Xuanzang (Hsuan Tsang), who was born in 600 CE in Zhenliu (today called Kaifeng), China, had become one of the most renowned and influential men in Asian history by the time of his death in 664. Despite being expressly forbidden by the Emperor to journey to India, in 629 he risked his life to make a pilgrimage to the homeland of the Buddha, hoping to retrieve and study texts still unknown in China.
The travelogue he composed (at the insistence of the Emperor, who embraced and supported Xuanzang once he triumphantly returned in 645), entitled Record of Western Lands (Xiyuji), continues to offer us an unparalleled account of the geography, life, and customs of seventh century Central Asia and India. Many of his descriptions of locales were so accurate that in the 19th and 20th centuries, Western Explorers such as Ariel Stein used his travelogue as a guidebook to rediscover sites lost for many centuries, and to identify those sites once found.
At the time of Hsuan Tsang's visit Harshvardhana was the ruler of northern India. He was an ardent supporter of Buddhism, as such he accorded Hsuan Tsang a grand welcome. Luckily the third Buddhist Council was also organized at that very time at Prayag by Harsha. Which saw the confluence of many great Buddhist scholars in Prayag, this gave Hsuan Tsang a great opportunity to understand Buddhism and Indian culture. From Prayag he proceeded towards Nalanda University.
Hsuan Tsang spent many years studying with India's most illustrious Buddhist teachers, visiting holy sites, and debating various advocates of Buddhist and non-Buddhist doctrines, and gaining a reputation as a fierce debater. After one series of debates with two Madhymakans (followers of Nagarjuna's teachings), he composed in Sanskrit a three-thousand verse treatise on "The Non-difference of Madhyamaka and Yogacara" which is no longer available. After promising silabhadra, his mentor at Nalanda University (the central seat of Buddhist learning at that time), to introduce Dignaga's logic to China, he returned in 645 with over six hundred Sanskrit texts.
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