Excerpt of the Week: China as a Mere “Borderland” in Eyes of Ancient Indian Buddhist Clergy

According to academic Tansen Sen, the curious issue of a “borderland complex” among Buddhist clergy — earlier suggested in the work of Faxian (337-442) — is clearly expressed in the account of Xuanzang’s travel to India, Great Tang Records on the Western Regions.

Writes Tan:

In a conversation between his Indian hosts at the Nalanda Monastery just after he decided to return to Tang China, Xuanzang was reminded of the peripheral position of China in regard to the Buddhist world in India.
“Why do you wish to leave after coming here?” enquired one of the monks at Nalanda. “China,” he continued, “is a borderland where the common people are slighted and the Dharma despised; the Buddhas are never born in that country. As the people are narrow-minded, with deep moral impurity, saints and sages do not go there. The climate is cold and the land is full of dangerous mountains. What is there for you to be nostalgic about?”
Xuanzang replied: “The King of the Dharma has founded his teachings and it is proper for us to propagate them. How can we forget about those who are not yet enlightened while we have gained the benefit in our own minds?”

(Excerpted from Tansen Sen’s The Travel Records of Chinese Pilgrims Faxian, Xuanzang and Yijing)

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