AND THE JOURNEY TO THE WEST (1)

Extract 

Five hundred years later,   Buddha and Kuan Yin arranged to choose  Venerable Master Shuan-Chuang of TangDynasty to go on a  journey to bring back  Three Bundles of Scriptures, or San Tsang (Tripitaka: Sutra, Vinaya, Shastra)  from  India, the birthplace of Buddhism.

To insure that the Master could make for the West to get the scriptures, they also arranged to have the Monkey King to become his disciple and escort him, along with two other disciples they later came across (actually also arranged by the Buddha).  One was  Pig King, and the other was Sandy Monk.  And, Dragon Prince, who was transformed into the Master’s white horse, was also to accompany the Master for the difficult task. Therefore, the pilgrims started their stormy journey toward the west which was packed with actions and adventures.   When a task was too hard, Kuan Yin would help out.

During the next 14 years of traveling, they had to face 81 near fatal disastrous incidents, ranging  from getting rid of  wild beasts,  converting devils and demons to Buddha‘s followers, catching run away pets of various gods and divas, and putting off a mountain fire that couldn’t be doused by water.  On one occasion, the Queen of all-woman Kingdom refused to let them go, unless they raised children for them!

After travelling 108,000 miles, the pilgrims finally reached the Western Pureland of India.  Buddha gave them  Three Bundles of Scriptures, or San Tsang (Tripitaka: Sutra, Vinaya, Shastra)  for them to take back to their homeland. The Master began to translate the scriptures into Chinese and Buddhism became the most popular religion in China for the next  two thousand years.

Buddha understood that the pilgrims had suffered tremendously on the Journey, but they also discovered the inner wisdom and true nature of  themselves.  They each earned merit for doing good deeds and they were forgiven for their past  misdeeds. And, Buddha rewarded them for their loyalty and hard work with immortal life and eternal happiness.

   

The Search for Pilgrims

Buddha was lecturing his teachings that all beings have Buddha nature and can attain enlightenment, and  he emphasized the development of true compassion and the altruistic acts.  During the break, Buddha said to Kuan Yin, “I have Three Bundles of scriptures, or San Tsang (Tripitaka: Sutra, Vinaya, Shastra)  that could benefit  the people of the Eastern lands.  And, I need someone  to go the Eastern Lands and find a virtuous person to go on a quest over the mountains to obtain these truth-revealing scriptures.”

Kuan Yin volunteered to find a Master to make the hard journey.  Buddha gave Kuan Yin several talismans, including an embroidered cassock, a nine-ringed staff and a special magical headband,  to be forwarded to the Master.

Kuan Yin and her disciple set off on the journey and soon they came to a large body of water called the River of Flowing Sand where a hideous monster  came out to greet  Kuan Yin.  The monster told Kuan Yin that he used to wait on the Jade Emperor at the Hall of Divine Mists.  He was turned into a monster shape because he accidentally broke a crystal cup and was banished to the Lower Regions.  Kuan Yin promised to help the  sea monster to return to his previous position if he would help the Master in his quest to get the scriptures.  The  sea monster agreed to wait faithfully for the arrival of the Master, and he became  Sandy  Monk.

Kuan Yin  continued on the journey and soon came to a mountain where a ferocious monster with  huge ears and dropping lips came at her with a muckrake.  The monster confessed to Kuan Yin that he used to be a Marshal in the Heavenly River, but he was banished to the Lower Regions because he became too cozy with the Goddess of the Moon.  The  pig-looking monster promised to do penance for past misdeeds and to become a disciple of the Master when he arrived, and he became Pig King.

Soon, Kuan Yin came upon a dragon suspended in mid-air.  He was being punished for setting fire to his father’s palace and destroying his precious magic pearls.  Kuan Yin went to the Jade Emperor to plead for the dragon’s life so that he would help her in her mission to find the Master.  The Jade Emperor gave permission, and Kuan Yintold the dragon to wait in the Eagle Grief Stream and to turn into a white horse to serve the Master when he came by.

Finally, Kuan Yin arrived at Five-Peaked Mountain where the Monkey King, the Great Sage Equal to Heaven, was imprisoned.  The Monkey King asked the merciful Kuan Yin to rescue him.  He had already served his 500-year sentence.  The Monkey King reassured her that he was now going to behave himself and do good deeds. Kuan Yin told the Monkey King to wait for the Master and then become his disciple.  The Monkey King agreed to wait.

Meeting the Master

The Tang Dynasty, a wealthy Chinese dynasty that lasted from AD 618-907, was renowned for its encouragement for the development of  Buddhism and literature.  Emperor Tang Tai-Chong, one of the famous emperors during the great Tang Dynasty,  was a devoted Buddhist and regularly invited  Master Shuan-Chuang (or Xuan Zang) to the palace at Chang-An Cheng (or Chang-an City)  to lecture the sutras of Buddhism. One night before the Master’s lecture, Emperor Tang Tai-Chong dreamed of the Buddha who asked him to send a Master to the  Western Pureland  of India, the birthplace of Buddhism,  to get  Three Bundles of Scriptures, or San Tsang (Tripitaka: Sutra, Vinaya, Shastra) that could benefit  his empire and his people.

The following morning,  while Emperor Tang Tai-Chong listened attentively to  Master Shuan-Chuang’s lecture, Kuan Yin who was among the audience, stood up and said politely , ” Venerable Master, you are an excellent preacher and I enjoy very much about your lecture.”  “But,  why are you only teaching about the Theravada Buddhism (The Small Vehicle Buddhism)which emphasizes self-benefit and self-liberation?  Don’t you know the teachings of the Mahayana Buddhism (The Great Vehicle Buddhism)which  emphasizes the development of true compassion and the altruistic intentions?”  The Master told Kuan Yin that none of the monks had any knowledge of the Mahayana Buddhism.

When the Emperor heard Kuan Yin’s statement, he called for her and asked where are  the scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism.  “Your Majesty!  There are Three Bundles of Sucriptures  of Mahayana Buddhism in  the Great Temple of Thunderclap of the Western Pureland of India,”  Kuan Yin replied.  Master Shuan-Chuang happily declared his willingness to make the journey for the good of the empire and its people.  The Emperor was so overcome with joy and on the scene, heappointed Master Shuan-Chuang as a special envoy to India to bring back those scriptures.  And, Kuan Yin gave the cassock  to Master Shuan-Chuang.

On the day when the journey began,  Emperor Tang Tai-Chong gave the Master a new name: San Tsang  (which means Three Bundles of Scriptures) in honor of the scriptures that he would bring back from India. The Emperor also gave San Tsang  traveling papers, a golden bowl to collect alms, two attendants, an imperial white horse and other necessities.  (Note:  In Chinese history, Venerable Master Shuan-Chuang was also called Tang San Tsang, which means Three Bundles of Scriptures of Tang Dynasty.)

  The Journey

On the following day,   San Tsang came to a rugged mountain where he saw a hunter.  The hunter told him about the Monkey King who was imprisoned at the Five-Peaked Mountain.  The Monkey King was thrown down from the Heaven about 500 years ago during the Han Dynasty.  When San Tsang went toward the base of the mountain, he heard the Monkey King say, “Master, please get me out of here and I will help you get to India safely.”  The Monkey King told San Tsang the whole story of how he was imprisoned because he made a ruckus in the Halls of Heaven.

The Monkey King told San Tsang that all he had to do was to remove the seal of golden letters “OM” from the top of the mountain and he would be freed.  At the top of the mountain, Sang Tsang found the golden letters “OM”.  He made a simple prayer: ” If the Monkey King is meant to be my disciple, please let the letters be removed.”  Instantly the letters rose skyward and the Monkey King was released.  San Tsang wanted to give his new disciple a Buddhist name, but the Monkey King told him that he already had one:  “Soon Wu-Kong which means the Monkey with the realization of emptiness.”

They had not gone far when they were approached by a savage tiger.  The Monkey King told his master, “Not to worry! I will just tear this beast apart and use his skin for a new outfit.”  He used his magic weapon on the tiger and within minutes he took care of the tiger and had himself new clothes.  San Tsang was amazed at his disciple’s powers.  They continued chatting as they rode on the horse toward the setting sun in the southwest.

The following morning they were met by six heavily armed bandits.  They wanted the horse and the packs.  The Monkey  King told them, “We are on the way to India to bring back the authentic scriptures, so please do not block our way.”  The bandits would not listen to the Monkey King and they started beating on his head with their weapons.  Then, the Monkey King took out his weapon and beat them to a pulp.  San Tsang was shocked at his disciple’s behavior.  “How could you take another man’s life?”  he asked.  The Monkey King answered, “If I had not taken their lives, they would have taken ours!”  San Tsang scolded the Monkey King and told him that he was unworthy to be a monk.  The Monkey King felt insulted and he decided not to go to India.

As San Tsang walked on alone he met an old woman who was carrying a silk outfit and an embroidered cap.  The old woman asked him why he was traveling alone.  San Tsang told her about his unruly disciple who left him alone.  The old woman told him about a Headband Spell (or True Words for Controlling the Mind) and said she would persuade his disciple to come back.  When she disappeared, San Tsang realized that the old woman was really Kuan Yin in disguise.

Meanwhile,  the Monkey King went to visit the Dragon King and told him about his adventures as a monk and disciple.  The Monkey King also told him why he left his Master.  After congratulating the Monkey King on his leaving the bad and trying to attain the good, the Dragon King  said, “Should’t you learn a little patience?”  The Monkey King decided that the Dragon King was right and that he needed to learn to control his temper.  So he  headed back to fulfill his task.  On his way back the Monkey King met Kuan Yin who scolded him for breaking his vow to her.  The Monkey King promised to improve and behave this time.

When the Monkey King returned to San Tsang, he saw the outfit and cap that Kuan Yin had given to San Tsang.  The Monkey King wanted to try the cap and outfit on, San Tsang let him.  The Monkey King felt intense pain when he put on the cap.  San Tsang was reciting the Headband Spell, and the Monkey King’s pain only stopped when the reciting stopped. San Tsang told the Monkey King that he would not recite the spell if he would listen to his instructions.  The Monkey King agreed.

 

Now that it was winter, traveling was much more dangerous through the slippery mountain passes.  When they came close to a river called Eagle Grief Stream, a dragon swirled out of the waves and swallowed their horse. The Monkey King told San Tsang not to despair and he used his magic power to make a turbulent storm in the stream.  The dragon came out of the water and found out that he was challenged by the Monkey King to fight for the horse, he turned into a snake and wriggled away.  The  Monkey King called on the Mountain God to help him.

The Mountain God came and told the Monkey King that Kuan Yin had rescued that dragon from elsewhere and put him in the Eagle Grief Stream and to turn into a white horse to serve the Master when he came by.  Then, Kuan Yin was summoned, and when she arrived on a beam of light she told the Monkey King who the dragon really was.  When the dragon heard that Kuan Yin was at the stream, he came out of the water and told her that he was still waiting to hear news of the scripture-seeking Master.  Kuan Yin told the dragon that the Monkey King was the Master’s disciple.  Then, she sprinkled the dragon with the sweet dew in her vase and blew on him.  The dragon instantly changed into an exact image of San Tsang’s white horse.

Kuan Yin instructed the Monkey King to lead the horse to San Tsang.  The Monkey King was reluctant to go through anymore hardships.  Kuan Yin told him, “Without faith and perseverance, nothing is possible.”  Kuan Yin also promised to help the Monkey King in times of his greatest  trials.  The Monkey King thanked Kuan Yin and took the horse to San Tsang.