Before this assignment I never knew anything about Asian history until I got to this class and received this assignment. I can’t believe how much Asian history influenced the way we as Americans look at history now. In Steward Gordon’s When Asia Was The World, I found the story of Xuanzang very interesting. Xuanzang was a Buddhist monk who traveled all over to learn more about Buddhism until he became confused and decided to go to the center of Buddhism, along the way he faced many difficulties, he decided to go back to China and share what he had learned.
Buddhism began in India; it was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, a prince, born in Nepal. Siddhartha Gautama wandered around for awhile acting like a beggar to figure out why it was that people suffered that is when he became enlightened. At that moment is when he became Buddha or the enlightened one as people called him (Murphey 29). Not too long after that he did his first sermon where he had his first set of followers which will turn into 300, 00 in present day. Buddhism started out as a minority religion then transformed into a mass religion that spread from India to all the way to Southeast Asia, China, Korea and Japan (Murphey 29).
However Buddhism did not spread beyond northern India. In Ceylon Buddhism was accepted and still being practiced today. They made sculptures and buildings, including statues of Buddha and his disciples. In China Buddhism continued to grow and was influenced by the leaders of the north. Buddhism was not easily accepted in Japan as many Japanese people thought of it as an alien religion (Murphey 166). In the next two centuries Buddhism became accepted in Japan, as they started to take a little bit of Chinese Culture also.
Many traditions and beliefs of Buddhism stem from Hinduism, such as dharma, karma, samsara, and moksha (Murphey 27). While reading Stewart Gordon’s When Asia Was The World I found one chapter in the book very interesting to my understanding of Asian history. That chapter was the story of Xuanzang a Buddhist monk. He was a Buddhist monk who started out in China with his brother in search of a monastery. He left his brother and took a long journey to Chang’an to learn more about Buddhism. He stopped at many different monasteries across China.
He felt like all the teachings were the same from his own monastery but their doctrines were different. Xuanzang felt confused by some of the things he had learned. This caused him to travel west to bring back books from the center of Buddhism, which is India. Throughout his journey he faced many hardships that would try to prevent him from what he was trying to do. His biggest hardship would be that he was making an illegal journey. Xuangzang traveled by night with help by other Buddhist monks. He did eventually get caught; however he got caught by another Buddhist who allowed him to continue on his journey.
In the next fourteen years he became a teacher every place he went. He settled in a monastery located in the eastern Ganges valley, during that time he studied and copied scriptures and listened to oral teachings. He stayed there for five years. He then continued his journey and went elsewhere. Overall he traveled 15,000 miles within the areas of Buddhism. Xuangzang was asked by an emperor to become a high official but he declined several times and would rather stay a Buddhist monk. Xuanzang then went back home to find out his brother was still a practicing Buddhism.
In Gordon’s When Asia Was The World, “Xuanzang spent the rest of his life supervising a team of translators and teaching Buddhist texts in the city of Chang’an” (20). He designed and helped build a library filled with Buddhist texts, a seven-tier building that still exists today. Although Stewart Gordon’s book When Asia Was The World starts off in China, Buddhism originally began in India, and then spread to Central Asia to China and finally Japan. Throughout the spread of Buddhism very little Indian culture spread and nothing of Chinese culture came to India.
The biggest and best monasteries, best teachers and original text were all located in India, thousands of miles from China (Gordon 19). The Kushan Empire in India promoted Buddhism. They have a Buddhist sculpture that was created under their rule (Murphey 79). The first area beyond India that Buddhism spread to was Ceylon. Buddhism did not spread past northern India. The Singalese accepted and still practice Buddhism. From them, they produced Buddhist sculptures and buildings that include mound temples of Buddha (Murphey 81). Fa Xian, a Chinese Buddhist monk, made the journey to India to get real copies of Buddhist scriptures (Murphey 83).
Xuangzang visited the courts of Harsha, giving a journal of his journey. One of his reports was that Buddhism was declining and Hinduism was once again dominant. “Two Chinese monks who traveled to India a century after Xuanzang found that more and more, Indian kings patronized Hindu gods and temples; Buddhism slowly disappeared in much of India” (Gordon 20). Buddhism then spread to Southeast Asia where over time it expanded . In Asia only Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam were universal religions for people everywhere (Murphey 57).
Some Buddhist countries in Asia attracted young men for two years and/ or 10 to 15 percent of Asian population. The beginning links between India and Southeast Asia was Buddhism and trade (Murphey 129). People were committed to Buddhism and a way to personal salvation. Buddhism was not the only religion in China, Taoism and Confucianism was there also. However Buddhism did become very popular in the south of China. Buddhist temples influenced Chinese architecture. Chang’an was the trade center between China and central Asia. Buddhism was opposed by many Japanese people, it was referred to as an “alien religion” (Murphey 166).
Japan took some of Chinese culture which transformed Japan over the next two centuries. Buddhist monasteries rivaled those in the area. The major military powers in Japan are Buddhist armies. Buddhism was a foreign import in Japan. By reading Stewart Gordon’s When Asia Was The World, I learned more about Buddhism and how it spread. I also learned more about Buddhist monasteries, the center of Buddhism, and other Buddhist monks who have made amazing journey similar to Xuanzang. I also learned the profound affect Buddhism had on India, China, Korea and Japan and how each of these countries impacted each other.