What impresses me most about Xuanzang’s journey to the west, is his story “The Journey to the West”. My own recent journey to Northern India further deepens my admiration and regard for Xuanzang.
Bihar Pradesh of India is the hometown of Buddhism, the Buddha Siddha awakened and got enlightenment here, and its name is related to Buddhism. The famous site of Nalanda University is very much related to Xuanzang. According to ‘Records of the Western Regions’ of the Great Tang (dynasty of China), in its heyday, Nalanda University was the highest Buddhist institution in the world with over ten thousand students and faculty. Unfortunately, it was destroyed many times by outsiders and buried underground for hundreds of years without anyone’s acknowledge. Only recently was it discovered when the “Records of the Western Regions of the Great Tang” were studied.
The cluster of buildings at the sites is quite magnificent. Seeing the niche for candles in the monk’s room, we could imagine Xuanzang’s figure reading under a nightlight. He spent six years studying in Nalanda alone and one more year teaching after graduation. The university tried to retain him before he left, but Xuanzang insisted to return to his country and propagate Buddhism. His love for his country is quite touching.
Following Xuanzang’s footprint, we came to House of the King. There is a platform on top of Mount Gridhrakuta nearby. It is Sakyamuni’s lecture stage, according to the legend. Standing on the platform, facing sunset, you can see meandering mountains faraway, different greens close by, you hear echoes from the valley and your mind connects to time thousands years back. That sight is identical to Xuanzang’s description from the book, which makes you praise Xuanzang’s insight and expression greatly.
Bodhi Gaya means land of wisdom in Hindi. According to legend, the Buddha meditated six years elsewhere without any achievement, and awoke into enlightenment after he cultivated there. Two hundred and sixty years later, Ashoka, the Maurya emperor of India, built Mahabodhi Temple at this place as a commemoration of the Buddha’s awakening. This temple underwent rough experiences over thousands years, and was dug out and reconstructed in the middle of the 19th century according to Records of the Western Regions of the Great Tang. On the west side of the tower, there is the famous Bodhi tree where the Buddha achieved perfect enlightenment. The tree there now was moved here from Sri Lanka in 1870, and it is still with luxuriant foliage which represents the vigorous bio-energy and charisma of Buddhism.
The last stop of our journey is Sarnath. Sarnath is considered to be the place where Buddha first turned the wheel of Dharma, and has a significant status in Buddhist history. When Xuanzhang visited Sarnath, he exclaimed in admiration: “eight divisions, continuous walls, layered buildings, dignified beauty”. It is thus clear how splendid and stylish Sarnath was over a thousand years ago.
It bears mention is that two pieces of precious historical relics were unearthed here. One is a statue of the Buddha giving his first lecture. It was created in the 1 century B.C. and was the earliest Buddha statue found. All similar statues in temples around the world now have originated from this one. The other one is an Asokan pillar with the four lion sculpture at the top. Lion sculpture became the national emblem of India and symbol of Hinduism.
The journey to North India not only allows us to think about history and purify our heart, it also allows to rediscover Xuanzang, and deepen our understanding of Sino-India traditional friendship. From the introduction of the new Nalanda University we know, 80% of Buddhist sites in India were discovered according to “Records of the Western Regions of the Great Tang”; thus, it is not difficult to understand why Xuanzang is so much appreciated, commemorated and eulogized by Indian people.
Standing in the memorial hall of Xuanzang established by Chinese and Indian government together, staring at the bronze statue of this great pioneer of Sino-India friendship, recalling all we learnt during the journey, all sorts of feelings swelled up in my heart and I couldn’t help gain an insight: to carry forward Sino-India friendship, we need to inherit and carry on Xuanzang’s heroic undertaking of a journey to the west, in a spirit of selfl-sacrifice, strengthened conviction and passionate pursuit.