AND THE JOURNEY TO THE WEST
If you think Superman or Spiderman has been around for a long time, think about Monkey. The Monkey King has been Chinese favorite superhero for at least five centuries. He’s amazingly clever and capable, strong and powerful. He learned all the magic tricks from the Taoist Lord Lao-Tzu . He could transform himself into seventy-two different images. Using clouds as a vehicle, he could travel hundreds of miles in a single somersault. And, he’s always ready to fight with demons, dragons, sometimes even the gods.
“The Monkey King” is known as “Soon Wu-Kong” to the Chinese. The name “Soon Wu-Kong” means the Monkey with the realization of emptiness. “The Monkey King and The Journey to the West,” was written by Mr. Wu Cheng-En during the Chinese Ming Dynasty (1500 – 1582). Mr. Wu Cheng-En was an elder statesman who witnessed a lot in his life, both good and bad, yet ultimately went away with great faith in human nature to face hardships and survived with good humor and compassion. While many readers are fascinated with the prowess and wisdom of the Monkey King, others agree what the author tried to convey to his readers: a rebellious spirit against the then untouchable feudal rulers.
“The Monkey King and The Journey to the West” was based on a true story of the famous Buddhist Master Shuan–Chuang (or Xuan Zang) (AD 602-665) and the Emperors of Tang Dynasty. More than one thousand three hundred years ago, Shuan-Chunag, who was dispatched by Emperor Tang Tai-Chong, traveled to what is today India, the birthplace of Buddhism, to fetch the authentic Buddhist scriptures. After seventeen years, he returned to his homeland of Tang Dynasty, and he started to translate the scriptures into Chinese, thus making tremendous contribution to the development of the Buddhism in China. The Tang Dynasty, a wealthy Chinese Dynasty (AD 618-907), was renowned for its encouragement for the development of Buddhism and literature.
“The Monkey King and theJourney to the West” is one of the renowned classical Chinese novels about Master Shuan-Chuang’s journey, mingled with Chinese fables, fairy tales, legends, superstitions, popular beliefs, monster stories as well as whatever the author could find in the Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. The Journey to India was many thousand miles long and the route was full of man-eating wild beasts, monsters, devils, demons and plagued with other difficulties. Therefore, the Buddha assigned four deities to help the Master out on the way, to protect him from the devils, and to act as his disciples. The whole story consists of eighty-one calamities that were encountered by the Masterand his disciples, the Monkey King, Pig King, Sandy Monk and the white horse, during their long and dangerous journey.
The stories of “The Monkey King and The Journey to the West” are very popular and enjoyed by millions of people of different cultures, countries and religions in Asia, from China to Japan to Korea to Singapore, etc. The stories had been made into various dramas, movies, cartoons, TV series and operas throughout the last several centuries in Asia.
Venerable Master Shuan-Chuang
Venerable Master Shuan-Chuang (or Xuan Zang), originally named Chen-Yi, was born around sunrise, on February 5, AD 602, in He-Nan Province, China (not too far from Shao-Lin Temple). At the young age of 12 years old, he became an ordained monastic and was given a Buddhist name “Shuan-Chuang” meaning “an expert in the sutras of Buddhism.” He was asked why he insisted on becoming a monk at such young age. He answered, “To glorify the Buddha’s teaching and to continue the bodhi (or awakened) seed of the Buddha.” Later, he was invited regularly by the Emperor to the palace at Chang-An Cheng (or Chang-An City) to give lectures on the sutras of Buddhism.
At age of 26, Emperor Tang Tai-Chong appointed Shuan-Chuang as a special envoy to India to bring back Three Bundles of Scriptures, or San Tsang (Tripitaka: Sutra, Vinaya, Shastra) . So, the Master started his westward journey by foot toward remote India. He crossed the Takla Makan Desert and climbed the Pamir Plateau that was covered with snow year round. After overcoming many natural dangers and countless obstacles, he finally arrived in India. (At that time, the Indian territory included the area from what is present day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kashmir, down to the south of the Hindu Kush Mountains.)
According to Master Shuan-Chuang’s biography, he received a Chinese version of the Heart Sutra from a beggar he had helped in SiChuan prior to his Journey to the West. He used the Heart Sutra as a talismanic chant during his dangerous crossing of the Gobi Desert. It’s said that Master Shuan-Chuang had encountered Kuan-Yin in the Gobi Desert as he lay dying of thirst and chanting the Heart Sutra. Kuan-Yin led him and his horse to an oasis of water, and Master Shuan-Chunag remained devoted to her throughout his life.
After 17 years, Shuan-Chuang returned to home with Three Bundles of Scriptures, or San Tsang (Tripitaka: Sutra, Vinaya and Shastra). His verbal accounts of the westward voyage were written down by his disciple Bien-Jiand compiled into a book called “The Journey to the West In the Tang Dynasty.” After returning to his homeland, Shuan-Chuang also established the Fa-Hsian branch (Mind-only School) of Buddhism. He translated as many as 75 volumes of Buddhist scriptures (including the Diamond Sutra) – one thousand thirty five chapters in total. Because of Shuan-Chuang’s unusual accomplishments as well as his outstanding contributions to the spread of Buddhism, he was named as “One of the Most Renowned Masters of Chinese Buddhism, and “One of the Greatest Adventurers of Mankind.”
Note: In Chinese history, Venerable Master Shuan-Chuang was also called Tang San Tsang which means Three Bundles of Scriptures of Tang (Dynasty) . The Master passed away around sunset, on February 5, AD 665.