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The Journey to the west by Wu Cheng'en can be considered as literary myth and legend that explores the Eastern part of Asia wit much attention paid to China and then expanding to the entire world. The story explores the life of Xuan Zang's, also referred by the names Tan San Zang or Tripitaka, in his pilgrimage in search of Buddhist scriptures in India. The book is generally about Xuan Zang's adventure to the west (duh) exploring the difficulties that he and his disciples go through. However a lot of focus is paid on Sun Wu Kong (the Monkey King) the favorite of Xuan Zang's disciples who captures the imagination and heart of the reader through his bold, mischievous rebellious as well as daring character.
The story overflows with gods, demons, magic, immortals and a lot of adventure which is well blended with humor and angst at the same time. Monkey King, and other accompanying demon disciples, Zhu Ba Jie and Sha Wu Jing (the pig and river demons respectively) engage a lot of action as they fight demons who seek for their master's flesh which is supposed to render immortal whoever eats it (Chen-En, 2005). The epic presents a captivating read unfolding as the pilgrims fight through abductions and confrontations using lies, disguises and trickery the latter which the monkey king has mastered as he could almost transform himself to anything. The plot is build on excellent imagination blended with a lot of conflict among the pilgrims and their enemies and most strikingly is the character development here characters are distinctly built in personalities that are three dimensional.
To shift the papers attention to its main objective, this paper is going to explore the man aspects of the East Asian culture paying much attention to the to religious aspects like Buddhism, Chinese traditional practices and beliefs as highlighted in the novel. It is also gong to focus why the book is considered important among the Chinese people and how it eventually gained fame in Japan. Wu Cheng'en Journey to the West is rich in Chinese religious folk, value systems and mythology, Taoism and Buddhism which even today reflects in the religious beliefs of the Chinese people even today. The book's enduring popularity is derived from the claims that it is a spa of spiritual insight that can be tied to an allegory in that the pilgrim's journey to India is are presentation of an individualized journey towards enlightenment.
Towards achieving this enlightenment the story is tied to a number of the values and religious beliefs of the people of Eastern Asia. In respect to the above Buddhism is thrown into the context of the novel and plays an important part in the novels plot development. In fact there is an entire sub-story dedicated to Buddhism which role the novel cannot be ignored since it caries a lot of message in interpreting the meaning contained in the entire novel. In the story on Buddhism the novel presents six bandits which in real sense are a representation of the six Cauras. In Buddhism the six cauras represent the six body senses which are factors of attachment that impend enlightenment. The Monkey King names the six bandit starting with the eye which sees delight, the ear that listen hears and gets angry, the nose which smells and then covets, the tongue which tastes and then desires, the mind which conceives and then lusts and finally the body which supports all the others and which suffers (Chen-En, 2005). This according to Buddhism area considered as what hampers enlightenment.
When the Monkey King fights and executes all of them, the writer intends to allegorically portray the fact that the Monkey King has attained a greater detachment these human senses that impend enlightenment. He has therefore achieved some freedom of which the master Xuan Zang knows little about. The masters compassion as a result of abiding by the six senses blocks his manner of perception and hence cannot see the bandits 'for what they are' as a result of his attachments with the phenomenal world (Chen-En, 2005). In comparisons, the six cauras of Buddhism can compared to the seven deadly Christian sins that is wrath, gluttony, pride, avarice as well as lechery which are known to kill the spirit.
The six cauras can also be contrasted to the six Buddhist paramitas which contain the virtues of morality, generosity, meditation, vigor, patient and wisdom that see all human being through the worldly journey which is full of suffering. The six Christian values that can overcome the above highlighted deadly sins include love, generosity, temperance, diligence, humility, chastity and kindness. Buddhism values are therefore considered an important aspect in this journey towards enlightenment.
Similarly most scholars look at this narrative as overwhelmingly neo- Confucian. The journey which repeatedly in different instances refers to 'karma' as well as skillful means prompts one to think of it as a Buddhist allegory that explores salvation and spiritual progress. This is more heightened in the texts acquirement of the Buddhist paradox that suggests that 'form is emptiness' (Chen-En, 2005). This paradox can be viewed as a philosophical framework that also demonstrates the necessity of the phrases inverse 'emptiness is form.
Historically Buddhism is known to have altered the flavor of Confucianism in china. Confucianism was a philosophy that stood for social order, hierarchical relations, practical success, respects to the authorities, family values that were orthodox as well as worship of the ancestry. Despite Buddhism and Confucianism sharing agnosticism through focusing on individual spiritual quests as a central achievement, monasticism and detachment, Confucianism felt highly threatened by Buddhism. A kind of Confucianized Buddhism arose in China after Xuan Zang brought back with him scriptures of Buddhism.
Traditions of Chinese and beliefs
The difference between the western and eastern culture in Asia was wide until introduction of foreign culture by advocates of western culture. The journey made by several scholars was a significant attempt to reduce the gap between the two cultures. Among the scholars involved in the revolution included Anthony Yu. They visited schools in Chicago to learn about transforming cultures that where commonly dominant before emergence of the current culture.
Basically the Chinese culture dominated most part of Eastern Asia where it was dominant in most urban areas but also was found the rural. Chinese people were classified into various distinct ethnic alignments with each family being identified by their names. Traditionally Chinese were ruled by the Emperors of which there were five of them. The organization was based on the hierarchy while the general public was guided by the Chinese law available at the time of the Emperor rule. The system was threatened by leaders concentrating on commercializing the culture instead of building it. The Chinese culture was guided by some values that prompted integration among the natives.
Though the values ware practiced among the people, the Buddhism claimed most of the culture since its inception. Traditionally Chinese spoke in a single language but the trend changed; several other languages formed later. For many years, Chinese worshipped Shang Di as their god while the priests and king being the subordinate to god. The main task of the sacred dynasty was to explain the natural phenomenon that could not be explained by nature or other script. They were also responsible for providing alternative medication to the sick. As a normal society, the Chinese traditional set up did not miss a evil practice. Some of these practices include the fighting between jiang shi and peachwood(Yu, 1980).
The Chinese Traditional beliefs
Before the inception of the new China, there were several beliefs and cultural practices that were undertaken by the Chinese people. The custody of their belief was the religion commonly practiced. Those beliefs were mainly targeted at giving hope for living and a better life after death. For example the Buddhism was popular mainly because it contains scripts that contained purpose living, the life following the success and the aftermath of death. Basically the culture was concentrated on the transition from the living to through death and the imagined world.
The traditions play an important role in reclaiming confidence over the nature. Human beings desire to have at least life after death. Traditionally Chinese had been influenced by Buddhist with life encouragement that could be related individual salvation. The culture did not some amazing beliefs for example believing that sacrificing a child could increase satisfaction to the ancestors therefore could bring blessing to the family. Some of the benefits the family could get include good health and a guaranteed success to the family members within the society.
Another reason why there were sacrifices was because people believed that their children could help them while they are old and also after death since the Chinese believed that life after death was crucial and needed attention like any other person in the society. Believe was that ancestor who was not attended for could become a ghost. But also rituals were importantly taken as a religious function. Rituals commonly practiced included burying the death, special dedication to the death and morning rites
Burying the death was an essential activity the Chinese people. The mode dressing the death was regarded important since there was a strong believe that ancestors could bring joy or destruction therefore they were given the best treatment possible to convince them on their influence later. Also mistakes done by the leaders could cost the Emperor to face the punishment from the ancestors. Many questions went unanswered concerning the circumstances in which the death lives.The Chinese fear of ancestors ranged for long time before the revolution of the new order. Yu involvement in the journey was primarily meant to correct the tradition error especially the traditions that leaned cultures that could be were confusing.
The importance of the book in China
The book reflects the culture of china and the religion practiced by the Chinese people in the premodern China. The book reflects the journey of religion in the counry for the last centuries and extends of change that has occurred since then. It narrates explorations while visiting India as a destination and the out come of the journey. Since its first publication in a Chinese language, the author; Wu Cheng'en published it the 16th century but many readers did not believe that he was actually the author. His image was not well positioned in the public therefore people could not certify that he was really the one who wrote it. Nevertheless the novel became famous due to its styles of writing that included the folk tales from that was common in the public domain.
Interestingly the story narrated in the novel is a real life story therefore it attracts the attention of many readers. His narration of the journey took severally across China to the west was as result of the way people took the Buddhist and their translations on it; He was not happy with it since the translation was poor and shoddy. His move changed the Chinese attention on the translation of the Buddhist.Though it attracted criticism, the book gained popularity on the way China history was displayed. It was mounted by fiction that attracted attention of many audiences as they learned about their country. The fiction was believed to be the major contribution to the rise of legend named Tripitaka (Yu, 1980)
The fame created by the book lies on the themes introduced and subsequently reviewed and discussed by several authors later. It was a basis to the themes that were broadened by a number of literature authors. Most of these themes were found in folk tales, poetry and other forms of songs. Several sections of the book were later used in one way or another for example; it was used to pass the information through songs and tales.
Basically the journey to the west gained popularity among the Chinese because of informative nature especially its ability to explain the culture of the Chinese followed by the revolution and the transition as it changed from the traditional to the modern China.
Wu Cheng'en's book eventually became famous in Japan in 1960 after Tezuka drawing from his inspiration in film making incorporated the Journey to the West in an animated feature by the title Alakazam the Great which had its basis on My Son Goku (Boku no Son Goku) a creation by Osamu Tezuka from Japan. The three initial episode forming this series borrowed closely to Wu Cheng'en's legend "the journey to the west' but eventually it is converted to a gag free full of adult humor and surrealistic values.
Later on in 1980 a film production company, Nippon Television aired two seasons of a Japanese live action television series Saiyuki. The program had adapted a more humorous approach on some of the story's characters which included Masaaki Sakai taking the 'Monkey's' role although the film remained true to the story's parameter as it retained a considerable trail of Buddhist philosophy through out the entire story.
The name Kappa which is also featured in the story 'The journey to the West' also features in Japanese Mythology. To some of the Japanese people Kappa has its basis on Sandy who was a water demon. The Chinese mythology has it that Sagojo who was originally the Heavenly Hosts Commander was banished from heaven and sent to earth for accidentally braking the vase of Emperor Jade. On earth he became an ugly water spirit who devoured anyone who would stray near his abode. This same spirit whom the Japanese recognize with feature in 'Journey to the west' where he is armed with a staff containing metal blades on both sides wearing skulls of his victims which coincides with the Japanese descriptions. The recognition of this spit also probably made the book popular in Japan.
The journey to the west was an adventure that achieved cultural change among the Chinese. The money was used to play the character of a human being, placed as a protagonist. It was a story of a man who used some magic to have a place in the society. The monkey was used to show the natural aspect in the story. Though the Chinese could not enter the US freely, the monkey decided to enter illegally he somewhat used his fighting skill to scare away those who tried to come closer to him on the basis that he could always win whenever he fights. It finally came out that the book is an exploration of the religion and the subsequent impact on the society.