和猟窟燕噐
Studies in the History of Medicine & Science, Vol.XV, No.1-2, New Series(1997/1998), 199-129.

 

Astronomy in the Sutras Translated into Chinese

WEIXING NIU

 

1. Introduction

  Transmission of foreign astronomy occurred in China three times, namely: i. Indian astronomy together with the intrusion of Buddhist from late in the 2nd century to early in the 11th century, ii. Arabic astronomy with the Islam about 13th century to the 15th century, and iii. European classical astronomy with the Jesuit in the 17th and the 18th century.
  As the earliest and longest dissemination of foreign astronomy, the Indian astronomy is preserved mainly in the sutras translated into Chinese. Being largely translated and well-preserved1, the Chinese translated sutras now become the most important first-hand materials in the study of early Indian astronomy as well as the astronomical transmission from Indian to china.
  Astronomical materials preserved in the sutras can be probably divided into five parts: i. Cosmology, ii. naksatras, iii. sun and moon, iv. calendar and v. planets. After a short description of this astronomical material, I go on to the differences and similarities between the Chinese astronomy and that preserved in the sutras, in order to clarify the influences of Indian astronomy on Chinese astronomy.


2. Cosmology

  The cosmology found from the sutras, translated into Chinese, seems to belong to the early Indian2. It is described that there is a kind of wind at the beginning of a Kalpa. Under the force of this wind, which can destroy anything, the universe developed. Ocean, continent, Sumeru, sun, moon and stars were developed one by one. The wind is boundlessly wide and 16 laksa (l laska=100000 yojanas) thick. There is a water-wheel on the wind and a gold-wheel on the top of the water-wheel. At the center of the gold-wheel there is a lofty mountain Sumeru, which is 84000 yojanas high. Surrounding Sumeru are seven mountains which in turn surrounded by seven oceans. Outside these oceans and mountains there is another ocean called 'out-ocean' in which is located Caturdvipa, namely, four great continents, which are Purvavideha, Jambudvipa, Aparagodaniya and Uttarakulu, and Astadvipa (eight middle continents), on which humankind lives.


3. Naksatras

  Before Indian naksatras was introduced into China by Buddhists, the Chinese had a similar system of constellations called 28 Xiu (lunar mansions). So it is not astonishing that the names of Indian naksatras were translated into the corresponding Chinese lunar mansions. Such a translation can be found in some of the Chinese translated sutras3. However in many sutras the names of Indian naksatras were transliterated into Chinese4. After comparing with the Sanskrit pronunciation of the naksatras5, I find the transliteration is quite precise. There is one exception6 that a kind of free translation has been used.
    The beginning naksatra varies in different translated sutras. In some sutras7, the lists of naksatras begin with Citra, its corresponding Chinese lunar mansion is Jiao, which has been still the first one in Chinese lunar mansion for more than two thousand years. In many of the sutras8, however the lists of naksatras begins with Krttika . It is also found in few sutras9 that the beginning naksatra becomes Asvini. The beginning naksatra varies from Krttika to Asvini is concordant with the precession of the equinox. It is confirmed by the fact that the sutras taking Asvini as the first naksatra are translated later than those taking Krttika as the first naksatra.
  The total number of naksatras is ordinary twenty-eight. A twenty-seven naksatras system from which Abhijit is absent is described in detail in one of the sutras10. This system of naksatras is also found in some other sources as well11.
  The extent of a naksatra is represented by the length of time that the moon conjoins the naksatra. The unit of time is muhurta, thirty of which equal to one day. The extents of naksatras can be divided into three set of values. They are: 15 muhurtas, 30 muhurtas, and 45 muhurtas. However Abhijit is a special case, the extent of which is only six muhurtas. For example, in one of the sutras we are told that, there are six naksatras with extent of 45 muhurtas, sixteen of 30 muhurtas, five of 15 muhurtas and one of 6 muhurtas12. So we have the total 831 muhurtas. Divided by 30, we get the value of sidereal month to be 27.7 days, which is little bigger than the accurate value 27.32166 days. 
  In the twenty-seven naksatras system the extent of each naksatras tends to be equal. I think this equalizing tendency of the extents, as well as the adaptation of naksatras' sum from twenty-eight to twenty-seven, is influenced by the introduction of Zodiacal Sign from Babylon to India.
  Detailed records about the sum of stars in each naksatra and the shape of each naksatra looks like, are also given in the Chinese translated sutras. The total number and the shapes are fairy different from that of Chinese lunar mansions, but they are sustained by separated Sanskrit text13.


4. Sun and Moon

  Although the knowledge of sun and moon appears frequently in many of the sutras, it is preserved more comprehensively in one of them14. We are told that the sun consists of glass covered with gold, the moon consists of glass covered with silver, sun and moon are two globes with diameters of 51 and 50 (or 49) yojanas. Blown by the wind, the sun and the moon move around the Sumeru mountain with the height of 42000 yojanas, that is, of half the height of Sumeru. We are also told that sun and moon move along with series of circular paths the centers of which lie on the vertical axis of Sumeru; there are 180 paths for the sun, 15 paths for the moon, the distance between the outermost path and the innermost path is 290 yojanas, the diameter of the outermost path is 481380 yojanas, that of the innermost one is 480800 yojanas. The sun and the moon travel their next successive path on each day. It is also reported that the extent of sunshine is a finite globe with diameter of 721200 yojanas. With this model of the sun and the moon, the alternation of day and night, the variation in sun's rising altitude and the variation in moon's phase can be explained.
    As to the solar and lunar eclipse, it seems that some complicated Indian methods for calculating eclipse have been introduced into China in Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). However there is no theory of eclipses to be found in the translated sutras. Here two points are worthy to be mentioned: i. the eclipse is always attributed to Rahu who is the King of Asura and likes to cover the sun or moon with his hand, ii. six months has been taken as an eclipse cycle.


5. Calendar

  i. Day, Paksa, Month and Season
  It is quite well-known that, according to many sutras, there are 30 muhurtas in a day, 29 or 30 days in a month (masa) and 12 months in a year. A year is used to be divided into six or three seasons. The six seasons are: spring, summer, rains, autumn, winter and cold, each of them has two months15. On the other hand, three seasons are: spring, summer and winter16, or spring, summer and autumn, each of them of four months duration.
  A month is divided in two parts called Paksas17, which are the periods of fourteen or fifteen days between new moon and full (purvapaksa or suklapaksa) and between full moon and new (aparapaksa or krsnapaksa) respectively. Months are named after the naksatras in which the full moon of a month lies. The 12 months' names are Caitra, Vaisakha, Jyaistha, Asadha, Sravana, Bhadrapada, Asvina, Karttika, Margasira, Pausya, Magha and Phalguna. The transliterations of these names are listed in some of the translated sutras18.

ii. The Variation of the Length of Daylight
  The length of daylight varies with the change of seasons. On the eighth day of suklapaksa in Karttikamasa, the length of daylight and night are both 15 muhurtas. From then the length of daylight decreases with the rate of one muhurtas per month, the length of night increases with the same rate. Until the eighth day of suklapaksa in Maghamasa, the length of daylight decrease to 12 muhurtas, and that of night increase to 18 muhurtas. From then the length of daylight increase, that of night decrease. Until the eighth day of suklapaksa in Vaisakhamasa, the length of daylight and night are both 15 muhurtas again. Till the eighth day of suklapaksa in Sravanamasa, the length of daylight increase to 18 muhurtas, and that of night decrease to 12 muhurtas. From then the length of daylight decrease and that of night increase till the eighth day of suklapaksa in Karttikamasa. That is the variation of the length of daylight in a year19. So the longest daylight in a year has 18 muhurtas, the shortest has 12 muhurtas. The ratio of the longest to the shortest day in the year then is 3:2, which is precisely the parameter used by Lagahda20.
  It is also explained in one of the sutras21 that a kind of waterclock had been used as timemeasuring instrument.

iii. Noon Shadow
  Another time-measuring instrument, the gnomon, is mentioned in several translated sutras. The length of noon shadow, measured by the gnomon, varies with the seasons. The length of the noon shadow at winter solstice also is the longest noon shadow in a year is 12 feet22. However in another sutra23 the height of the gnomon is taken to be 12 chun, chun is a translated Chinese unit of length. The length of noon shadow at winter solstice is recorded to be 21 chun, at summer solstice be 4 chun, both at vernal and autumnal equinox as 13 chun. After calculating with these data, I find that the place where these noon shadows have been measured was near the forty degrees north latitude. So it could be concluded that Indian astronomy had been transmitted to the Central Asian countries first before it was introduced into China.

iv. Intercalary Cycle
  Three kinds of intercalary cycle are found in the different sutras. The first one is intercalating one month in six years24. The second one is intercalating one month in two and half years25, which amount to intercalating two months in five years26. Another cycle of intercalating seven months in nineteen years is also mentioned27.
  The cycle of intercalating two month in five years is found more often in the sutras. It is said that one year contains 366 sidereal days28. So we have 
5 solar year = 62 synodic months = 1830 sidereal days
  It is also reported that the first intercalary month shall be intercalated at the end of the third year, and the second one shall be intercalated at the end of the fifth year. So the intercalary month is also called the thirteenth month.

v. Four Concepts of a Month
  In one of the sutras translated in Chinese, I found four concepts pertaining to a month. It says that there are four kinds of months. The first one is the solar month containing 30.5 days. The second one is the civil month containing 30 days. The third one is the synodic month containing days. The forth one is the sidereal month contains days.29
The corresponding four lengths of a month are obviously derived from the period relations as follows:
1. 5 solar years = 60 solar months = 1830 sidereal days,
2. 5 solar years = 60 civil months = 1800 civil days,
3. 5 solar years = 62 synodic months = 1830 sidereal days,
4. 5 solar years = 67 sidereal months = 1830 sidereal days,
The upper period relations can be found in the Jyotisavedanga of 400 BC.30


6. Five-Planets, Qi-yao and Jiu-zhi

  Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury are the five planets that appear often in the sutras. Although lots of the records about five planets were supposed to be used for astrological purposes, yet from many of them some astronomical meaning could be extracted. For example, five planetary ephemerides are preserved in one of the sutras, each planetary ephemeris gives detailed data about the apparent movement of the planet.31 The five planets are often mentioned together with sun and moon. They have a special name called Qi-yao, which means seven-luminaries. The word Qi-yao has been very popular in Chinese calendar for a long time.
  Rahu and Ketu added to Qi-yao make Jiu-zhi, which may mean nine-deity. The word Jiu-zhi is intimately related to astrology. Two pure astronomical ephemerides of Rahu and Ketu are preserved32. Rahu is the ascending node of the ecliptic and the lunar orbit. However Ketu is identified as the apogee of the lunar orbit33.


7. Comparison Between Chinese Astronomy and Indian Astronomy

  In this section a comparison between Chinese astronomy and Indian astronomy is presented. This is preserved also in the sutras translated into Chinese.

i. Theory of Cosmology
Many similarities could be found between the Indian cosmology preserved in the sutras and an early Chinese cosmology called Theory of Canopy-Heavens.
  The mountain Sumeru is the center of the earth according to Indian cosmology. A similar high mountain called Beijixiadi (means earth under the polar star) is also stand in the center of the world, according to the Theory of Canopy-Heavens. Sumeru is 84000 yojanas high. Beijixiadi however has 60000 li high, li is a Chinese unit of length.
  According to the Theory of Canopy-Heavens, the sun and the moon travel the regular paths as they do in Indian astronomy. There are 180 paths for sun and 15 paths for moon. On the other hand, the Theory of Canopy-Heavens provides 13 paths for both sun and moon.
The extent of sunshine is a finite globe with the radius of 167000 li according to the Theory of Canopy-Heavens. It is also a finite globe with the diameter of 721200 yojanas in Indian astronomy.
  The Theory of Canopy-Heavens takes 3 as the ratio of p: the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. The same value of p is also taken in many sutras. Although it is more mathematical than astronomical, in some way it could be a meaningful evidence of the cultural transmission between different civilizations.

ii. Indian Naksatras and Chinese Lunar Mansions
  Indian naksatras and Chinese lunar mansions are two similar celestial coordinate systems. Despite their apparent close similarity there are several differences in details between the naksatras and Chinese lunar mansions. 
  In order to concord with the precession of the equinox, the beginning naksatra varies from Krttika to Asvini. In Chinese lunar mansion Jiao (its corresponding Indian naksatra is Citra) has been still the first one. 
  The total number of naksatras is ordinary twenty-eight. A twenty-seven naksatras system from which Abhijit is absent is also provided in sutras. The total sum of Chinese lunar mansions is always twenty-eight.
  The extent of a naksatra is represented by the length of time that the moon conjoins the naksatra. The extents of naksatras can be grouped into three kinds of sets. In the twenty-seven naksatras system the extents of each naksatras tend to be equalized. The extent of a Chinese lunar mansion is represented by the ancient Chinese degree, it varies from 1 to more than 20 Chinese degrees. Note that the circumference of celestial circle is divided into 365 ancient Chinese degrees and some remainder, which value equals the number of days in a solar year. 
  The total number of stars in each naksatra, the shape of each naksatra, the determinative star in some of the naksatras, and even the astrological meaning of each naksatra, are also different from that of Chinese lunar mansions.
  A detailed comparative study of Chinese astronomy and Indian astronomy is intended for a separate paper in the future.


8. Indian Influences on Chinese Astronomy

  The following five examples throw ample light on the influences of Indian astronomy on Chinese astronomy:

i. He Cheng-tian and Indian Astronomy
  He Cheng-tian (370-447 AD) got in touch with Indian astronomy through an astronomical work compiled by his mother's brother Xu-guang (352-425 AD). He also studied Indian astronomy directly from a Buddhist monk Hui-yan (362-443 AD). So in his Yuan-jia-li, he provided a series of innovations that indicated his reference to Indian Astronomy34.

ii. Emperor Liang and Indian Astronomy
  Emperor Liang (464-549 AD) was a pious Buddhist. In his daily life Emperor Liang abided strictly by the Buddhist timetable. So it became necessary to convert Indian hours to Chinese hours briefly and precisely, that resulted in an innovation about the unit of timemeasure, which in turn is a traditional astronomical problem in the history of Chinese astronomy. As an emperor he also convened an astronomical meeting once time in order to substitute the Indian cosmology with the Chinese cosmology. 35

iii. Zhang Zhi-xing and His Astronomical Discovery
  In the history of Chinese astronomy it is still a mystery that Zhang Zhi-xing had discovered the non-uniform apparent annual motion of sun and planets. The discovery caused a series of innovation in Chinese astronomy. It was said that Zhang Zhi-xing achieved his discovery after more than thirty years (526-556 A.D.) of astronomical measurement on an island. 36As reported, the discovery is expressed in such a way that was empolyed to describe the similar problems by an Indian astronomer later in Tang Dynasty. 37 So I guess that Zhang Zhi-xing had probably acquainted with Indian astronomy on that island, the location of which is not very clear from the report.

iv. Rahu and Ketu
  Rahu and Ketu were considered two invisible bodies related to the calculating of eclipse. They were introduced into China, and were adopted by non-governmental calendar in th 9th century. Then they were accepted by governmental calendar makers in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.). So Rahu and Ketu is one of the evidences of Indian influence on Chinese astronomy.38

v. Yi-xing and Jiu-zhi-li
  Yi-xing (683-727A.D.) was a Buddhist monk of Middle Tang Dynasty. He compiled the Da-yan-li which was famous calendar in the history of Chinese astronomy. It was promulgated in 729 A.D. and employed upto 757 A.D.. Jiu-zhi-li, however, was an Indian calendar translated into Chinese in 718 A.D. by an Indian Gautama Siddhartha, whose family had dwelt in China since his grandfather.39 It has been expounded that some reasonable and advanced computational techniques in the Jiu-zhi-li were imitated by Yi-xing in his Da-yan-li.


9. Conclusions

  The sutras is a good carrier for transmitting Indian astronomy to China. However, the astronomy knowledge preserved in the sutras cannot represent solely the real level of the transmitted Indian Astronomy. Most of the Buddhist astronomical source-materials belong to the Vedic period. According to other sources, the Buddhist translator(s) had a good grasp of the Indian astronomy, which was surely superior to the astronomy preserved in the sutras. Beside the Buddhists, there are other channels through which Indian astronomy could have been introduced into China.

  To sum up, Indian astronomy had been positively introduced into China and the plausible and advanced elements of the Indian astronomy have been assimilated by Chinese astronomers.

  ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
  The author is extremely indebted to Prof. Jiang Xiao-Yuan for his guidance and supervision of the dissertation the summary of which is presented here.

NOTES AND REFERENCES
1 A large number of Sanskrit sutras was translated into Chinese about from late
2nd century to early 11th century. The translated sutras were compiled 
and published in Chinese in China , Japan and Korea. Taisho Tripitaka, 
which was compiled by Japanese in 1924-1934 A.D. in Tokyo, is the most popular 
edition of Tripitaka now used by scholars. So the Taisho Tripitaka will be our main 
reference material.
2 Buddhayasas, Vol.1, page 145; 
Xuan-zhuang(b), Vol.29, page 57.
3 Narendrayasas, Vol.13, page 138-139, 274-282, 371-373; 
Amoghavajra, Vol.21, page 387-391, etc..
4 Prabhamitra, Vol.13, page 555-556; 
Yi-jing(a), Vol.19, page 473-474; 
Buddhabhadra, Vol.22, page 500-501, etc..
5 Pingree, D., page 535.
6 Dharmaraksa, Vol.21, page 415-417.
7 Narendrayasas, Vol.13, page 138-139, 371; 
Chin Chu-cha, Vol.21, page 427.
8 Narendrayasas, Vol.13, page 274;
Prabhamitra Vol.13, page 555; 
Yi-jing(a), Vol.19, page 473;
Amoghavajra, Vol.21, page 388; 
Zu-lu-yan & Zi-qian, Vol.21, page 404; 
Dharmaraksa, Vol.21, page 415; 
Buddhabhadra, Vol.22, page 500-501.
9 Tian-xi-zai, Vol.20, page 846; 
Fa-xian, Vol.21, page 463.
10 Amoghavajra, Vol.21, page 388-390.
11 Kumarajiva, Vol.25, page 117; 
Prabhamitra, Vol.13, page 555-556;
Fa-xian, Vol.21, page 463-464.
12 Dharmaraksa, Vol.21, page 415-416.
13 Pingree, D. & Morrissey, P., page 102.
14 Paramartha, Vol.32, page 195-197.
15 Narendrayasas, Vol. 13, page 282.
16 Paramartha, Vol.32, page 196.
17 Amoghavajra, Vol.21, page 393.
18 Xuan-zhuang(a), Vol.27, page 701-702; 
Danapala, Vol.16, page 845.
19 Xuan-zhuang(a), Vol.27, page 701-702.
20 Pingree, D., page 538.
21 Prajna, Vol.10, page 713.
22 Narendrayasas, Vol.13, page 280;
Rou-lou-yan, Vol.17, page 738-739.
23 Zu-lu-yan & Zi-qian, Vol.21, page 409-410.
24 Punyatara & Kumarajiva, Vol.23, page 346; 
Yi-jing(b), Vol.24, page 416.
25 Yi-jing(b), Vol.24, page 416.
26 Zu-lu-yan & Zi-qian, Vol.21, page 410;
Paramartha ,Vol.32, page 196.
27 Zu-lu-yan & Zi-qian, Vol.21, page 410.
28 Kumarajiva, Vol.25, page 409.
29 Kumarajiva, Vol.25, page 409.
30 Pingree, D., page 536.
31 Chin Chu-cha, Vol.21, page 429-442.
32 Chin Chu-cha, Vol.21, page 442-448.
33 Michio Yano: The Ch¨i-yao jang-tsai-chueh and its Ephemerides, page 33.
Niu Weixing, An inquiry into the astronomical meaning of Rahu and Ketu, page 265.
34 Niu Weixing & Jiang Xiaoyuan, He Chengtian¨s innovation and Indian astronomy, page 44.
35 Jiang Xiaoyuan & Niu Weixing, Emperor Liang as in the Chinese Astronomical History, Page, 135.
36 CCCAC, Page 599.
37 CCCAC, page 2029.
38 Niu Weixing, An inquiry into the astronomical meaning of Rahu and Ketu, Page 259.
39 Jiang Xiaoyuan, Page 361.

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2004定6埖11晩紗秘