Monday, August 10, 2009

Pilgrim of the 7th Century

Before this trip I had never heard of the monk Xuanzang. But when we were visiting Big Goose Pagoda, I decided to look him up in Wikipedia. He's a rather interesting fellow. Seems our paths have crossed several times, separated only by fourteen centuries.

I ended up reading the entire article to Cynthia. The article is at,

Xuanzang was born in Luoyang (the city where we are right now, having arrived from Xian this afternoon) in the year 602 CE.

While raised in a Confucian family, Xuanzang became interested in Buddhism at an early age and in 622, at the age of twenty, he became fully ordained as a monk.

At the time, there were apparently many inconsistencies and discrepancies among the documents being used to teach Buddhism, and Xuanzang decided he needed to go to India to find some of the originals. So first he learned Sanskrit in order to do the translations himself.

On his way, he traveled through what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan before passing through Kashmir and into the Terai region of Nepal, to Kapilvastu, the place where Sakyamuni grew up as a boy (and the place where I first developed an interest in Buddhism in the early '70s).

At Lumbini, he reported seeing the pillar erected by king Ashoka, which was still there in 1995 when we visited.

He went on to Kusinagara, Sarnath, and Bodh Gaya before going on to Bengal to continue his research for two years at Nalanda University.

After returning to China in 645 CE, (with 657 Sanskrit texts), Xuanzang continued his research and translation work until his death in 664 CE. Many of Xuanzang's translations remain important to this day.

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