The Abbot who raised him was a great man. Xuanzang was one of several different children the man raised. The man was kind, and as Sanzang will learn through passing centuries, far ahead of his time. A woman, who was much like an older sister to him, prefered to lay with other women. She used to say “The only thing wrong with it is the challenge of finding another woman that wants me.” Luckily for her, there were other women like her in their monastery.
Another female monk was one that had spent the first years of her life being called a boy. There were also a few male monks who had gone through similar troubles, although their struggle was people believing them to be women. Young Xuanzang never understood why there would be such confusion. When he got older, he realized that what they were was common enough some to know, but rare enough not to be common knowledge.
There was another monk around his age he was particularly fond of. They were both in their preteens when Xuanzang noticed flutters in his chest and knots in his stomach whenever around the boy. It was around this age that Xuanzang asked a lot of questions about romance and...intimacy. He never really asked for specifics . Just simple things like “can a relationship persist without such intimate relations?” Or “how much physical affection is too much?”
The answer to both was “It’s up to you and the other person, really,” followed by a quickly added, “Just make sure to communicate to each other when you’re uncomfortable. Ask them first before doing anything.”
Whenever Sanzang shares this story, he’s told it’s very in character for the first thing he asked to do be holding hands. Such a thing felt like a big leap back then. It was like asking to be something just a bit more than friends. Xuanzang just barely managed to get the words out, he was so nervous. He felt a bit calmer when the boy agreed. Every nerve in his body soothed when he felt the warmth of another hand in his own.
It was blissful, that relationship he and that other boy had. Something slow and sweet. Held hands, sweet hugs, foreheads pressed together. It took a few years for either of the boys to dare ask for a kiss . Every kiss was sweet and short and something in Xuanzang wanted it to last longer. He didn’t allow himself such indulgences. He was, after all, still a monk . New emerging physical desires from either of them needed to be resisted to reach enlightenment.
One morning, the boy was nowhere to be found. No one had any idea where he had gone. He never came back that night or any night after. No one in the surrounding area had seen any sign of him. There was never any note left behind. He never even told anyone he’d be leaving. The boy just suddenly, completely disappeared.
(He ditched you!)
Elder Sister spent that tonight trying to comfort Xuanzang. The boy was known to be easily moved to tears. “There are worse ways for a relationship to end,” she consoled. “There are other people out there. Other loves to have.”
“I have no desire to go searching for such affections,” the young monk responded. “If romantic feelings are fulfilled without trouble, so be it. I will not make myself suffer over such things.” It was a promise to himself. Romance was not and would never be something that happened easily to him. But at that moment, Xuanzang cried into his sister’s shoulder.
The following year, Xuanzang discovered who his parents were and what happened to them. He found his mother. He found his grandmother. He brought his grandfather news of his mother, and the man gathered an army to save her. Xuanzang’s father was avenged, brought back to life, and his biological family was whole again.
(Why are you just breezing past that? That sounds so interesting!)
(Could you please not interrupt?)
Even with the prospect to live a comfortable life with the family he never had the chance to know before, Xuanzang decided to stay a monk. His parents were of high status, As their oldest and only son, he’d likely be expected to find a wife and have children. At least, that was how Xuanzang thought things like that worked. As a monk, such things were not expected of him. Enlightenment was not something his family would try to keep him from.
Sanzang, to this day, feels no regret of that decision, but some days, he feels just a bit of guilt. He was sure that his family would do well without him. They held together well enough before the tragedy that fell upon them before his birth. They could recover without him being there. That was what Xuanzang believed. A few years later, his mother killed herself.
(Holy shit )
Xuanzang was assured that his mother killed herself in a reserved and respectable way. That fact was meant to be comforting. The monk felt unsettled. She left suddenly, unexpectedly, and with no note to explain or say goodbye. It was the second time someone he cared about left him like that: suddenly, unexpectedly, and without an explanation or goodbye. It was very unnerving.
He cried quite a bit when he meditated by himself. Something in the back of his mind wondered what his young love killed himself, too? That thought sparked many thoughts that left the monk trembling and feeling he could be sick. He left because of you. You should have been there for your mother. They’re dead. They’re both dead, They’re dead because of you. You couldn’t even be selfless enough to give them what they needed.
It was in that moment, Xuanzang decided this was what happened when he gets attached to other people. They’d leave, or die, or change, and it would just leave the monk in pain and suffering. From that day on, the monk decided to keep other people at a distance. There were those he thought of as friends, but he never let them get too close. Once he was able to, he slept alone in his own room. It was cold, and maybe he was just a bit lonely. At the very least, it was safe .