Xuanzang | Traveller

Xuanzang statue | Wild Goose Pagoda
Xuanzang statue | Wild Goose Pagoda

1. Xuanzang

Xuanzang (fl. 602 – 664), also known as Hsüan-tsang, was a 7th-century Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveller, and translator.

He is known for the epoch-making contributions to Chinese Buddhism, the travelogue of his journey to India in 629–645 CE, his efforts to bring over 657 Indian texts to China, and his translations of some of these texts.

Xuanzang was born on 6 April 602 in China, in what is now Kaifeng municipality in Henan province.

As a boy, he took to reading religious books, and studying the ideas therein with his father. Like his elder brother, he became a student of Buddhist studies at Jingtu monastery.

Xuanzang was ordained as a Śrāmaṇera (novice monk) at the age of 13.

Due to the political and social unrest caused by the fall of the Sui dynasty, he went to Chengdu in Sichuan, where he was ordained as a bhikṣu (full monk) at the age of 20.

He later travelled throughout China in search of sacred books of Buddhism.

At length, he came to Chang'an, then under the peaceful rule of Emperor Taizong of Tang, where Xuanzang developed the desire to visit India.

He knew about Faxian's visit to India and, like him, was concerned about the incomplete and misinterpreted nature of the Buddhist texts that had reached China.

He was also concerned about the competing Buddhist theories in variant Chinese translations. He sought original untranslated Sanskrit texts from India to help resolve some of these issues.

At age 27, he began his 17-year overland journey to India. He defied his Kingdom's ban on travel abroad, making his way through central Asian cities such as Hotan to India.

He visited, among other places, the famed Nālanda monastery in modern day Bihar, India where he studied with the monk Śīlabhadra.

He departed from India with numerous Sanskrit texts on a caravan of 20 packhorses.

His return was welcomed by Emperor Taizong in China, who encouraged him to write a travelogue.

This Chinese travelogue Great Tang Records on the Western Regions is a notable source about Xuanzang, and also for scholarship on 7th-century India and Central Asia.

His travelogue is a mix of the implausible, the hearsay and a first-hand account. Selections from it are used, and disputed, as a situation of 645 CE for events, names and texts he mentions.

His text in turn provided the inspiration for the novel Journey to the West written by Wu Cheng'en during the Ming dynasty, around 9 centuries after Xuanzang's death.

2. Early life

Xuanzang | statue in Xi'an, China

Xuanzang | statue in Xi'an, China

Xuanzang was born Chen Hui on 6 April 602 in Chenhe Village, near present-day Luoyang, Henan, and died on 5 February 66 in Yuhua Palace (in present-day Tongchuan, Shaanxi.

His family was noted for its erudition for generations, and Xuanzang was the youngest of 4 children.

His father Chen Hui served as the magistrate of Jiangling County during the Sui dynasty.

According to traditional biographies, Xuanzang displayed a superb intelligence and earnestness, studied with his father, and amazed him by his careful observance of filial piety after one such study about that topic.

His elder brother was already a monk in a Buddhist monastery. Inspired, at a young age, Xuanzang expressed interest in becoming a Buddhist monk like his brother.

After the death of his father in 611, he lived with his older brother, for 5 years at Jingtu Monastery in Luoyang, supported by the Sui state. During this time he studied Mahāyāna as well as various early Buddhist schools.

In 618, the Sui Dynasty collapsed and Xuanzang and his brother fled to Chang'an, which had been proclaimed as the capital of the Tang dynasty, and thence southward to Chengdu, Sichuan.

Here the two brothers spent 2-3 years in further study in the monastery of Kong Hui, including the Abhidharma-kośa Śāstra.

TaKing the monastic name Xuanzang, he was fully ordained as a monk in 622, at the age of 20.

The myriad contradictions and discrepancies in the Chinese translations at that time prompted Xuanzang to decide to go to India and study in the cradle of Buddhism.

He knew about Faxian's visit to India and, like him, sought original untranslated Sanskrit texts from India to help resolve some of these issues.

Xuanzang started his pilgrimage to India in either 627 or 629 CE, according to two East Asian versions.

Most sources state that Xuanzang started his pilgrimage in 629 CE.

3. Kingdom of Agni

In 630 CE, he arrived in the Kingdom of Agni (in a place called Turpan, Xinjiang).

Here he met the King, a Buddhist, along with his uncle Jñānacandra and precept Mokṣagupta, who tried to persuade him to quit his journey and teach them Buddhist knowledge.

He declined and they equipped him further for his travels with letters of introduction and valuables to serve as funds.

Xuanzang observed that the country of Agni had more than 10 monasteries following the Sarvāstivāda school of Theravāda Buddhism, with 2 000 monks.

The Buddhists in this country had stagnated in their Buddhist teachings.

Kingdom of Kucha

Moving further westward, Xuanzang met about 2 000 Turkish robbers on horses who had looted others.

The robbers began fighting with each other on how to fairly divide the loot. After the loot had thus been lost, they dispersed.

Xuanzang thereafter reached the country of Kucha.

This country of 1000 li by 600 li, had over 100 monasteries with 5 000 monks following the Sarvāstivāda school of Theravāda Buddhism, and studying its texts in "original Indian language".

The biographies of Xuanzang then describe implausible tales of a dragon race:

This region was created by dragons from the waters metamorphosing into horses to mate and create dragon-horses, also into men and mating with women near this region to create dragon-men who ran as fast as the dragon-horses.

These were men who would massacre an entire city and leave a deserted place.

Baluka and other Kingdoms

Further west he passed Aksu before turning northwest to cross the Tian Shan and then Tokmak on its northwest.

He met the great Khan of the Göktürks. After a feast, Xuanzang continued west then southwest to Tashkent, capital of modern Uzbekistan.

Xuanzang describes more monasteries, such as the Eastern Cakuri monastery and Ascarya monastery, with Buddha's footprints and Buddha icons.

According to Xuanzang's accounts, mystical light emanated from Buddha's footprints on "fast days".

In the country of Baluka, the Sarvāstivāda school of Theravāda Buddhism was in vogue.

He crossed the countries of Samarkand, Mimohe, Kaputana, Kusanika, Bukhara, Betik, Horismika and Tukhara.

These had cities near rivers or lakes, then vast regions with no inhabitants, little water or grass. He describes warring factions of Turk chieftains in control, with "illness and pestilence" rampant.

From here, he crossed a desert, icy valleys and the Pamir range (which link Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun, Hindu Kush and the Himalaya mountain ranges).

Here, observed Xuanzang, the wind is cold and "blows with a piercing vehemence".

Ferocious dragons live here and trouble the travellers particularly those who wear "reddish brown" colour clothes.

Thereafter, he crossed past a salty sea, one narrow from north to south and long from east to west, he calls the Great Pure Lake. He describes supernatural monsters, fishes and dragons living in this lake.

The Xuanzang travelogues then rush through the names of many countries, stating that more details are provided in the return part of his journey, as he crosses into country of Bactria. He adds that the Theravāda Buddhist schools were followed in all these regions.

In the capital of the country of Bactria, states Xuanzang, is a monastery with a Buddha's icon decorated with jewels and its halls studded with rare precious substances. The Buddhist monastery also has an image of Vaiśravaṇa deity as its guardian.

The monastery and the capital attracts repeated raids from the Turk chieftains who seek to loot these precious jewels.

This monastery has a large bathing pot that looks dazzlingly brilliant and has a Buddha's tooth relic and Buddha's broom made of "Kuśa grass".

Outside is a Vihāra built ages ago, and many Stūpas to honour the Arhats (Buddhist saints).

Kingdom of Bāmiyān

South of Bactria is the country of Kacik, then the Great Snow Mountains with valleys "infested with gangs of criminals".

Crossing this pass, thereafter is the country of Bāmiyān (a part of modern Afghanistan).

There, state his travelogue, is a colossal statue of standing Buddha, carved from a rock in the mountains, some 100 and 40 feet tall and decorated with gems.

This valley has Buddhist monasteries, and also a colossal copper statue of the Buddha, that is over a 100 foot tall. He was told that it was cast in separate parts and then joined up together.

To the east of a monastery in the Bāmiyān valley was a Reclining Buddha entering Parinirvāṇa that was over 1 000 foot long. The people and the King of this valley serve the Buddhist monks, records Xuanzang.

Heading east and crossing the Black range, Xuanzang describes the country of Kapisa, where the Mahāyāna tradition of Buddhism had come in vogue.

It had over 100 monasteries with Stūpas. More than 6000 monks, mostly Mahāyāna, studied here.

Along with these Buddhist monasteries, states his travelogue, there were over 10 Deva temples (Hindu) with "heretical believers who go about naked and smear dust over their bodies".

Furthermore, in the same capital region, there is a Theravāda monastery with 300 monks at the northern foothills.

The citizens of this country, adds Xuanzang, fondly recall "King Kaniṣka of Gandhāra" (2nd-century CE, Kushan Empire).

To its east are the "City of Svetavat temple" and the Aruṇa Mountain known for its frequent avalanches. His travelogue then describes several popular legends about a Nāga King.

He also describes miraculous events from a Buddhist Stūpa, such as raging flames bursting out of them leaving behind stream of pearls.

The citizens here, states Xuanzang, worship pieces of Buddha's remains that were brought here in more ancient times. He mentions 4 Stūpas built in this area by King Aśoka.

4. Travel through India

India map | 7th century

India map | 7th century

To Xuanzang, he entered India as he crossed the Black range and entered the country of Lampa.

His travelogue presents India in fascicles separate from those for Central Asia. He, however, does not call it India, but the phonetic equivalent of what previously has been variously interpreted as "Indu".

Xuanzang states that India is a vast country over 90 000 li in circuit, with 70 Kingdoms, sea on 3 sides and snow mountains to its north. It is a land that is rich and moist, cultivation productive, vegetation luxuriant.

He adds that it has its own ancient customs, such as measuring its distance as "Yojana", equal to 40 li, but varying between 16-30 Li depending on the source.

They divide day and night into kāla, and substances into various divisions, all the way to a fineness that they call indivisible and emptiness.

The country has 3 seasons: hot, cold, rainy according to some Buddhists; while others say it is 4: 3 months each of spring, summer, monsoon, and autumn.

The Kingdoms of India have numerous villages and cities. Their towns and cities have square walls, streets are winding and narrow, with shops lined along these roads. Wine is sold in shops on the side streets.

Those whose profession is butchering, fishing, executioners, scavengers (castes that kill living beings and deal with products derived from them) are not allowed to live inside the cities.

The cities are built from bricks, while homes are either made mostly from bricks or from "wattled bamboo or wood". Cottages are thatched with straw and grass.

The residents of India clean their floor and then smear it with a preparation of cow dung, followed by decorating it with flowers, unlike Chinese homes.

Their children go to school at age 7, where they begin learning a number of treatises of the 5 knowledges –

1) grammar, 2) technical skills which he states includes arts, mechanics, yin-yang and the calendar, 3) medicine, 4) being logic, 5) field of knowledge taught is inner knowledge along with theory of cause and effect.

After further similar introduction covering the diverse aspects of the Indian culture, he observed, including fashion, hair styles, preference for being barefoot,

ritual washing their hands after releasing bodily waste, cleaning teeth by chewing special tree twigs, taking baths before going to their temples, worshipping in their temples,

their alphabet that contains 47 letters, the diversity of languages spoken, how harmonious and elegant they sound when they speak their languages, Xuanzang presents the various Kingdoms of India.

Xuanzang includes a section on the differences between the Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhist communities:

There are 18 sects in Buddhism, according to Xuanzang.

They stand against each other, debate "various viewpoints, as vehemently as crashing waves". Though they share the same goal, they study different subjects and use sharp words to argue.

Each Buddhist sect has different set of rules and regulations for their monks.

The monks who cannot expound a single text must do the routine monastic duties (cleaning monastery and such).

Those who can expound one Buddhist text flawlessly are exempt from such duties. Those who can recite 2 texts, get better quality rooms.

Monks who can expound 3 Buddhist texts get attendants to serve them, while the few monks who can expound all 4 are provided with lay servants. Expounders of 5 texts have elephants for travel, while 6 texts entitles them to security retinue.

Kingdom of Lampa, Nagārhara and Gandhāra

Xuanzang describes Lampaka (modern Laghman, near the source of Kabul River) as the territory of north India, one whose circuit is more than 1000 li and where all monasteries studied Mahāyāna Buddhism.

They have tens of Deva temples (Hindu) which heretics (non-Buddhists) frequent.

To its southeast is the country of Nagārhara, with many Buddhist monasteries and 5 Deva temples. The number of monks here, however, are few.

The Stūpa are deserted and in a dilapidated condition. The local Buddhists believe that the Buddha taught here while flying in the air, because were he to walk here, it caused many earthquakes.

Nagārhara has a 300 feet high Stūpa built by Aśoka, with marvellous sculptures. Xuanzang paid homage by circling it.

Both Lampaka and Nagārhara countries were independent with their own Kings, but they have become a vassal of the Buddhist Kapisa Kingdom found near Bāmiyān.

The monasteries in these Kingdoms are splendid, with 4 corner towers and halls with 3 tiers. They have strange looking figures at the joints, rafters, eaves and roof beams.

The Indians paint the walls, doors and windows with colours and pictures. People prefer to have home that look simple from outside, but is much decorated inside.

They construct their homes such a way that they open towards the East.

Xuanzang also describes implausible events such as glowing rock footprints of Buddha, dragons, tales of Nāga, a white stone Buddha icon that worked miracles and "frequently emitted light".

The travelogue states that Xuanzang went into a dark cave here where dangerous beings lived, recited Śrīmālādevī Siṁhanāda Sūtra, and they became Buddhists. Thereafter they all burnt incense and worshipped the Buddha with flowers.

Some 200 kilometres to the southeast is the country of Gandhāra - On its east, it is bordered by the Indus River, and its capital is Puruṣapura (now Peshawar, Pakistan).

This is the land of ancient sages and authors of Indian Śāstras, and they include Asaṅga, Vasubandhu, Dharmatrāta, Manoratha and Pārśva.

To the southeast of Puruṣapura city is a 400 feet high Stūpa built by King Kaniṣka, one with nearly 2000 feet in diameter and a 25 layer wheel on the top. There is a large monastery near it.

Gandhāra has numerous holy Buddhist sites, and Xuanzang visited and worshipped all of them. He calls the Stūpas and the Buddha images in this region as "magnificent" and made with "perfect craftsmanship".

Kingdom of Udayana, Kaśmīra

Heading north towards Kaśmīra, he arrived in the city of Puṣkalavatī, with many holy Buddhist sites. Xuanzang worshipped at these "great Stūpas and big monasteries".

Thereafter he reached the country of Udayana, through which flowed the Subhāvastu river (now called Swat River).

It had 1400 monasteries of 5 early Buddhist schools (of 18 sub-traditions) – Sarvāstivāda, Mahāsaṁghika, Kāśyapīya, Mahīśāsaka and Dharmagupta.

These schools became unpopular, as the later form of Mahāyāna prospered.

According to Xuanzang, these monasteries of early Buddhist schools are desolate and attract few monks.

He then reaches the city of Manglaur.

In all these places, he mentions how Buddha lived here in one his previous lives (Jātaka legends) and illustrated compassion-strength through his actions.

There is a Buddhist temple northeast of Manglaur with the Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva image, which is noted for "its miraculous manifestations".

Crossing another 1000 li, he reached Darada valley – the old capital of Udayana, with a 100 feet golden wood statue of Maitreya Bodhisattva:

This statue, states his travelogue, was built by an artist who went 3 times into Heaven to see how he looks and then carve the realistic image of him on earth.

Xuanzang arrived in Taxila, after crossing a river with "poisonous dragons and evil animals". There, he visited a major Buddhist monastery of the Sautrāntika school.

From there, after covering some 2200 li, he passed through the country of Simhapura (now Kalabagh), of Urasa (now Hazara), and then into Kaśmīra. He was received by the King, and numerous monks from the Jayendra monastery.

Kaśmīra is land with a very cold climate and is often calm without any wind. The region has lakes, grows plenty of flowers and fruit, saffron and medicinal herbs.

Kaśmīra has over 100 monasteries and more than 5000 monks. The residents revere 4 large Stūpas that were built in ancient times by Aśoka.

King Kaniṣka too built many Buddhist monasteries here. He also had treatises with 960 000 words written on copper plates and had them stored in a newly built great Stūpa.

The Kaśmīra region has numerous monks well versed with the Tripiṭaka, states Xuanzang. He stays in Kaśmīra for 2 years and studies the treatises with them.

Xuanzang describes many events where he is helped by both Buddhists and non-Buddhists.

For example, he describes leaving the city of Sākala and Narasimha, then passing with his companions through the Great Palāśa Forest.

They get robbed and are walked towards some dry pond to be killed. A monk and he slip away. They hurry towards a village.

Near it, they meet a Brahmin who is tilling his land. They tell him that robbers attacked them and their companions.

The Brahmin goes to the village and beats a drum and blows a conch. About 80 men gather, and together they proceed to rescue the companions of Xuanzang.

While other rescued companions of his wail about the loss of all their property, Xuanzang reminds them that they should all be happy to be alive and not worry about the loss of property.

 The villagers help his companions and him by hosting them before they resume their journey.

Yet, elsewhere, Xuanzang also recites the implausible tale of meeting a Brahmin who was 700 years old and had 2 associates, each over a 100 year old, who had mastered all of the Hindu Vedas and the Buddhist Mādhyamika Śāstra. He calls them heretics (non-Buddhists).

These heretics help him and his companions get new garments and food. He stayed with this implausibly old Brahmin for a month, and studied the Mādhyamika śāstra with him.

5. The memorial of Pāṇini

To the northeast of Varṣa country, states Xuanzang, there is a lofty mountain with a bluish stone image of Bhīma Devi. She is the wife of Maheśvara (Shiva). It is a great site of pilgrimage, where Indians from very far come with prayers.

At the foot of this mountain is another temple for Maheśvarī where ceremonies are performed by naked heretics who smear ash on their body.

About 12 kilometres southeast from these temples is Śalātura, which says Xuanzang was the birthplace of rishi Pāṇini and the author of "Śabda-vidyā-śāstra".

Inspired by Maheśvara, this rishi set out to "make inquiries into the way of learning":

He thoroughly studied all written and spoken language, words in ancient and his times, then created a treatise of 1 000 stanzas.

The heretics (Hindus) transmit this text orally from teacher to pupil, and it is this that makes the Brahmins of this city "great scholars of high talent with knowledge of wide scope".

They have an image of Pāṇini installed in reverence of him in this city of Śalātura.

Kingdoms of Takka, Jalandhara, Sthanesvara, Mathura, Matipura, Kapitha

The country of Takka is south of Kaśmīra, extending from the Indus river to its west and Vipāśā River (Beas River) to its east.

They produce abundant quantities of non-sticky rice and wheat, also gold, brass, iron and other metals. They do not believe in Buddhism, and pray in several hundred deva temples.

This country has 10 Buddhist monasteries left.

There were many more before, states Xuanzang. These were destroyed few hundred years ago, during the rule of a King named Mihirakula (fl. 502–540 CE).

The King did this in anger because when he asked the monasteries in his domain for a Buddhist teacher to teach him Buddhism, the Buddhists did not send to him any learned scholar.

Mihirakula cruel deed against the Buddhists triggered the King of Māgadha to go to war with him.

Mihirakula was defeated, forgiven but returned to power by assassinating the King of Kaśmīra and Gandhāra.

Xuanzang recites the hearsay stories he heard about Mihirakula's continued cruelty and destruction of 1600 Stūpas and monasteries.

Xuanzang then describes the surviving monasteries in Sagala with hundreds of Buddhist monks, along with its 3 colossal Stūpas, each over 200 feet tall, two built by Aśoka.

Xuanzang visited the country of Chinabhukti next, which he states got its name because a region west of the Yellow River was a vassal state of King Kaniṣka.

From there, during Kaniṣka’s reign, peaches and pears plantations were imported into Chinabhukti, North India.

Further northeast, he visited a Buddhist monastery of the Sarvāstivāda school with 300 monks.

He describes another colossal Stūpa that is over 200 feet tall built by Aśoka. Near this, states Xuanzang, are numerous small Stūpas and large Buddhist caves.

Around this monastery in the Himalayan hills are "hundreds and thousands of Stūpas, built so closely together than their shadows touch one another".

From there, he visited Jalandhara. It grows non-sticky rice and cereals, its forest are luxuriant, the region is lush with flowers and fruits.

They have 50 monasteries with over 2000 monks studying Mahāyāna and Theravāda traditions of Buddhism. They also have deva temples where heretics smear their bodies with ashes (Shiva-Hinduism).

From Jalandhara, Xuanzang travelled northeast through jagged peaks, deep valleys and dangerous trails into the Himalayan country of Kuluta.

It is surrounded by mountains, and has abundant fruits, flowers and trees. It has 20 monasteries and over a thousand Buddhist monks studying mostly Mahāyāna Buddhism.

It has 15 deva temples frequented by heretics (Hindus). This region has many caves where Buddhist Arhats and Hindu rishis live.

He then headed south, into the country of Shatadru:

Here, writes Xuanzang, people wear "gorgeous, extravagant" clothes, the climate is hot and citizens are honest and friendly by custom. It has 10 monasteries, but ruined and with few monks.

He visits the country of Pāriyātra, where they have plenty of cattle and sheep, as well as a type of rice that they harvest in 60 days after planting.

This region has 8 ruined monasteries and 10 deva temples. The monks study Theravāda Buddhism here.

Xuanzang next arrived in the country of Mathura, calling it a part of central India. This region is fertile, people love mangoes, they produce cloth and gold.

The climate is hot, the people are genial and good by custom, they advocate learning and virtue, states Xuanzang.

This country has over 20 monasteries with over 2 000 monks studying Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhism. Many deva temples are also found in this country.

He describes the ritual carrying and worship of the Buddha and Buddhist deities in this country with incense and flowers scattered in streets.

He visits and praises the Govinda monastery in the Mathura country.

Next he visits the country of Sthanesvara, which has wealthy but unkind citizens who show off their wealth.

It has 3 Buddhist monasteries with over 700 monks, a lustrous and clean colossal Stūpa which witnesses "many divine manifestations". It also has well over hundred deva temples and numerous heretics.

The country of Srughna has Ganges River to its east and Yamuna River in the middle of it. These people are like those in Sthanesvara country:

They believe in heretical ideas (Hindu) and are honest by nature, states Xuanzang. They cherish learning, arts and crafts, and cultivate wisdom, blessedness.

In this country are 5 Buddhist monasteries, over 1 000 monks mostly studying Theravāda, and over 100 deva temples with numerous heretics.

East of this region is the Ganges River with dark blue waters and strange creatures living in it, but these creatures do not harm people.

The water of Ganges is sweet in taste, and the heretics believe it to contain the "water of blessedness", and that bathing in it causes sins to be expiated.

After crossing Ganges, he entered into the country of Matipura. Here, according to Xuanzang, half of the population is Buddhist and the other believe in heterodox religions.

The climate is cooler and more temperate, its people are honest and esteem learning. The King is Śūdra by caste and worships at the deva temples.

The Matipura country has 10 monasteries and over 800 monks, mostly studying Theravāda. Over 50 deva temples are frequented by the heretics here.

Xuanzang describes the Śāstras composed and under study at the major Buddhist monasteries of Matipura.

This region has the city of Mayūra, densely populated and with a great deva temple near the Ganges River. The heretics call it the "Gate of the Ganges".

People from all 5 parts of India – east, north, west, south, central – come here crossing long distances on pilgrimage and to bathe at these gates.

This place has numerous rest and alms-houses, where the "isolated, solitary and needy people get free food and medical service".

North of this place is the country of Brahmapura, densely populated with prosperous and rich people. Colder in climate, here people are rude and violent by custom. This region has 5 Buddhist monasteries and 10 deva temples.

Southeast of here, states Xuanzang, is the country of Ahicchattra with 10 monasteries and a 1 000 monks belonging to the Saṁmitīya sect of Theravāda Buddhism. It has 5 deva temples where heretics smear their bodies with ashes.

The country of Vilashana and Kapitha are south and southeast of Ahicchattra.

Most people in Vilashana are non-Buddhists, and there are 2 monasteries here with 300 Buddhist monks.

In Kapitha, there are 4 monasteries teaching Theravāda Buddhism, and they have over a 1 000 monks. Along with these Buddhist institution, Kapitha has 10 deva temples.

Kapitha, states Xuanzang, has a "beautifully constructed monastery with many lofty and spacious buildings adorned with exquisite carvings". It has Buddha statue at the top, Indra statue at left of the entrance and Brahma statue to the right.

Kingdoms of Kanyakubja, Ayodhya, Prayāga, Kauśāmbi, Vishaka

The country of Kanyakubja, currently Kannauj, has the Ganges River to its west, with flowery forests of brilliant colours, transparent waters and prosperous people.

They are simple and honest by custom, states Xuanzang, with handsome and graceful features. They cherish arts and literature, speak lucidly.

Half of the population is Buddhist, half heretics. The Buddhists study both Mahāyāna and Theravāda teachings. The heretics have over 200 deva temples.

The current King is Harshavardhana (c. 590–647 CE), a Hindu of Vaiśya caste descent. 3 of his ancestors were also Kings, and they were all known to the Chinese Kings as virtuous.

Xuanzang then recites, at length, the story of prince Śīlāditya and how he constructed both major monasteries and temples, feeding hundreds of Buddhist monks and hundreds of Hindu Brahmins on festive days. Śīlāditya is identified with Harshavardhana by many scholars.

He describes numerous monasteries in the southeast of its capital, along with large Buddhist temple made of stone and brocks, with a 30 feet tall Buddha statue.

To the south of this is temple, states Xuanzang, is a Sūrya temple built from bluestone. Next to the Sūrya temple is a Maheśvara (Shiva) temple also made from bluestone. Both are profusely carved with sculptures.

About 100 li to the southeast of Śīlāditya's capital, states Xuanzang, is the Navadevakula city on the eastern bank of Ganges River.

It is surrounded by flowery wood, has 3 monasteries with 500 monks, and a multitier terraced deva temple that is "exquisitely constructed".

About 600 li to the southeast is the country of Ayodhya. It grows abundant amounts of cereals, is blessed with fruits and flowers. People are benign and dedicate themselves to arts and crafts.

Ayodhya has over a 100 monasteries and 3 000 monks studying Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhism. Its capital has 10 deva temples. This is the country where some of the key śāstras of the Sautrāntika school of Buddhism were composed.

A few hundred li east of Ayodhya is the country of Ayamukha. Here too, states Xuanzang, people are honest and simple. They have 5 monasteries with over 1 000 monks, mostly studying Theravāda. Near them are 10 deva temples.

About 700 li southeast is the country of Prayāga, on the banks of Yamuna river. It has luxuriant fruit trees and cereal crops, its people are kind and helpful. Most of them believe in heretical religions, and Prayāga has several hundreds of deva temples.

At the south of this great city here is a forest full of champak flowers with a 100 foot ancient Stūpa with collapsed foundation, originally built by Aśoka. The city has a great temple with decorated buildings.

At the east of this great city two rivers meet forming a dune that is over 10 li wide, and it is this place that wealthy people and Kings such as Śīlāditya come on pilgrimage from ancient times and give alms. It is called the Grand Place of Almsgiving.

Numerous people gather here and bathe at the confluence of two rivers, some drown themselves, believing that this washes away their sins and that it will give them a better rebirth.

500 li from Prayāga is the country of Kauśāmbi. It produces abundant quantities of non-sticky rice and sugarcane. The citizens are bold, furious and dedicated to good deeds by custom.

It has 10 deserted and dilapidated Buddhist monasteries, attended by about 300 monks. The country has 50 deva temples and numerous non-Buddhists.

In the capital, within the palace is a Buddhist temple with a Buddha statue made from sandalwood. This Buddha image "emits divine light" sometimes, states Xuanzang.

He adds that Kauśāmbī is the place that Buddhist text predicts is where the Buddha Dharma will come to an end in a distant future, therefore anyone who comes to this place feels sad and "sheds tears".

He headed northeast, crossed Ganges River again, and this came to the country of Vishaka. He calls its people sincere and honest by custom, fond of learning.

It has 20 monasteries and 3 000 monks studying Theravāda Buddhism. Vishaka has numerous non-Buddhists and over 50 deva temples.

Kingdoms of Śrāvastī Kuśinagara, Vārāṇasī, Nepal

In Fascicle 6 of the travelogue manuscript, Xuanzang focuses on some of the holiest sites in Buddhism:

He begins with Śrāvastī (now northeast Uttar Pradesh), describing it to be a country of over 6 000 li in circuit. The capital city is desolate, states Xuanzang, though some residents still live here.

There are over 100 monasteries in its capital city; many dilapidated, where monks study Theravāda Buddhism. The country has 100 deva temples.

He saw the decaying remains of Prasenajit’s palace, then to its east the Great Dhamma Hall Stūpa, another Stūpa and a temple for the maternal aunt of the Buddha.

Next to these, states Xuanzang, is the great Stūpa of Aṅgulimāla.

About 5 li (2 kilometres in 7th century) south of the city is the Jetavana garden with two 70 feet high pillars standing, but the monastery there is in ruins. One pillar has a wheel carved at its top, the other a bull.

Xuanzang saw all the monuments associated with the Śrāvastī legends with the Buddha, though many of these were in dilapidated condition.

He also saw a Buddhist temple 60 feet high with a seated Buddha image and a deva temple about the same size as the Buddha temple, both in good condition.

Over 60 li to the northwest of Śrāvastī capital, he saw a series of Stūpas built by Aśoka for Kāśyapa Buddha, one who lived for 20 000 years, states Xuanzang.

From Śrāvastī, Xuanzang travelled southeast to the country of Kapilavastu. This country has no ruler, he states, and every city has its own lord.

Well over a 1 000 monasteries were in this region, but most are dilapidated. Some 3 000 monks continue to study Theravāda Buddhism in many of these monasteries. This country has 2 deva temples.

He also describes a Buddhist temple with painting of a prince riding on a white horse, as well many Buddhist monuments and legends about the Buddha's early life in this region, as well as those of the Śākya clan.

After Kapilavastu, he went eastward to the country of Rāmagrāma (Rāma). The region is sparsely populated, the towns and villages in a dilapidated condition.

He mentions a Stūpa where a snake-dragon comes out of the pond to circumambulate it, as well as elephants pick flowers and come to scatter on this Stūpa, according to Xuanzang.

There is a monastery near this special Stūpa, where monks study Theravāda.

Some 100 li to the east is another colossal Stūpa in good condition, one built by Aśoka.

Past this forest is the country of Kuśinagara, where towns and villages are deserted and in a dilapidated condition. He describes a large brick temple with reclining Buddha.

He describes many monuments and sites he was able to see where numerous legends of the Buddha played out, including the site where he was cremated.

In Fascicle 7, Xuanzang describes 5 countries:

He starts with Vārāṇasī, stating the country has Ganges River to its west. The city is densely populated, with tightly packed homes in its lanes.

The people are "enormously wealthy", mild and courteous by nature. Few here believe in Buddhism, most are heretics (Hindus).

The country has over 30 Buddhist monasteries with 3 000 monks studying Theravāda.

There are over 100 deva temples, most dedicated to Maheśvara (Shiva). Some of these heretic followers go naked and smear their bodies with ash.

On the west bank of Varuṇa River near Vārāṇasī, is a great Stūpa that is 100 feet tall and was built by Aśoka.

Before it is a standing green-stone pillar polished as smooth as a mirror, states Xuanzang. He describes many more Stūpas, pillars and monasteries in Vārāṇasī country.

After Vārāṇasī, he visits the country of Garjanapati, where he finds the Aviddhakarṇa monastery that is "very exquisitely" carved with decorative sculptures. It is lush with flowers, with reflections in the pond nearby.

From there he heads north of Ganges and visits a large Nārāyaṇa temple (Vishnu). It has storied pavilions and terraces, the numerous deva statues are "carved from stone with the most exquisite craftsmanship".

About 30 li to the east of this Nārāyaṇa temple is a Aśoka built Stūpa, with a 20 feet high pillar and lion image on its top.

From there he walked to Vaiśālī, where says Xuanzang, people are honest and simple by custom. They study both orthodox Buddhist and heterodox non-Buddhist doctrines.

The country of Vaiśālī has hundreds of monasteries, but only a few have monks and are in good condition. He describes the Svetapura monastery with lofty buildings and magnificent pavilions.

After Vaiśālī, he headed north and reached the country of Vriji:

This country mostly venerates the non-Buddhist deva temples and doctrines, states Xuanzang. It has over 10 monasteries with less than a thousand Buddhist monks.

He then travelled to the country of Nepal, near the Snow Mountains. It has many flowers and fruits, yaks and two-headed birds. The people here, says Xuanzang, are rude and disparaging by nature, but skilled in craftsmanship.

Their Buddhist monasteries and deva temples touch each other, and people simultaneously believe in Buddhist and non-Buddhist doctrines. The country has 2 000 monks who study Theravāda and Mahāyāna teachings.

Kingdoms of Māgadha, Iranaparvata, Champa, Kajangala, Kāmarūpa

In Fascicle 8 of the travelogue, Xuanzang begins with the country of Māgadha:

The country and its capital is sparsely populated. A fertile land, it produces a fragrant form of rice with extraordinary lustre. It regularly floods during the monsoon season, and during these months one can use a boat to travel.

People are honest and simple here, and they revere Buddhism. Māgadha has 50 monasteries and over 10 000 monks. It also has tens of deva' temples.

According to Xuanzang, there is city south of river Ganges in Māgadha. It is very ancient.

When human life was "innumerable years" long, it was called Kusumapura. One can see the very ancient foundations of Kusumapura. Later, when human life span reduced to "several thousand years", its name was changed to Pāṭaliputra.

Towards the north of his royal city is a huge standing pillar of Aśoka. There once were many monasteries, deva temples and Stūpas here, but several hundred such Buddhist and non-Buddhist monuments are in dilapidated and ruined condition, states Xuanzang.

He then describes several legends associated with Aśoka, along with several Stūpas and monasteries he found in good condition.

For example, he describes the Tiladhaka monastery (in Telhara village, Nālanda district) about 300 li southeast of the Māgadha capital. It has 4 courts, lofty terraces, multi-storied pavilions where thousands of monks continue to study Mahāyāna Buddhism.

Within this monastery complex, states Xuanzang, there are 3 temples, the central one with a 30 foot tall Buddha icon, another has a statue of Tārā Bodhisattva, the 3rd has Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva statue.

He visits Gayā and the Bodhi tree. Near the tree, he states there is the Mahābodhi monastery with many buildings and courtyards.

Inside these buildings are "most wonderful, and exquisitely done decorative paintings", states Xuanzang.

It is painted in gold, silver, pinkish blue, lustrous white and semi-transparent pigments, with the Buddha's ornaments in the panel embedded with gems and jewels.

After crossing the Mahā River, visiting many Stūpas, monasteries, rishi Vyāsa hill, Vipula hill, Pippala Cave, Bamboo temple and other monuments, Xuanzang arrived in Rājagriha city and Nālanda monastery. He stayed and studied at Nālanda.

At Nālanda, he was in the company of several thousand monks.

Xuanzang studied logic, grammar, Sanskrit, and the Yogācāra school of Buddhism during his time at Nālanda with Śīlabhadra.

The founders of Mahāyāna idealism, Asaṅga and Vasubandhu trained Dignāga, who trained Dharmapāla and whose student was Śīlabhadra.

Thus Xuanzang had reached his teacher Śīlabhadra, who made available to Xuanzang and through him to the Sino-Japanese world the entire heritage of Buddhist Mahāyāna thought,

and the Cheng Weishi Lun, Xuanzang's great philosophical treatise, is none other than the Summa of this doctrine, "the fruit of 7 centuries of Indian Buddhist thought."

From Nālanda, Xuanzang travelled through several Kingdoms, including Iranaparvata, Champa, from there to Puṇḍravardhana and Sylhet (in present-day Bangladesh.

There Xuanzang found 20 monasteries with over 3 000 monks studying both the Theravāda and the Mahāyāna. One of them was the Vāśibhā Monastery, where he found over 700 Mahāyāna monks from all over East India.

He visited Kāmarūpa (Assam and north-eastern India), Samataṭa, Tāmraliptī, Kaliṅga and other regions, which Xuanzang calls as "domain of East India".

Kingdoms of Kaliṅga, Andhra, Chola, Drāviḍa and Malakuta

Xuanzang turned southward and travelled towards Andhra Pradesh to visit the Vihāras at Amaravati and Nāgārjunakoṇḍā.

He stayed at Amaravati and studied the Abhidhamma Piṭaka texts. He observed that there were many Vihāras at Amaravati and some of them were deserted.

He later proceeded to Kānchī, the imperial capital of Pallavas, and a strong centre of Buddhism. He continued traveling to Nasik, Ajanta, Malwa; from there he went to Multan and Pravata before returning to Nālanda again.

6. Returning Home

Xuanzang | Wild Goose Pagoda

Xuanzang | Wild Goose Pagoda

When Xuanzang was about to return home to China, he was welcomed to Kannauj (in Uttar Pradesh) at the request of the King Harshavardhana (c. 590–647 CE), who was an ally of Kumar Bhāskaravarman (600–650),

to attend a great Buddhist Assembly there which was attended by both of the Kings as well as several other Kings from neighbouring Kingdoms, Buddhist monks, Brahmans, and Jains.

King Harshavardhana invited Xuanzang to Kumbha Mela in Prayāga where he witnessed King Harshavardhana's generous distribution of gifts to the poor.

After visiting Prayāga he returned to Kannauj where he was given a grand farewell by King Harshavardhana.

Traveling through the Khyber Pass of the Hindu Kush, Xuanzang passed through Kashgar, Khotan, and Dunhuang on his way back to China.

He arrived in the capital, Chang'an, on the 7th day of the 1st month of 645, 16 years after he left Chinese territory, and a great procession celebrated his return.

On his return to China in 645 CE, Xuanzang was greeted with much honour but he refused all high civil appointments offered by the still-reigning emperor, Emperor Taizong of Tang.

Instead, he retired to a monastery and devoted his energy to translating Buddhist texts until his death in 664 CE.

According to his biography, he returned with "over 600 Mahāyāna and Theravāda texts, 7 statues of the Buddha and more than a hundred śarīra relics."

7. Chinese Buddhism (influence)

Xuanzang | memorial in Xi'an, China

Xuanzang | memorial in Xi'an, China

During Xuanzang's travels, he studied with many famous Buddhist masters, especially at the famous centre of Buddhist learning at Nālanda. When he returned, he brought with him some 657 Sanskrit texts.

With the Emperor's support, he set up a large translation bureau in Chang'an (present-day Xi'an), drawing students and collaborators from all over East Asia.

He is credited with the translation of some 1 330 fascicles of scriptures into Chinese.

His strongest personal interest in Buddhism was in the field of Yogācāra, or Consciousness-only. His 7th-century scholarship on Yogācāra has a major influence on Chinese Buddhism, and then on East Asian Buddhism.

The force of his own study, translation, and commentary of the texts of these traditions initiated the development of the Faxiang School in East Asia:

Although the school itself did not thrive for a long time, its theories regarding perception, consciousness, Karma, rebirth, etc. found their way into the doctrines of other more successful schools.

Xuanzang's closest and most eminent student was Kuiji who became recognized as the first patriarch of the Faxiang school.

Xuanzang's logic, as described by Kuiji, was often misunderstood by scholars of Chinese Buddhism because they lacked the necessary background in Indian logic. Another important disciple was the Korean monk Woncheuk.

Xuanzang was known for his extensive but careful translations of Indian Buddhist texts to Chinese, which have enabled subsequent recoveries of lost Indian Buddhist texts from the translated Chinese copies.

He is credited with writing or compiling the Cheng Weishi Lun as a commentary on these texts. His translation of the Heart Sūtra became and remains an important milestone in all East Asian Buddhist sects.

8. The Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra

Xuanzang returned to China with 3 copies of the Mahā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra:

Xuanzang, with a team of disciple translators, commenced translating the voluminous work in 660 CE, using all 3 versions to ensure the integrity of the source documentation.

Xuanzang was being encouraged by a number of his disciple translators to render an abridged version.

After a suite of dreams quickened his decision, Xuanzang determined to render an unabridged, complete volume, faithful to the original of 600 chapters.

In 646, under the Emperor's request, Xuanzang completed his book Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, which has become one of the primary sources for the study of medieval Central Asia and India.

There was also a biography of Xuanzang written by the monk Huili.

9. Legacy

Xuanzang's work, the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, is the longest and most detailed account of the countries of Central and South Asia that has been bestowed upon posterity by a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim.

While his main purpose was to obtain Buddhist books and to receive instruction on Buddhism while in India, he ended up doing much more. He has preserved the records of the political and social aspects of the lands he visited.

His record of the places visited by him in Bengal — mainly Raktamrittika (Chi Tu) near Karṇasuvarṇa, Pundranagara (now Mahasthangarh) and its environs, Samataṭa, Tāmraliptī and Harikela— have been very helpful in the recording of the archaeological history of Bengal.

His account has also shed welcome light on the history of 7th century Bengal, especially the Gauḍa Kingdom under Shashanka (590-625), although at times he can be quite partisan.

Xuanzang obtained and translated 657 Sanskrit Buddhist works. He received the best education on Buddhism he could find throughout India.

Much of this activity is detailed in the Biography of Xuanzang written by Huili, entitled the Life of Xuanzang.

His version of the Heart Sūtra is the basis for all Chinese commentaries on the Sūtra, and recitations throughout China, Korea, and Japan.

His style was, by Chinese standards, cumbersome and overly literal, and marked by scholarly innovations in terminology; usually, where another version by the earlier translator Kumārajīva exists, Kumārajīva's is more popular.

10. Relics

A skull relic purported to be that of Xuanzang was held in the Temple of Great Compassion, Tianjin until 1956 when it was taken to Nālanda - allegedly by the Dalai Lama - and presented to India.

The relic was in the Patna Museum for a long time but was moved to a newly built memorial hall in Nālanda in 2007.

The Wenshu Monastery in Chengdu, Sichuan province also claims to have part of Xuanzang's skull.

Part of Xuanzang's remains were taken from Nanjing by soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army in 1942, and are now enshrined at Yakushi-ji in Nara, Japan