For information on the background of this series see The Introduction.
The first part starts at the end by detailing Xuanzang’s achievements and his fame by the time of his passing, and then backtracks to cover his birth into a noble Confucian family, the early death of his parents and his entry into a Buddhist monastery at the age of 10.
It continues with his journeys throughout China in order to learn the true Dharma, which left him dissatisfied, and his eventual meeting with the Indian monk Prabhākaramitra who inspired him with stories of the great Buddhist monastery Nālanda, at the height of its glory at that time in distant India.
He then makes a request to leave for the Western lands, which was denied by the Emporer. Nevertheless during a famine that struck the capital Changan he managed to make his way towards the Silk Road, stopping at Wuwei, Gauzhou and finally on the very frontier at Jade Gate.
In the second part Xuanzang faces arrest for trying to leave the Empire, but is saved when the official sent to deliver the warrant turns out to be a Buddhist and tears it up.
At the same time Xuanzang meets Shi Pantuo, an Indian merchant, who takes refuge with him, and then engages to help him escape. They manage to cross through the Jade Gate and out into the desert.
Shi Pantuo though, apparently becomes afraid that the guards at the watchtowers along the way will blame him for helping the monk leave, and after extracting a promise that he will not be incriminated, he leaves Xuanzang to his own resources.
Xuanzang makes it to Baidunzi, the first of the watchtowers, where again he is helped by Buddhists, and he then leaves to cross over the first stretch of the desert.
Panicking when caught in a sandstorm he looses his water supply and eventually has to go 5 days and 4 nights without water, until his faithful horse finds a small lake.
He recovers there for a couple of days before finally making it to I-Wu, and specifically Miao’ergou near Hami. At this point he had decided to cross the desert by the northern route, but the King of Gaochang on the southern route summons him to his city.
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Some Stills from the Documentary
Ordination at age 10
Studying the Scriptures
Camel Caravan crossing the Desert
Receiving an Arrest Warrant
Crossing the blazing Desert
The Desert at Night