Mar 03, 2013


back to ChangAn

After years in India, Xuan Zang finally made the journey home, with many companions, some of them sent by the king of India, so the journey home was not quite as dangerous as before. Still, the powers of nature and murderous bandits depleted their numbers. Xuan Zang himself was almost buried under an avalanche when crossing the Celestial Mountain Range. When Xuan Zang reached Sin Jiang, 16 years after he first started out on his journey, there were only seven people left. It is fortunate that Xuan Zang himself wasn't among those who died.

In Sin Jiang, Xuan Zang sent a letter to the Emperor of Great Tang, describing details of his journey and asking permission to come home. In autumn, when the leaves were just beginning to turn red, the letter reached Chang An, only to be redirected to Luo Yang, where the emperor was preparing to attack Liao Dong. The emperor was very impressed by Xuan Zang's accounts of his journeys. Moreover, at that time, the emperor was in great need of one thing - detailed information about the countries west of China. As you recall, the Gokturks were a constant threat at the western borders, forcing the government to close down the roads, severing their ties with the western countries. The prosperity of the Silk Road and the great influence China once had over the countries of the west became history. The emperor knew that his knowledge of the western countries was now extremely inadequate. Xuan Zang's return from the west was a golden opportunity for him to improve his understanding of those countries. Thus, the emperor himself wrote a reply letter to Xuan Zang, welcoming him back to Chang An.

With the permission of the emperor, Xuan Zang returned to his homeland, taking with him over 600 Buddhist scriptures, most of them Mahayana Buddhism scriptures. This was one of his greatest accomplishments. In the spring of the year 645, 17 years after his began his momentous journey, Xuan Zang finally arrived back at Chang An, only to find the streets lined with people and government officials, all welcoming him home. The emperor invited him into the palace and Xuan Zang calmly answered all his questions about his journey and experiences. Pleased with Xuan Zang's knowledge and insights, the emperor asked him to became an official of the court. Xuan Zang, of course, declined, because he wanted to focus all his efforts on translating the Buddhist scriptures he brought back. However, knowing the emperor's desire to spread his influence to the western countries, he promised the emperor that he would write a detailed account of the politics, economics, culture, geography and other aspects of the countries of the west. This became another of his great achievements, the famous book, Journey to the West in the Tang Dynasty, which has remained, till this day, an important source of information on the countries of Central Asia, and is also an important work to those studying the history of the interaction of China with the western countries.

In order to show their thanks, the emperor and his father helped Xuan Zang in his efforts to translate the Buddhist scriptures he brought back, by providing all the manpower, including renown monks of that time, and all the writing supplies. Moreover, a translation center, Da Yan Tower, was built. This was where Xuan Zang and his helpers systematically translated 73 Buddhist scriptures, 1335 volumes in all, from Sanskrit to Chinese. These translations contributed greatly to the rise of Buddhism in China, and was probably his greatest achievement of all. During this time, he also wrote the Cheng Wei Shi Lun, a commentary on the translated texts. Wei Shi means consciousness-only, which is the basic philosophy of the Yogacara school. As I stated above, this means they believe only the mind is real, and the rest of the world is not. Based on this school of thought, Xuan Zang also founded the Fa Xiang school, which gained popularity during his lifetime and his disciple's, but faded away into obscurity after their deaths.

At the age of 63, due to complications in his health arising from overwork and exhaustion, Xuan Zang passed away in Yu Hua Monastery of Chang An. Five years later, the burial tower on Mount Zhong Nan was completed, and Xuan Zang's remains were transferred there with great ceremony. For two hundred years hence, Xuan Zang's remains lay peacefully among the beautiful greenery and streams of Mount Zhong Nan. Sadly, after that the tower was destroyed by war and for many centuries after that, Xuan Zang's remains were alternatively found and lost again and again because of war. In the 20th century, when the Japanese invaded China, they found the remains of Xuan Zang in Nanking, which consisted of a piece of bone and a bag of ashes, and planned to take them back to Japan as Buddhism was also a major religion there. In the end, after much negotiations, Xuan Zang's remains were broken into five parts, with one part going to Japan, and the rest in various monasteries or museums in China. People still go to pay respects to his remains. Even to this day, Xuan Zang has remained one of the most revered figures of history.

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