Xuan Zang the Pilgrim
A Buddhist monk in the early Tang Dynasty, Xuan Zang is primarily known for the pilgrimage he made to India, to bring back those Buddhist scriptures that China lacked for the proper study of Buddhism.
Xuan Zang started his journey in the fall of 627, together with two monks and a caravan of merchants. After they made it to Yumen Pass, Gansu, the two companions left him for fear of more perils ahead of them. Xuan Zang was caught trying to cross the border without proper papers. But the governor was so impressed by Xuan Zang's devotion when he discovered what his pilgrimage was all about, that he helped him to pass through.
What was awaiting Xuan Zang was the vast expanse of the Gobi desert beyond Yumen Pass. It was a land forbidden to life, with scorching hot waves by day and the freezing winds blowing at night. Animals were barely to be seen, and still less, any signs of human habitation. Nothing but occasional trails of animal and human bones told of failed attempts to make the crossing, and waming of dangers still to come.
Not wavering, Xuan Zang walked for over half a month and traversed the desert, entering Gaochang (northwest of Turfan, Xinjiang). Leaving Gaochang, Xuan Zang walked for another year and finally arrived in India.
While in India, Xuan Zang spent years studying Buddhism in Nalanda Sangharama of Bihar, before he traveled elsewhere to talk with Buddhist masters. By the time he left India, he was already a celebrated Buddhist scholar.
In early 646, 18 years after he had started his journey, Xuan Zang returned to Chang'an with over 650 volumes of Buddhist scriptures he had selected. Monks and laymen alike all took to the streets to welcome his arrival. When Emperor Taizong learnt of his story in Luoyang, he sent his Prime Minister to bring him, so he could tell of what he had been through.
The emperor was interested in the mission that Xuan Zang had devoted himself to. He made arrangements for Xuan Zang to start to translate the scriptures he had brought back in a temple near Chang'an. Xuan Zang and his colleagues worked for 19 years and translated the Buddhist scriptures, 13 million characters long, into Chinese.
In 664 Xuan Zang died in the temple where he had worked. Besides the Buddhist scriptures that have survived in Chinese due to his commitment and devoted work, Xuan Zang coauthored Nations to the West of the Tang Dynasty. In this traveler's journal Xuan Zang told of the over one hundred states he had visited in the so-called Western Territory, and about the peoples and their lives. The book has been translated into many languages.