Hui Shen was a Buddhist monk and missionary who lived during the latter half of the 5th Century AD to the early part of the 6th Century. From all indications he was born somewhere within the landlocked area adjacent to China which now days would be considered Afghanistan. Although not much is known of his early years it is known that he dedicated his life to Buddhism and spreading the word of Buddhism far and wide --- most notedly to America, known as Fu Sang in Chinese.
From around 1500 BCE to 1500 AD the southern reaches of Mexico and the Yucatan, in an area generally known as Mesoamerica, any number of tribes and peoples, minor and major, with many reaching very high states of civilization became known to us under such names as Olmecs, Toltecs, Zapotecs, Aztecs, Mayans, etc. Of those, in the annals of the Zapotec, there is a strong historic relation of Hui Shen to a carved statue-like figure said to exist or to have existed in the mountains above Tehuantepec.
The last sovereign king of the Zapotec was Cosijopii (1502-1563) having succeeded to the throne following the death of his father in 1529, just at the beginning of the Spanish conquest. About 20 years after taking the throne, for unknown reasons, Cosijopii moved his capital from Zaachila to Tehuantepec. In the book The Mexican Southland (1922), Chapter XVI 'The King of Tehuantepec' the author writes of Cosijopii and his interest, or perhaps his concern as the case may be, in the existence of the statue in his sovereign domain:
"But as one deeply versed in the mysteries of statecraft and religion, he was from the beginning greatly perplexed as he pondered upon the significance of a belief which had long prevailed among the Zapotecs and other tribes of the present state of Oaxaca. For a persistent rumor spread among the people that the time would come when there would arrive from the east a strange race of men, fair of complexion and strong in battle, who would conquer the land, despoil the people of their treasures, and eradicate their ancient beliefs, substituting therefor a new and unknown faith.
"This belief, and the circumstance that about this time the people of Tehuantepec became greatly exercised over a certain monument called Guixepecocha which existed within the confines of the kingdom, whose strange heiroglyphics the astrologers could not decipher, filled the mind of Cosijopii with grave misgivings, as it had the former rulers of the land.
"The origin of the monument in question has been imputed to the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl who, in passing through the town of Magdalena, was said to have cut on the pinnacle of a great rock lying in the open country near an arroyo or dry watercourse, a figure representing a religious clad in a white habit and seated in a high-backed chair, with hood drawn and cheek resting on hand, the face turned toward the right, and on his left an Indian woman with dress and white mantle (like that used by the mountaineers to this day), covered to the head and kneeling as if in the attitude of confession.
"This figure so disquieted the Zapotecs that Cosijopii on the advice of his counselor gave command that the priests proceed to the holy island of Monapoxtiac and there consult Pezelao, that is to say, the Oracle of Heaven or, as they were also pleased to call him, the Soul of the World, to the end that it might be revealed to them what the carving signified. They did as commanded and the oracle answered vaguely: 'Behold you have the figure for a mystery and a great omen.'"
A couple of quick clarifications to the above. First, Guixepecocha, as named above, is one and the same as Wi-shi-pecocha, with Wi-shi-pecocha being basically Guixepecocha spelled phonetically. Hui Shen and Wi-shi-pecocha (Guixepecocha) are considered by most historians as one and the same person, with Wi-shi-pecocha being a transliteration of Hui Shen, bhikshu. Secondly, that the origin of the monument in question being attributed to having been carved by the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. Hui Shen, who the statue is said to commemorate, has in many quarters been, and incorrectly so, identified as possibly being Quetzalcoatl. Hui Shen being Quetzalcoatl is not the case. Traditionaly Wi-shi-pecocha has been described as having a long black beard, is said to have appeared from the south and to have disappeared southeast of Tehuantepec. Quetzacoatl is invariably said as having long white beard, coming from the north and departing toward the southeast without ever having entered the Oaxaca area.
Manuel Martínez Gracida (1847–1924), quoted by the author of The Mexican Southland, says Hui Shen arrived in the sixth century on the shores of Huatulco. Gracida then goes on to say:
"(As) he approached the Indians he saluted them in their own tongue, a circumstance which occasioned great surprise. He was, they averred, very old, corpulent, of a light complexion, and had a broad forehead, large eyes, long beard, and long black hair; and was clad in a long tunic and mantle. He remained among them for some time preaching his doctrine, and they observed that he was of a benevolent nature, humane, industrious, wise, prudent, and just; one who sought to introduce wise laws. At the same time they stated that it was he who had taught them the art of smelting metals and sculpturing stone. They seem to have considered him an extraordinary being similar to the Culchunchan of the people of Palenque and the Quetzalcoatl of the Aztecs."
At the top of the page there is a map that diagrams Hui Shen's voyage and travels to the new world. That map comes from a book titled Inglorious Columbus (1885) by Edward Payson Vining. Basically, according to Vining, Hui Shen followed the curve of the Aleutian Islands from China to Alaska and down the west coast of America to Mexico. However, in contrast to Vining's unbrokeng darkened line of Hui Shen's travels clear to southern Mexico along the coast, Hui Shen's own record indicates he stopped and turned inland from the Pacific somewhere along what is now California, going east at least as far as the Grand Canyon, before turning south overland into Mexico.
So said, according to Buddhism In America Before Columbus, linked below, and other sources, although Hui Shen may have used most of the sea route as outlined, he and his party went ashore in an area located just north of present day Point Hueneme between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles where the Santa Clara River exits into the Pacific. How he knew about or went about selecting the Point Hueneme location is open to deliberation, however, considering the distance one would have to travel, plus all the hardships, difficulties, and potential lack of water one would encounter trying to reach the Colorado River and points beyond on foot from the Pacific, it is probably the best of all starting points. The same records indicate that Hui Shen left the Grand Canyon area heading south overland through Mexico reconnecting with his fleet --- or ship --- moored in the bay either as far north as Puerto Vallarta or as far south as Acapulco. From there he sailed further south apparently going ashore at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and traveling inland to the various cultures preaching his ways as so stated by Manuel Martínez Gracida quoted above and others. Eventually he made his way back to the Pacific side of isthmus and was last seen sailing toward the west, never to return.
Many authorities and non-authorities in the field, self proclaimed or otherwise, have questioned the authenticity and/or existence of Hui Shen as a real person because in their research they are unable to find any historical references to him outside of the 7th century tome called the Book of Liang by Yao Silian. The problem arises primarily because of several different pronunciations of his name that when translated phonetically into English and from those pronunciations, when spelled out, imply an entirely different person. From that, even though the exploits of the different named persons are the same --- as is the person --- the dots are not always connected. A good example is found on the map at the top of the page wherein his name is spelled Hwui Shen. Another example --- which should not be discounted in any search --- is found in the personage called Hoei Shin. Hoei Shin shows up in the book by C.G, Leland, FUSANG: The Discovery of America by Chinese Buddhist Priests in the Fifth Century as well as in Chapter 4 of They All Discovered America (1961) by Charles Michael Boland. Leland and Boland's Hoei Shin, of course, being the same Hui Shan AND the same personage whose memory still stands high on a rock in a village north of Tehuantepec that bares the name Wi-shi-pecocha, a transliteration of Hui Shen, bhikshu.
The aforementioned above authorities and non-authorities in the field, self proclaimed or otherwise, who question the authenticity and/or existence of Hui Shen usually have an ulterior motive. Attempts at discrediting Hui Shen is usually aimed at discrediting the whole thesis of Buddhists and Chinese explorers in America before Columbus. The thing is, the whole thesis is bigger than one individual, Hui Shen or not. The following on the subject, published in January 1901 is semi-based on an earlier New York Times article and attributed to a correspondent writing for another major New York paper:
REMARKABLE FIND IN MEXICO
Chinese temples in an excellent condition of preservation have been unearthed in the State of Sonora, in Mexico. Large stone tablets have been found in the ruins covered with ancient Chinese writings, which have been partly deciphered by an Oriental expert employed by the Mexican Government.
The inscriptions state that the temples were built between the years 300 and 400 AD by Chinese adventurers, who had crossed the "unending sea" at the insistence of Chinese men of science who were convinced that land of great richness existed in the East.
Notice the translation of the inscriptions once deciphered state the Chinese adventurers that crossed the "unending sea" had done so at the insistence of Chinese men of science AND apparently, it would seem, not those of a religious bent. However, of those selected there is no sign that once in Mexico they dedicated themselves to science, but it is quite clear they built temples.
Sources for the above quote as well as the original New York Times article from the actual New York Times archives, can be found at the following link, more specifically Footnote :
BUDDHISM IN AMERICA BEFORE COLUMBUS
ANCIENT CHINESE IDEOGRAPHS IN NATIVE AMERICAN ROCK ART
THE NARRATIVE OF HOEI SHIN
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT IN A NUTSHELL
ON THE RAZOR'S
MAJOR HISTORICAL BUDDHIST MASTERS, ZEN ANCESTORS AND ZEN PATRIARCHS
Bodhidharma, Hui'ko, Hui Neng, Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien, Zhaozhou, Moshan Liaoran, Tung-Shan, Te Shan, Dogen
THE FLYING MACHINE: CHINA, CIRCA 400 A.D.
(please click image)