Re: [INDOLOGY] Origin of Mahācīna

John Huntington john.darumadera at
Mon Mar 14 20:46:20 UTC 2016

The following provides a concrete example of the use of "mahācīna/e"  the
the context of the practice of Sanskrit Buddhism in the ca. 13th century.

Mahācīna, is widely known among the Newar Buddhists as the homeland of
Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva. It occurs in the Svayambhūpuraṇa and other references
to Mañjuśrī. According to Paul Williams, reference to this connection of
manjusri to Wutai is found in the Avatamsaka, (Williams, Paul. *Mahayana
Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations.* 2000. p. 227).
In the famous iconographic set in a Nepalese Astasahasrika (Cambridge 1643)
Mahācīne occurs three times once for *Mañjughoṣaḥ *[folio 202v], once for
*Samantabhadraḥ* [folio 127r], and once for* Buddharūpaka Lokanāthaḥ*
[folio 123v]. Since this manuscript is in Sanskrit, it may be that Mahācīna
was a term known in India at the time ca. 12-13th Cent century.

See: Foucher, A. Étude sur l'Iconographie Bouddhique de l'Inde d'apres des
documents nouveaux, vol. 1. Paris, Ernest Leroux (Tokio, maison
Franco-Japonaies 1928) <>

John C. Huntington, Professor Emeritus
Buddhist Art, Asian Numismatics,
Field and Object Art Photography
 john.darumadera at

On Mon, Mar 14, 2016 at 12:25 AM, Bill Mak <bill.m.mak at> wrote:

> From the numerous Chinese sources, it is clear that by the late sixth
> century cīna (or later mahācīna as Dan pointed out) refers to Sui/Tang
> China without any ambiguity, for both the Chinese, Central Asian and Indian
> Buddhists. Of course, we have the earlier 振旦/震旦 which connects to the
> Iranian Čīn/Čīnistān/Čīnastān, Sogdian Čynstn and Syriac Sinsan. It makes
> sense that it was the Central Asians who first associate the Chinese with
> "cin" and later Sanskrit writers adopted that usage.
> For the origin of cīna, Geoff Wade in his Sino-Platonic Paper did an
> excellent job summarizing all the discussions so far. The various proposals
> include Qin秦, Jin晉, Latter Qin後晉, as well as Wade's own suggestion of
> Yelang夜郎. Unless we have more convincing arguments, it seems that we don't
> have enough evidence to say which is the definite answer. Personally, I
> would rule out Qin秦 on phonological (voicing) and historical grounds.
> Chinese referring themselves as descendent of Qin or that the memory of Qin
> gets stuck among foreigners centuries after the short-lived Qin Empire
> ended is not impossible but rather unlikely. Wade's own derivation of ʐina
> from Yelang appears somewhat convoluted and some of his arguments are based
> on the outdated Indological scholarship that assumes everything from the
> Arthaśāstra and Mahābhārata come before 300 BC.
> Bill Mak
> On 2016/03/14, at 3:51, Dan Lusthaus wrote:
> The conversation did take a speculative turn with the tantric geographic
> identifications. It is unambiguous however that earlier the Chinese and
> Indians were identifying China as Mahācīna and Cīna. In certain contexts,
> the Chinese transcribed the sounds rather than use the character for Qin.
> The following from Huili's Biography of Xuanzang, written
> contemporaneously with Xuanzang (mid-7th c reflects early Tang usage of how
> Indians supposedly referred to China.
> 《大唐大慈恩寺三藏法師傳》卷2:「其夜眾僧皆夢神[8]人告曰:「此客僧從摩訶脂那[9]國來,欲學[10]經印度,觀禮聖迹,」(CBETA, T50,
> no. 2053, p. 231, a13-15)
> [8]〔人〕-【甲】。[9]〔國〕-【宋】【元】【明】【宮】【甲】。[10]經=法【甲】。
> 摩訶脂那]國 = Mahā-cīna country.
> Some editions omit 國 (guo / country), leaving just 摩訶脂那 = Mahā-cīna.
> Li Rongxi translates this: "During that night all the monks of the
> monastery had a dream in which a divine being told them, 'This guest monk
> coming from Mahācīna wishes to study the scriptures in India, to visit and
> worship the holy sites...'"
> Later in the same text, an Indian monk is asked by fellow monks to send a
> letter to Xuanzang who is now back in China. The letter begins:
> 《大唐大慈恩寺三藏法師傳》卷7:「:「微妙吉祥世尊金剛座所摩訶菩提寺諸多聞眾所共圍繞上座慧天,致書摩訶支那國於無量經律論妙盡精微木叉阿遮利耶」(CBETA,
> T50, no. 2053, p. 261, b8-11)
> Li Rongxi's tr:
> The abbot Prajñādeva, of Mahābodhi Monastery at the Diamond Seat of the
> mysterious and auspicious World-Honored One, surrounded by a multitude of
> learned monks, begs to send this letter to the Mokṣācārya of the country of
>  Mahācīna, who is most learned in the subtle teachings of many
> scriptures, disciplinary texts, and treatises, extending to him unlimited
> respect and wishing that he may live in good health with least ailment and
> trouble.
> Prajñādeva is rendered in translated Chinese (Hui tian 慧天); Mahābodhi is
> transcribed (摩訶菩提); Mokṣācārya is also transcribed (木叉阿遮利耶). And China is
> referred to as摩訶支那國 Mahācīna country.
> It is nteresting to note that the first Mahācīna transcription uses 脂 for
> the "chi" sound, while the second uses 支 (in modern mandarin, both are
> pronounced zhi-first tone): 摩訶脂那 and 摩訶支那. Both 脂那 and 支那 are recognized as
> old transcriptions of China.
> CBETA yields 30 hits for the second transcription 摩訶支那, all from Tang,
> Song, and Ming, showing that this name for China was occasionally used long
> after the Later Qin.
> Cīna 支那 has 534 hits, but one would have to weed through them to see which
> refer to China or something Chinese, and which are used for other
> transcriptions.
> The first transcription 摩訶脂那, however, gets no hits aside from the one in
> the Biography above. 脂那 Cīna by itself gets 52 hits. E.g. 《佛本行集經》卷11〈11
> 習學技藝品〉:「脂那國書(大隋)。」(CBETA, T03, no. 190, p. 703, c20), Abhiniṣkramaṇa sūtra,
> tr. by Jñānagupta between 587-597 CE, during the Sui Dynasty. Amongst a
> list of countries, it includes "the country of Cīna" and in parentheses,
> "Great Sui".)
> The term Cīna was not just a geographical identity, but an ethnic one as
> well. The Biography of Xuanzang refers to Chinese as an ethnic lineage thus:
> 《大唐大慈恩寺三藏法師傳》卷5:「又其王聰慧,建國相承多歷年所,自云本是脂那提婆瞿怛羅([26]唐言漢日天種),」(CBETA, T50, no.
> 2053, p. 250, b25-27)
> [26]唐言明本皆作此言。
> Li tr:
> The king was wise and intelligent and had been on the Throne for many
> years. He acknowledged himself to be a descendent of the *Cīna-deva-gotra*
>  (the Divine Stock of Han).
> That is transcribed and then translated: 脂那提婆瞿怛羅 (唐言漢日天種)
> 脂那 = *Cīna*
> 提婆 = deva
> 瞿怛羅 = gotra
> 唐言 = "in Tang [=Chinese] language"
> 漢日天種 = 漢 Han [=Chinese] + 日天 = sun god + 種 = seed.
> This is interesting because we have three Chinese references to "China":
> Cīna, Tang, and Han. The Chinese recognize that foreigners call them China,
> they identify with their current polity, the Tang dynasty, and ethnically
> as Han. Like Arjuna in the Gita they can have many names.
> So it is unambiguous that the term China or maha-Cina was being used as
> self-reference still in the Sui and Tang, and additional citations from
> Song, Ming, etc. sources could be easily added. It also confirms that
> Indians (and others) were using the name China or Maha-China already in the
> 6th and 7th centuries.
> Incidentally, I have found at least one usage of "In Qin language it would
> be" in a text from the late 3rd c., which would predate the Latter QIn
> dynasty by nearly a century:
> Chronicle of Aśoka, tr. by An Faqin 安法欽, a Parthian, ca. 281-306
> 《阿育王傳》卷7:「此是兒志乃至初生。即名須達秦言善意)」(CBETA, T50, no. 2042, p. 127, a16)
> It says: "...Sudatta, in Qin language is good intention."
> Dan Lusthaus
> .
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Andrea Acri <andreaacri at>
> *To:* indology at
> *Sent:* Sunday, March 13, 2016 9:16 AM
> *Subject:* Re: [INDOLOGY] Origin of Mah?c?na
> The issue as to what were the geographical entities denoted by the terms
> cīna and mahācīna (at different times, mainly in Buddhist Tantric texts)
> has generated quite a lot of discussion; however, I was not aware of an
> Eastern Indian/Burmese identification. Here suffice it to say that Mahācīna
> appears to refer to China proper in the Aṣṭasahāsrika-Prajñāpāramitā
> Nepalese manuscript of AD 1015, since it locates Mañjughoṣa there (mahācīne
> mañjughoṣe, which refers to Mañjuśrī at Mt Wutai).
> According to Geoff Wade, Zina was the term used by the inhabitants of
> Yelang (a polity in the western Guizhou region) to refer to themselves, and
> is possibly the source of Sanskrit cīna (see ‘The Polity of Yelang and the
> origin of the name ‘‘China’’’, Sino Platonic Papers 188, May 2009,
> available online).
> Best
> Andrea
> On 12 March 2016 at 7:13:10 am, Loriliai Biernacki (
> loriliai.biernacki at wrote:
> I located the Dvivedi quote, in case anyone is interested: --“ityatra
> varṇitau cīnasnānanamaskārau islāmadharmānuyāyināṃ vaju-namaj-karmaṇī
> anuharataḥ”- this comes from the intro to the Śaktisaṁgama Tantra, vol.4,
> p.42.
> Maybe yes, my own sense is that in this context C?na points less to a
> known region and more simply functions as a place-holder for the category
> of the foreign; in part I think this because the practices in the
> *C?n?c?ratantra*, which are primarily sexual in nature, appear to be
> rooted in practices popular in Bengal and Western Assam, unlike the
> practices associated with Eastern Assam, Sadiya for instance, and Burma,
> known for human sacrifice.
> Of course this doesn’t discount your point that C?na might have simply
> referred to a vague geographic region that these writers supposed to be
> located where contemporary Burma, Nagaland etc are. I suspect that the
> Bengali and Western Assamese writers use the term because it already
> signified a functional geographic “other”, in this case somewhat
> denigrated, (maybe similar to the medieval and early modern European uses
> of the “orient”?), and maybe also not so different from one of V.V.
> Dvivedi’s 20th century introductions where he compares the c?n?c?ra
> practice to Muslim practices.
> All best,
> Loriliai
> From: INDOLOGY <indology-bounces at> on behalf of Dominik
> Wujastyk <wujastyk at>
> Date: Thursday, March 10, 2016 at 9:17 PM
> To: Indology <indology at>
> Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] Origin of Mah?c?na
> I'm an outsider in this discussion, so pardon any naive remarks.  I was
> under the impression, though, from something I read somewhere (that
> statement wouldn't get past Wikipedia) that C?na in Tantrika texts,
> especially the *Mah?c?n?c?ratantra*, referred to what we today call the
> Assam-Burma region.  Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, Northern Burma
> that sort of area.
> Best,
> Dominik
> --
> Professor Dominik Wujastyk* <>
> Singhmar Chair in Classical Indian Society and Polity
> Department of History and Classics
> <>
> University of Alberta, Canada
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