Stories From Ancient China: Monk Xuan Zang’s Search for Buddhist Scriptures

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Monk Xuan Zang was from Yanshi County. [Translator’s note: He is recognised in China as the main character from the classical Chinese novel, The Journey to the West] Before he became a monk, his family name was Chen. He was clever and intelligent, and had moral integrity and high aspirations since childhood. In the early Wude years of Emperor Tang Gaozu, he went on a pilgrimage to obtain Buddhist scriptures from the West (today’s India). While passing through the Jibin Kingdom, he found it difficult, as the road was very dangerous and steep, and tigers and leopards were often seen prowling about. Xuan Zang didn’t know if this was to test him so he simply locked the door and sat outside to meditate. When he unlocked the door at night, he found, to his surprise, an old monk sitting inside on the bed. Nobody knew when and how the monk had managed to enter the room. Xuan Zang hurriedly saluted and greeted the old monk. Xuan Zang then beseeched him for advice on how to get past the dangerous areas so he could continue the pilgrimage to the West. The old monk was moved by his good faith. He verbally taught Xuan Zang a volume of The Duoxin Scripture and asked him to repeat it once. As soon as Xuan Zang finished reciting it, the mountains and rivers became plains, and the road widened. The tigers and leopards all hid, and even demons disappeared. So Xuan Zang safely arrived at the Buddhist holy land, the Tianzhu Kingdom, and found more than 600 Buddhist scriptures to take back. He had been reciting that Duoxin Scripture.

Before Xuan Zang left for the West, he came up to a pine tree at Lingyan temple. Standing in the courtyard, he stroked the pine branches, saying, “I’m going on a pilgrimage for Buddhist scriptures in the Western paradise, so you can grow toward the west. When I head back, you should turn and grow toward the east so my disciples will know I’m returning.” After Xuan Zang left for the west, the pine branches really grew toward the west as expected, dozens of feet, year after year. Then one year, the pine branches suddenly turned and pointed to the east. Xuan Zang’s disciples said, “Master is coming back!” and they went forward to greet him. Xuan Zang really did return from the Buddhist kingdom as expected, with the Buddhist scriptures. Later, people called this pine tree the “Head-Stroking Tree.”

Source: Tai Ping Guang Ji

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