Journey to the West (Volume 1)
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The novel is an extended account of the legendary pilgrimage of the Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Xuanzang who traveled to the "Western Regions", that is, India, to obtain sacred texts and returned after many trials and much suffering. It retains the broad outline of Xuanzang's own account, Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, but the Ming dynasty novel adds elements from folk tales and the author's invention, that is, that the Buddha gave this task to the monk and provided him with three protectors who agree to help him as an atonement for their sins. These disciples are Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie, and Sha Wujing, together with a dragon prince who acts as Xuanzang's steed, a white horse. Journey to the West has strong roots in Chinese folk religion, Chinese mythology, Taoist and Buddhist philosophy, and the pantheon of Taoist immortals and Buddhist bodhisattvas are still reflective of some Chinese religious attitudes today. Enduringly popular, the tale is at once a comic adventure story, a spring of spiritual insight, and an extended allegory in which the group of pilgrims journeys towards enlightenment which each of them can achieve only with the help of all of the others.
skillful, subtle stage, Boast and laugh with the old Immortal of Chess.31 The two of them, emperor and subject, played chess until three quarters past the noon hour, but the game was not yet finished. Suddenly Wei Zheng put his head on the table and fell fast asleep. Taizong laughed and said, “Our worthy subject truly has worn himself out for the state and exhausted his strength on behalf of the empire. He has therefore fallen asleep in spite of himself.” Taizong allowed him to sleep on and did
beasts on his right. As he was all by himself, Tripitaka had little alternative but to submit himself to the will of Heaven. As if to complete his helplessness, his horse’s back was sagging and its legs were buckling; it went to its knees and soon lay prostrate on the ground. He could budge it neither by beating nor by tugging. With hardly an inch of space to stand on, our Master of the Law was in the depths of despair, thinking that certain death would be his fate. We can tell you, however, that
“Disciple,” said the priest, “when I kowtowed like that, all you could do was to stand snickering by the side of the road, with not even a bow. Why?” “You wouldn’t know, would you?” said Pilgrim. “For playing a game of hide-and-seek like that with us, he really deserves a beating! But for the sake of the Bodhisattva, I’ll spare him, and that’s something already! You think he dares accept a bow from old Monkey? Old Monkey has been a hero since his youth, and he doesn’t know how to bow to people!
to speak, after his Monkey disciple provided an appropriately symbolic medium of wordlessness to remind his master not to chatter and complain endlessly and still reciting a scripture that powerfully affirms the vacuity of all phenomena and all sense perceptions (see JW, chapter 19, for a full citation of the sūtra as translated by the historical Xuanzang). As another example of Chan motifs in XYJ, an even earlier episode anticipated this part of the story, when master and disciple take up
identical to those of the pilgrims, but only after the princes’ mortal frames have been transformed by the immortal breath of Sun Wukong can they carry a rod, a rake, and a staff of immense weight, but still less heavy than the original weapons. Even more significantly, their linkage to Daoism is already made in the novel, for when the weapons of the pilgrims are stolen, the closing poetic commentary in chapter 88 declares: “Dao can’t be left for a moment; / What can be left is not the Dao. /