In 629, the revered Buddhist monk Hsuan Tsang set out across Asia in search of the Ultimate Truth, and to settle what he called “the perplexities of my mind.” From the Tang dynasty capital at Xian through ancient Silk Road oases, over forbidding mountain passes to Tashkent, Samarkand, and the Amu-Darya River, across Pakistan to the holiest cities of India–and back again–his sixteen-year journey was beset with every hardship imaginable. Pilgrimage complete, Hsuan Tsang wrote an account of his trek that is still considered one of the classics of Chinese literature.
In 1998, Richard Bernstein, venerated journalist and Time magazine’s first Beijing bureau chief, retraced the steps of Hsuan Tsang’s long and sinuous route, comparing present and past. Aided by modern technology but hampered by language barriers, harried border crossings, hostile Islamic regimes, and the accidental U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Bernstein follows the monk’s path not only in physical but in contemplative ways. Juxtaposing his own experiences with those of Hsuan Tsang, Bernstein has crafted a vivid account of two stirring adventures in pursuit of illumination. Inspiring and profoundly felt, Ultimate Journey is a marvelous amalgamation of travelogue and history, cultural critique and spiritual meditation.