Hiuen Tsang [618-907]

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : May 27, 2022, 4:43

Hiuen Tsang was a Buddhist monk from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), renowned for his efforts to revive Buddhism in his native Tibet during the Yuan Dynasty. He made an epic pilgrimage to India in search of Buddhist scriptures lost to China and met with and learned from other Buddhist masters. Hiuen Tsang is well known for his highly detailed notes about his visit to India and about Buddhism as practised then.

Life of Hiuen Tsang

Hiuen Tsang was born to a Buddhist family in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). His father was a government official, while his mother worked as a matchmaker. In the year 629 CE, when Hiuen Tsang was 15 years old, one of Hiuen Tsang's friends persuaded him to become a Buddhist monk at the Shaolin Temple in collin county, China.

Hiuen Tsang set off for India on foot, accompanied by five other monks. His journey took him through the snow-clad edges of the Himalayas and past imposing mountain ranges amidst heat and dust and through jungles filled with wild animals.

He spent many years in India. and visited many temples, noting down all that saw and learned from the monks there.

Hiuen Tsang's mission

Hiuen Tsang wanted to revive Buddhism in China. The journey took some time and cost him many hardships. Before setting off, he buried a wax cylinder in which he had placed a written account of his mission and some gifts for the Emperor Taizong of Tang.

He also wished to gain knowledge and practice from other Buddhist masters.

There are two accounts of Hiuen Tsang's return to the scriptures. The first is that he brought back those texts which have been mentioned above ("Presentation of Buddha's Treasure" and "Meeting with the Buddhas"). The second is that he brought back the "Blue Annals" as well as other texts.

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How did these scriptures come to be in China?

The story of these scriptures' discovery is quite interesting and heart-warming. Hiuen Tsang's mission to India had been in vain, but he met a pious trader called Pan Ch'ao who offered to bring back the two scrolls mentioned above (Presentation of Buddha's Treasure and Meeting with the Buddhas) in favour of gaining a large sum of money.

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Story of Hiuen Tsang

The story of Hiuen Tsang is one of a man who was able to make a difference in life through his actions and dedication to something he believed in. Hiuen Tsang went on an epic journey to recover lost Buddhist texts; this alone speaks volumes about his character and willpower and what he felt were the right steps to take for him to reach enlightenment.

Although Hiuen Tsang did bring back some scriptures, not all of them survived. In the end, however, China was able to benefit from Hiuen Tsang's experience and his mission to revive Buddhism.

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FAQs on Hiuen Tsang

Q1. What is the connection between Hiuen Tsang and Xuan Zang?

Although Xuan Zang lived long before Hiuen Tsang, they shared the same purpose of finding Buddhist texts in India. Hiuen Tsang's visit to India was during the Yuan Dynasty. Chinese influence in that region had grown bigger due to the maritime and mercantile expansion of the thirteenth century.

Q2. Why did Hiuen Tsang leave his home?

Hiuen Tsang embarked on a journey to find and bring back Buddhist texts which had been lost to China. He also wished to meet with, learn from, and general practice with other Buddhist masters.

Q3. When did Hiuen Tsang return?

Hiuen Tsang returned in 645 CE, to Chang'an, the Tang capital, after 16 years.

Q4. Did Hiuen Tsang succeed in his mission to revive Buddhism? How so?

Hiuen Tsang's mission to revive Buddhism failed on multiple accounts. The most significant one is that it proved counterproductive to the Buddhist faith, and thus had no impact whatsoever. Yet, Hiuen Tsang was able to bring back some texts which have survived until today.