For some things, it’s not too late to turn 65.

A.D. 399. Fa Xian in the Wu Chong Temple in Chang An City is already a 65 year old monk. He has been a monk since the age of three, and has been reading scriptures for 62 years.

The monk had been a monk for 62 years, but during the period of the Five Kingdoms Rebellion, there were frequent wars in the north, and the monks did not have an easy life. As Buddhism was in its early prime, the books were second-hand goods from the West, with books but no precepts, and there were great differences within Buddhism. There were even monks who led rebellions and became kings in chaotic times. How can Buddhism be described as a chaotic world? In a word, that is, when the monks should follow what rules, even the monks themselves are not clear.

According to the household records unearthed at Dunhuang, even in the height of the Tang Dynasty, the average life expectancy of the average Chinese citizen was no more than 40 years, and in a typical year was around 35 years. Fa Xian lived to 65 in the troubled times, which was already a rare high life expectancy. At that age, the average Chinese person would have prepared a coffin for himself.

But perhaps it was because he had witnessed so much chaos in Buddhism and knew his days were numbered, that Fa Xian felt the urgency to go – he had been thinking about “getting scriptures” for decades and wanted to go to the birthplace of Buddhism to see how a true monk should behave. If we don’t go now, we won’t get the chance.

Because of the latter’s great popularity of a “Journey to the West”, many people think that Xuanzang is the first person to travel westward to seek the Dharma. In fact, when Xuanzang set out, it was already more than two hundred years after the law was revealed.

When there was no map of the world, there was no road to cross the desolate Tibetan plateau where Tubo is located, so to go to Tianzhu is a big circle. First all the way along the Hexi Corridor to reach the West, turn southwest through today’s Taklamakan Desert to Khotan (Xinjiang Hotan), and then south over the Onion Ridge, take Pakistan east into the Ganges Valley, in order to reach Tianzhu. This large circle of tens of thousands of kilometres may be difficult for even today’s hi-tech equipped travellers to complete.

The geographic knowledge was scarce in Fa Xian’s time, and there were no maps, positioning, or strategies to rely on, so it was entirely up to the feet to measure the rivers, deserts, and snowy mountains along the way. Before Fa Xian, there were Chinese monks dissatisfied with the lack of texts, began to travel west to get scriptures, but most of them only reached the West, no one really reached the Tianzhu. The most famous is the first documented ordained bhikkhu in the Central Plains and the first to travel westward to seek the Dharma – Zhu Shih-hang. He was a native of the state of Wei during the Three Kingdoms period. He became a monk in Luoyang at the age of 47 and was known by the Dharma name “Eight Precepts” – yes, he was the original Pig Bajie in the Journey to the West. But Journey to the West completely distorts his image, and the Tang monk can only be his disciple in terms of historical facts. And in some ways, Zhu Shih-hang was much more impressive than the Tang monk – he was already 58 years old when he traveled west to seek justice, only a little younger than Fa Xian.

Zhu Shih-hang reached as far as Khutian in the west, where he later died. The scriptures he translated were later brought back to the Middle Kingdom by his disciples.

He was seven years older than Zhu Shih-hang when he set out on his journey, but if he wanted to go further and complete the journey, he was probably determined to die.

A whole 3 years long journey, from 5 people at the time of departure, to 11 people at the most, and by the time they finally crossed the Taklamakan Desert and the Pamir Plateau into the territory of Tianzhu, there were only 3 people left. “There is no bird above, no beast below, and everywhere you look at the extremities, if you want to seek a place, then you do not know what to expect, only the dead withered bones as the banner ear.” The last snowy mountain (now Mount Sunaman in Afghanistan), another freeze to death, 68-year-old Fa Xian hugged the corpse of his companion, tears in his eyes: life is no good! Once he turned around, however, he bit the bullet and continued on his way.

Fa Xian spent 8 years studying sutras in the Tianzhu Temple, 2 years in the Lion Kingdom (Sri Lanka), and finally returned home by sea in 412 on a merchant ship. The journey was stormy and difficult, but at the age of 78, with the help of God, he returned to his homeland alone, holding the sutras he had collected over the past decade.

Until his death at the age of 86, Fa Xian translated six books and 63 volumes. His translation of the Mahabharata, also known as the Law of the Masses, was one of the five major Buddhist precepts and had a profound influence on the later Chinese Buddhist community. His immortal work, The Records of the Buddha’s Land, which records his itinerary and the customs along the way, is to this day an authoritative specimen for the study of the history and geography of India and Sri Lanka.

Xuanzang took Fa Xian as his idol, and his journey west was largely a tribute to his own idol. But on the hardships and the length of the journey, I’m afraid not as good as Fa-Hsien. Xuanzang was 26 years old and in the prime of his life, and had official sponsorship, and after his return to China he enjoyed great honor. But Fa Xian, who set out at an early age and returned in his eighties and nineties, has always been an individual. Apart from silently translating the scriptures, there is no notable name in history.

I traveled to Sri Lanka in 2015, specifically to visit Fa-Hsien’s ruins in Anuradhapura. In my opinion, in the more closed and less adventurous Chinese history, Fa Xian is one of the few great walkers who can be compared to the explorers of the great Western voyages. There were many people who went far in ancient times, but I am afraid there were none who were older than Fa-Hsien, who had more difficulties and who were more determined than Fa-Hsien.

I tell this story today because I have often heard a certain lament: no money, no education, no language skills, no way to get out …… But whenever I hear such words, I feel at a loss to respond. Because I know that what is lacking has nothing to do with wealth or education.

What is there, than 58-year-old Zhu Shi Xing, 65-year-old Fa Xian, not far, nine deaths, deep into a foreign country, learn a strange language, move back to a pile of obscure scriptures more difficult? What I see in the story of Fahyan in particular is actually not faith, but determination – the determination to live by the things and to die.

Courage and solutions come from determination. There is no such thing as having everything in place, and success may not be achieved by waiting for the east wind. If you are afraid, you will always be in trouble; if you have to sink your boats, you will find the light at the end of the tunnel.

So if you are determined to set out, no matter when, where or where you are going, it is never too late. 65 is not too late to set out from the chaos of the world, how can you be too late?

What is it like to travel alone for ten thousand miles, singing with a sword in the morning.