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Retracing history, Chinese monks to travel to Nalanda

By Anil K Joseph in Beijing
July 20, 2006 11:43 IST
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Tracing the footsteps of a famous Tang dynasty monk who undertook an arduous journey to Nalanda 1,300 years ago, two Chinese Buddhist monks have set out for the ancient seat of learning.

The visit of the two monks -- Mingxian from Donglin Temple in east China's Jiangxi Province and Monk Huizai from Taiwan is taking place as the two neighbouring nations are marking 2006 as the 'India-China Friendship Year'.

However, unlike Xuanzang (602-664), an eminent monk of Tang Dynasty who made the trip totally on foot to seek the Sutra from the birthplace of Buddhism, the two monks will go both on foot and by the modern alternatives of railway, bus and even air.

The more efficient choices will shorten the 25,000-km journey, which Xuanzang took 17 years to complete to only four months.

A special Buddhism ritual was convened on Wednesday in Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province, to mark the start of their journey. About 7,000 Buddhist believers prayed for the two monks at the ceremony, Xinhua news agency reported.

After the ritual, the two monks, who were heaped with blessings from 108 eminent monks from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, left Guangzhou by train for Xi'an in northwestern Shaanxi Province, the place where Xuanzang set off.

"In preparing for deserts and high mountains that we might cross on the journey, we have had received one month's special physical training for outdoor subsistence," Monk Mingxian said.

However, they will not have much solitude when they make the journey as their trip will be fully televised and they will even write blogs on the trip.

They will travel through Pakistan and Nepal and are expected to arrive at Nalanda, the ancient centre of Buddhist learning, in mid-November.

In addition to religious studies in Nalanda during their stay, the two monks will present a handwritten sutra by famous Chinese calligraphers to the Indian temple.

"The trip is of great significance in religious and cultural exchanges between the two nations,"  Mingxian said.

Xuanzang's pilgrimage to India, which was full of trials and tribulations, has become known to more people of coming generations in China largely through the classical fiction Journey to the west, commonly known to western readers as Monkey King. Written by Wu Cheng'en (1510-1582), it is one of the four Chinese literary classics.

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Anil K Joseph in Beijing
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