Xuanzang (Chinese: 玄奘; pinyin: Xuánzàng; Wade–Giles: Hsüan-tsang Sanskrit: ह्वेनसांग) (c. 596 or 602 – 664), born Chen Hui (simplified Chinese: 陈袆; traditional Chinese: 陳褘; pinyin: Chén Huī) or Chen Yi (simplified Chinese: 陈祎; traditional Chinese: 禕; pinyin: Chén Yī), was a Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler, and translator who described the interaction between China and India in the early Tang Dynasty.
While residing in the city of Luoyang, Xuanzang entered Buddhist monkhood at the age of thirteen. Due to the political and social unrest caused by the fall of the Sui Dynasty, he went to Chengdu in Sichuan (Szechuan), where he was ordained at the age of twenty.
Here 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 scriptures that had reached China.
He became famous for his seventeen year overland journey to India, which is recorded in detail in the classic Chinese text Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, which in turn provided the inspiration for the classical novel Journey to the West, written by Wu Cheng'en during the Ming Dynasty, around nine centuries after Xuanzang's death.
Less common romanizations of "Xuanzang" include Hhuen Kwan, Hiouen Thsang, Hiuen Tsiang, Hsien-tsang, Hsyan-tsang, Hsuan Chwang, Hsuan Tsiang, Hwen Thsang, Xuan ang, Xuan Zang, Shuen Shang, Yuan Chang, Yuan Chwang, and Yuen Chwang. Hsüan, Hüan, Huan and Chuang are also found.
Xuanzang was born Chen Hui (or Chen Yi) in 602 in Chenhe Village, Goushi Town (緱氏鎮), Luozhou (near present-day Luoyang, Henan) and died on 5 February 664 in Yuhua Palace (玉華宮, in present-day Tongchuan, Shaanxi).
His great-grandfather Chen Qin (陳欽) served as the prefect of Shangdang (上黨; present-day Changzhi, Shanxi) during the Eastern Wei Dynasty; his grandfather [[Chen] Kang]] (陳康) was a professor in the Taixue Imperial Academy) during the Northern Qi Dynasty.
His father Chen Hui (陳惠) was a conservative Confucianist who served as the magistrate of Jiangling County (江陵縣) during the Sui Dynasty, but later gave up office and withdrew into seclusion to escape the political turmoil that gripped China towards the end of the Sui.
Along with his brothers and sister, he received an early education from his father, who instructed him in classical works on filial piety and several other canonical treatises of orthodox Confucianism.
Although his household was essentially Confucian, at a young age, Xuanzang expressed interest in becoming a Buddhist monk as one of his elder brothers had done. After the death of his father in 611, he lived with his older brother Chen Su (陳素) (later known as Changjie 長捷) for five years at Jingtu Monastery (淨土寺) in Luoyang, supported by the Sui Dynasty state. During this time he studied Mahayana Buddhism and various early Buddhist schools, preferring Mahayana.
The myriad contradictions and discrepancies in the texts at that time prompted Xuanzang to decide to go to India and study in the cradle of Buddhism. He subsequently left his brother and returned to Chang'an to study foreign languages and to continue his study of Buddhism.
The Tang Dynasty and Eastern Türk Göktürks were waging war at the time; therefore Emperor Taizong of Tang prohibited foreign travel. Xuanzang persuaded some Buddhist guards at the gates of Yumen and slipped out of the empire via Liangzhou(Gansu), and Qinghai province in 629.
He subsequently travelled across the Gobi Desert to Kumul (Hami), thence following the Tian Shan westward, arriving in Turpan in 630. Here he met the king of Turpan, a Buddhist who equipped him further for his travels with letters of introduction and valuables to serve as funds.
Moving further westward, Xuanzang escaped robbers to reach Yanqi, then toured the non-Mahayana monasteries of Kucha. Further west he passed Aksu before turning northwest to cross the Tian Shan's Bedel Pass into modern Kyrgyzstan. He skirted Issyk Kul before visiting Tokmak on its northwest, and met the great Khan of the Western Türk, whose relationship to the Tang emperor was friendly at the time. After a feast, Xuanzang continued west then southwest to Tashkent (Chach/Che-Shih), capital of modern Uzbekistan.
In Samarkand, which was under Persian influence, the party came across some abandoned Buddhist temples and Xuanzang impressed the local king with his preaching. Setting out again to the south, Xuanzang crossed a spur of the Pamirs and passed through the famous Iron Gates.
Here he met the Monk Dharmasimha, and on the advice of the late Tardu made the trip westward to Balkh (modern day Afghanistan), to see the Buddhist sites and relics, especially the Nava Vihara, or Nawbahar, which he described as the westernmost monastic institution in the world.
Prajnakara then accompanied the party southward to Bamyan, where Xuanzang met the king and saw tens of non-Mahayana monasteries, in addition to the two large Bamyan Buddhas carved out of the rockface.
The party then resumed their travel eastward, crossing the Shibar Pass and descending to the regional capital of Kapisi (about 60 km north of modern Kabul), which sported over 100 monasteries and 6,000 monks, mostly Mahayana.
His travels included, passing through Hunza and the Khyber Pass to the east, reaching the former capital of Gandharaa (Peshawar), on the other side. Peshawar was nothing compared to its former glory, and Buddhism was declining in the region.
Here he found 5,000 more Buddhist monks in 100 monasteries. He went to Kashmir in 631, met a talented Monk Samghayasas (僧伽耶舍), and studied there. Between 632 and early 633, he studied with various monks, including 14 months with Vinītaprabha (毘膩多缽臘婆 or 調伏光), 4 months with Candravarman (旃達羅伐摩 or 月胃), and "a winter and half a spring" with Jayagupta (闍耶毱多).
In 634, he went east to Jalandhar in eastern Punjab, before climbing up to visit predominantly non-Mahayana monasteries in the Kulu valley and turning southward again to Bairat and then Mathura, on the Yamuna river. Mathura had 2,000 monks of both major Buddhist branches, despite being Hindu-dominated.
At Matipura Monastery, Xuanzang studied under Mitrasena. From here, he headed south to Sankasya (Kapitha), said to be where Buddha descended from heaven, then onward to the northern Indian emperor Harsha's grand capital of Kanyakubja (Kannauj).
It is believed he also visited Govishan present day Kashipur in the Harsha era, in 636, Xuanzang encountered 100 monasteries of 10,000 monks (both Mahayana and non-Mahayana), and was impressed by the king's patronage of both scholarship and Buddhism.
Xuanzang now returned northward to Sravasti, travelled through Terai in the southern part of modern Nepal (here he found deserted Buddhist monasteries) and thence to Kapilavastu, his last stop before Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.
In 637, Xuanzang set out from Lumbini to Kusinagara, the site of Buddha's death, before heading southwest to the deer park at Sarnath where Buddha gave his first sermon, and where Xuanzang found 1,500 resident monks.
Travelling eastward, at first via Varanasi, Xuanzang reached Vaisali, Pataliputra (Patna) and Bodh Gaya. He was then accompanied by local monks to Nalanda, the great Buddhist university of Indian state of Bihar, where he spent at least the next two years. He was in the company of several thousand scholar-monks, whom he praised.
Xuanzang studied logic, grammar, Sanskrit, and the Yogacara school of Buddhism during his time at Nalanda. René Grousset notes that it was at Nalanda (where an "azure pool winds around the monasteries, adorned with the full-blown cups of the blue lotus;
the dazzling red flowers of the lovely kanaka hang here and there, and outside groves of mango trees offer the inhabitants their dense and protective shade") that Xuanzang met the Venerable Silabhadra, the monastery's superior. Silabhadra had dreamt of Xuanzang's arrival and that it would help spread far and wide the Holy Law.
Siladhadra was thus in a position to make available to the Sino-Japanese world the entire heritage of Buddhist idealism, and the Siddhi Hiuan Tsang's great philosophical treatise...is none other than the Summa of this doctrine, the fruit of seven centuries of Indian [[[Buddhist]]] thought."
After crossing the Karatoya, he went east to the ancient city of Pragjyotishpur (modern Guwahati) in the kingdom of Kamarupa (modern Assam) at the invitation of its Buddhist king Kumar Bhaskaravarman.
Later, the king escorted Xuanzang back to the Kannauj at the request of king Harshavardhana, who was an ally of Kumar Bhaskaravarman, to attend a great Buddhist council there which was attended by both the kings.
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 seventh day of the first month of 645, and a great procession celebrated his return.
Return to China
During Xuanzang's travels, he studied with many famous Buddhist masters, especially at the famous center of Buddhist learning at Nālanda University. 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.
Xuanzang's logic, as described by Kuiji, was often misunderstood by scholars of Chinese Buddhism because they lack 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.
Autobiography and biography
In 646, under the Emperor's request, Xuanzang completed his book Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (大唐西域記), which has become one of the primary sources for the study of medieval Central Asia and India.
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.
His record of the places visited by him in Bengal — mainly Raktamrittika near Karnasuvarna, Pundranagara and its environs, Samatata and Tamralipti — 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 Gauda kingdom under Shashanka, although at times he can be quite partisan.
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.
One of them, the monkey, was a popular favourite and profoundly influenced Chinese culture and contemporary Japanese manga and anime (including the popular Dragon Ball and Saiyuki series), and became well known in the West by Arthur Waley's translation and later the cult TV series Monkey.