ABSTRACT

In 629 CE, the famous Chinese monk Xuanzang (Wade-Giles: Hsüan-tsang) set out on a pilgrimage to India to study the dharma and to collect Sanskrit Buddhist texts that he and a team of scholar monks would later translate into Chinese. Along the way, he visited many sacred sites, leaving an invaluable record of seventh-century Buddhist culture in Central and South Asia. According to his biographer, Huili, he also ran into a spot of trouble now and again – dehydration in the desert, captivity in the palace of a troublesome king, and various instances of Silk Road robbery. 1 In one particularly dramatic case, Xuanzang was sailing down the river Ganges when his boat was attacked by pirates. 2 As it turned out, these particular pirates were after more than money: they were looking for a particularly fine specimen to serve as a human sacrifice to their goddess and they decided that Xuanzang was the man for the job. At first, Xuanzang did what anyone might do: he tried to reason with the pirates. He explained that he was on his way to see the site of the Buddha's enlightenment and that it would not be auspicious for them if they were to kill him while he was on such a virtuous mission. The pirates, as one might have anticipated, found this argument unpersuasive.