From China to India for Enlightenment

I mentioned Hsuan-tsang (Xuanzang) when I wrote about China’s Three “Journeys to the West”. However, in that post I did not go into detail about the real Buddhist monk who made the journey.

While doing some research about his life, I discovered an intellectual discussion at Philosophy and Marxism Today.  If this topic interests you and you want to learn more about Buddhism I recommend reading this conversation between Thomas Riggins and Fred.

Thomas starts with, “I’ll start with background based on Chan’s introductory remarks.

“Hsuan-tsang (596-644) was quite a character. He entered a Buddhist monastery when he was thirteen. Then moved around China studying under different masters. Finally, he went off to India to study Buddhism at its source and with Sanskrit masters.

“He spent over ten years in India, wrote a famous book about his journey, and returned to China with over six hundred original manuscripts.

“He spent the rest of his life with a group of translators rendering seventy five of the most important works into Chinese. All of this work was sponsored by the Emperor of the newly established T’ang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD).”

The book I have on Hsuan-tsang says he lived from 602 to 664 AD.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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6 Responses to From China to India for Enlightenment

  1. […] From China to India for Enlightenment ( […]

  2. merlin says:

    1 thing that I dont like about ancient history. You get the main point, but the facts jump all over the place. I’m assuming you wrote this because of the latest craze of Journey to the West films such as the latest “Odyssey” which gives a nice backstory to the characters. Comic as always, but twists the happy fairy tale into a darker more realistic story. It was great to see Xuanzang as the comedian for awhile, but as always mr Sun takes the center stage. I still like the Sun Wu Kong portrayal in Hollywood’s knockoff labeled “Forbidden Kingdom” which has Jet Li in the shoes of the monkey king. Jet Li’s always portrayed as the serious martial artist, but I think he was good for the part of the comic character. The real reason though wasn’t just an international star in the role, but the fim focused more on the legendary staff that sun wu kong usually wields.

    Journey to the west is a great tale, but I’m still curious on how the writer got the inspiration for the 3 followers of Xuanzang.

    • I read a piece recently in The New York Review of Books on memory that said perception and what actually happens in real time seldom match, and our memory starts editing the actual events as soon as the event is over. This memory process is influenced by individual biases, etc.

      In affect, we remember things the way we want to remember them. It doesn’t matter what actually happened.

      If that’s true, then what we read about history is probably not exactly what happened in real time. For example, did you hear about the discovery of King Richard III’s grave recently? This discovery is already rewriting history. After the English king’s body was dug up and examined, it was discovered that he did not match the historical description and was not as ugly and malformed as his enemies described him after his defeat and execution. Even Shakespeare described this king the way the king’s enemies depicted him. Now, thanks to this discovery, Shakespeare’s play about this king is all wrong.

      It seems that the victors in historical events often change the facts to make the winners look bigger than life while making sure the loser comes out looking ugly and evil, etc.

      I think we see this happening almost every day in the Western media leading me to think maybe we cannot believe anything we hear in the news about China, the Middle East, etc.

      • merlin says:

        true point. It’s funny we dont learn from chinese history. Most historians know that the true facts of empires were exaggerated when in power, while those before were downplayed and even rewritten as a villain.

        i always say look at the story of christianity. Most know the stories, but what few realize are the latest information says maybe we didnt hold congregation in open air, but instead in caves to hide from persecution. Some accounts are claiming that real christians even meditated alongside Jesus. We in the west think of meditation as an eastern method, not a western way of doing things. In my opinion, it sounds similar to buddhists that hide in caves.

        i always think how funny it would be in china if someday workers destroy an old public toilet to build a new metro and discover the real qin dynasty tomb. everyone would say, “oh all the money and effort we spent in xi’an yet all along he was under an old public toilet in jiangxi province.” of course some historians are kicking themselves for not being faster on analysis of history before the dam flooded regions. now that the tomb of the famous warlord Cao cao from the romanticized story of the shortly lived 3 kingdoms dynasty has been discovered, many in sichuan/chongqing are rushing to find Liu Bei’s tomb. Some historians discovered his wife’s tomb before it was flooded by the dam. They noticed underneath her was a stone plaque or something which COULD have been Liu bei buried below, but historians didnt take the time to dig further, and afterwards the area was flooded.

        anyways, in european history we see barbaric races during roman times as evil, but usually we only get the roman version of a story. others may see the barbaric sacking of rome as an achievement of peace because back then rome was a powerful nation conquering tribes, demanding locals pay tax, and enslaving those that didnt. we may see the fall of rome as an unfortunate event, but it was thanks to the fall of rome that we have such a diversified, cultural europe today. I’m sure many would probably hate me for throwing this out there, but maybe if US went the way of Rome, things wont be so bad. Everyone knows how we marched west destroying the native culture.

        Even though in our minds we may see the US as a superior, golden nation; look at what our big business does to our way of life. It unifies, modernizes, and spreads like tentacles across the globe. It destroys culture and history. In China, they’ll steamroll a historic site in the name of a shopping mall. Of course in US, we’d do it for a Mcdonalds. One girl I really liked over the course of 2 years I’ve known her online, she is from a lesser known city in Yunnan. Her roots are Miao, and I always enjoy seeing her dressed in her cultural dress when she worked at a hotel in guilin. Her postcards on my birthday last year inspired me to go back to China. When I came back, one of the first places I visited was Guilin. Seeing her in person she was beautiful although there are better women in appearance. She had a great personality and similar ideals as I did. Unfortunately, she didnt like the Miao hat her boss at the hotel made her wear because he wanted to use her roots as added flair for marketing the 5 star hotel. I really thought she was beautiful in the dress. Even though things were really on the way up with numerous phone messages of adult nature after I had left, about a month after she said lets stop and she claimed fault. Ever since, not a day goes by without dreaming of holding her again in that beautiful red cultural dress. In HK while waiting for the visa staff to return from lunch, I took a stroll through an art/culture shop. They had ivory sculptures worth hundreds of thousands of hkd. They had a lifesize buddha statue made entirely of glass. What caught my eye was a simple painting of a miao girl for a weak 15,000 hkd. Unfortunately, all I could see was my future self returning to buy it to hang in my home to remember the girl I loved long ago.

      • There are two kinds of truth. There is “historical truth” and then there is “narrative truth” and narrative truth is usually based on false memories. On the other hand, “historical truth” is mostly based on as many facts as a “real” historian may find during his or her research of a subject in the past.

        Then of course there is the altered truth of historical facts that historians rely on.

        J. H. Elliott, one of the world’s leading historians (his most recent book is History in the Making), says, “Every national community believes itself to be exceptional and will construct a semi-mythical history to buttress its own self-image, whether that be chosen nation, as in Britain and the US, or innocent victim, as in Serbia and Catalonia.

        For example, China has been a victim of this way of thinking in Britain and the U.S. since the 19th century. Sterling Seagrave, while writing Dragon Lady, the Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China, discovered that most of China’s 19th century history as it is written in the West was and still is mostly based on lies written by London Times reporters working in China at the time. What they wrote is still quoted in Western history texts and even in Chinese history texts. In the United States, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 shows how most white Americans despised Chinese workers, who worked harder, longer hours for less angering white workers. Congress passed the exclusion act to placate worker demands and assuage prevalent concerns about maintaining white racial purity, but Chinese made up only .002 percent of the population of the US then.

        To discover and/or avoid as much as possible the altered facts of history, J. H. Elliott is known for focusing on the interactions between the populations of national groups to track the flow of history and he mines as many sources as possible at that level in addition to what was written by the victors and/or leaders, etc.

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