The Tang Monk and India
Speaking of Journey to the West, I daresay that many in China know it even during their early childhood. In fact, the hero or main protagonist in the novel, “Tang Monk,” was and still is a household name, as a result of the enduring tradition of storytelling by parents and schoolteachers. Published in the 16th century during China’s Ming dynasty, Journey to the West is one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature, and is widely known as Monkey in English-speaking countries. The novel is an extended account of the legendary pilgrimage of Hiuen Tsang of the Tang dynasty, who made an arduous, 17 year (629 C.E.–645 C.E.) overland journey of 40,000 miles to obtain the original sacred verses or sutras of Buddhism from India. On his return to China, Hiuen Tsang brought back 657 Buddhist scriptures in Sanskrit and hundreds of other treasures, and then dedicated himself to the translation of these scriptures. Historically, Hiuen Tsang had great influence on the development of Buddhism in China and his perseverance in seeking the truth inspired many in his and later generations.
What’s more, Hiuen Tsang’s travelogue, Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, which provided a detailed historical account of India and Central Asian countries at that time, became one of the primary sources for the study of India in medieval times. To honor this famed Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler and translator, there is a Hiuen Tsang Memorial hall built in Nalanda, in Bihar, India. During his stay in India, Hiuen Tsang lived in Nalanda for a few years and studied Buddhism with many famous masters, which was the main aim of his journey. In ancient times, Nalanda had been a large Buddhist monastery and center of learning, and attracted numerous scholars and students from near and far. In later centuries, Nalanda gradually declined, and it was ransacked and destroyed by invading armies, and finally became abandoned. Efforts to excavate and restore the ruins have been made in recent decades, relying greatly on the descriptions of Nalanda in the 7th century available in the writings of pilgrim monks from East Asia, such as Hiuen Tsang, Yijing, and others.
Interestingly, I once had felt very close to this historical figure. Back in the 1980s, I was a university student in Xi’an, the same city that used to be called Chang’an, the capital of China in the Tang Dynasty. My university was just a few bus stops away from the Temple of Great Compassion where Hiuen Tsang lived and did the translation of the sutras after his return to China, and as well the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda where his collections from India were kept and protected. However, even though I had known the story of Hiuen Tsang when I was a little boy living in the remote countryside, it was unfortunately not until the year of my university graduation that a print copy of Journey to the West became available on bookstore shelves in the city of Xi’an, because classical literature had disappeared for many years in China due to the influence of the notorious Cultural Revolution.
Erasure of Literature and Cultural Havoc
This instance is reminiscent of my unfortunate childhood, in which there were no valuable books on traditional Chinese culture that were available for reading, limiting my exposure to these thoughts and ideas when I was a teenager. I was born in the mid-1960s just before the 10-year long Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), during which China’s 5,000-year-old culture was almost entirely wiped out. A typical and routine campaign sweeping the country at the time was to set on fire ancient relics and antiques, calligraphy and paintings, classical books and scriptures, burning them all up. Temples and statues were smashed to dust. The education system was also brought to a virtual halt.
In my hometown, a rural area in a northwestern province, the only books from my home or from the homes of neighbors or relatives were all sorts of books titled like “Quotations of Chairman Mao.” As a result of the drive nationwide to establish Mao’s personality as a cult-like figure during the Cultural Revolution, these books were the only available books, although such “quotations” meant nothing more than nonsense to villagers. I do not remember there being any books for children to read before I entered primary school. I looked forward to the day when I would turn seven, so that I could attend school.
The exciting moment came on the first school day—the registration day—when I received my first ever text book which had a refreshing and pleasant smell of fresh paper and ink. The whole book had more or less a dozen lessons, each being one single line of text, sometimes paired with an illustration or picture, on a white page. I rushed home after school and could not wait to be taught to read by my parents. To my disappointment, my mom told me she could not read, as she had never had an education. Oh, poor Mom! To my surprise though, while flipping the pages of my text book, Mom was able to figure out what some of the lessons were about, as the same text had been present in very large size on many rammed earth walls around where we lived—the walls of cottages, the village school, field enclosures, all possible surfaces had the same text on them. All the texts were political slogans. Political quotes and slogans, ubiquitous in every aspect of daily life, were part of the propaganda to support various political campaigns of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). What I was to be taught at school was simply a set of political slogans, ranging from a “long live” chant praising the dictators, to slogans “down with” an enemy that the communist party defined from time to time as being a target of the class struggle to justify the existence of its power.
After Mao died in 1976, the Chinese Communist Party began implementing a so-called reform policy, and declared the official end of the Cultural Revolution. Universities were re-opened, and students could continue their education after finishing high school. In 1978, I was able to enter the best high school in my county, which was a couple of hours travel from home by bicycle on bumpy dirt roads. In addition to the conventional classes of communist politics, Chinese, math, physics, and chemistry, there were two more entries in the curriculum in the new school, namely, history and geography, which appealed to me in my thirst for knowledge. On opening the books, however, I was in for a shock, as the way in which the Chinese characters appeared in the textbooks was totally different. Here, let me digress a little bit, to give some information on the Chinese language and characters.
Chinese language is the carrier of our splendid Chinese culture. Thanks to the Chinese language, Chinese culture has been the only culture in the world to have a continuously recorded history of 5,000 years, with countless literary classics and historical documents. The system of Chinese characters was formed in ancient China. Legend holds that it was a deity named Cangjie who created Chinese characters. Unlike most other languages in the world in which a group of letters make up a word to give a meaning, each Chinese character has a meaning of its own. According to linguists, Chinese characters may derive from pictures of the objects (pictographic) they denote, or direct iconic illustrations (ideographic), or combinations of two or more pictographic or ideographic characters to suggest more meanings. Each Chinese character has its own intrinsic structure and meaning, occupying a special niche of its own within the language. To me, each Chinese character presents itself like a living being with a personality or character of its own.
It is known that as early as in the 1930s, the former Soviet Union began to cooperate with the Chinese Communist Party to make Chinese Latinized, assisting the abolition of Chinese characters. After the CCP established its regime in 1949, it began to implement the use of simplified Chinese. Critics point out that today’s simplified Chinese is just a political product of the Communist Party as it undertook the systematic destruction of Chinese characters and the eradication of history and culture. Simplification of Chinese characters has resulted in many problems for the language, such as increased ambiguity, inability to render the inner meaning and explain the etymology, and loss of artistic beauty. One has to learn the traditional Chinese characters if one wants to read the ancient literature or books written using traditional characters.
My new books on history and geography came with a set of characters that were further chopped off or simplified even to the point of being disfigured. When I first looked at a page, the disfigured text shocked me. It looked like the view of a battlefield strewn with mutilated corpses—the characters were so dismembered they were too scary to behold. Reading became akin to suffering. Due to the terrible reading experience and public resistance to using it, this even uglier set of Chinese characters from the Second Round Simplification Scheme was aborted in a few months. The affected textbooks were abandoned by the school. Unfortunately, we were not given new textbooks as substitutes. So, the courses were cancelled. Period.
This very experience exemplified the helpless reality of how we were deprived of the right to learn and understand the authentic Chinese culture and civilization. Instead, the time that we could have spent studying about our own culture in school was spent on studying messages of propaganda, hatred, lies and falsified history. The essence of culture was labeled as backward and superstitious, and ancient civilizations were depicted as decadent and dark. Violence and hatred were viewed as the way in which we could create progress for humankind.
Awakening Towards Enlightenment
In the second year of high school, I dwelt on the paradox of two primary claims that the Chinese Communist party made. The first claim was that the launch of the Cultural Revolution proved that the Chinese Communist Party was, “Forever Great, Glorious, and Correct”, and the second was that the ending of the catastrophic Cultural Revolution once again proved that the CCP is “forever Great, Glorious, and Correct”. How could both be true? Racking my brain to try and resolve these opposing claims, I chose to believe that the Chinese Communist Party is a big liar, unscrupulous and shameless, even though such a thought was “anti-revolutionary” in nature within communist China and if overtly expressed, could have endangered my life. My other observations during my later years at the university deepened my insight further. Determined not to be deceived by the Party any more, in the 1980s I started to seek the truth by reading books on traditional Chinese culture, which paved the way to my personal cultivation towards spiritual development.
Known as the “Celestial Empire” since ancient times, China has a “divinely inspired” culture, with the religions of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism being its bedrock. In Chinese culture, there is a fundamental belief that everything that exists is governed by the “Tao” (term of the Tao school), meaning the Way, or “Fa” (term of the Buddha school), meaning the Law, or the principle of nature, heaven and universe. Tao is the source of everything and the force behind everything; Man should live in harmony and balance, and become at one, with nature, or ultimately, the Tao. It is a process of living up to principles and standards to work towards the ultimate goal of attainment of the Tao or personal salvation.
Moral standards for discernment of what is good and what is bad have perpetually been the determinant of the fate of the existence of humanity in the universe. Teachings by sages have advised caution and lessons from history have repeatedly demonstrated that moral corruption will have devastating outcomes to all of mankind. All major Chinese religious and philosophical schools have investigated the correct way to go about a moral life, and as a result, there has formed in Chinese culture not only a rich and profound system of values and ethical codes for governance, family, and individual conduct in social life, but also different ways or disciplines of spiritual practice in seeking the true Tao or personal salvation, often coupled with the practice of meditation. Such spiritual practices, generally referred to as “cultivation practice,” or simply “cultivation,” have had a history of thousands of years or even longer, and constitute an integral and essential part of traditional Chinese culture.
Falun Dafa and Zhuan Falun
Over 15 years of exploration into traditional Chinese culture and seeking the best cultivation way led me to the practice of Falun Dafa, with Zhuan Falun, the teaching of Falun Dafa, becoming the book that guides my life. Also known as Falun Gong, Falun Dafa is an ancient cultivation way that was passed down through the ages from a master to a single disciple in each generation. In May 1992, Master Li Hongzhi introduced this to the public in China. With the book Zhuan Falun and five sets of exercises, Falun Dafa teaches people to follow the principle of Zhen-Shan-Ren (Truthfulness – Compassion – Forbearance) to elevate their moral standards and to improve their physical health. Falun Dafa is the only complete advanced-level cultivation practice in the world that has not had its exercises and books altered by the interpretations of students and practitioners of later generations.
It was amazing to become enlightened as to how the history of Chinese civilization has systematically and exquisitely prepared a profound culture with moral and spiritual cultivation as its essence, and finally today, people come to learn, understand, and practice Falun Dafa. In my understanding, the book Zhuan Falun gives the answer to the most fundamental question in the history of mankind for anyone with any background in spiritual practices, religious beliefs, or philosophical approaches, who endeavor to seek the ultimate truth, the Tao, the Buddha Fa, the principle of the universe, or the standards to live up to. Let me respectfully quote as follows from Zhuan Falun:
“What is the Buddha Fa, then? The most fundamental characteristic of this universe, Zhen-Shan-Ren, is the highest manifestation of the Buddha Fa. It is the most fundamental Buddha Fa.”[i]
“This characteristic, Zhen-Shan-Ren, is the criterion for measuring good and bad in the universe. What’s good or bad? It is judged by this.”[ii]
“As a human being, you are a good person only if you can follow this universe’s characteristic of Zhen-Shan-Ren. A person who deviates from this characteristic is truly a bad person.”[iii]
“As a cultivator, if you assimilate yourself to this characteristic you are one who has attained the Tao—it’s just such a simple principle.”[iv]
“Our Falun Dafa is based upon the highest standard of the universe, Zhen, Shan, and Ren, all of which we cultivate simultaneously. The system that we cultivate is enormous.” [v]
In the book, Essentials for Further Advancement, “Broad and Immense,” Master Li wrote:
“The principles of Falun Dafa can provide guidance for anyone’s cultivation practice, including for one’s religious beliefs. This is the principle of the universe, the true Fa that has never been taught. People in the past were not allowed to know this universe’s principle (the Buddha Fa). It transcends all academic theories and moral principles of human society from ancient times to this day.”[vi]
The practice of Falun Dafa has had tremendous impact on individuals and society. By 1999, seven years after its introduction, Falun Dafa had reached an estimated 70 to 100 million practitioners in China based on mind and body benefits to practitioners. With the rapid spreading of the practice in those years, the demand for the book Zhuan Falun was huge as well. In 1996, in Beijing, Zhuan Falun was among the bestselling books in both January and February, and among the top ten bestselling books in April. Because the book disappeared from shelves as soon as it appeared, publishers could not keep up with the demand, and there emerged unauthorized printers to produce a large supply of books to the book market in Beijing and in other areas as well. I still vividly remember the experience of helping correct the print errors in these unauthorized editions to help new practitioners. This period of Falun Dafa popularization and the effect of great enhancement of social morality helped write a page of glory in recent Chinese history. But, unfortunately this was followed by a chapter of darkness and injustice in China.
Out of personal jealousy over the popularity of Falun Dafa and being paranoid of losing power, the then CCP head Jiang Zemin, launched a crackdown on this peaceful and non-political spiritual practice in July of 1999. Falun Dafa books were confiscated and burned nationwide, and even possession of Falun Dafa books was viewed as a reason to be convicted, replicating the savageness of the Cultural Revolution. Falun Dafa practitioners have been systematically abducted, arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and even murdered with their organs pillaged, for the past 17 years.
I was imprisoned in China for three and a half years for telling friends by mail that Falun Dafa is good. One day in the summer of 2001 during my imprisonment, after a surprise search, prison guards found a book of Falun Dafa teaching among my belongings. I was then forced into a room, with my arms forced behind my back, my hands were handcuffed, and I was forced to sit against the walls in a corner. Two policemen stepped on my legs with their boots so that I could not move. Then both of them waved electric batons, shocking my forehead, face, neck, and wherever they believed they could inflict the most pain. The batons shot out blue flashing arcs like infuriated snakes biting violently. My skin felt like it was being torn into pieces with crackling sounds of shocks that sounded like continuous explosions. Even though I was restricted by walls and the boots were stepping hard on my legs, the strong electric current forced me down to the ground. I do not know for how long I struggled helplessly before they stopped the torture, and I was finally put back into the prison cell with entangled dirty clothes and bruises on my body. As further punishment, for many days I was deprived of sleep and food. However, the brutal torture only helped me to redouble my determination to keep up my faith and it led me to really understand the evil nature of the Chinese Communist Party. Who else could be so desperately afraid of a book that teaches how to become a good person following the principle of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance?
Despite the relentless brutal persecution in China for the past seventeen years, Falun Dafa is spreading worldwide and is now practiced in over 100 countries. Falun Dafa books have been translated into over 40 languages and not only are they available electronically for free downloading [vii], but they are also exhibited internationally since 2000. They have been exhibited in Geneva, Singapore, Taipei, and Los Angeles to name a few. Starting with the annual book fair in Delhi in the year 2000, Falun Dafa books have been showcased in many book fairs in every city of India till the present one in New Delhi, which I was invited to.
I moved to Canada in May of 2004, with help from Amnesty International and the Canadian government, following my illegal imprisonment in China earlier. After I was granted a visa by the Indian consulate in Toronto, in December 2015, I was excited about my upcoming trip to Delhi. During my visit to India, I was very happy to learn that the Bengali and Tamil editions of Zhuan Falun were going to be published. Translations in English, Hindi, Telugu and Kannada were already available [viii],It is my sincere wish that many Indian people benefit from practicing Falun Dafa, something I consider to be the greatest blessing in one’s life.
A Book That is Changing China
I would like to also mention a book that was exhibited in the 2016 New Delhi World Book Fair—Nine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party [ix]. Since its publication in November 2004 by The Epoch Times, this book has brought about a quiet movement within the iron walls of China— more than 224.5 million Chinese people, as of Jan. 10, 2016, announced openly on the Epoch Times website to quit the Chinese Communist Party and affiliated organizations [x], which is believed to be ending the Communist regime in China by peacefully dissolving it.
Nine Commentaries offers readers an insight into the creation of the Communist Party, its unscrupulous nature, how its tyrannical nature destroyed traditional Chinese culture, and persecuted Falun Gong practitioners. By reading this book, I believe that the Indian people will get an answer to many questions they might have about China – the Guest of Honor country of this year’s New Delhi book fair.
P.S. I was able to bring a book as a gift to the 2016 New Delhi World Book Fair from Canada. It is Bloody Harvest:Bloody Harvest: The killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs [xi], by two great Canadians—David Matas and David Kilgour, and published and printed in Canada.
[i] Zhuan Falun: Lecture One, Zhen-Shan-Ren is the Sole Criterion to Discern Good and Bad People,
[ii] ibid. Page 17.
[iii] Ibid. Page 18.
[iv] ibid. Page 18.
[v] Ibid. Page 19.
[ix] Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, by The Epoch Times,
[xi] Bloody Harvest: The killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs by David Matas & David Kilgour,