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IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF XUANZANG: TAN YUN-SHAN AND INDIA

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Preface (translation)

 

Both China and India are ancient  civilizations of the world, both have been friendly neighbour  for thousands of years uninterrupted. This is an unparalleled development in world history. The people of our two countries have made great contributions for the welfare of the humankind. Our brilliant inventions and creations have all along been the beacon lighting up  the historical developments of the world. Today, the amity between the two most populous countries of ours is closely interrelated with world peace and the furture of humanity.

                In a history extending several millennia we see a large number of eminent priests and political emissaries from our two countries going across deserts and oceans, risking their own lives, taking their own inventions and creations, both spiritual and material, to each other’s country -- giving a fillip to social developments enhancing people’s welfare. Beneficiaries our peoples still are to these historical contracts.

                Yijing (635-713), the eminent Tang pilgrim wrote at the very inception of his Biographies of Eminent Monks of the Great Tang Dynasty Going on Dharma-Seeking Pilgrims to the Western Regions (Da-Tang  Xiyu qiufa gaoseng zhuan) thus:

                “It is observed that since ancient times there has been no death of people who would be willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of Dharma, Master Faxian was the first to carve out a path in remote wilderness. Master Xuanzang futher trode it into a thoroughfare. Such pilgrims either blazed a lonely trail through alien lands of the Western Regions. or singularly disappeared in the ocean  expanse of the South Sea. All of them looked forward to the holy shrines, and went on pilgrimage exhausting themselves physically with a strong wish to return so that they could redeem the four gratitudes (gratitude to parents, to all human beings, to the ruler of the country, and to the Grand Jewel of Buddhism) and leave behind a good name. However, perilous was the exalted journey separating the Treasure-land [of Lord Buddha]  with an endless distace. What with scores of booming seedlings hardly one ultimately bore fruit. It was due to the daunting deserts with long rivers reflecting formidable sunlight, while dreadful waves in the ocean lining up giant columns covering the sky, When a pilgrim printed his lone steps beyond the iron gate of China, he threw himself into thousands of pinnacles. When he embarked on a voyage, his life was dispatched to the strange  islands and shores. For days he had to make do without food to eat and water to drink. His spirit was consumed by anxiety, while his rightful countenance becoming a wreckage. Among serveral scores  of pilgrims hardly a few could survive. Even after reaching the Western Country[India] on could not find a Chinese temple, seeking shelter became a great worry, landing oneself in a possition of homelessness lide a floating leaf, seldom having a fixed place for stay. Without a settled life how could Dharma prosper?! Alas. The pilgrims are indeed praiseworthy, and their fame should be passed down to posterity, Here I have gathered some rough details to serve as their biographies.”

                The above passage vividly depicts the perilous journeys undertaken by eminent monks like Faxian(337?-422?), Xuanzang (600-664), Yijing etc.For India in the past in questof dharma across land and sea. Such undertakings would not be possible without an undauning spirit and life-risking adventurism. Such people were lauded by Lu Xun as the “backbones of China” -- how befittingly this loudatory! Equally noble were also the eminent Indian monks who arrived in China. The personalities painted by the brush of Yijing were the builders of the golden bridge of Sino-Indian  friendship. Whenever we think of them even after the lapse of a millennium, we are filled with adoration and wonderment for them.

                In modern times there has been a complete revolution of communication and transportation facilities. Nevertheless, the great significance of Sino-Indian friendship has not only been unaltered, but is even enhancing with each passing day. Notwithstanding the availability of aeroplanes and oceanliners which land you at the destination in a matter of twelve (even less) hours, interflow  between our two countries has not entirely passed through highways -- but so often through singlelog bridges. True that a much larger number of personalities are shuttling between the two countries with much enlarged activities which, in turn, have widened visions and complicated purposiveness.  But, we see very few builders of the golden bridge of Sino-Indian friendship. Such a builder must be endowed with enormous courage and profound wisdom, with an insight much above their companions and a vision far beyond that of the ordinary people. In other words, such builders are not among the ranks of Tom, Dick, or Harry. They can be likened to what the Chinese proverb describes as “phoenix’s  feather and unicorn’s horn” (fengmao lingjiao).

                Do we have such people in China, or in the world? Yes, he is Prof. Tan Yun-Shan .Prof, Tan Yun-Shan has trodden on the footsteps of Faxian, Xuanzang, Yijing and other eminent monks and noble masters in extending and promoting the traditional friendship between the two great nations of China and India, throwing in the energy of his entire life into this noble pursuit. Though, indeed, he did not go through the ordeal of desert-crossing  and ocean-faring as experienced by those ancients who had mortigaged their lives for their lives for their pilgrimage, his, after all, was also not a comforable journey along a smooth highway. He made acquaintances with great personalities in  India, likeMahatma Gandhi and Gurudeva Tagore, great stateman Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi etc. In China, he also had associations with some leaders of the Kuomintang.  After the founding of the people’s Republic he again, made  friends with a few famous leaders of new China. He re-Constructed a golden bridge of friendship -- a bridge more brilliant and magnificent, more meaningful, more valuable than the one of the past, and perfectly meeting the conditions and needs of modern times -- among these great personalities, and between China and India. Yijing observed that “with booming seedlings hardly one ultimately bore fruit”, but Prof. Tan Yun-shan has yielded abundant  fruits, far beyond what the ancients could achieve -- thus all the more conforming to Yijing’s laudatory. I am sure the peoples of our countries would forever remember Tan Yun-shan.

                Prof. Tan Yun-shan was also an example of a patriotic overseas Chinese. He visited China in the 1950s, published an anthology entitled  “Visit the Motherland” -- written with copious  affection for the motherland that moves anyone who reads it. His son, Prof. Tan Chung, has stepped into his shoes to dedicate himself to an endeavour that promotes Sino-Indian amity, and it known in both the countries. Anyone who is a true internationalist must first be a true patrior. These two do not contradict, only complement each other.

                The volume edited by Tan Chung in commemorating his father is nothing short of a shower for the drought, which gives me great pleasure to pen this “preface”.

Ji Xianlin

(Translated by Hung I-shu)

 

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