The Pilgrimage

After Monkey outlasted the axes, sticks, swords, and lances of the gods, he boldly announced his plan to depose the Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven. The gods and goddesses gasped at his audacity and whispered among themselves in shocked tones.

Finally, the Buddha stepped in. All the gods in heaven listened respectfully as he commanded the deities to stop fighting with Monkey.

Then the Buddha asked Monkey why he wanted to replace the Jade Emperor. Monkey replied that his own clever magic spells and fighting ability made him superior to anyone in heaven, including the Jade Emperor.

Monkey bragged about how he could transform himself into seventy-two types of animals, plants, and rocks.

He boasted that his somersaults could take him through the clouds a hundred and eight thousand li to the end of the world. The Buddha issued Monkey a simple challenge. "Jump across my palm and heaven is yours," the Buddha said.

Monkey smiled when he saw that the Buddha’s hand was no more than eight inches across from fingertip to wrist. Then Monkey took in a mighty breath and hurled himself through the air. When he landed, he saw nothing but five pillars holding up the world.

Certain that he had somersaulted to the ends of the earth, Monkey laughed at how easily he had met the Buddha’s challenge. Just to mark his spot, he took out a hair from his head and transformed it into a brush. With his finest calligraphy, he wrote "Monkey, the great sage, reached this place." Then he somersaulted with great joy back to the palace, eager to claim the throne.

The Buddha smiled and showed Monkey the palm of his hand. There next to the middle finger were the miniature words "Monkey, the great sage, reached this place." Monkey realized that he had not reached the end of the world, but had merely jumped halfway across the Buddha’s hand. The Buddha grabbed Monkey and sealed him inside a stone box high on a mountaintop. He left Monkey there, inside his stone box, for five hundred years.

Kuan Yin’s Task

Meanwhile, China was full of greedy, mean, and quarrelsome people. Only a few had adopted the Buddha's teachings. The Buddha thought these teachings would encourage the people to behave more compassionately. However, he decided that if he gave away his scriptures, the people would not appreciate his words. Instead, the Buddha knew that the people must come to India to fetch the scriptures themselves.

Furthermore, he wanted the Chinese emperor to finance the journey and urge his subjects to help the pilgrims all along their way. The Chinese people would value the Buddha’s scriptures, if they were involved in helping to obtain them.

The Buddha summoned Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy, to his home in India. She agreed with the Buddha that the journey to fetch the scriptures was necessary. People on earth desperately needed more spiritual guidance.

However, because she recognized that the road between India and China was a dangerous one, Kuan Yin offered to travel it first, on foot, to map the route between the Buddha’s home in India to the emperor’s palace in China. At the same time she could also assess and confront the types of dangers that human pilgrims might encounter along the way. The Buddha agreed with Kuan Yin’s plan.

The Sandy-Haired Monster, the Pig, the Dragon, and the Monkey

With an assistant, Kuan Yin recorded distances and the location of mountain paths along the road from India to the emperor’s home in China. At a river crossing, a hideous sandy-haired monster jumped out and attacked Kuan Yin’s assistant. When the monster realized that it was the goddess Kuan Yin standing on the shore, he bowed before her and confessed that he ate pilgrims who crossed his river.

He tried to hide from her gaze the nine human skulls that he wore around his neck, as he begged the goddess for forgiveness. She invited the sandy-haired monster to repent by helping pilgrims instead of harming them. As Kuan Yin continued on to a high mountain pass, a most horrible smell greeted her.

Kuan Yin’s assistant found a filthy pig with long tusks who attacked them with a rake. The pig stopped immediately when Kuan Yin tossed some lotus flowers between them. He recognized the goddess, and told her that once he had been a god. The pig begged her to help him return to his former life in heaven. Kuan Yin asked him to earn his way back to heaven by helping travelers instead of attacking them.

Next, Kuan Yin and her assistant were accosted by a dragon. Dragons are usually harmless spirits, but this dragon was deeply disturbed. He had accidentally set his father’s kingdom on fire and destroyed some pearls of wisdom. While he waited anxiously for his execution date the doomed dragon assaulted travelers. Kuan Yin pledged to cancel the dragon’s death sentence if he would reform.

The dragon readily agreed and transformed himself into a white horse to assist any travelers on the deserted road. When Kuan Yin came across the very last mountain range, she found Monkey encased in a stone box. Five hundred years had passed since the Buddha’s challenge. Monkey was sorry that he had been greedy and arrogant. Like the others, he agreed to convert to Buddhism and offered his help to worthy pilgrims.


Finally, Kuan Yin reached the palace of the earthly Chinese emperor. When she explained her mission, the emperor readily agreed to finance the journey to India. Like the Buddha and Kuan Yin, he was greatly concerned about the selfishness and greed of his people. If, as they hoped, the pilgrims were successful in their quest, the merit of the new religion could be proclaimed throughout the land.

However, the emperor knew that wandering souls could easily be lost in the cold high mountains of the journey. Tigers, panthers, and snakes lurked in every forest. Stories of these fierce animals were terrifying, but people also trembled at tales of strange ghosts and spirits who could change their shapes at will.

When the emperor asked for pilgrims, no one stepped forward. At last, a humble monk named San Zang offered to fetch the scriptures. San Zang’s fellow monks from the monastery were astonished that such an unassuming man would volunteer for such a dangerous mission. They expressed their fears for his safety. The brave monk replied that a sincere heart and his sacred vow to fetch the scriptures would shield him from harm.

Like the Buddha, Kuan Yin, and the emperor, the monk was concerned about the lack of compassion he saw in his people. He hoped that the Buddha’s teachings would help the people learn new and better ways of living.

The emperor was delighted that a brave pilgrim had at last been found. Because the scriptures were called Tripitaka in India, the emperor renamed the monk Tripitaka. As Tripitaka set out, the autumn air was beginning to chill the monk’s bones, and a light frost covered the ground. Along the way, Kuan Yin guided the monk from afar, but she could not interfere with his decisions and actions.

Tripitaka joined up with Monkey, the dragon (in the form of a white horse), the pig, and the sandy-haired monster. All five set off for eighty-one adventures to fetch the holy scriptures from India. Time and again, they met dangerous ogres, monsters, and fairies who lay in wait. Because Tripitaka was a young Buddhist monk with a pure heart, evil spirits tried to corrupt him. Monsters wanted to eat his flesh.

Monkey used all his magical powers - flying, transformation, making himself invisible, acrobatics, and his embroidery needle cudgel - to defend the monk. He fought skeleton demons, giant spiders, and evil fairies in the shape of foxes. Monkey was boiled in oil, his head was chopped off (whereupon he simply grew a new one), and his stomach was cut open - but none of these vicious assaults produced any lasting harm.

When the pilgrims finally arrived in India, they were rewarded with the sacred scriptures. Then the five pilgrims returned to China with great joy. Now every person had access to the holy scriptures, and the people learned to set aside their greed and follow the way of the Buddha, as well as the way of the Tao. In this manner, they lived in harmony for centuries.

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