Ten thousand miles without a cloud- II

November 1, 2010 § Leave a comment


I had forgotten all about Monkey… Then a few days ago I chanced upon a book. ‘Ten thousand miles without a cloud’ by Sun Shuyun. I read a little introduction to the book and found it interesting. After a while I realized it talked about the same Monkey King from the book on my fathers book shelf. With a new curiosity I read the book and it was… well… such a surprise and an amazing read.

The Monkey King itself was a fable woven around a real life monk in the seventh century by the name Xuanzang who made an 18 year trek from China to India and back. He was a buddhist monk and with an urge to visit and learn the real Buddhist sutras from the land of birth of Buddha, he made the perilous journey through China and India. Many desserts, pirates, droughts, storms and kingdoms later he reached India and visited all the important monastries. And the most interesting part is- he documented it all in 600 chapters in the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions. In complete details, all the places he visited, all the kingdoms, from what food people ate, what clothes they wore, to the cultural practices they had… Of course this was all for the benefit of the king so that he would take interest in the records and effectively in Buddhism… So there he was, after eighteen years of travel and struggle to the holy land, he returned with elaborate documentation and of course, his beloved Sutras.

Now in present time our author Sun Shuyun, she was brought up in China. With the whole cultural  revolution as the backdrop to her upbringings in the time of Mao, and the indomitable grandmother who practised Buddhism in secret. So when she went abroad she realized that that part of history of her country had never been revealed much to her. Except what she saw through her grandmas past. And she decided to see it for herself. So what she did was to retrace Xuanzang’s footsteps. Almost as exactly as he went about his travel. So the book is her account of this journey. It’s full of revelations for her and us too. Her simple and honest descriptions and the sense of discovery reaches us through the pages as she visits the stupas and monastries and cities that he saw. It is extremely interesting… from all points of view. Anthropological, spiritual, historical.

One of the most significant of all things that I found was when someone explains in the book how the Travelogue of the monk is invaluable to India as much as China. The chinese have been great record keepers. They have records dating back to hundreds of years. (we do have our Gaatha Saptashati…) Our religious and spiritual teachings have always directed us towards moksha and the ultimate enlightenment. So, as someone says in the book…  they hardly bothered about chronicling the day to day lives or history in elaborate details. Thus, the lack of extensive records compared to the chinese. But the travelogue by the chinese monk provide great information on that time in history. So it is important to the Indians as well.

Before signing off I d like to share a verse from a budhhist scripture that tells about a monk’s self clarity-

“Self nature, complete and clear,  Like the moon in the water.

The mind in meditation, like the sky, Ten thousand miles without a cloud.”

What an idea… a mind so clear like the sky… ten thousand miles without a cloud…!!



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