We’ve finally reached the final volume of Journey to the West in our series for the year, and it covers chapters 84 through 100. The first line is rather fun, given how prevalent the idea that Sanzang the monk is irresistible as a man and as a high level spiritual master actually is in the story: “The story tells how Tang Sanzang kept his masculine essence intact and escaped from the terrible snare of mist and flowers.” Sanzang is always running from women who want to marry him and demons who want to eat him, and this last volume is more of the same. This volume has about ten story arcs of varying lengths, but I’m not going to highlight all of them.
The first arc begins during the summer when they meet an old woman and a small boy under tall willow trees. The old woman warns them to go back the way they came because there is a persecution of Buddhists taking place up ahead in the capital of Dharmadestructia. The king is trying to fulfill his 10,000 monk quota, and he has already murdered 9,996 monks. Monkey sees that this old woman is really Guanyin in disguise. He goes to investigate alone and finds the city inviting, so he steals clothes so they can pass through in disguise as laymen.
A whole lot of mischief goes on when they stay the night at an inn, but ultimately they end up crossing the path of one of the king’s officials and find themselves inadvertently being taken there in a trunk, which is mistaken for a trunk full of treasure. Sanzang realizes they are probably going to be killed by the king, but Monkey uses his transformations to neutralize their enemies in the palace, which includes sleep-inducing insects and monkey clones instructed to shave everyone’s head.
When the palace ladies in the inner quarters got up to wash and do their hair before dawn the next morning they all found that their hair had gone. The same had happened to all the eunuchs, senior and junior, who moved around the palace. They all crowded to the outside of the royal bedchamber, where they played music to wake the king up, all holding back their tears but not daring to speak. Before long the queen in the palace woke up to find her hair gone too. [Journey to the West, p. 2817]
The trunk is brought before the king, and he finds the monks hiding there. Seeing that they are Buddhists, the king bows before them. Sanzang tells him the truth about who they are and what their mission is. The king converts to Buddhism on the spot and sends them safely on their way.
The next story arc covers the little band of travelers fighting with 30 or 40 evil spirits. Story arc number 3 starts in Chapter 87 where they reach a walled and moated city that they think is India. The local officials confirm their guess and explain that drought has brought hardship to their people and that food and goods are very expensive. Everyone is in survival mode, so they invite the monks to pray for rain.
Monkey summons Ao Guang, the dragon of the Eastern Sea, to bring the rains, but the dragon has to get the proper Heavenly edicts and bring the generals to fulfill this request. Then Monkey goes to try to get a heavenly edict from the Jade Emperor so Ao Guang can make it rain. The heavenly officials argue with him about whether it is supposed to rain there. Unsuccessful, Monkey returns to the city officials and explains how the ruling marquis has offended heaven, which is the reason for the drought, and he makes amends. They succeed in bringing a rainstorm shortly after that, which results in 3 feet of rain.
Chapter 88 begins another longer story arc as they come across a different city in India, this time one whose ruler is particularly good to monks and Buddhists. When they go to the palace to present their travel papers, however, the ruling prince is terrified by the ugliness of the monk’s companions. The prince’s three sons, all martial arts experts, are therefore suspicious of Sanzang’s disciples. They fight. Ultimately, Monkey, Pig and Friar Sand are convincing enough that the three sons request to become their disciples, and they reluctantly agree.
Early the next morning the prince and his three sons came to call on the venerable elders again. The previous day they had greeted each other with the etiquette appropriate to a prince, but today’s greetings were those appropriate to teachers. The three young princes kowtowed to Monkey, Pig and Friar Sand, then asked with bows, “Will you let your disciples have a look at your weapons, honored teachers?” As soon as Pig heard this request he happily brought out his iron rake and threw it on the ground, while Friar Sand tossed his staff against the wall. The second and third young princes sprang to their feet to pick them up, but they might just as well have been dragonflies trying to shake a stone pillar: they both strained themselves till they were red in the face without moving the weapons in the slightest. When their elder brother saw this he said, “Don’t waste your efforts, brothers. Our teachers’ weapons are all magical ones. Goodness only knows how heavy they are.” “My rake’s not all that heavy,” said Pig with a smile. “It only weights a couple of tons – 5,048 pounds including the handle.” The third prince then asked Friar Sand how heavy his staff was. “It’s 5,048 pounds too,” replied Friar Sand with a smile. [Journey to the West, pp. 2949-2951]
The princes are so impressed they have smiths come to make them weapons worthy of sparring with those of Sanzang’s companions, but they are stolen overnight. When the group goes in search of them, they have to fight a pack of lion spirits before they are finally able to continue their quick lessons with the prince’s sons before moving along on their journey. This story arc wraps up at the end of chapter 90.
Next they come across another city without walls and wander through the markets and shops, eventually ending up at Clouds of Compassion Monastery. A monk from the temple invites them in, and they learn they are there in time for the Moon Festival.
This was a night when the curfew was relaxed, so that there were huge crowds and a great commotion. People were dancing, walking on stilts, wearing masks and riding elephants, pushing and crowding to east and to west as they looked all around. When they reached the bridge of golden lamps the Tang Priest and the monks pushed forward for a look and saw that it consisted of three golden lamps each the size of a water vat and shaped like a two-storeyed pavilion with a light shining out through intricate gold and silver filigree openwork. Glazed ceramic tiles inside the lamps reflected their light. They were so bright they outshone the moon, and their oil was very fragrant. [Journey to the West, p. 3035]
A howling wind interrupts the festival and sends the festival-goers running in terror. The Tang Priest is swept away by the wind. Monkey goes in search of him. He finds him with three evil spirits on the mountain in their cave dwelling. They fight, and the battle continues through chapter 92.
A month later, when they go to the palace of the King of India to get their travel documents stamped, they have a run in with the king’s daughter, who decides she must marry Sanzang. It turns out the princess has been kidnapped by an evil spirit that replaced her as her double in the court. His goal in marrying Sanzang is to absorb Sanzang’s essence and become an immortal. This story arc lasts until chapter 96, and Monkey has to come up with a way to get Sanzang out of there during the wedding ceremony. Of course, the situation culminates with a big battle between Monkey and the false princess.
In chapter 96, the party meets a man named Mr. Kou who has vowed to feed 10,000 monks, and he already has fed 9,996 monks so far. After indulging Mr. Kou, the party moves on to spend the night at a ruined temple, but while they are there, bandits who noticed the lavish send off Mr. Kou gave Sanzang and his monks decide he must be so rich they should rob him. After they murder Mr. Kou, the man’s sons blame Sanzang and write up a complaint framing him for murder.
As the bandits have a run-in with Sanzang, soldiers arrive, but they arrest Sanzang and his disciples instead of the bandits. They are thrown in jail for the murder of Mr. Kou. Late that night, Monkey uses his transformations to escape and return to the Kou household in time for Mr. Kou’s funeral. He throws his voice, convincing the family Mr. Kou has come back to life, and he berates them for their lies about Sanzang. They now decide to withdraw the charges against him that they brought. Monkey goes to each of the people involved in the case and does the same trick, and Sanzang is finally released, but just for good measure, Monkey goes to hell to get Mr. Kou to come back and tell everyone who really has murdered him.
Chapter 98 begins the denouement of the book with Monkey taking Sanzang to Vulture Peak, an important holy site for the Buddha. An elderly man ferries them along for more of their journey, and they finally arrive at the gates of their destination, Thunder Monastery. They enter and present their passport to the Tathagata, whose subjects regale them with a banquet of immortal food and other treasures.
After the meal is over, two arhats take them to the pavilion where the treasured scrolls of the sutras Sanzang came to get are kept. They give the scrolls to him, but they are counterfeits. At one point, it says they are only picture scrolls rather than text, but when they leave and the wind scatters them, Sanzang and his monks see that the scrolls are blank. Angry, they return to Thunder Monastery, get the true scrolls, and begin their journey back to the Tang Court at Chang’an with some supernatural help. The scrolls get wet during a storm whipped up by an evil spirit, and they lay them out to dry on some rocks, but eventually they make it back to Taizong and his officials. All 5,048 scrolls are presented to the emperor, and a banquet is prepared. The next morning, their reward is read out for taking this journey and fulfilling this task. They also ask Sanzang to recite some of the scriptures. Sanzang and his monks, who have all been made Buddhas, return to Vulture Peak, and the novel ends with a prayer to the Buddha.
Part six of a six part series.