The Journey to the West

'The Journey to the West’ is the source of the TV cartoon series shown in the West in the 60's as 'Monkey' or 'Monkey King'. For those who remember these series from their childhood, you will remember that besides the main character 'Monkey', we also have his master, the Buddhist monk 'Tripitaka', and his two fellow disciples, 'Pigsy' and 'Sandy'. Not many know, and these include the generations after generations of Chinese children who have grown up learning about the kungfu exploits of the Monkey deity, that 'The Journey to the West' is replete with Buddhist allegory and symbolism. Its Western equivalent is 'The Chronicles of Nadia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' by C.S. Lewis, a book replete with Christian allegory and symbolism. 'The Journey to the West' is quite profound in its meaning as to our ‘spiritual’ and ‘worldly’ life or being. However, you have to go beyond the ‘kungfu’ fighting, so to speak. For instance the ‘West’ might imply the journey beyond our death; in the sense that we are born in the East [for the sun rises in the East] and therefore we die in the West [in the sunset of our life]! That is also why the Amitabha Buddha Pure Land is in the West. I was once asked, when explaining the Amitabha Sutra, why we seek to go to the Western Pure Land and not the Eastern Pure Land! Here is a summary account of the ‘spiritual’ attributes of the 4 main characters, in order of spiritual rank or hierarchy: The monk Táng-Sānzàng (唐三藏), "Tang-Three-Hiddens" represents the spirit of man. 'Hidden' here means secret or arcane spiritual insight or knowledge. It has been suggested that the Sānzàng (三藏) or the "Three Hiddens” refers to the ‘Tripitaka’, which is a traditional honorific term for a Buddhist monk. ‘Tripitaka’ actually refers to the three "baskets" of Buddhist teachings: Sūtra Pitaka (Buddhist Sutra), Vinaya Pitaka (Vinaya – Monastic Code) and Abhidharma Pitaka (scriptures or teachings that investigate the workings of the mind and the states of human consciousness). In my opinion, the "Three Hiddens" refers to the terrestrial, celestial and the transcendental dimensions or realms of our spiritual ‘being’. So Buddha appeared as a ‘terrestrial’ being in Gautama Buddha; is the ‘celestial’ Amitabha Buddha in the Western Pure Land Paradise, or could appear as a lower rank spiritual being as in Avalokitesvara (Guanyin) Bodhisattva or the Earth Store Bodhisattva [A Bodhisattva is like a Christian Saint]; and is the ‘transcendental’ Vairochana Buddha in the Ultimate Reality, that is simply put as 'beyond the beyond'; or as Christians would put it - heaven. There is the 'Buddha' seed in every man, or more correctly, in every 'sentient being'.

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The monkey Sūn Wùkōng (孫悟空) means "Awakened to Emptiness" and represents the unenlightened man. Man needs to be ‘enlightened’. If you have studied the Heart Sutra you should know that Avalokitesvara (Guanyin) realised the meaning of - “Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form” - and achieved enlightenment. Basically in the ‘cause and effect’ conditioned samsara Saha world of duality or relativity, that we live in, in perpetual cycles of rebirth, both ‘form’ and ‘emptiness’ of phenomena, experience and consciousness, are ‘empty’ of any permanent essence or substrate. In simple terms, life is an illusion! We are not 'real' beyond the 'experience'! As René Descartes put it - "Je pense, donc je suis; I think, therefore I am". The pig Zhū Bājiè (豬八戒) means "Pig of the Eight Prohibitions" and represents the frailties and greed of man. Whether it is ‘eight’ or a ‘million’; the expression is used as a matter of expediency to denote human desires and afflictions; which result in attachments and aversions that are the cause and condition of our being in this samsara Saha world of suffering. The sand-fish Shā Wùjìng 沙悟净 means "Sand Awakened to Purity" and represents the basic naivety and innocence of man at birth or origin; i.e. before the temptation of 'being', of self-ego and self-consciousness. Man’s original or inherent or basic nature is pure. Here is a summary as to the ‘worldly’ attributes of the 4 main characters: The monk represents man with a ‘pure heart’ and ‘pure mind’. The monkey represents the ‘animal’ in man. The monkey looks like man [genetically we are 99% the same!] but inside he is pure animal and hungers for status and power. The pig does not look like man at all but inside he is all man in his sexual and other urges, including gluttony and laziness. In fact you can transplant a pig organ for a human organ! Check this out on the medical websites if you do not believe me. The sand-fish represents the origin of man – a simple being in the water of life. Man is 90% water! The theory of evolution tells us that man evolved from a water organism! Mind you, 'The Journey to the West' was written before Darwin’s Theory of Evolution! So our Chinese forebears must have an inkling about evolution long before Darwin did. The man, monkey, pig and the sand-fish are all the same ‘spiritual being’ in essence; but are as 'sentient beings' however they are at different stages of evolution or more specifically, at different phases of spiritual ‘consciousness’ development. cheok hong chuan

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