Record story: Xuanzang in Nalanda

15-05-2015

(Worldkings) - Nalanda (a religious site of Buddhism in India, where the first Buddhist university was placed) was only a stop on the journey from China to India of Xuanzang, the famous Chinese monk in 7th century. However, during his short staying at Nalanda, the ancient university had left a deep impression in his mind.


Around 1.500 years ago, Nalanda (Bihar, India) is a very famous centre of Buddhism in Asia. Many scholars who were studying Buddhism and monks from other countries made trips to Nalanda. Some people from Tibet, others from Middle Asia, and of course there were scholars and monks from China, a country in which Buddhism had just been introduced but had a great developing achievement. In China, Buddhism was especially popular under Tang dynasty, a period when Buddhist monks were deeply respected.
The archaeological site at Nalanda (Source: columbia.edu)
Among Chinese monks who travelled to Nalanda, there was a very famous one, Xuanzang (a.k.a Hsuan-tsang). Historic books told us that in 630, Xuanzang himself began a long journey from his country, China, to the origin of Buddhism, India. At the start of the journey, he was aiming to see the birthplace of The Buddha, where The Buddha had achieved the enlightenment to found a new religion. He also intented to collect Buddhist teachings and scriptures and brought them back to China for popularizing Buddhism. To accomplish these goals, Xuanzang planned to visit Nalanda, the famous Buddhist school which had its reputation spread to kingdoms in East Asia.
Xuanzang was challenged by many obstacles during his journey and sometimes it was thought that he would die of hunger or disease. However, Xuanzang didn't quit his dream and finally, he reached Indian border after 2 years. When he was 30 (637 CE), he arrived Nalanda and quickly was amazed by the massive Buddhist university, which was largest at that time. He wrote about Nalanda with a great admiration: "There are thousands of monks here and all of them are great talents. Most of them are geniuses famous even in other countries. Their virtues are so pure that you cannot blame them for anything. They follow Buddhist rules in a sincere way. The rule of the monastery is very strict and all monks must obey. The whole India has a great respect to these monks and listen to every teaching of them."
So Xuanzang decided to stay at Nalanda to learn and study Buddhism. Fortunately, he was accepted to be a disciple of Shilabhadra, the venerable head of the school in Nalanda. With his intelligence and diligence, Xuanzang quickly understood the entire original teachings of Indian Buddhism and became one of ten Shilabhadra's most outstanding disciples. He also studied Sanskrit and logic.
Xuanzang statue at Nalanda (Source: panoramio.com)
Before travelling to Nalanda, Xuanzang had concerns about the fact that most of Buddhist scriptures had not been translated into Chinese and the translated part had been annotated in many different ways which caused ambiguity. Only in Nalanda, every Buddha's idea had come clear to Xuanzang and he decided to bring all Buddha's teachings and scriptures to China for translation. This work seemed burdensome, but after years learning with masters and studying Sanskrit, Xuanzang could complete a large part of it before his death.
When Xuanzang finished his studying at Nalanda, he continued travelling to many places in India before returning to his country in 643. This time he was warmly welcomed by Buddhists and Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty. After that, Xuanzang devoted the remaining years of his life for translating Buddhist scriptures and preaching Buddhism in China. He died in 664 at the age of 69, leaving an infinity grief for everyone. The reverence for him was even greater than for the emperor. It was told that about 1 million people in Chang-an (the capital of Tang Dynasty) and nearby area had come to say the last farewell to Xuanzang!
Today, in Nalanda, there is a memorial hall for Xuanzang funded by Indian and Chinese government to celebrate the great Buddhist and traveler. Now it is one of the most visited places by tourists in Nalanda.
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