History of Buddhism
Xuanzang: A Buddhist Pilgrim on the Silk Road
Edward H. Kaplan
04/07/2011 23:48 (GMT+7)
Font size:  Zoom out Zoom in

Xuanzang: A Buddhist Pilgrim on the Silk Road. By Sally Hovey Wriggins. (Boulder: Westview Press, 1996. Pp. xxiv, 263. $32.50.) Ancient and medieval China produced at least three great explorers who are comparable to Ibn Batuta and Marco Polo: Zhang Qian (second century B.C.), and the Buddhist monks Fa Man (fifth century A.D.) and Xuanzang (seventh century A.D.). Of the five, perhaps the greatest, and certainly the one with the deepest influence on his own and related civilizations, was Xuanzang.

Xuanzang (Hsuan Tsang in the Wade-Giles transliteration) traveled through Central and South Asia (ca. 629-645 A.D.) collecting copies of the most important Buddhist theological works and studying with the most important authorities on the major Buddhist schools of thought. He became a recognized authority on Mahayana Buddhist idealist philosophy both In India and in China after his return. Once back in China he also wrote a book for the Chinese emperor describing the secular aspects--cultural and political--of the places that he had visited. This aided the Tang Dynasty in maintaining the dominant position in Central Asia that it had recently carved out.

 The book that was written for the emperor and a biography of Xuanzang, written by a colleague during his lifetime, are still extant, as are many of the holy texts translated by Xuanzang. They still provide information on the history and culture of India, Afghanistan, and Central Asia to historians, anthropologists, and even archaeologists (who carry Xuanzang to their digs much as Schliemann carried Homer, and to even greater effect). Throughout the millennium and a third since Xuanzang and his colleague laid down their writing brushes, writers, both religious and secular, have repeatedly translated or retold their complex tale of salvation and earthly history. So intrinsically vivid is the material that Xuanzang has provided, that the best of such works inevitably combine high popularization with synthesis of the most important works of technical scholarship.

Sally Hovey Wriggins's Xuanzang: A Buddhist Pilgrim on the Silk Road will fulfill the role of the standard high popularization, which has been played for readers of English since the translation in 1971 of Rene Grousset's In the Footsteps of the Buddha, which first appeared in French in 1929. Like Grousset, Wriggins approaches both Buddhism and its several Asian homelands as a sympathetic, but non-Buddhist, outsider. Her account is in some ways superior to that of Grousset, because it synthesizes the scholarly works on both the historical and anthropological-archaeological sides that have appeared since that time. Wriggins also provides detailed, but unobtrusive, endnotes, a bibliography, glossary, index, and a rich supply of illustrations. Like Grousset, Wriggins places her illustrations (except, because of technical reasons, the color plates, which are grouped together) within a page of the narratives that each illustrates.

All college and university libraries, and many public libraries, will want to obtain this work, which is destined largely to replace Grousset's earlier study.

 Go back      Go top        Print view       Send to frinend        Send opinion
Xuân Nhâm Thìn
» Audio
» Photo gallery
» Buddhism Dictionary
» Lunar calendar