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The Journey to the West

This website is about the inner meaning of the Chinese novel Journey to the West. Journey to the West is mythical story about the journey of a monk, who goes to Buddha`s Western Heaven in India to receive the scriptures from the Buddha on Vulture Peak. Along the journey he has the help of a monkey and three other disciples: Pig, Friar Sand and a horse. The inner meaning of this Journey is an inner journey to the state of presence, in which one`s Higher Self is awake. The story is a mix of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucianist elements, and is filled with symbolism. In the Tang dynasty (618–907), Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism became known as the Three Doctrines, or the Three Teachings.

Confucius giving the Buddha child to Laozi
(China, Qing Dynasty)
Although these scriptures are the source of foreknowledge and reflection for my school, they are truly the origin of all Three Schools. -- Journey to the West, chapter 98
He showed that the Three Beliefs are basically the same.
-- Journey to the west, chapter 2 
Is it not a fact that the three doctrines (of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism) may be three, but the Way is ultimately one? But that hasn`t stopped the priesthood of later generationsfrom sole devotion to their own sects and repudiation of others, causing the basic essentials of all three philosophies to be lost in false distinctions, so that they cannot be unified and end up at the same goal. -- Introduction of Understanding Reality by Zhang Boduan (11th c. Taoist master)



A drawing by William Blake

The concept that Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism were different paths to the same goal, attained increased popularity during the Song (960–1279) dynasty. In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Taoist Lin Chao-en founded a syncretic sect called Three teachings harmonious as one. In addition to symbols from Taoist alchemy, Buddhism and Confucianism, the same symbolism is used as in the scriptures and writings of all esoteric traditions. Not only Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism are basically the same, the inner meaning of all esoteric traditions is basically the same.

Ask of those who have attained God; all speak the same word. All the saints are of one mind; it is only those in the midst of the way who follow diverse paths. All the enlightened have left one message; it is only those in the midst of their journey who hold diverse opinions. -- Dadu, (16th c. Indian saint)

The story of Journey to the West is based on the true story of the Buddhist monk Huanzang (602 – 664) who travelled alone to India in search of the original scriptures of Buddha’s teachings. As time passed the stories about this journey, acquired more and more mystical aspects and fictitious characters were added, until it appeared in its present form. Wu Cheng`en (1500 -1582) published the story anonymously and is now accepted as the author, but clearly the story has evolved gradually over time and many unknown authors have contributed to it. According to Liu Yiming, the 11th-generation master of the Dragon Gate Sect, who lived in the Qing Dynasty, the author was Qiu Chuji, also called Chang Chun (1148--1227), the founder of the Dragon Gate Sect, a Taoist school (see quote at the top of this page). As one studies the symbolism used in the story, one finds that it is very deeply rooted in Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism and that the writer(s) had very detailed knowledge and experience of it. The most likely explanation is that Wu Cheng`en received the manuscript from Taoist adepts, who didn`t want the origin of the book to become known. Secrecy was a common practice in ancient times.

If humans can open the Mysterious Gate, then they will not die (The Spring and Autumn Annals, Confucian text)….Opening the Mysterious Gate is a guarded secret. That is why the teachers of the three religions did not reveal it casually. They feared that ignorant and unethical persons would use this knowledge to defiIe the Tao, thus angering the guardians of the Tao and bringing destruction to the world. If you are sincere in seeking this knowledge, you must look for a teacher and humbly ask your teacher to show you the opening of the Mysterious Gate. -- Eva Wong, Cultivating Stillness.

The porcelain pillow below shows that all five main characters of Journey to the west were already part of the story in the 14th century.

A porcelain pillow showing Monkey, Pig, the horse carrying Sanzang, and Friar Sand
(Guangdong Museum, Guangzhou, China)

Explanation of the pillow

Present day scholars refute the possibility that Master Changchun is the author of Journey to the West, saying that he did write a book called called Journey to the West of Qiu Changchun (Qiu Changchun Xi You Ji, 長春真人西遊記), but that this book is about his journey to meet Chengis Kahn, who invited him to his court. Genghis Khan had an interest in "the Golden Pill" or “Pill of Immortality:, a symbolic medicine of immortality and Changchun had been invited to satisfy this interest.  In the Analects of Master Changchun, the following quote can be found:

A student asked: The quality of my being is gross. Am I qualified to learn The Great Way? Master Changchun: At the beginning of my book Journey to The West, It says: “All beings that have seven apertures can become Immortals. Do you have only six apertures? ” -- Analects of Master Changchun

Research of Changchun`s Journey to the West to meet Chengis Kahn shows no mention of seven apertures, but the novel Journey to the West does mention nine apertures.

All beings in the upper worlds that have nine apertures can become Immortals.-- Journey to the West, Ch 3

The nine apertures are: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, mouth, genitals and anus. Even though one quotes says seven apertures and the other nine, this is convincing proof that Master Changchun is the author of Journey to the West.

Many of the poems in the book are taken from Taoist scriptures:

Buddha is the mind, the mind is Buddha,
The mind and Buddha are illusions.
When you know that there are no things and no mind,
Then you are a Buddha with a true mind and a Dharma Body.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 14
Buddha is mind, mind is Buddha,
Mind and Buddha are basically illusions.
If you know there is no Buddha and no mind,
this is at least the real Buddha of true suchness.
-- Understanding Reality by Zhang Boduan (11th c. Taoist master)
Journey to the west-Chinese cartoon, 19th C




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