The Journey to the West Summary
by Wu Chengen

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The Journey to the West Summary

The Journey to the West meanders through Chinese history and mythology, but is loosely composed of 4 sections. The first is the story of Sun Wukong, or "Monkey King." A sentient monkey who hatches out of a rock, he is charged with learning Taoist philosophy, the central philosophy in Chinese religious life. The story tells of his long path to Taoist enlightenment, in which he painstakingly masters combat and tries to learn how to become immortal. At the end of the story, the Buddha traps Sun Wukong under a mountain for 500 years.

Part two briefly introduces the protagonist Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk. It gives a historical account of sacred texts that the Buddha hid away in the West. The Buddha stated that someone worthy would eventually journey to recover them for China. This context serves to foreshadow Xuanzang's journey.

In part three, Xuanzang goes on an epic and meandering journey to recover the Buddha's scriptures. Taking Asia's famous trading route, the Silk Road, he searches for an Indian temple called Vulture Peak. Along the way, the goddess of mercy protects him with various followers, most notably the Monkey King. The path is full of peril, infested by demons, malicious magicians, and further complicated by environmental dangers such as explosive mountains of fire. Xuanzang is repeatedly saved, obtaining the texts, and in return his protectors earn salvation.

Part four, the shortest section, shows the journey back East and its aftermath. Upon returning the texts to China, Xuanzang, the Monkey King, and the more minor companions are rewarded with enlightenment. Xuanzang and the Monkey King reach Buddhahood and take up spots in heaven.

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In the beginning there is a rock. The rock gives birth to a stone egg, and the egg develops into the shape of a monkey. The monkey becomes alive and plays with other monkeys. He is made their king.

One day, troubled by the thought of death, he bids farewell to the monkey tribe and sets out on a journey to seek immortality. He becomes a pupil of the Patriarch Subodhi, from whom he learns seventy-two transformations and the cloud trapeze. When he shows off his newly learned magic of transformation by changing into a pine tree, this public display of magic enrages his master, who disowns him. Monkey goes back to his cave, but now he does not have to travel over mountains and rivers. One leap carries him head over heels for 108,000 leagues.

He kills the demon who molested his “little ones” during his absence. He gets the magic iron staff from the Sea Treasury of the Dragon King. The weapon can shrink, at his will, to the size of an embroidery needle. Despite all of these powers, however, his allotted life span of 342 years comes to an end. In a dream he is taken to the Land of Darkness. Furiously, he crosses out his name in the Registers of Death, together with whatever names of other monkeys he can find.

His meddling at the Palace of the Dragon King and the Court of Death is reported to the Jade Emperor. Monkey is summoned to Heaven so that he can be constantly watched. At first he is happy to have an appointment from the emperor, but upon learning how humble his position as groom in the heavenly stables really is, he returns to his monkeys.

As a rebel, he calls himself “Great Sage, Equal of Heaven,” and he defeats the heavenly hosts sent off to arrest him. The Jade Emperor consents to appoint him to the rank he wishes. Then he crashes the Peach Banquet, to which he was not invited. By the joint effort of the gods he is caught and imprisoned in the crucible of Lao Tzu, where for forty-nine days he is burned with alchemical fire before he escapes. It seems that nothing can stop him until the Buddha comes to help the heavenly powers. Monkey is placed under a five-peaked mountain, originally the five fingers of the Buddha’s hand, where he is to serve his penance.

The Buddha wishes that some believer from sinful China would come to the Western Continent to fetch the True Scriptures. Kuan-yin...

(The entire section is 1,691 words.)