Wild Goose Pagoda

Answering your fate you sought our land,
the path you came like walking in a dream.”

Qian Qi, “Sending Off a Monk on His Return to Japan”

Much has happened since I’ve had time and an internet connection to add to the blog. We made it to Xian after an interesting trip on a overnight train from Beijing. We got on the train at about 10pm and awoke to a very different countryside about 8 hours later. The train was surprisingly comfortable though of course a bit cramped. Xian is one of the big tourist stops in China due to its long history and prominence as the capital of several major dynasties. It is best known for the world-famous tomb of the “First Emperor” and his army of terracotta warriors (more on this later).

However, for me the highlight of my time in Xian was a visit to the Wild Goose Pagoda (see below), originally built in 652 CE in honor of the famous Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang.

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Xuanzang (602-664 CE) has always been of great interest to me. A Buddhist monk, Xuanzang had been disturbed by the discrepancies in Buddhist teachings in China in his day. Lacking any definitive Buddhist texts to solve these discrepancies, Xuanzang proposed to the emperor that he travel to India, the cradle of Buddhism, in search of authoritative teachings and texts. The Tang emperor at first forbade this pilgrimage but Xuanzang went anyway. Thus began Xuanzang’s 16 year pilgrimage in search of the truth of Buddhism. Thankfully, an account of his journey was written down and can be read today.

By all accounts, Xuanzang’s pilgrimage was successful as he visited the great Buddhist university at Nalanda (later tragically destroyed by invaders) and many other Buddhist pilgrimage sites. Upon his return, Xuanzang brought with him a treasure trove of Buddhist statues, relics, and, most importantly, texts. He was greeted with honor and offered a position as an abbot and translator of texts. He had with him a large group of scholars who undertook a huge translation project on some 650 Sanskrit texts.

Why my fascination with Xuanzang? Well, his desire to search for the truth at the source of his faith is something I really identify with. Clearly Xuanzang possessed the spirit of a seeker and traveller and felt the call of far-off lands. This is what draws me to places like India and China as well. As Qian Qi says in the poem quoted above, “Answering your fate you sought our land.” I think my fate has been to seek out spiritual truth in India and China. Have I found it? Perhaps, but it requires much pondering and meditation to sort out my experiences and thoughts. Right now, it truly is like “walking in a dream.”

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