The Strength of Belief
Xuanzang, the famous monk Sanzang of Tang, was born in Goushi, Luozhou ( Yanshi City of Henan Province today) and had the secular name of Chen Wei. When he was 11 years old, he was introduced by his second elder brother, Monk Changjie, to Buddhist doctrines in Jingtu Temple of Luoyang City. Two years later, in 608, by the emperor’s order, Zheng Shanguo, the Chief of the Supreme Court (“Dalisiqing”), came to Luoyang to “give government approval to the potentially qualified monks.” Xuanzang went to the interview.
Zheng had a good name for recognizing talent. He thought highly of Xuanzang by his disposition and appearance, so asked him why he would like to be a monk. “My intention is to carry on Buddha’s cause by widely spreading his teachings,” replied the boy. Zheng appreciated Xuanzang’s ambition. “If I give approval to this boy,” he said to his attendants, “he will be an invaluable treasure of Buddhism.”
According to the regulations, Xuanzang was too young to be approved as a monk. Luckily, Zheng made an exception for him. But even Zheng did not expect that little boy to be a person who would completely
change the Buddhist history of East Asia.
An Ominous Journey
In the early stage of Xuanzang’s religious career, he soon achieved mastery of the i mportant Mahayana theories including the Mahapari-nirvanaSutra and
Mahayana-samgraha . In 618, when Luoyang was under direct threat of the civil war, Xuanzang left Luoyang for other famous temples in China. He visited temples in Chengdu, Jingzhou ( Jiangling County of Hubei Province today), Yangzhou, Xiangzhou (Anyang City of Henan Province today), Zhaozhou (Zhaoxian County of Hebei Province today), and then went to Chang’an, the imperial capital of Tang, in 627.
After a decade’s study and communication with various Buddhist schools, Xuanzang became a renowned master. However, only in the process of his studies did Xuanzang start to realize the essential incompatibility between the different understandings of Buddhism, and he further found that those different understandings were mostly caused by inconsistent translations of Buddhist scriptures. He then considered visiting India to study the original Sanskrit scriptures.
He became determined to see through his westward journey after meeting a monk from middle India, who introduced to Xuanzang the academic scale of Nalanda Monastery ( which is located in Patna, Bihar state of India today), the famous shrine of Buddhism, and described the spectacular event when Master Silabhadra expounded the
Yogacara-bhumiSutra . Xuanzang promptly applied for an exit permit from the government.
By that time, such a permit was extremely difficult to get, and Xuanzang’s application was not surprisingly rejected. Yet he never gave up his resolution and belief. The monk made all the preparations and waited for an opportunity.
In August, 627, Chang’an and the surrounding areas were swept by serious frost and famine. When Xuanzang heard that the government allowed the victims to freely leave their homeland to make a living, he immediately grasped the opportunity. The
Statue of Master Xuanzang in Xi’an西安 玄奘像