One of the most popular novels in the history of Buddhism (as well as in Chinese literature) is Journey to the West, also known as The Monkey King, written by Wu Chengen about 500 years ago, during the Ming Dynasty. It is a fiction that is enjoyed by millions of people of different cultures, countries and religions in Asia, from Japan to Korea to China to Singapore and from Buddhists to Muslims to Catholics to Christians. It had been made into various dramas, movies, cartoons, TV series, and operas throughout the last several centuries in Asia. It even appeared on one of the episodes of the American TV program "the Wishbone" a few years ago. Its story is based on a Holy Buddhist Monk, named Tang Xuanzang (literary, an expert in Sutra, Theory and Law of Buddhism), who was dispatched by the Tang Emperor (600 A.D.) to go to India to fetch Buddhist Scriptures.
However, 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 disgraced deities to help him out on the way, to protect him from the devils, and to act as his disciples. The deal was that: all the four deities were sinners originally coming from Heaven, disgraced because they all disobeyed the Heavenly Emperor, and that if the mission were successful, then their sins would be forgiven and they would return to Heaven and be with the Heavenly Emperor forever (does it sound like Christianity?!).
As far as the story goes, only the Chinese Emperor and the Buddhist Monk are real historical figures. Everybody else is fictitious.
The Monkey King
The chief character of the novel, the Monkey King, was conceived by intercourse between Heaven and Earth, and lead a pack of monkeys in the Flower-Fruit Mountain. However, his ambition urged him to travel to Jambudvipa (one of the four continents in Buddhism) to learn magic and martial arts from a Doaist Master. He became such an expert in magic and martial arts that he could jump 108,000 miles just in one somersault, and he could see objects and hear voices 1,000 miles away (much better than today's technology!)
He appointed himself as "Great Saint Equal to Heaven" and demanded a position as one of the gods in Heaven. To avoid conflict, the Heavenly Emperor (sometimes called Jade Emperor by Daoists, King of Gods by Buddhists, or simply, God, by Christians) appointed him to a low position of Manger Supervisor at first and a Gardener in the Heavenly Garden later. In his later position, the Monkey King was supposed to keep watch of the Holy Peaches in the Heavenly Garden - anyone eating those peaches will be enlightened immediately. He was of course, under strict order not to eat those forbidden fruits, which were reserved for special guests of Heaven such as Laozi the Head of Daoism. The Monkey King, however, could not resist the temptation of those tasty forbidden fruits and ate them all. The Heavenly Emperor was furious and kicked him out of the Heavenly Garden (sounds like Genesis?).
Back to the Saha-World, the Monkey King committed even bigger sin. He went down to the deep ocean and took one of the pillars from the Dragon King Palace as his weapon. This weapon, made of diamond steel weighed 18,000 pound and could be expanded to as long as a ten feet long steel rod or be shrunken to the size of a pin at will.
Then he went to see Laozi, the head of Daoism, and stole all his pills from the main Daoist alchemy laboratory. Each pill could prolong a man's life by at least a few thousand years - and the Monkey King ate them all. Laozi was furious. He put the Monkey King into the alchemy stove and grilled him for 49 days. But after the fiery punishment, the Monkey King escaped without any injuries. What is worse is that his skin became as tough as steel and no sword nor arrow could cut it through.
Next, he went down to Hell, beaten up all the Hell Officers and threatened King Yama, the Lord of Hell, with his unique diamond steel rod. He even erased his own name off the Record of Karma and the Record of Births and Deaths so that there was now no way to control when and how he was to be reborn! Hell became a real mess after he returned to Earth.
As reports trickled back to Heaven, the Supreme Deity was of course more furious than before. He sent in a whole army of Heavenly Generals and Soldiers to catch the Monkey King. However, non of the gods was a match for the Monkey King in marital arts and magic, and so finally the Heavenly Emperor sought the assistance from the Buddha. The Buddha entered in a wager with the Monkey King and won. He then trapped the Monkey King under the weight of a huge mountain on the Silk Road.
Five hundred years later, the Holy Buddhist Monk sent by the Chinese Emperor happened to pass by the mountain on his way to India. With the help of Kuen Yin (Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva of Compassion), he freed the Monkey King from his imprisonment and accepted him as his disciple, who would accompany him on his journey.
The second disciple of the Holy Buddhist Monk was the Pig King, who used to be the Admiral of the Heavenly Navy on the Silvery River (known as Milky Way by modern astronomers). During a party, the Admiral had a flirtation with the Goddess of the Moon, who refused his advances. The scandal aroused the anger of the Heavenly Queen (wife of Jade Emperor), who kicked the Admiral out of Heaven and sentenced him to be reborn as a Pig Monster in a small town along the Silk Road.
As a Pig King, the former Admiral from Heaven had an immersible appetite for woman and food. He could eat tons and tons of food and still felt hungry. And on the way to India, he flirted with various nymphs and female demons, getting himself into troubles. He used a nine-tooth garden rack as weapon.
The third disciple of the Holy Buddhist Monk was known as Sandy, who used to be the Chief Security Officer in the Heavenly Palace holding the title General of Curled Curtains. One evening, he broke a piece of priceless antique vase which belonged to the Heavenly Queen at a party. For this sin, he was kicked out of Heaven and sentenced to be reborn as a man-eating Monster in Sandy River which flowed across the Silk Road.
In order for his sin to be forgiven, Sandy had to become a disciple of the Holy Buddhist Monk and to accompany him on the long difficult journey.
The White Horse
The fourth disciple is the White Horse which carried the Monk throughout the Journey. He used to be the Son of the Ocean Dragon King, responsible for the control of rainfalls and weather on Earth. His sin was that he disobeyed order from Heaven and failed to adhere to the weather schedule set up by the Heavenly Emperor. Therefore, he also got kicked out of Heaven and sentenced to be reborn as a White Horse whose duty was to accompany the Monk to fetch the Buddhist Scriptures. Most of the time, the Little Dragon just provided a means of transportation for the Holy Monk, but occasionally he helped out his other brother-in-arms in battles against demons on the Silk Road.
Thus, the four disgraced sinners from Heaven were assigned a mission to protect the Holy Monk all the way from China to India. In the next 14 years, they had to face 81 near fatal disastrous incidents, ranging from getting rid of wild beast, converting devils and demons to Buddha's followers, catching run away pets of various gods and divas (such as Manjusri's Lion), and putting out a mountain fire that cannot be doused off by water. On one occasion, the Queen of an all-women Kingdom refused to stamp a visa on their passport documents to let them go, unless they raised children for them!
After the mission, the sins of all the four disciples were forgiven and all of them returned to Heaven. Then the Holy Buddhist Monk began to translate the scriptures into Chinese and Buddhism became the most popular religion in China for the next two thousand years.
Whilst small children like the actions and humors of the novel, older readers who read it for the second or third time will appreciate the satirical nature of the story. The writer actually poked fun at ALL religions, and make jokes at not only Buddhism, but Daism, Confusism and even Christianity.
The whole story is too long to be included here. However, If you are interested in reading the whole novel, either borrow it from your local library or click here for an on-line complete story at the following website: