Buddha whos birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and passing away is celebrated across India, China and South East Asia today as Buddha Purnima or Vesākha or Fódàn, inspired two major Chinese monks to travel from China to India in search of Buddhism and original Buddhist texts. It is these initial and grueling journey’s that have interlocked Indian and Chinese history, culture and people for decades to follow. Their journey’s inspired epics, created milestones during the silk route, altered the fabric of Chinese and India society and have inspired generations of travelers. The two travelers are –
Fa Xian (Fa Hsien), 399-414 CE: a Chinese Buddhist monk who traveled west to find more accurate Buddhist texts, eventually arriving in India. Along the way he recorded much of what he saw in one of the first written accounts of the people’s and places along the Silk Road.
Xuanzang (Hsuan Tsang), 629-645 CE: perhaps the most famous Chinese traveler of the Silk Road. Xuanzang, like Fa Xian, was a Buddhist monk in search of the true texts of Buddhism. Xuanzang left Chang’an (present-day Xi’an)
around 629 C.E. in search of a greater understanding of Buddhist religious texts that had been brought to China from Tibet and India centuries earlier. Xuanzang’s quest took him to the Buddhist center of Dunhuang in western China, across the Takla Makan Desert to the great Central Asian cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, and then through present-day Pakistan to the source of Buddhism in India. In India he studied the most difficult Buddhist texts, which he translated into Chinese and brought back to Chang’an around 645. On his return, he persuaded Chinese elites to embrace Buddhism. His adventures were later recorded and became a basic document of Chinese foreign policy for many centuries to come. Later his story became the basis for one of the four most famous Chinese novels, Journey to the West.