Inspirations from Reading Journey to the West

PureInsight | March 8, 2004

[] Journey to the West (also known as Monkey King)
is a well-known classical Chinese novel that describes the adventures
of a famous Chinese monk, Tripitaka (also known as Xuan Zang or Tang
San Zang, 602 – 664 A.D.) and his three disciples (Monkey King, Pigsy,
and Sandy) on their way to India, the birthplace of Buddhism, to obtain
the Buddhist scriptures. The story symbolizes the cultivation process
of a cultivator, and each character and event in the myth is a metaphor
that represents an idea in cultivation. Tripitaka and his three
disciples each represent a different meaning and message.

Tripitaka: The Tripitaka character represents the main body of cultivation or the cultivator.

[According to Journey to the West,
Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty gave Monk Xuan Zang the name
Tripitaka, or Tang San Zang, as an honorary title to match the
sacredness of the scripture-seeking journey. Emperor Taizong honored
Xuan Zang as his younger brother and thus gave him the surname Tang.
The Emperor also gave him the first name San Zang to memorialize him as
the seeker of the Buddhist Scriptures. Tang San Zang is also called
Tripitaka, meaning "Three Baskets" or "Priest of Tang." San Zang refers
to the three sections of the Great Vehicle Buddhist teaching. "San"
means "three" in Chinese. In this myth, the "Three Baskets of
Scripture" contain the Law describing Heaven, the Discourses describing
Earth, and the Scriptures that save the Dead. Tripitaka was Tathagata
Sakyamuni's second disciple, called Golden Cicada, before he was
banished to the human realm for not heeding Tathagata Sakyamuni's
teaching and for scoffing at his doctrine. At the end of the journey,
Tathagata Sakyamuni appointed him to be Buddha of Precocious Merit.]

Pigsy (Zhu Wu Neng or Zhu Ba Jie): The Pigsy character represents "greed," a pursuit that degrades one's moral or xinxing
standard. Specifically, Pigsy represents the attachments to wealth,
lust, gluttony, jealousy and other vices. The name Ba Jie (or "Eight
Commandments") represents a cultivator's daily tasks of relinquishing
these various attachments.

[Pigsy was Marshal of
the River of Heaven and had the command of eighty thousand watery
fellows before he was thrashed and banished from Heaven for getting
drunk and misbehaving with the Moon Goddess. When the time came for his
next incarnation, he lost his way and mistakenly ended up in the belly
of an old mother pig, which accounted for his looks. Bodhisattva
Avalokitesvara gave Pigsy the name Zhu Wu Neng when she tonsured him to
become a monk. "Zhu" means "pig" in Chinese, and "Wu Neng" means
"enlightened to capability." Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara also asked
Pigsy to refrain from eating the eight types of food that the Buddha
and Tao Schools prohibit. When Pigsy became Tang San Zang's disciple,
Tang San Zang learned about his eight prohibited foods and gave him the
nickname Zhu Ba Jie. "Ba Jie" means "Eight Commandments." At the end of
the journey, Tathagata Sakyamuni appointed Pigsy as Cleaner of the
Altar because greed and lust are not yet utterly extinguished in him.]

Monkey King
(Sun Wu Kong): The Monkey King represents "temper" or "emotion,"
another characteristic that degrades a cultivator's xinxing level.
Specifically, the Monkey King represents the show-off mentality, the
competitive mentality, zealotry, self-conceit, and so on. The Monkey
King's name "Wu Kong" means "enlightened to nothingness," and it is a
hint that he has to remove all these pursuits in his cultivation. A
cultivator such as Monkey King, who appears to be far more talented
than other cultivators, has a very strong attachment to "self" and must
aspire to the realm of selflessness to conquer it.

Tao master gave Monkey King the name of Sun Wu Kong. This Tao master
was the one who taught Monkey King the magic to transform himself into
seventy-two different forms such as a tree, a bird, a beast of prey or
a bug as small as a mosquito. The surname Sun means "Monkey" and Wu
Kong means "enlightened to nothingness." Monkey King has the most
powerful supernormal abilities of Tripitaka's three disciples. His
Celestial Eye is open and he can easily spot a demon disguised as a
human. Tripitaka, whose Celestial Eye is sealed, repeatedly mistakes a
demon disguised as a human being in need of help and reproaches Monkey
King – even drives him away – for killing such demons. The demons often
exploit Tripitaka's "kindness" and nearly claim his life. Monkey King,
on the other hand, shows no mercy to demons but Tripitaka often
considers him to be "unkind." Because of Monkey King's endeavor to
scourge evil and promote good, Tathagata Sakyamuni promoted him to be
Buddha Victorious in Strife at the end of the journey.]

(Sha Wu Jing): The Sandy character represents "cultivators lost in
secular illusions." It is another attachment that degrades a
cultivator's xinxing level. Specifically, Sandy represents
those cultivators who are attached to everyday notions, those who are
stubborn and foolish and those who have low enlightenment qualities.
His heart of wisdom is covered with the dust of notions. A cultivator
such as Sandy can enlighten to the realm of purity and attain to his
true wisdom once he shakes off the layer of dust that is his notions.

[Sandy was the Great Captor of Spirits in Heaven, charged to wait upon
the Jade Emperor when he rode in his Phoenix Chariot. He was given 800
lashes, banished to the common world and transformed into a hideous
shape for breaking a crystal dish at the heavenly Peach Banquet.
Moreover, the Jade Emperor would send flying swords to stab his chest
and sides every seven days, while keeping him in a state of emaciation
in the River of Flowing Sand. But instead of devoting himself to
repentance and purification, Sandy kept slaying creatures and feeding
on their flesh, adding sin to sin, even though the Jade Emperor would
remind him with the torturous swords every seven days. This was a sign
that Sandy had a poor enlightenment quality. After Sandy took the vows
to travel to India with Tang San Zang the scripture-seeker, Bodhisattva
Avalokitesvara tonsured Sandy and gave him the name Sha Wu Jing. "Sha"
means "sand" in Chinese and "Wu Jing" means "enlightened to purity." At
the end of the journey, Tathagata Sakyamuni promoted him to be a
Golden-Bodied Arhat.]

Each of the eighty-one (nine
times nine) calamities they encountered in their journey to India in
search of the scriptures has its respective meaning. The following are
a few examples:

That the demons want to eat Tripitaka's flesh
represents the cultivator's creditors in other dimensions who resolve
to assuage their hatred by consuming him. In broad terms, it refers to
the enormous danger and difficulty encountered in cultivation.

drove Sun Wu Kong away several times, and each time the demons almost
claimed Tripitaka's life as a result. The moral is that if a cultivator
treats a tribulation in cultivation with an everyday heart or mistakes
"kindness" for "compassion," he is likely to create a deadly
tribulation for himself – one that is beyond his capacity to overcome.

every time the Monkey King defeats a demon and is about to kill it with
his Golden Clasped Wishing Staff that weighs 13,500 pounds, a deity or
a Buddha appears at the pivotal moment and asks him to spare the
demon's life because the demon was in fact the pupil or the steed of
the deity or the Buddha in disguise. This implies that every person,
incident and tribulation is the special arrangement of an enlightened

The three magical formulas that often help Monkey King out
of a tight spot are "Fixing in Position," which roots the subject to
the spot where he stands; the magic of "Turning Hair into Drowsy
Insects," which makes a person fall right to sleep when a hair touches
his cheek; and the magic of "Shrinking Body," which makes one's body
tiny. These three supernormal abilities have also reportedly been used
by today's Dafa disciples.

There are, of course, more examples, but given the length limitations of this article, these three will have to suffice.

The real drama of Journey to the West
occurs towards the end of the journey, when Tripitaka and his disciples
face their last difficulties. When they are taken to the Treasury to
fetch the scriptures, Tathagata Sakyamuni's two disciples – Ananda and
Kasyapa – ask Tripitaka for presents in exchange for the scriptures.
Tripitaka argues, "During my entire long journey, I have never once
found it necessary to lay in anything of the kind."

said the disciples. "So we are to spend our days handing over
scriptures for free! Not a very bright outlook for our heirs!" Monkey
King could not refrain from shouting angrily, "Come along, Master! We
will tell Buddha about this and make him come and give us the
scriptures himself."

"Don't shout," said Ananda. "There is
nothing in the situation that demands all this bullying and blustering.
Come here and fetch your scriptures."

It wasn't until the White
Heroic Bodhisattva caught up with them, tore open the parcel of
scriptures and threw it to the ground that Tripitaka and the three
disciples realized that all the scriptures were blank. They went to
Buddha Sakyamuni to exchange them. After Monkey King complained to
Buddha Sakyamuni that Ananda and Kasyapa made a fraudulent delivery of
goods because they wouldn't pay the commission, Buddha Sakyamuni
replied with a smile, "I quite expected that those two would ask for
their commission. As a matter of fact, scriptures ought not to be given
on too easy terms or received for free. On one occasion, some of my
monks went down the mountain to Sravasti with some scriptures and let
Zhao, the Man of Substance, read them out loud. The result was that all
the living members of his household were protected from all calamity
and the dead were saved from perdition. For this, they only charged an
amount of gold equal in weight to three pecks and three pints of rice.
I told them they had sold at far too cheap a price. No wonder they gave
you blank copies when they saw you did not intend to make any payment
at all."

Here it may appear that Buddha Sakyamuni was defending
his own disciples out of selfishness. When Ananda and Kasyapa took the
pilgrims once more to the Treasury, they again asked Tripitaka for a
little present. He could think of nothing to give them except his
golden begging bowl. He told Sandy to find it, and holding it up before
him in both hands, he said to the two disciples, "I am a poor man and
have been traveling for a long time. I fear I have nothing with me that
is suitable for a present; but perhaps you would accept this bowl,
which the Emperor of China gave me with his own hand, that I might use
it to beg with on the road. If you will put up with so small a trifle,
I am sure that when I return to China and report on my mission, you may
count on being suitably rewarded. I hope on these terms you will this
time give me scriptures with writing on them, or I fear his Majesty
will be disappointed and think that all my efforts have been wasted."
Ananda and Kasyapa took the bowl and finally handed them 5,048 scrolls
of genuine scriptures.

I think this section is the cream of the
whole book, but many people have failed to understand its true meaning
and used it to scorn and attack Buddhism.

That Ananda and Kasyapa
ask for commission means a cultivator must completely remove all his
attachments to obtain the genuine Buddhist scripture.

Sakyamuni's reply to Monkey King's complaint means that a cultivator
should not hesitate to lose during his cultivation. After all: no loss,
no gain. More loss, more gain. The blank scriptures that Tripitaka was
given the first time are actually a metaphor for the fact that one
cannot attain the genuine Fa without removing all of his attachments.
The golden begging bowl is the only thing of any value that Tripitaka
owns. As Tripitaka gives up his begging bowl, he is actually removing
his final attachment.

Teacher has told us in Zhuan Falun,
"To tell you the truth, the entire cultivation process for a
practitioner is one of constantly giving up human attachments." (From
"Genuinely Guiding People Toward High Levels" in Lecture One of Zhuan Falun.)
The challenge is that it becomes all the more difficult for one to
remove his attachments toward the end of his cultivation because the
final attachment is one that is hidden most deeply in the heart. Let's
think about the four of pilgrims in Monkey King for a
moment. They have experienced all kinds of calamities and numerous
close encounters with death to finally meet Tathagata Sakyamuni. While
they were full of hope and the anticipation of fetching the scriptures
back to China, they experienced the most unexpected treatment from
Buddha Sakyamuni and his disciples, whom they trusted would be
benevolent. When the White Heroic Bodhisattva tore open the pilgrims'
scripture-parcel and threw it to the ground to force them into
returning for the genuine scriptures, Tripitaka mistook his action as a
malicious one and started to weep bitterly, "Little did I think that
even in Paradise we should be molested by savage demons!" Had they not
had deep righteous faith in the Buddha Fa, or had they clung to the
slightest human attachment, their efforts would have been in vain in
the final hour, despite all their previous work.

The Fa of the
universe will soon rectify the human realm, and Dafa cultivators will
soon conclude their Fa-rectification cultivation. We should learn from
this story of Tripitaka and his disciples, and continue to cultivate

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