|Hanja||慧超 also 惠超|
Hyecho studied esoteric Buddhism in Tang Dynasty China, initially under Subhakarasimha and then under the famous Indian monk Vajrabodhi who praised Hyecho as "one of six living persons who were well-trained in the five sections of the Buddhist canon."
On the advice of his Indian teachers in China, he set out for India in 723 CE to acquaint himself with the language and culture of the land of the Buddha.
Memoir of the pilgrimage to the five kingdoms of India
During his journey of India, Hyecho wrote a travelogue in Chinese named Wang ocheonchukguk jeon (往五天竺國傳) which means, "Memoir of the pilgrimage to the five kingdoms of India."
The travelogue reveals that Hyecho, after arriving by sea in India headed to the Indian Kingdom of Magadha (present-day Bihar), then moved on to visit Kusinagar and Varanasi. However Hyecho's journey did not end there and he continued north, where he visited Lumbini (present-day Nepal), Kashmir, the Arabs. Hyecho left India following the Silk Road towards the west, via Agni or Karashahr, to China where the account ends in 729 CE.
He referred to three kingdoms lying to the northeast of Kashmir which were:
"under the suzerainty of the Tibetans…. The country is narrow and small, and the mountains and valleys very rugged. There are monasteries and monks, and the people faithfully venerate the Three Jewels. As to the kingdom of Tibet to the East, there are no monasteries at all and the Buddha's teaching is unknown; but in [these above-mentioned] countries the population consists of Hu, therefore they are believers. (Petech, The Kingdom of Ladakh, p. 10)."
Rizvi goes on to point out that this passage not only confirms that in the early eighth century the region of modern Ladakh was under Tibetan suzerainty, but that the people were of non-Tibetan stock.
It took Hyecho approximately four years to complete his journey. The travelogue contains much information on local diet, languages, climate, cultures, and political situations.
It is mentioned that Hyecho witnessed the decline of Buddhism in India. He also found it quite interesting to see the cattle roaming freely around cities and villages.
The travelogue was lost for many years until a fragment of it was rediscovered by Paul Pelliot in the Dunhuang grotto in China in 1908 and was subsequently translated into different languages over the years; the original version of Wang ocheonchukguk jeon. The original fragment is now in France.
- Korean Buddhism
- Silk Road transmission of Buddhism
- List of Korea-related topics
- List of Silla people
- Wang ocheonchukguk jeon
- Yang, et al (1984), pp. 52-58.
- Sen (1956), p. 186.
- Rizvi (1996), p. 56.
- Sen, Surendranath (1956). India Through Chinese Eyes: Sir William Meyer Endowment Lectures 1952–53. University of Madras.
- Fully digitized "Wang ocheonchukguk jeon" on International Dunhuang Project website