A Buddhist Story: After Xuan Zhuang Returned with the Scripture from the West

Xinwen Lu

PureInsight | December 3, 2006

[PureInsight.org] The famous classic Journey to the West artistically
recounted Xuan Zhuang's experience of going to Tian Zhu to fetch the
Buddhist scriptures despite hardships. Well, what did he do after he
received the true scriptures and returned to China? Here are summaries
of some stories from historical records about Xuan Zhuang after his
return to the country to satisfy our readers' curiosity.


It took Xuan Zhuang a full two years to return to China, and when he
returned to his homeland he had been away for almost two decades. It
was exactly January 24th, the 19th year of the Zhen Guan
period of the Tang Dynasty. On that day people crowded into the western
suburb of the capital and several hundred thousand monks and citizens
gathered to welcome Xuan Zhuang who had come back from the west with
the scriptures. On the next day, Xuan Zhuang sent the scriptures and
Buddha statues he had brought back to the Hong Fu temple. At that
moment, around the bright sun in the sky appeared colorful clouds and
the Buddha statues radiated out a wheel-like light mixed with red and
white colors. The crowd uttered unceasing sighs of admiration. Because
of Xuan Zhuang's return, ten thousand people in the capital took a
break from work and many people got converted to Buddhism. The grand
welcome ceremony for Xuan Zhuang can be called a rare event in history.

When Xuan Zhuang returned to Chang An, Tang Tai Zong (an Emperor of
Tang dynasty) was in Luo Yang and ready to go out to battle. So, Xuan
Zhuang went to Luo Yang to visit Tai Zong and presented various
treasures he had brought back to the Emperor. They talked in the palace
until the drums of departure were beaten. Tang Tai Zong ordered Fang
Xuan Ling to arrange people to protect Xuan Zhuang and provide him with
all his expenses. Later on, Xuan Zhuang requested to select capable
people to translate the scriptures together with him and Tai Zong
agreed. Therefore, Xuan Zhuang was actively engaged in translating the
Buddha scriptures and spreading the Buddha Fa after he came back, and
became one of four great translators of Buddhist scripture.

When Tang Tai Zong returned to Chang An, the capital, from suppressing
some traitors, Xuan Zhuang requested the Emperor to write a preface for
the Buddhist scripture he had translated. He said, "Your majesty's
wisdom is as great as white clouds covering the sun and your fame
exceeds hundreds of kings. I think that the Buddha Fa is boundless, so
a person without divine thoughts won't be able to explain its
principles. The sacred teaching comes from profound and remote sources,
so only a saint's words are worthy of writing a preface for it.
Therefore, I dare to violate your sanctity and ask you to write the
preface for the sacred scriptures. The words of an Emperor have
profound significance, so please do not be modest about this anymore."

To meet Xuan Zhuang's repeated request, Tai Zong wrote the famous
"Preface for Great Tang's Sacred Teaching of Three Treasuries." When
they learned of this, all the officials offered their praise and, ever
since then, officials in the royal court started to read the Buddhist
scriptures and the Buddha's Fa received unprecedented promotion.

Later on, to satisfy Tang Tai Zong's request, Xuan Zhuang also
completed the widely-known book "The Western Region of the Great Tang,"
in which he described customs, cultures, geographies, histories,
religions, etc. of one hundred and ten countries he personally traveled
to and twenty-eight countries he heard about. His stories are vivid and
truthful, the language is rich, beautiful and elegant, and the book can
be counted as a masterpiece among the ancient books of our country.
Later on it was translated into many languages and spread widely.

Since Xuan Zhuang entered the gate of Buddhism, he always wanted to be
able to ascend to Mi Le's heavenly kingdom. In 664, the first year of
the Lin De (Tang Gao Zong) period, Xuan Zhuang told the monks who
translated the scriptures with him and his disciples: "I will surely
die when I am 65 years old. If anyone has questions, please hurry and

Whoever heard this would ask in surprise: "Why do you say this before
reaching seventy, eighty or ninety years old?" Xuan Zhuang would
answer: "I know this myself." He then went to say farewell in front of
the Buddha's statue. When some monks wanted to leave, Xuan Zhuang would
say: "You can go. I am saying good-bye to you now. You do not need to
come to see me any more and you won't see me even if you come."

On January 9th, Xuan Zhuang told the monks in the temple: "I
am going to die. After I die, please bury my body in a quiet place near
the temple." As he finished saying this, Xuan Zhuang lay down and
closed his eyes. He saw a big lotus flower and a giant image of
himself. He was deeply aware that the moment he would ascend to the
heavenly kingdom was coming. Xuan Zhuang gathered all the monks in the
temple and said farewell to all of them once again. He also left a
memorial to the Emperor and then recited Mi Le's name silently.

On the day of February 4th, Xuan Zhuang quietly lay down
without moving on his side with his right hand supporting his head. The
monks asked: "What posture is this?" Xuan Zhuang replied: "Do not ask.
It will interfere with my righteous thoughts." At the midnight of the
5th, some disciples asked: "Are you surely going to the heavenly
kingdom of Mi Le?" Xuan Zhuang replied: "For sure." Then he stopped
breathing. Two months after Xuan Zhuang died, the color and shape of
his body was the same as when he was alivel.

Xuan Zhuang was initially buried on the White Deer plain. Later on, the
Emperor issued an edict to relocate his grave to Fan Zhou. When Xuan
Zhuang's body was carried out from underneath the earth, his body was
the same color as when he was alive. The crowd called it a curious
spectacle and realized that Xuan Zhuang was indeed an unusual superior
monk who had attained the Dao.


Xuan Zhuang put down concerns about life and death, went through great
hardships to fetch Buddhist scripture from Tian Zhu, and thus added
another brilliant stroke to the rich semi-divine culture of the Chinese
civilization. The cultural relics he left for later generations have
written a brilliant page in the history of Chinese civilization.

Translated from: http://www.zhengjian.org/zj/articles/2006/11/22/41056.html

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