XUANZANG AND THE BIG WILD
GOOSE PAGODA
X'IAN, CHINA
The Emperor Ch’in had only disdain for religion, and so it is ironic
that centuries after his passing, X’ian was the site of a national
drama which would infuse China with a religion which today
constitutes its major faith. In the 800 years after Ch’in, his capital,
became larger than Rome at its height, populated with 2 million
Chinese, 5,000  foreigners, and the exuberance of an
“international” city.  

It was the launching pad, and the receiving station for trade
between China and Europe.  Along the Silk Road ideas flowed in
equal portions to goods and minds, and the minds of the Chinese
and Westerners clothed with new thoughts, turned out changing
styles and fashions as the centuries passed.

Of all the belief systems of man and his relationship with his
universe, none was more influential among the Chinese than
Buddhism.

Guatama's ideas arrived in China from India about the first
century A.D. and found a well prepared audience, for both Taoists
and Buddhists believed that at the heart of reality is emptiness.  
What you see around you is not what you get; it is an illusion.

Can you buy happiness? Better to seek the mind set of
acceptance of a state of life and construct a new, passive state of
being.  Want nothing. They would have reversed the saying, “no
pain-no gain” and chanted “no desire for gain….no pain”.  

Take leave of your senses a Buddhist might say and find a state
far removed from the harsh realities of life; meditate; ruminate;
find a little hiding place in the mind and float  on the ebbs and
flows of a make-believe world.

Like Taoists, Buddhists did not believe in a creator. Buddha was
neither God nor God’s messenger.  He was an Indian prince who
left his sheltered, royal position to determine why, in the world of
ordinary people, there was so much suffering.

He determined that a better path to achieve the state of Nirvana --
a state of liberation and freedom from suffering -- was to pursue a
life of  moderation and meditation.

Buddhism found an easy link with the Tao and its constructs with
nature.  Today, the two belief systems, along with concentrations
of Muslims, Christians and Confucian thinkers constitute what
would pass for a religious/moral dynamic in China.  But of them
all, it is the figure of the Buddha that most fully captures the
Chinese spiritual sense of accepting life.

Although there are many similarities between Buddhism and
Taoism, there are some fundamental differences. Buddhists
believe the world we experience is not real and that even Nature is
an illusion. Taoists not only believe the world is real, but also
consider Nature the ultimate reality.

Many Buddhists also believe in reincarnation, whereas Taoists do
not claim any knowledge of what happens after death. A Taoist
simply trusts Nature in death as they did in life.

Today, if you ask 100 experts on Buddhism to explain its
foundation beliefs and its current expressions, you are going to
get a variety of answers.  

So it was in the time of Xuanzang, (SHU-AN  ZANG).   A Buddhist
living in X’ian in the early 7th century AD, he was raised and
educated in the thoughts of Confucius;  nonetheless, Xuanzang
found himself looking for more certainty about life, death and the
world around him.  

Irritated that there was no authentic source of Buddhist beliefs in
China (much like Christians not having a New Testament to read),
he decided to travel to India to look at and gather original texts to
bring back to China.
Perhaps the single most dramatic sculpture I saw while in China
was in the Big Goose Buddhist Temple wherein the interior
walls held a jade sculpture about 4 feet high.  The color,
craftsmanship and story line was just beautifully portrayed, and
it was the true words of this Buddha child, once grown, that
Xuanzang set out to capture.
At age 27, in 629 A.D., Xangzang violated the orders of the
T’ang Emperor, T’ai-zong, and left China to travel into the
western territories. His exploration was not unlike the
Americans, Lewis and Clark, whose journey took them to
places unknown, to studies unseen, and to adventures
thankfully recorded.  

But Xangzang (Shu-an Zang) traveled further, longer and
with more narrow escapes.  For 16 years, he wandered to
and through India where he studied, conversed and gathered
Buddhist texts and affirmations of Buddhist thought.

When he returned to X’ian in 645 the emperor Tai-zong ( 626-
649 A.D.) was away on a military expedition, so high officials
met Xangzang and guided him into the capital as a  
procession of monks carried his 657 books, gold and
sandalwood images, and relics through the city. The streets
were filled with vast crowds welcoming him home.

Subsequently he went to Luoyang where the Emperor asked
about the rulers, climate, customs, products and histories of
the countries he had visited. The emperor suggested that he
write a book about the Western Regions.  Xuanzang
completed the work in 646 AD. By the 10th century, his
accounts had developed into a powerful national epic finally
published in the 16th century with the title, “Journey to the
West”.  

His image was painted in temple wall decorations throughout
China and became the subject of popular block prints,
puppet shows and community “theatre”.  Even today,
Xuanzang remains a well-known folk hero in contemporary
China and in parts of East Asia.

The Big Wild Goose Pagoda was built in 652 AD during the
T’ang Dynasty. It housed his Buddhist texts, honored his
person, and celebrated Shu-an Zang’s accomplishments.  
Damaged by time and earthquake, the building needed repair,
and the Emperess Wu rebuilt it in 704 adding an additional
five floors.  

During the Ming Dynasty, a terrible earthquake in 1556
damaged the Pagoda again and left it with its current seven
floors which lean perceptively to the west.  It is now
monument to a Buddhist Temple and a marker for both
ancient accomplishment and contemporary exploration.

It's name derives from an event the monks relate.  Long ago,
hungry, they prayed to Buddha for food; a big, wild goose
flying overhead, dropped dead out of the sky.  So impressed
were the monks with Buddha's generosity, they refused to
eat the bird.
 

When one approaches it, one wants to remember Shu-an
Zang’s journey and his courage, his curiosity and belief, and
his personal conveyance of Buddha to China.

For a detailed account of Xuanzang's adventures, which
certainly rival Marco Polo’s, CLICK HERE:
Every color is natural jade.  The luminosity of the
panels was amazing.  The story is clearly told:
young boy, wealthy, looked after by wealthy
parents; sheltered from the world of poverty and
suffering, he is ignorant of the human condition.  
He finally sees the world, cuts himself off from his
family and wealth, meditates and finally concludes
a process by which individuals can find peace on
earth and anticipate it after death.
XUANZANG
(SHU-AN ZANG)
PEACE
BIG GOOSE PAGODA AND BUDDHIST TEMPLE
X'IAN
IT IS GOOD LUCK TO RUB THE BUDDHA'S BELLY.  
NEXT, WE NEED TO CHECK OUR "YEAR".
COMPARE SIZE OF WALL JADE WORK TO THE CEILING TO
GET SOME IDEA OF HOW LARGE THESE JADE PANELS
ARE.  INCREDIBLE !