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Journey to the West

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  • Journey to the West

    When Machine IV posted his idea for Changeling society in Tokyo, I had asked him if he had any ideas for a changeling court based on Journey to the West. He said no, as he knew very little about Chinese folklore and mythology. Journey to the West is one of the most famous stories in East Asia and has inspired several anime series, including the popular Dragon Ball. I am attaching a summary of the story, here, plus a description of its title character with the hopes that it will encourage those who know about the story to share their ideas.

  • #2
    Journey to the West

    Journey to the West is one of the four classics of Chinese literature. Written by the Ming Dynasty novelist Wu Cheng’en during the 16th century, this beloved adventure tale combines action, humor, and spiritual lessons.
    The novel takes place in the seventh century. It tells the story of one of Buddha Sakyamuni’s disciples who was banished from the heavenly paradise for the crime of slighting the Buddha Law. He was sent to the human world and forced to spend ten lifetimes practicing religious self-cultivation in order to atone for his sins.
    In his tenth lifetime, now during the Tang Dynasty, he reincarnates as a monk named Xuan Zang (also known as Tang Monk and Tripitaka). The emperor wishes this monk can travel west and bring holy Mahayana Buddhist scriptures back to China. After being inspired by a vision from the Bodhisattva Guanyin, the monk accepts the mission and sets off on the sacred quest.
    But Tang Monk is ill-equipped for such perilous travel on his own. Weak and timid, he is no match for the evil creatures seeking to kill and eat him (his flesh, after all, is said to impart immortality). And so the goddess Guanyin arranges for an eclectic group to become his disciples and protect him: the valiant but impetuous Monkey King (also known as Sun Wukong), the lustful Pigsy, the taciturn Sand Monk, and the White Dragon Horse. All had been banished to the human world for sins in the heavens. Out of mercy, Guanyin gives them one more chance to return to their celestial home: They can convert to Buddhism and protect the monk Tang on his pilgrimage.
    And indeed, on the journey they encounter one trial after another—a total of 81, to be precise. Through force or deception, a motley of demons and evil spirits come after the monk. Some try to tempt the band with wealth or beauty. Yet, in the end, the pious pilgrims triumph, they return to China with sacred scriptures, and return to their rightful places in the heavens.
    Journey to the West is known for its colorful characters, especially the Monkey King and Pigsy. The Monkey King was born out of a rock, and learned supernormal powers from a Taoist master. With the combination of his mischievous nature and great powers, he created chaos both in heaven and the underworld. The heavenly Jade Emperor tried to calm him down by granting him the title of “Great Sage of Heaven,” but Monkey could not control himself and caused uproar in the heavenly palace.
    Finally, the Buddha, still far more powerful, subdued the rascally Monkey and trapped him under a mountain. There he remained trapped for 500 years, until one day Tang Monk passed by the mountain. This was the moment the Monkey King had been waiting for. He vowed to devote himself to the monk’s service on the journey and was finally freed.
    The Monkey King proved a critical asset to the monk. He could see right through the demons and their witchcraft, and was not tempted by beauty or riches. His wit helped the monk escape many a perilous situation. And although he proved unruly at times, for his great accomplishments he was later awarded the title of “Buddha Victorious in Strife.”
    Pigsy had likewise once been a deity—a heavenly admiral, in fact. But after getting drunk and making inappropriate moves toward the beautiful Chang’e, he was sent down to the human world as a man pig. Pigsy was known for being lazy and gluttonous, and worst of all, licentious. Even after ten years of spiritual self-cultivation on his pilgrimage, Pigsy was still unwilling to let go of these desires, and so, upon completing the mission, he was only given the lowly title of “heavenly altar messenger.”
    Indeed in this novel so rich in symbolism, the tribulations the travelers face are metaphors for the trials one must pass on a spiritual journey.


    • #3
      Sūn Wùkōng, one of the most famous primate characters in world literature appears in the great Chinese classic Journey to the West (西游记, Xiyouji, 1592 CE). The story follows the adventures of an immortal monkey demon-turned-Buddhist monk named Sun Wukong (孙悟空). He is the quintessential trickster god who disrupts the status quo of the heavenly hierarchy. He can do this with little fear of the powers that be because his long years of spiritual cultivation and martial arts practice have instilled him with the power to push back. This is why “Monkey” has remained a popular character for centuries. He is the id, our inner desire to rebel against the rules and regulations of ever day life. Basically, Sun can do the thing that we can’t: laugh in the face of authority with impunity. He is the embodiment of the Buddhist concept of the “Monkey Mind” (心猿), the restlessness of the human spirit. As a monkey, he is beneath us, yet as an immortal, he is far beyond humans for he has shed his mortal form and extinguished his desires. What follows is a concise overview of Sun's story. It will primarily focus on the first seven of the novel's one hundred chapters, but chapters eight through one hundred will be briefly touched upon, along with a lesser-known literary sequel to Journey to the West.
      In the beginning, the mystical energies of heaven and earth come together to impregnate a boulder high atop the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit (花果山) on the Eastern Pūrvavideha continent. The stone gestates for countless ages until the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE), when it hatches an egg that is eroded by the elements into a simian shape. The Stone Monkey (石猴) awakens and crawls around, before bowing to the four cardinal directions as light bursts forth from his eyes and mouth. The light is so bright that it reaches heaven, alarming the August Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝) and his celestial retinue. The light soon subsides, however, once he ingests food for the first time. The stone primate happens upon other monkeys on the island and becomes their king when he proves himself in a test of bravery by blindly leaping through a waterfall and discovering a long-forgotten immortal's cave.

      The Handsome Monkey King (美猴王) rules the island for nearly four hundred years before the thought of his impending death begins to cause him great anxiety. One of his monkey advisers suggests that he seek out a Daoist immortal to teach him the secrets of eternal life; and so he sets sail on a makeshift raft, exploring new lands and adopting human dress along way. He searches the world for ten years before he is finally accepted as a student by the supreme immortal Subodhi (须菩提) on the Western Aparagodāniya continent. He is given the religious name Sun Wukong, meaning “monkey awakened to emptiness.” The immortal teaches him the seventy-two methods of heavenly transformation, or endless ways of changing his shape and size; cloud jumping, a type of flying that allows him to travel 108,000 miles with a single leap; all manner of magical spells to command gods and spirits; long and short range martial arts; and, most importantly, an internal breathing method that results in his immortality. He is later disowned by Subodhi for selfishly showing off his new found magical skills to his less accomplished classmates.

      Sun eventually returns to his island home and faces a powerful demon who had taken control of it during his prolonged absence. After killing the monster, he realizes that he is far too strong to wield mere earthly weapons, and so his adviser suggests that he go to the undersea palace of Ao Guang (敖广), the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea, to retrieve a celestial weapon. There, he tries out several weapons weighing thousands of pounds, but each one is too light. He finally settles on a massive nine ton iron pillar that was originally used by Yu the Great (大禹), a mythical king of the Xia Dynasty (c. 2070–1600 BCE), to measure the depths of the fabled world flood. Named the "As-You-Wish Gold-Banded Cudgel" (如意金箍棒, Ruyi jingu bang), the iron responds to Sun’s touch and follows his command to shrink or grow to his whim--as small as a needle or as tall as the sky--thus signifying that this weapon was fated to be his. In addition to the staff, Monkey bullies the Dragon King's royal brothers into giving him a magical suit of armor.

      Shortly after returning home to the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, Sun falls asleep and his soul is dragged to hell in chains. There he learns that, according to the Ledgers of Life and Death, it is his time to die. This greatly enrages Monkey for he was no longer subject to the laws of heaven since he had achieved immortality. He plucks the iron cudgel from his ear (where he keeps it the size of a needle) and begins to display his martial prowess. This so scares the denizens of hell that King Yama (阎罗王), ruler of the underworld, begs him to halt his immortal rage. Sun orders the ledger containing his information to be brought before him and promptly crosses out his name with ink, as well as the names of all monkeys on earth, thus making them immortal too. He wakes up in the mortal world when his soul returns to his body.


      • #4
        Interestingly enough, Journey to the West, is actually based on the pilgrimage of a REAL Buddhist monk, Xuanzang. While most of the story is fictional, the general outline actually happened. Here is a biography of the monk the story was based on. The life and adventures of a Chinese monk who made a 17-year journey to bring Buddhist teachings from India to China. Xuanzang subsequently became a main character in the great Chinese epic Journey to the West.
        Xuanzang: In 629 C.E., a Chinese Buddhist monk named Xuanzang wanted to go west to India to learn more about Buddhism, but at the time, the emperor had forbidden travel outside China. Xuanzang respected authority and he struggled with a decision on whether or not to make the journey. Xuanzang, a brilliant and devout man, in the end believed that going to India was the only way to answer questions that troubled Chinese Buddhists. He started a seventeen-year journey that year, much of it spent as a fugitive and traveling under the cover of darkness.
        Xuanzang traveled along what we now know as the Silk Road. He survived the dangerous Taklamakan Desert and continued through the high and harsh mountains of Tian Shan (literally, mountains of the heavens or sky). The Silk Road took him through countries ruled by powerful leaders who sometimes wanted to keep him in their kingdom rather than allow him to travel on. His intelligence and calm devotion to Buddhism convinced these leaders to help him in this quest to reach India. He was to have many adventures as he worked his way through India, on to Nepal, the home of the Buddha, and then to Nalanda where he spent many years living with the greatest teachers and thinkers of this time. Before he returned home, Xuanzang had converted priates who meant to rob and kill him, survived deadly typhoons, and won a Great Debate in front of thousands of wise men in India.

        The return trip was no less difficult and he slowly made his way back studying, teaching, and learning about the cultures of the people he met along the way. Xuanzang was still officially a fugitive in his homeland, China, because he had left without permission. Xuanzang wrote a letter to the emperor describing what he had learned and as a result, the emperor not only welcomed him back, but appointed him a court advisor.

        The rest of Xuanzang's life was spent in teaching, advising and translating manuscripts that made the journey home with him. Following his journey, Buddhism became more prevalent and more widely understood in China and subsequently elsewhere in the world. The record of his pilgrimage helps us to study and understand Buddhism and the cultures along the Silk Roads.


        • #5
          Here is another interesting character from Journey to the West, the pig monster Zhu Bajie
          Zhu Bajie , also named ''Zhu Wuneng'' , is one of the three helpers of in the classic Chinese novel ''Journey to the West''. He is called "Pigsy" or "Pig" in many versions of the story.

          Zhu Bajie is a complex and developed character in the novel. He looks like a terrible monster, part human and part pig, who often gets himself and his companions into trouble by his laziness, his gluttony, and his propensity for lusting after pretty women. He is jealous of Wukong and always tries to bring him down. His Buddhist name "Zhu Wuneng", given by bodhisattva , means "pig who is ability, or pig who rises to power", a reference to the fact that he values himself so much as to forget his own grisly appearance. Xuanzang gave him the nickname ''Bājiè'' which means "eight " to remind him of his Buddhist diet. He is often seen as the most outgoing of the group. In the original Chinese novel, he is often called ''dāizi'' , meaning "idiot". Sun Wukong, Xuanzang and even the author refer to him as "idiot" over the course of the story. Bodhisattvas and other heavenly beings usually refer to him as "Heavenly Tumbleweed.”

          Zhu Bajie originally held the title of ''Tiānpéng Yuánshuǎi'' , commander-in-chief of 80,000 Heavenly Navy Soldiers. When Sun Wu Kong was born, he was a giant demon. Tiānpéng Yuánshuǎi defeated him and he was granted his present title. He was later banished, however, for misbehaviour. At a party organized for all the significant figures in Heaven, Bajie saw the for the first time and was captivated by her beauty. Following a drunken attempt to get close to her, she reported this to the Jade Emperor and thus he was banished to Earth. In some retellings of the story, his banishment is linked to Sun Wukong's downfall. In any case, he was exiled from Heaven and sent to be reincarnated on Earth, where by mishap he fell into a pig farm and was reborn as a man-eating pig-monster known as ''Zhū Gāngliè'' .

          In the earlier portions of ''Journey to the West'', Wukong and Xuanzang come to Gao village and find that a daughter of the village elder had been kidnapped and the abductor left a note demanding marriage. After some investigations, Wukong found out that Bajie was the "villain" behind this. He fought with Wukong, but ended the fight when he learned that Wukong is a servant of Xuanzang, revealing that he had been recruited by Guanyin to join their pilgrimage and make atonements for his sins .

          Like his fellow disciples, Bajie has supernatural powers. He knows 36 transformations. Like his fellow disciple, Sha Wujing, his combat skills underwater are superior to that of Wukong. The novel makes use of constant imagery and Bajie is most closely linked to the Wood element, as seen by another one of his nicknames, ''Mùmǔ'' .

          At the end of the novel, most of Bajie's fellow pilgrims achieve enlightenment and become or arhats, but he does not; although much improved, he is still too much a creature of his base desires. He is instead rewarded for his part in the pilgrimage's success with a job as "Cleanser of the Altars" and all the leftovers he can eat.

          As a weapon, he wields a , a nine-tooth iron muck- from Heaven that weighs roughly 5,048 kilos .


          In the manga '''' and the anime '''', ''Dragon Ball Z'' and Dragon Ball GT, there is a pig named which is loosely based on Zhu Bajie; he is greedy, ugly, stupid and has the shape-changing ability.

          '''', an anime and manga loosely based on ''Journey to the West'', features a major character named is loosely based on Zhu Bajie; indeed, ''Cho Hakkai'' is Japanese for ''Zhu Bajie'', as is his previous name ''Cho Gonou'' . Hakkai, being gentle and polite, and hardly resembling anything but a human, is nothing like Bajie. However, in a team of impostors who take the party's place in a few episodes, Hakkai's counterpart is in fact a slobbish glutton.

          In the anime ''InuYasha'', Zhu Bajie's descendant is a demon named Chokyukai that abducts young unmarried women and takes them to his palace.

          The Capcom arcade game '''', also loosely based on ''Journey to the West'', features a character drawn from Zhu Bajie in the form of the second-player character Tonton.


          • #6
            Shā Wùjìng is one of the three helpers of in the classic Chinese novel ''Journey to the West''. In the novels, his background is the least developed of the pilgrims and he contributes the least to their efforts. He is called Sandy in many versions of the story. His name is translated into as ''Sa Gojō'' , into as ''Sa Ng? T?nh'' and into as ''Sua Jeng’'.
            Like Zhu Bajie, Wujing was originally a general in Heaven - - more specifically as a Curtain-Lifting General. Once, he became very furious and destroyed a valuable vase. Other sources mention that he did this unintentionally. Nevertheless, he was punished by the Jade Emperor, who had him struck 800 times with a rod and exiled to earth, where he was to be as a terrible man-eating Sand Demon. There, he lived in the ''Liúshā-hé'' . Every seven days a sword would be sent from heaven to stab him 100 times in the chest before flying off.

            Wujing's appearance was rather grisly; he had a red beard and his was partially bald; a necklace consisting of skulls made him even more terrible. He still carried the weapon he had in Heaven, a '''', a double-headed staff with a crescent-moon blade at one end and a spade at the other, with six '''' rings in the shovel part to denote its religious association. There is an interesting story about the necklace of skulls. An earlier group of nine monks on a pilgrimage West to fetch the scriptures met their end at the hands of Wujing. Despite their pleas for mercy, he devoured them, sucked the marrow from their bones, and threw their skulls into the river. However, unlike his other victims whose bone sank to the river bottom, the skulls of the monks floated. This fascinated and delighted Wujing, who strung them on a rope and played with them whenever he was bored.

            Later, Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion, and her disciple Prince Moksa came searching for powerful bodyguards in preparation of Xuanzang's journey west. She recruited Wujing in exchange for some relief from his suffering. She then converted him and gave him his current name, ''Shā Wùjìng''. His surname ''Shā'' was taken from his river-home, while his name ''Wùjìng'' means " purity" or "aware of purity". Finally, he was instructed to wait for a monk who would call for him. When Wujing does meet Xuanzang, he was mistaken for an enemy and attacked by Sun Wukong and Zhu Bajie. Guanyin was forced to intervene for the sake of the journey.

            After everything was cleared up, Wujing became the third of Xuanzang, who called him ''Shā-héshàng'' . Now, he was clad in a robe and his skull-necklace was turned into a one. His appearance also changed; from now on he looked more like a human, yet still ugly. During the Journey to the West, his swimming ability was quite useful. He always carried a small gourd which he could turn into a huge one to cross rivers. Wujing was actually a kind-hearted and obedient person and was very loyal to his master, among the three he was likely the most polite and the most logical. At the journey's end, Buddha transformed him into an arhat or luohan.

            As the third disciple, even though his fighting skills are not as great as that of Wukong or Bajie, he is still a great warrior protecting Xuanzang and can use his intellect as well as his strength to beat the enemy. He does not know any transformations; he admits this during the middle of the book.


            In Japan he was seen as a , another fearsome kind of water demon.

            In the manga/anime '''', is loosely based on Sha Wujing, with a modified version of the same weapon . However, Gojyō is described as being half human, half ''yōkai'', instead of a man-eating river monster.

            ''Mega Man: The Wily Wars'' had a character based on Sha Wujing named Mega Water.S in the unlockable "Wily Tower" game. Mega Water.S later made an appearance in the CD Database for ''Mega Man & Bass''.

            In the manga/anime '''', the character Yamcha, the Desert Bandit, was originally based upon Sha Wujing.

            In Digimon, Shaujinmon is based on Sha Wujing.

            In the movie The Forbidden Kingdom Jackie Chan's character Lu Yan is based on Sha Wujing.