Xuanzang: A Buddhist Pilgrim on the Silk Road

Xuanzang: A Buddhist Pilgrim on the Silk Road

Xuanzang: A Buddhist Pilgrim on the Silk Road

Xuanzang: A Buddhist Pilgrim on the Silk Road

Synopsis

Sally Hovey Wriggins retells the story of Xuanzang, the 7th century Chinese monk who completed an epic 16-year journey to discover the heart of Buddhism at its source in India.

Excerpt

The story of the seventh-century Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang (in older writings spelled Hsuan-tsang, Yuan Chwang, Hiuen Tsiang, and other ways), who made a sixteen-year pilgrimage to the India of the great King Harsha in order to learn about Buddhist teachings at the source, is one of the great sagas in human history. It illuminates a phase of cultural interchange that had the most profound effect on the maturing of Chinese civilization. It is also a chapter in the larger history of Mahayana Buddhism, depicting its transmission via China through East and Inner Asia. Most immediately, as we encounter Xuanzang here, we learn about Buddhist belief and its concrete expression in the lives of this monk-pilgrim and the people he encountered in China and along the way in Central Asia and India. As such, it is a warmly human account of a remarkable personality, brought to life with sympathy and narrative skill. Xuanzang's story touches the reader, as it has touched the life of the author, Sally Hovey Wriggins, a person who, although not committed to Buddhist belief in any specific sense, nonetheless has been deeply stirred to understand the inescapable attraction of this great personality. All this is deftly and memorably communicated to the reader; the book is an important achievement.

Several aspects of Wriggins's technique in writing this book deserve special mention. One is that she has assembled a striking portfolio of illustrations, ranging from photos taken on the ground by herself and others to maps and photos of major works of art and architecture, all linked directly to her narrative. Another is her imaginative use of observations on the scenes in China, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and India as she followed the route of Xuanzang's travels; by describing for the reader the features of the life and of the physical setting that made the most vivid impressions on her, she re-creates what Xuanzang had seen in those places fourteen hundred years ago. Often they are seemingly insignificant vignettes of ordinary life. She uses them to remind the reader of the human dimensions of her subject's truly heroic undertaking.

As she takes the reader into that intimate encounter with the setting, she also has drawn very intelligently on the relevant secondary scholarship, thus introducing the reader to the state of the field and to . . .

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