A Westward journey to India
Hsuan- tsang is the most famous of a number of Chinese travelers who came to India almost 2,000 years ago, to learn about the Buddha’s teachings.
The year was AD 630. The country was China.
A twenty-eight –year –old Buddhist monk, named Hsuan-tsang, set out on a pilgrimage to India. He wished to visit the land of Buddha, and to study Buddhism under the great Indian teachers of Nalanda.
But in China, there was a law that no one should leave the country. People who tried to leave were caught and punished.
Hiding by day and travelling at night, Hsuan- tsang and two companions reached a border town. They asked travelers and merchants about the Western route to India.
`The river Hu- lu lies to the north,’ people said. `It cannot be crossed in a boat, because its water flows at great speed. It must be crossed where it is very narrow.
Beyond the river, there are five watch- towers, with guards in them. The guards have bows and arrows. They shoot at anyone trying to cross. Between the towers is land with no water, and beyond them lays the desert.’
When Hsuan –tsang’s two companions heard this, they decided to turn back; and he went on alone.
On the way, he met an old man who was riding a thin red horse. The old man offered his horse to him. `My horse knows the way well,’ said the man `Take him.’
Now Hsuan –tsang remembered seeing just such a horse in a dream-a skinny old red horse, which was, however, strong. He changed his horse with the old man’s.
He reached the river, and saw a place where it was only ten feet across. Cutting long strips of wood from the trees growing nearby, he made a bridge, and led his horse across the river.
Coming to the first watch- tower, he hid himself, waiting for the night. But he began to feel hot and thirty. His water –bag was empty. There was a water-hole close to the tower. Crouching low he ran towards it.
He dark some water, and then dipped his bag into the water and waited for it to fill. Suddenly, an arrow whistled past him. A moment later, there was another arrow. He had been discovered! Hsuan –tsang cried out in a loud voice, `I am a monk from the capital. Do not shoot me!’ in a twinkling, soldiers surrounded him. They marched him off to the commander of the post.
So you are the monk going to India!’ said the commander. `I have heard about you.’
Hsuan- tsang was surprised, for the commander’s voice was kin. The commander pleaded with Hsuan –tsang to go back, but Hsuan –tsang did not agree. He then gave Hsuan- tsang food and water, and a letter for his cousin, who was the commander of the next watch-tower.
The cousin told Hsuan –tsang t keep away from the fifth watch-tower, where the guards were cruel. `From the fourth tower, go to the spring of the wild Horses.’
Hsuan- tsang’s way now lay across a desert called the River of Sand. Alone, with no landmarks to follow, he lost his way. He could not find the spring! His horse stamped its foot and jerked its neck, and his water-bag slipped and fell to the ground. He jumped down, but too late- the water seeped into the sand.
He thought of turning back. But then he remembered a dream he had before starting the journey. In his dream, a divine mountain rose from a great sea; the waves were high and wild.
In his dream, he walked into the waves, and steps appeared at his feet. With the help of these he got to the holy mountain, and then a great lifted him to the top!
Hsuan- tsang said to him, `it is better to die in the attempt to go the West, than to live by returning to the East.’
He travelled for four nights and five days without water. On the fifth night, asleep on the warm sand, he had a dream. He saw a divine being standing near him, who said, `why are you still sleeping and not pressing on with all your strength?’
Hsuan –tsang awoke. His horse also found the strength to get onto its legs again. When they had gone about three miles, the animal suddenly turned in another direction, and carried Hsuan –tsang to several acres of green grass. This was the spring he had been looking for!
Two days later, Hsuan- tsang came of the desert and reached the kingdom of Hami.
From Hami, Hsuan –tsang went to Turfan, a larger and richer kingdom to the west. The king of Turfan gave him an escort of thirty horses and twenty-four servants, and gold and silver for the expenses of his journey. He also gave him letters to be presented at the twenty –four countries on the way.
Soon, the desert was left behind. But now, snowy mountains lay ahead. The ice and snow lay in great piles which did not, neither in summer nor in winter. Of Hsuan –tsang’s party, fourteen men starved or were frozen to death.
But finally, the travelers reached Kabul, and then Kashmir. They were now in India!
Hsuan- tsang stayed in India for thirteen years. He returned to China in AD 645, more than fifteen years after he had set off on his pilgrimage. He had become a very famous monk by then. The emperor of China not only did not punish him, but received him with great honor. He was put in charge of a large group of monks, with whose help he translated the many valuable books he had brought from India.
Hsuan- tsang died in AD 664, honored and remembered in many lands.
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