Many people are familiar with the fascinating stories of the Monkey King. However, Xuan Zang (602 – 664 AD), whose story became the prototype for the novel Journey to the West, actually traveled alone to India seeking the Buddha’s teachings. He experienced tremendous hardship on a trip that took him 19 years across tens of thousands of miles. He was welcomed with great fanfare by everyone when he returned.
According to historical records, “Both monks and ordinary people rushed to welcome him. Even the marketplaces closed to celebrate this event.” Xuan Zang spent another 19 years translating the Buddhist scriptures into Chinese so the public could read them. The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an was built according to Xuan Zang’s knowledge of ancient Buddhist pagodas in India.
Two of his disciples recounted Xuan Zang’s personal experiences in a biography. It is a precious piece of historical text. What follows is one of his adventures on his way to India recorded in the book.
When Xuan Zang arrived in central India, he traveled with a group of over 80 locals on a boat across the Ganges River to the country of Ayamukha. In the middle of the trip, dozens of ships with robbers appeared from the trees lining the riverbank. Chaos broke out among the passengers on the boat and some even jumped into the river to escape.
Xuan Zang encountered many robbers on the trip and he successfully persuaded most of them to not commit crimes. But this gang of bandits was especially ruthless. Not only did they want the wealth, they also wanted a handsome man to sacrifice to their goddess.
They immediately took a liking to Xuan Zang. The bandits shouted, “It must be great luck that we have such a handsome monk as sacrifice!” Both Xuan Zang and the local residents who traveled with him tried to stop the robbers, but they would not listen. They were all taken away.
The bandits repaired the altar. Two men forced Xuan Zang on to the altar. Since the situation seemed hopeless, Xuan Zang asked the robbers to give him some time to reach nirvana himself.
Moved by Xuan Zang’s calmness and dignity, the robbers backed off. Xuan Zang sincerely recited Buddha scripture, wishing to cultivate again after reincarnation, as well as to be given the opportunity to save these robbers who killed him.
Perhaps the compassion of Xuan Zang moved the heavenly beings. The weather suddenly changed. The sky darkened, a strong wind blew up, and the robbers’ boat was nearly overturned.
Shocked by the change, the robbers knelt down and asked local residents who Xuan Zang was. After learning that he had traveled a long distance from the Han region to India for the Buddha’s teachings, the robbers kowtowed to him and apologized. At this time, while sitting in meditation, Xuan Zang let go of life and death, and reached a higher plane in cultivation.
The wind and waves gradually subsided. The bandits touched Xuan Zang and he came out of meditation. “Is it time?” He asked thinking that it was time for the sacrifice.
The robbers were thrilled that Xuan Zang was still alive. They immediately confessed and repented in front of him. Xuan Zang explained the principles of the Buddha School and asked them to trade short-term gain for endless evil retribution. The robbers not only agreed and abandoned the evil sect they followed, but also began to follow the Buddha School principles and became good people. Whenever they met people, they praised Xuan Zang’s dignity and their own happiness for obtaining salvation.
Was the sudden change in weather a coincidence? It is too much to be called a coincidence. The fury from the heavens was a warning to the evil bandits. They robbed and killed people. They have already committed deep sins. Killing a cultivator is the worst kind of sin that would accumulate vast amounts of karma. It is good that they were only temporarily misguided. Their original characteristics are still good, and they were able to reverse course from the teachings of Buddhism.