Mar 03, 2013


Nalanda University

The Nalanda University was the biggest of all the Buddhist temples in India, and the earliest university in the world. The best students of Buddhism flocked to this place, some of them from foreign countries like Xuan Zang. The head of this prestigious university, Abbot Silabhadra was more than a hundred years old. He had mastered all of the Buddhist scriptures and religious texts, so he bore the honoured title of Zheng Fa Zang.

Zang is Chinese for the Sanskrit word pitaka, literally meaning bamboo container or basket, thus the translation of Tripitaka (or San Zang, as Xuan Zang is commonly known) as three baskets. 'Basket' actually refers to the meaning 'containing everything', obviously describing the Buddhist scriptures as 'all-compassing'. Tripitaka ithe name for a Buddhist canon of scriptures, or pitaka, which have three categories, thus the name tri-pitaka. A person who has mastered and understood the meanings of every single Buddhist scripture is honoured with the title Zheng Fa Zang. Next, a person who has mastered at least fifty of the Buddhist scriptures is conferred the title of San Zang, or in Sanskrit, Tripitaka. This is no mean feat, as each scripture has millions of words, and the meanings are extremely hard to understand. In the tens of thousands of monks at Nalanda University, only about a thousand had mastered twenty scriptures, and about five s hundred had mastered thirty. Only nine had mastered fifty scriptures and bore the title of 'San Zang'. And of course, Abbot Silabhadra alone had mastered all of the scriptures. However, there was a rule stating that there had to be at least ten 'San Zang's  in Nalanda University. And until Xuan Zang showed up, prostrating himself before Abbot Silabhadra and asking to be his disciple, they just could not manage to produce another San Zang. Abbot Silabhadra was extremely pleased to have Xuan Zang as a disciple. He lectured Xuan Zang on the Yogacaryabhumi-sastra, taking seventeen months to fully explain the content of that single scripture. After a lot of study and hard work, Xuan Zang finally managed to master fifty of the Buddhist scriptures, becoming the tenth 'San Zang' of Nalanda University. Many readers of Journey to the West misunderstand 'San Zang' as being a name given to him by the emperor of Great Tang. That is ridiculous compared to the hardships Xuan Zang had to undergo in order to get the title 'San Zang'.


After studying for five years at Nalanda University, Xuan Zang traveled throughout India, including the southern countries, visiting sites of Buddhism, and even crossed the sea to reach Sri Lanka, where Buddhism flourished. The further south he went, the hotter the climate became. His journeys there become remarkable when you recall that Xuan Zang was born and grew up in the northern part of China, which is extremely cold and dry. All in all, Xuan Zang visited more than 130 countries in the entirety of his journey, which, although the countries were small countries that had not been unified, was still an amazing feat, given that Xuan Zang made the journey on foot or on horseback.


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