist Route to China” will open at the Gallery of Wenjin Hotel near the southern gate of Tsinghua University on April 20.)

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