Amoghavajra and the Indian Calendar in Chinese

The zodiac Cancer.
It was in the year 764 as part of his compilation of the Xiuyao jing 宿曜經 (T 1299) that the Vajrayāna master and translator Amoghavajra 不空 (705-774) translated the Indian lunar calendar into Chinese with with his assistant Yang Jingfeng 楊景風, a Chinese court official who later was involved in official calendar reforms. The latter added notes to explain the differences between the two systems. While both are lunar rather than solar, they still differ considerably.

Unlike the numbered system of months and days in Chinese, the Indian lunar calendar uses a sequence of 27 (or 28) constellation (nakṣatra) names, which represent the zones the moon travels in a month before returning to its original place. In ancient China they likewise had a similar system of 28 constellations (the xiu 宿), though those stars do not really match the ancient Vedic model, if it is even possible to reliably compare them since the Vedic literature doesn't provide accurate coordinates and later Indian star catalogs are inconsistent (see David Pingree's article "Identification of the Yogatārās of the Indian Nakṣatras" here). Nevertheless, it seems the inspiration for such models had a common source, which was probably Babylon though there is no such evidence proving this to my knowledge. This remains a significant mystery in Asian history.

The 27 nakṣatra-s paired with the Chinese constellations are as follows:

1.  婁宿 Aśvinī
2.  胃宿 Bharaṇī
3.  昴宿 Kṛttikā
4.  畢宿 Rohiṇī
5.  觜宿 Mṛgaśīrṣa
6.  參宿 Ārdrā
7.  井宿 Punarvasū
8.  鬼宿 Puṣya
9.  柳宿 Aślesā
10. 星宿 Maghā
11. 張宿 Pūrvaphālgunī
12. 翼宿 Uttaraphālgunī
13. 軫宿 Hasta
14. 角宿 Citrā
15. 亢宿 Svāti
16. 氐宿 Viśākhā
17. 房宿 Anurādhā
18. 心宿 Jyeṣṭha
19. 尾宿 Mūla
20. 箕宿 Pūrvāṣāḍhā
21. 斗宿 Uttarāṣāḍhā
22. 女宿 Śravaṇa
23. 虚宿 Dhaniṣṭhā
24. 危宿 Śatabhiṣaj
25. 室宿 Pūrvabhādrapadā
26. 壁宿 Uttarabhādrapadā
27. 奎宿 Revatī

In the 28 nakṣatra model, before Śravaṇā is one more constellation: 牛宿 Abhijit. The 27 model was initially used in Amoghavajra's work, though later editors of his work in China added the extra constellation, presumably because it suits the Chinese model which is strictly 28 constellations. The Indians could use either, though the 27 model allows for an equal division into 3 parts of 9, which is perhaps astrologically significant.

In the Indian model the month commences from the full moon, unlike with the Chinese lunar calendar where it starts from a new moon. Also, as Yang Jingfeng states in India "the month is always named based on which constellation (nakṣatra) the moon is in on the night of the fifteenth day of the śukla-pakṣa" (i.e., the last day of waxing or the full moon), hence the months are called Citrā, Viśākhā, Jyeṣṭha, Pūrvāṣāḍhā and so on (see below). In Chinese reckoning, this would be the 15th day of the month (wang 望), since the 1st is the new moon (shuo 朔). The waning period would run from the 16th-30th, which is the kṛṣṇa-pakṣa. In the Indian calendar the 30 day month is divided into the two pakṣa-s, which are also astrologically significant according to Buddhist scripture.

For instance, the Chinese translation of the Four Deva Kings Sūtra 四天王經 (*Catur Devarāja Sūtra) – which is also quoted in Nāgārjuna's (c. 2nd-3rd cent.) Mahāprajñāpāramitā Upadeśa – details how the Four Mahārāja under Indra's direction descend with their entourages to inspect the world and its inhabitants:

「諸天齋日伺人善惡。須彌山上即第二忉利天,天帝名因,福德巍巍,典主四天。四天神王即因四鎮王也,各理一方,常以月八日遣使者下,案行天下,伺察帝王、臣民、龍鬼、蜎蜚、蚑行、蠕動之類,心念、口言、身行善惡;十四日遣太子下;十五日四天王自下;二十三日使者復下;二十九日太子復下;三十日四王復自下」 
The devas on the fasting days examine the good deeds and misdeeds of people. Atop Mount Sumeru there is the second [desire realm heaven] of Trāyastriṃśa where there is the celestial sovereign named Indra whose virtues are lofty. The chief four devas, the four deva kings, are Indra's four guardian kings, each managing one direction. On the eighth day of the month envoys are always dispatched who descend on an inspection tour of the whole world. They investigate the sovereigns, kings, officials, citizens, nāgas, spirits, fliers, crawlers and wrigglers – the good deeds and misdeeds in the thoughts of their minds, the speech of their mouths and the actions of their bodies. On the fourteenth day he dispatches the princes who descend. On the fifteenth day the four kings themselves descend. On twenty-third day the envoys again descend. On the twenty-ninth the princes again descend. On the thirtieth day the four kings again personally descend.
The text was translated into Chinese by Zhiyan 智嚴 and Baoyun 寶雲 in 427. It is clear here that they converted the Indian two 15 day pakṣa model into the Chinese 30 day model. In any case, this belief in various gods descending into the world or inspecting it on specified days of the month is found in other Indian Buddhist texts as well, which should be noted are not Mahāyāna like the Abhidharma Mahāvibhāṣā Śāstra, attributed to Kātyāyanīputra. This work is generally held to have been composed sometime around the 2nd century CE in northwest India, and moreover was a key treatise of the Sarvāstivāda school in Kashmir. See the following:

「問何故唯說三十三天。答以彼諸天數數雲集論善惡事故偏說之。謂彼諸天於白黑月。每常八日若十四日若十五日。集善法堂稱量世間善惡多少。復次三十三天常共伺察造善惡者。見造善者便擁護之。見造惡者即共嫌毀。」  
Question – Why only speak of thirty-three devas? Answer – The devas frequently gather to discuss good deeds and misdeeds. Hence the partial discussion of them. The devas during the waxing and waning periods, on every eighth, fourteenth and fifteenth, always gather in the Hall of Saddharma to weigh the amount of good deeds and misdeeds in the world. Furthermore, the thirty-three devas constantly together inspect the creators of good deeds and misdeeds. Seeing one who has created good deeds, they then protect them. Seeing one who has created misdeeds, they then together resent and ruin them.

This system was understood easily enough for the Chinese who had a lunar calendar of their own, but the more advanced model provided by Amoghavajra with specific month and day names was more complex. The first draft of this manual in 759 wasn't readily understood by Amoghavajra's Chinese colleagues, so they revised it using a table, which I've reproduced using the original Sanskrit nakṣatra names:






Chinese Lunar Months
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
1
śukla-pakṣa


waxing period
1
Revatī
Bharaṇī
Rohiṇī
Ārdrā
Puṣya
Pūrvaphālgunī
Citrā
Viśākhā
Jyeṣṭha
Uttarāṣāḍhā
Dhaniṣṭhā
Pūrvabhādrapadā
2
Aśvinī
Kṛttikā
Mṛgaśīrṣa
Punarvasū
Aślesā
Uttaraphālgunī
Svāti
Anurādhā
Mūla
Śravaṇa
Śatabhiṣaj
Uttarabhādrapadā
3
Bharaṇī
Rohiṇī
Ārdrā
Puṣya
Maghā
Hasta
Viśākhā
Jyeṣṭha
Pūrvāṣāḍhā
Dhaniṣṭhā
Pūrvabhādrapadā
Revatī
4
Kṛttikā
Mṛgaśīrṣa
Punarvasū
Aślesā
Pūrvaphālgunī
Citrā
Anurādhā
Mūla
Uttarāṣāḍhā
Śatabhiṣaj
Uttarabhādrapadā
Aśvinī
5
Rohiṇī
Ārdrā
Puṣya
Maghā
Uttaraphālgunī
Svāti
Jyeṣṭha
Pūrvāṣāḍhā
Śravaṇa
Pūrvabhādrapadā
Revatī
Bharaṇī
6
Mṛgaśīrṣa
Punarvasū
Aślesā
Pūrvaphālgunī
Hasta
Viśākhā
Mūla
Uttarāṣāḍhā
Dhaniṣṭhā
Uttarabhādrapadā
Aśvinī
Kṛttikā
7
Ārdrā
Puṣya
Maghā
Uttaraphālgunī
Citrā
Anurādhā
Pūrvāṣāḍhā
Śravaṇa
Śatabhiṣaj
Revatī
Bharaṇī
Rohiṇī
8
Punarvasū
Aślesā
Pūrvaphālgunī
Hasta
Svāti
Jyeṣṭha
Uttarāṣāḍhā
Dhaniṣṭhā
Pūrvabhādrapadā
Aśvinī
Kṛttikā
Mṛgaśīrṣa
9
Puṣya
Maghā
Uttaraphālgunī
Citrā
Viśākhā
Mūla
Śravaṇa
Śatabhiṣaj
Uttarabhādrapadā
Bharaṇī
Rohiṇī
Ārdrā
10
Aślesā
Pūrvaphālgunī
Hasta
Svāti
Anurādhā
Pūrvāṣāḍhā
Dhaniṣṭhā
Pūrvabhādrapadā
Revatī
Kṛttikā
Mṛgaśīrṣa
Punarvasū
11
Maghā
Uttaraphālgunī
Citrā
Viśākhā
Jyeṣṭha
Uttarāṣāḍhā
Śatabhiṣaj
Uttarabhādrapadā
Aśvinī
Rohiṇī
Ārdrā
Puṣya
12
Pūrvaphālgunī
Hasta
Svāti
Anurādhā
Mūla
Śravaṇa
Pūrvabhādrapadā
Revatī
Bharaṇī
Mṛgaśīrṣa
Punarvasū
Aślesā
13
Uttaraphālgunī
Citrā
Viśākhā
Jyeṣṭha
Pūrvāṣāḍhā
Dhaniṣṭhā
Uttarabhādrapadā
Aśvinī
Kṛttikā
Ārdrā
Puṣya
Maghā
14
Hasta
Svāti
Anurādhā
Mūla
Uttarāṣāḍhā
Śatabhiṣaj
Revatī
Bharaṇī
Rohiṇī
Punarvasū
Aślesā
Pūrvaphālgunī
15
Citrā
Viśākhā
Jyeṣṭha
Pūrvāṣāḍhā
Śravaṇa
Pūrvabhādrapadā
Aśvinī
Kṛttikā
Mṛgaśīrṣa
Puṣya
Maghā
Uttaraphālgunī
kṛṣṇa-pakṣa


waning period
16
Svāti
Anurādhā
Mūla
Uttarāṣāḍhā
Dhaniṣṭhā
Uttarabhādrapadā
Bharaṇī
Rohiṇī
Ārdrā
Aślesā
Pūrvaphālgunī
Hasta
17
Viśākhā
Jyeṣṭha
Pūrvāṣāḍhā
Śravaṇa
Śatabhiṣaj
Revatī
Kṛttikā
Mṛgaśīrṣa
Punarvasū
Maghā
Uttaraphālgunī
Citrā
18
Anurādhā
Mūla
Uttarāṣāḍhā
Dhaniṣṭhā
Pūrvabhādrapadā
Aśvinī
Rohiṇī
Ārdrā
Puṣya
Pūrvaphālgunī
Hasta
Svāti
19
Jyeṣṭha
Pūrvāṣāḍhā
Śravaṇa
Śatabhiṣaj
Uttarabhādrapadā
Bharaṇī
Mṛgaśīrṣa
Punarvasū
Aślesā
Uttaraphālgunī
Citrā
Viśākhā
20
Mūla
Uttarāṣāḍhā
Dhaniṣṭhā
Pūrvabhādrapadā
Revatī
Kṛttikā
Ārdrā
Puṣya
Maghā
Hasta
Svāti
Anurādhā
21
Pūrvāṣāḍhā
Śravaṇa
Śatabhiṣaj
Uttarabhādrapadā
Aśvinī
Rohiṇī
Punarvasū
Aślesā
Pūrvaphālgunī
Citrā
Viśākhā
Jyeṣṭha
22
Uttarāṣāḍhā
Dhaniṣṭhā
Pūrvabhādrapadā
Revatī
Bharaṇī
Mṛgaśīrṣa
Puṣya
Maghā
Uttaraphālgunī
Svāti
Anurādhā
Mūla
23
Śravaṇa
Śatabhiṣaj
Uttarabhādrapadā
Aśvinī
Kṛttikā
Ārdrā
Aślesā
Pūrvaphālgunī
Hasta
Viśākhā
Jyeṣṭha
Pūrvāṣāḍhā
24
Dhaniṣṭhā
Pūrvabhādrapadā
Revatī
Bharaṇī
Rohiṇī
Punarvasū
Maghā
Uttaraphālgunī
Citrā
Anurādhā
Mūla
Uttarāṣāḍhā
25
Śatabhiṣaj
Uttarabhādrapadā
Aśvinī
Kṛttikā
Mṛgaśīrṣa
Puṣya
Pūrvaphālgunī
Hasta
Svāti
Jyeṣṭha
Pūrvāṣāḍhā
Śravaṇa
26
Pūrvabhādrapadā
Revatī
Bharaṇī
Rohiṇī
Ārdrā
Aślesā
Uttaraphālgunī
Citrā
Viśākhā
Mūla
Uttarāṣāḍhā
Dhaniṣṭhā
27
Uttarabhādrapadā
Aśvinī
Kṛttikā
Mṛgaśīrṣa
Punarvasū
Maghā
Hasta
Svāti
Anurādhā
Pūrvāṣāḍhā
Śravaṇa
Śatabhiṣaj
28
Revatī
Bharaṇī
Rohiṇī
Ārdrā
Puṣya
Pūrvaphālgunī
Citrā
Viśākhā
Jyeṣṭha
Uttarāṣāḍhā
Dhaniṣṭhā
Pūrvabhādrapadā
29
Aśvinī
Kṛttikā
Mṛgaśīrṣa
Punarvasū
Aślesā
Uttaraphālgunī
Svāti
Anurādhā
Mūla
Śravaṇa
Śatabhiṣaj
Uttarabhādrapadā
30
Bharaṇī
Rohiṇī
Ārdrā
Puṣya
Maghā
Hasta
Viśākhā
Jyeṣṭha
Pūrvāṣāḍhā
Dhaniṣṭhā
Pūrvabhādrapadā
Revatī




This is a brilliant example of cross-cultural intellectual exchange between the Indosphere and Sinosphere in pre-modern times. Amoghavajra took the time with his colleagues to carefully translate the Indian calendar into Chinese terms. The text also introduces the concept of weekdays, which was alien to the Chinese but important for esoteric Buddhism as well as Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism, which is why the names for weekdays in Persian and Sogdian are provided in transliterated Chinese so people could ask a foreigner what day of the week it was. For instance, Venus for Friday in Sogdian: na xie 那頡 = n'xyẟ ).

This is one part of my present research, which is exploring how occidental astrology was introduced and employed in China in the Tang dynasty (618-907). I am also in the process of translating this Xiuyao jing into English. While this should be of interest to Sinologists, the work is actually an important period specimen detailing Indian astrology from the eighth century. Only a fraction of such classical Indian literature is available in Sanskrit, which highlights the importance of Indian literature preserved in other languages like Chinese and Tibetan.

Ptolemy in Heian Japan?

As part of my ongoing PhD research here in Japan I picked up a copy of Mikkyō Senseijutsu – Sukuyō-dō to Indo Senseijutsu 密教占星術ー宿曜道とインド占星術 [Esoteric Buddhist Astrology – Sukuyō-dō and Indian Astrology] by scholar Yano Michio 矢野道雄 (1944-). It is essentially an introduction and analysis of the history behind Indian astrology in the East Asian cultural sphere, specifically with respect to the Xiuyao-jing 宿曜經 (in Japanese Sukuyō-kyō), which was used in esoteric Buddhism in China and Japan.

As I introduced in an earlier post (see here), the text was translated by the eminent Vajra Master Amoghavajra 不空 in 759 and then later revised in 764 by his lay disciple Yang Jingfeng 楊景風 under his master's guidance. This laid the groundwork for the later astrological tradition of Sukuyō-dō 宿曜道 in Japan, which emerged around the middle of the eleventh century and flourished for a few centuries, perhaps until the Muromachi period (1337-1573). The tradition never died out, though it appears it was often kept secret, at least judging from one twentieth century Japanese account I've surveyed. The Kōyasan scholar Morita Ryūsen 森田龍僊 inherited such a living tradition and wrote, from his emic perspective, a work entitled Mikkyō Sensei Hō 密教占星法 [Esoteric Buddhist Astrology Methods] in 1941.1 While such a work is useful in many respects, it was not written from a scientific perspective. Aside from his work there was not a great deal of concentrated academic work done on the subject until Yano's research, which is objective and critical (there are many modern popular works on Sukuyō-dō).

One very interesting theory put forth by Yano is that, quite possibly, the Sukuyō-dō tradition was early on in possession of a Classical Chinese translation of the Tetrabiblos by Greco-Egyptian astrologer Ptolemy (90-168).2 To begin with, he points out that in 865 the Japanese monk Shū'ei 宗叡 (809-884) brought back with him, among other texts, the following title:

都利聿斯一部五巻 

Tori-isshi-kyō, One Part, Five Scrolls

The title here is provided in the Sino-Japanese (on-yomi) reading. In modern Mandarin it would be Duli-yusi-jing. The Sino-Japanese readings, originally preserved from Chinese pronunciations from the Tang period (618-907), better reflect the original title name than Mandarin, so I will use the former here.

Yano proposes that the title here actually stands for Ptolemy's name and presumably would be his work the Tetrabiblos (the Four Books). It is not impossible to imagine that the work could have been translated into Chinese, especially considering the flow of Hellenic sciences eastward through the efforts of Nestorianism. It was translated into Syrian in the seventh century and Persian in the late eighth century.

Ptolemy in Greek is Ptolemaios. In languages like Syrian, however, the vowels are not represented, hence it would be rendered something like this if it were in Roman:

P-T-L-M-Y-V-S

The P could easily be dropped, likewise for some reason the M. The result would be:

T-L-YV-S

Compare this with the Chinese:

都利聿斯 

To-Ri-Itsu-Shi (Sino-Japanese)
Du-Li-Yu-Si (Mandarin)

This argument is further advanced by texts listed in later catalogs The New Book of Tang 新唐書 (a revised history of the Tang, compiled in 1060) lists this work with the following remark:

貞元中,都利術士李彌乾傳自西天竺,有璩公者譯其文。 

In the Zhenyuan period (785-805) transmitted from western India by To-ri adept Li Miqian and translated by Qu Gong.

Following this another work is listed:

陳輔《聿斯四門經》一卷 

Chen Fu, Isshi Shi-mon Kyō, One Scroll

Chen Fu here appears to be a personal name, either the compiler or translator. The title literally reads Isshi Four Gates Classic. One will note the Isshi here is the same as the Tori-isshi-kyō above. The “four gates” here could possibly be a predictable Chinese rendering of Tetrabiblos (Four Books). If Yano is correct, then the Chinese is supposed to say the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemaios. However, Yano is only cautiously stating this as a tentative theory.

This text or some version of it was in fact brought to Japan in 865 and readily utilized by astrologers of the later Sukuyō tradition. We know this because in extant horoscopes (Jpn. Sukuyō Kanmon 宿曜勘文) there are citations of the text. The text itself, however, is no longer extant. However, the fragments that do exist clearly demonstrate a Hellenic model of horoscopes. For instance, consider the following citations from a horoscope from the year 1152:

土在木宮
Saturn is in Jupiter's palace [Pisces] 
木在月宮
Jupiter is in the Moon's palace [Cancer]  
土木三合
Saturn and Jupiter are 120 degrees apart [trine]. 
火日三合
Mars and the Sun are 120 degrees apart [trine]. 
金水同宮
Venus and Mercury are in the same zodiac mansion [Aquarius].

These are concepts stemming from Hellenic astrology (Ptolemy's or otherwise), especially the concept of aspect (here trine or in Chinese san he 三合). However, they are not mentioned in the horoscope methods provided by Amoghavajra, who was versed in Indian models of astrology. It is unclear whether he was aware of such concepts, but nevertheless the main text in question was evidently Hellenic in origin and did have an impact in both China and Japan, though it is almost entirely forgotten aside from a few scholars today.

The aforementioned New Book of Tang does state it came from western India, though it has been long known that there was a great deal of Hellenic influence in Indian astral sciences from early on. The scholar David Edwin Pingree (1933-2005) after a lifetime of study divided Indian astrology into four categories based on the origins of the material:

I. Vedic (c.1000-400 BCE). II. Babylonian (400 BCE-200 CE): VedāṅgajyotiṣaIII. Greco-Babylonian (c200-400): YavanajātakaIV. Greek (c400-1600): ĀryabhaṭīyaV. Islamic (c1600-1800).

The third text on the list the Yavanajātaka is literally the Jātaka of the Greeks. Modern scholarship has furthermore traced Hellenic influences in chronologically dated Indian materials related to astral science. Hence, while the Chinese might have understood the text in question above as having come from western India, in reality it might have been just as well an import there from further west originally.

It should come as no surprise that such a Hellenic model was introduced in the Tang dynasty, which has been understood as a “cosmopolitan empire”.3 Buddhists especially made great efforts to adapt imported Indian models to native Chinese models, though as Pankenier remarks it did not have a lasting effect in China:

On the whole, however, these syncretic efforts had almost no influence on long-established Chinese astrological theory, especially given the drastic decline of Buddhism following the Tang Dynasty suppression in the mid ninth century and the subsequent resurgence of Neo-Confucianism. Assimilation was also hindered by the difficulty of rendering foreign concepts and terminology into Chinese, which was often accomplished by means of bizarre or idiosyncratic transliterations.4

Still, in conclusion we might say that it is remarkable should Yano be correct and Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos was in fact translated into Chinese around the year 800, later influencing the development of Sukuyō astrology in Japan starting from the Heian period in the eleventh century. If anything, it just demonstrates how much hybridization occurred in this period: Vedic, Buddhist, Hellenic and Chinese models were brought together and even in the furthest frontier of East Asia – Japan – one can see elements of Hellenic astrology active in the same aristocratic world which gave birth to literature like the Tale of Genji.5

It is always interesting uncovering these subtle strands of history which span great time and space.

------

Footnotes:

1 Morita Ryūsen 森田龍僊. Mikkyō Sensei Hō 密教占星法. Kōyasan: Kōyasan Daigaku Shuppan-bu, 1941.

2 See Yano Michio 矢野道雄, Mikkyō Senseijutsu – Sukuyō-dō to Indo Senseijutsu 密教占星術ー宿曜道とインド占星術 (Tokyo, Japan: Tōyō Shoin, 2013), 160-164.

3 For example, Mark Edward Lewis, China's Cosmopolitan Empire The Tang Dynasty (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009).

4 David Pankenier, Astrology and Cosmology in Early China Conforming Earth to Heaven (Cambridge University Press, 2013), 9-10.

5 There are also a lot of Buddhist elements in the work. See the following by me: Buddhism and the Tale of Genji.