Journey to The West. This is a world-famous
tale of a holy monk and his three disciples who travelled long and far to the Western
Paradise to obtain Buddhist scriptures during the Tang Dynasty. Xuan Zang, better known
as Tang Sang Zang or Tripitaka in the story, had the help of Monkey God and two fallen
deities, Pigsy (man with pig’s head) and Sandy (sand demon) who retained supernatural
powers. Given a chance to atone for their mistakes, these three disciples had to protect
Tripitaka from evil on the quest and rely on one another’s strengths to offset their
weaknesses. It teaches the values of teamwork and determination to reach one’s goal. This
epic novel by Wu Cheng En is based on Xuan Zang’s real-life travel to India for the
scriptures. Tripitaka’s first disciple, Monkey God.
The most colourful, memorable and clever character in the group, Monkey God is widely known as
Sun Wu Kong. His name, “Wu Kong” was given in hope that he would gain insight into “wu”,
or “emptiness”, which leads to wisdom and inner peace in spiritual teachings. Monkey
God was armed with 72 powerful transformations simply by plucking and blowing on one of his
monkey hairs, and he could cover 54,000 kilometres with a single flip on a cloud. With these
skills, he was perfect in leading the way and scouting for danger as he is seen here.
Monkey God was defiant and restless despite his brilliance, wreaking havoc in the Heavenly
Kingdom. He was thus imprisoned under Buddha’s mountain for five centuries while he waited
for Tripitaka who was destined to free him and become his master on the quest. Monkey
God attained Buddhahood for his service and is greatly revered by Chinese and Japanese
societies till today, as he is believed to grant wit and courage.
Battling countless spirits and demons throughout the 14-year journey, Monkey God met one of
his strongest opponents in the form of Scarlet Child, the only son of the Ox Demon and Princess
Fan. This cruel and evil family caused the nearby villagers much fear and longed to live
forever by eating Tripitaka’s flesh. Riding on two fire wheels and carrying a long spear,
Scarlet Child was famous for emitting fiery flames through his mouth and nostrils. He
could also raise a tornado to sweep victims into his Cave of Fiery Cloud. Scarlet Child
trapped Tripitaka at Flame Mountain and tricked Pigsy by impersonating the Goddess of Mercy.
Monkey God rushed to his help and is seen here engaging in fierce battle with Scarlet
Child who was equally powerful. The Goddess of Mercy appeared and defeated the Scarlet
Child, upon knowing his evil deed, and made him one of her attendants forever.
Tripitaka’s Second Disciple, Pigsy. A human with a pig’s head – thus called Pigsy
– his Buddhist name, Wu Neng, signifies his awakening to power and the ability to
achieve greater things. He started as a Heavenly General like Sandy. Pigsy was attracted by
the Goddess of the Moon’s beauty and was punished to be reincarnated on Earth after
an attempt to get close to her while drunk. Tripitaka called him Zhu Ba Jie (‘zhu’
meaning ‘pig’ and ‘ba jie’ meaning ‘eight rules’) a constant reminder of
the eight Buddhist rules as Pigsy was greedy, lazy and lustful. His 36 magical transformations
proved useful during the journey and he fought well in water battles alongside Sandy. Pigsy
was the most highly skilled after Monkey God and served as an encouragement to people as
he reached a difficult goal despite his bad habits. After the successful quest, he was
rewarded with the title, “Cleanser of the Altars” so he could help himself to all
the leftover offerings. Tripitaka’s Third Disciple, Sandy. Sandy
is commonly known as Sha Seng (Sand Monk). He was a Heavenly General punished to guard
River Liu Sha as he was often drunk and distracted by mortal affairs. He became a fierce Sand
Demon until he met the Goddess of Mercy who wished to reform him and relieve his suffering
by letting him protect Tripitaka on the quest. She named him Wu Jing, “Wu” meaning awareness
and “Jing” symbolising purity. Though Sandy’s fighting skills were the least powerful,
he was good in water battles, which made up for Monkey God’s weakness of not being able
to swim. He could also control sand. The most stable, logical and polite of the three disciples,
he was also obedient and loyal. In this scene, Sandy remained brave and firm despite being
overpowered by the Spider Spirits. He said, “Kill me if you like. My Eldest Brother(Monkey
God) will come soon and he will not spare any of you.” Sandy became a Luo Han (Arhat)
after completing the quest. Based on a true story, Tang Dynasty Emperor
Tang Tai Zong sent the devoted monk Xuan Zang on a mission to obtain the precious Buddhist
Scriptures from the West, which is present-day India. In the novel, Xuan Zang had a magical
white horse which was actually the Third Dragon Prince of the Sea. Like Tripitaka’s three
other disciples, he was punished and given a second chance as he had emerged from the
sea beds and devoured the original white horse. Thus, the Goddess of Mercy transformed him
into a horse to transport Tripitaka and the scrolls on the long and difficult journey.
In real-life, Xuan Zang studied the Buddhist Scriptures for 18 years in India. He brought
them back to China where Emperor Tang Tai Zong helped him to translate them into Chinese,
which birthed greater Buddhist teachings. Xuan Zang died at age 86 and his ashes are
kept in China’s Xin Jiao Shi pagoda. Marking one of the valuable lessons one can learn
from this journey, this story tells of the trouble that lust can bring.
Tripitaka and his disciples chanced upon a mansion in a cypress grove and asked the owner,
a widower, for permission to rest for the night. She gladly agreed and even offered
herself and her three beautiful daughters for marriage. Tripitaka and Sandy were strong
in their beliefs to abstain from women and politely declined, along with Monkey God who
was uninterested in such pleasures. Pigsy, who had a soft spot for women, fell for their
charms. He was blindfolded and tricked to try on one of their magical waistcoats which
turned into ropes that bound him tightly to a tree in the grove. The others woke up the
next morning to look for Pigsy and discovered that the mansion had disappeared.
This scene tells of Tripitaka’s encounter with the seven spider spirits and is the most
dangerous and thrilling among the one hundred chapters of the novel. The demons believed
eating Tripitaka’s holy flesh will grant them immortality and plotted to trap him.
When they heard that Tripitaka was nearing their spider den, the spider spirits turned
into beautiful women to seduce him and his disciples with their bodies and charms. They
trapped and bound Tripitaka when he begged for food and intended to cook and eat him
the next day. Pigsy was the first to rush to his rescue but fell prey to them due to
lust and got into trouble himself. Luckily, Monkey God saved them all. This episode tells
of resisting non-virtuous temptation by keeping strong faith and bearing the goal in mind.