Chapter 12 Transformations in Asia, 220-1350 A.D.


In A.D. 629 a 27-year-old Chinese Buddhist monk named Xuanzang set out on an extraordinary journey. Leaving China, he traveled west through the harsh deserts of Central Asia, crossed the towering Hindu Kush mountains into India, and then traveled down the Ganges River to the birthplace of Buddhism, in eastern India. This trek of several thousand miles took Xuanzang four years, but that was only the beginning of his journey. While in India, he visited sacred Buddhist sites throughout the country, then settled down to study Buddhism at the fabled university at Nalanda. Finally, after a 16-year absence from China, he returned home with knowledge that would influence the course of Buddhist learning in China, Korea, and Japan.[1]

            The tale of Xuanzang highlights the power of faith and the human spirit to overcome great challenges. It also reveals the interchange of knowledge and culture between the nations of Asia at a time when Asian civilizations were at a high point. While Europe was still in the Dark Ages, the cultures of China and India were enjoying a golden age of civilization unsurpassed in the world at the time.