Xuan Zang had had to undergo many hardships and obstacles in his journey to India. Even after he reached India, he still had to face the hot climate, wild animals, bandits, diseases etc. For example, in order to reach India, Xuan Zang traveled through the Khyber Pass. Not only were the roads narrow, bandits were everywhere. It was sheer luck that Xuan Zang passed through unscathed.
Historical records tell us about encounters Xuan Zang had with bandits during his journeys within India itself. Below is the first:
Mausoleum of Xuan Zang in India
Xuan Zang and his party was passing through a jungle when bandits leapt out. They were bound and stripped of their clothing and belongings, then forced into a dry pond, where the bandits planned to kill them. Xuan Zang and his entourage could only wallow helplessly in the mud. Above them, the bandits began squabbling about the stolen goods. Luckily, a sharp young monk noticed that there was a small hole half hidden by rushes in the side of the pond, big enough for a person to crawl through. He silently tugged at Xuan Zang's sleeve, and taking advantage of the bandits' distraction, both of them crawled into the hole. The hole turned out to be a tunnel, and they crawled on their knees through the mud. After less , darkness gave way to light and they emerged into a village. With the villagers' help, they went back to the jungle where they had been ambushed. To Xuan Zang and his follower's immense relief, Xuan Zang's companions were unharmed, as the bandits were still fighting about the division of the spoils. Together, the villagers drove away the bandits, thus saving the rest of Xuan Zang's entourage. If it weren't for that observant young monk, Xuan Zang and his companions would surely be dead at the bottom of the muddy pond.
Mausoleum of Xuan Zang in India
One of the other encounters goes like this:
Xuan Zang and his companions were navigating a river when they were accosted by bandits once again. And this time, the bandits weren't satisfied by just money. They wanted a strong, healthy human to sacrifice to their gods. And Xuan Zang fit the bill perfectly. Enthusiastically, they began setting up a temporary altar. When they finished, they pushed Xuan Zang onto the altar and began preparing to sacrifice him. However, Xuan Zang showed no signs of fear or anger, only a calm acceptance of the inevitable.
Since you are making a sacrifice to your gods, he said to the bandits, be patient. Let me be of service to your gods in peace. He then sat in a meditating pose on the altar and began chanting the names of the bodhisattvas, showing no signs of struggling. His desperate companions started to cry and rage, but he didn't respond.
By sheer luck, all of a sudden, a strong wind whipped up, the force breaking the trunk of a large tree on the bank. Thunder and lightning clashed in a terrible display of light and sound. Even some of the bandits' boats overturned, dumping the bandits into the river. The bandits cowered on their decks, scared out of their wits.
A courageous companion of Xuan Zang took advantage of the situation by shouting: This man you are planning to sacrifice is the great Master Xuan Zang of Great Tang! If you kill him, you risk the wrath of the Buddha. Look! He spread his arms. Don't you know that you have already angered your own gods?!
The overwhelmed bandits immediately prostrated themselves before the altar, pleading with Xuan Zang to forgive them. Xuan Zang, however, had already reached a meditative state on the altar. His eyes were closed, and nothing, not even the wind, not even the rain, could break him from his concentration. Only when the head of the bandits went onto the altar and touched him gently, calling his name, did Xuan Zang start and look up.
Is it time for the sacrifice? was all he said.
Such calm in the face of death and adversity. Such unwavering serenity. Truly, Xuan Zang was a holy monk. But let us return to his journeys within India.
After crossing the Khyber Pass, he arrived in Peshawar, where Buddhism had once flourished. He was greatly saddened by the sight of the once great capital of Gandhara, destroyed by war and invasions. He passed through many other places and Buddhist sites until he arrived at Kashmir. This was one of the most important centers of Buddhism, with over 5000 Buddhist monks. He stayed in the valley of the Jhelum River for two years, studying under a famous monk.
He then continued his journey, stopping at many other places. Of these, the most impressive was the great capital, Kanauji, which had 100 monasteries and over 10,000 monks of both of the Mahayana and Theravada sects. Here, Xuan Zang studied the Theravada texts.
His next stop was the homeland of the Yogacara school, on which he based the Fa Xiang school he would found later. The Yogacara school states (and so Xuan Zang believed) that only the mind truly exists, and everything else is an illusion, including the body. After that, he went around visiting sites of Buddha's life, like the place where he was born and died, before eventually reaching Nalanda University, his ultimate destination.
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