義凈 Yi Jìng 635-713, the great Tang Dynasty monk traveler went to Srivijaya and India via sea route in 671 and returned to China 25 years later via the same route. After his return he translated scriptures at the 薦福寺 Jianfusu, the temple where the 小雁塔 Xianyanta, Small Wild Goose Pagoda is located.|
Yi Jing, originally named 張文明 Zhang Wen Ming, became a monk at age 14. He was an admirer of Fa Xian and Xuanzang, famous monks of his childhood. Provided funding by a benefactor named Fong, he decided to visit the famous Buddhist university of Nalanda, in Bihar, India, to further study Buddhism. Traveling by a Persian boat out of Guangzhou, he arrived at Srivijaya (today's Palembang of Sumatra) after 22 days, where he spent the next 6 months learning Sanskrit grammar and Malay language. He visited to the states of Malayu and Kedah.
In 673 he arrived at the East coast of India, where he met a senior monk and stayed a year to study Sanskrit. Both later followed a group of merchants and visited 30 other principalities. Halfway to Nalanda, Yi Jing fell sick and was unable to walk; gradually he was left behind by the group. He was looted by bandits and stripped naked. He heard the natives would collect white skins to offer sacrifice to the gods, so he jumped into mud and used leaves to cover his lower body; he walked slowly to Nalanda where he studied for 11 years!
Yi Jing praised the high level of Buddhist scholarship in Srivijaya, he advised Chinese monks to study there prior to making the journey to Nalanda India.
In the year 687, Yi Jing stopped again in the kingdom of Srivijaya on his way back to China. At that time Palembang was a centre of Buddhism where foreign scholars gathered, and Yi Jing stayed there for two years to translate original Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures to Chinese. In the year 689 he returned to Guangzhou to obtain ink and papers (note: Srivijaya then had no paper and ink) and returned again to Srivijaya the same year. In year 695, after he completed all his translation work he finally returned to Luoyang and received a grand welcome back by Empress Wu. His journey took 25 years!
He brought back some 400 Buddhist translated texts. 南海寄歸內法傳 & 大唐西域求法高僧傳, An Account of Buddhism from the South Seas & Buddhist Monks Pilgrimage of Tang Dynasty are two of Yi Jing's travel diaries, which describe his journey to Srivijaya and India. He translated more than 60 sutras into Chinese.
On translation: The Tang monk Yijing wrote a primer of Sanskrit and declared that whoever studied it well would be able to translate Sanskrit texts into Chinese in one year. Yankee optimism!