Journey to the West.


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Journey To The West.

Journey to The West is a classic Chinese tale, the formal version dating back at least as far as the sixteenth century, although it is based on older myths and folklore. What is it about? Why is it significant in terms of philosophy and religion?


Before I get into possible meanings and such, I'll cover a little of the background behind the myths, the people, the cultures, and other things.

Now, although Buddhism is frequently associated with China, the religion actually came from Lumbini, which is in northern India or southern Nepal, depending on the date on the map you're looking at. Way back, Buddhism was spread to both the east and west by walking monks via trade routes. Indeed, it was one of these walking monks who ended up creating the original Shaolin temple (and Shaolin kung fu) in China.

To put it simply, one of the big ideas in Buddhism is that humans should shed the many negative drives which tend to rule most of us, and thus become an enlightened person. Indeed, the very word "Buddha" means "one who is awake", implying that those who aren't awake are dull, ignorant, perhaps not all they could be. (This meshes with my idea that humans becoming truly intelligent beings, a truly advanced species, has nothing to do with our technology, but is about an entirely different sort of awareness.)

Origin of Buddhism: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Prior to the expansion of Buddhism, Hinduism enjoyed a similar spread, although clearly it did not reach as far or on such a large scale, no doubt because the trade routes were not quite as established so early.

Although there have been philosophical conflicts between Buddhism and Hinduism, and indeed Hinduism comes in a thousand different flavours, the general principles are the same. The idea is that divinity, or at least the potential for it (the atman), resides in all of us, and we should seek to wake from the sleep of ignorance to achieve it, thus becoming one with the "supreme spirit". Different Buddhist and Hindu traditions define that supreme spirit in different ways, but as far as I'm concerned they all mean the same thing.

Origin of Hinduism: 1, 2, 3, 4.

In both Hinduism and Buddhism, the monkey represents one of the highest of all the animals (there are slight differences depending on the tradition), the closest to divinity (or closest to being truly aware as a human). Oddly, this reminds me of Hegel's ideas about his God evolving as life evolves, becoming more self-aware as life (such as humans) becomes more self-aware.

So the background of Journey To The West involves Hinduism and Buddhism. The history of those religions is inextricably bound to Chinese and Indian mythologies.

Now, just a quick note on Freemasonry and the meaning of "the West" in the title. It is thought that Hinduism roginated in Persia, which also happens to be (at least partially) the origin of what evolved into the Jewish/Christian/Islam religions (Jesus mentions, in the Apocryphon of John, the Book of Zoroaster, which gives a strong hint about the origins of things). Of course, Freemasonry is bound up in those religions as well. As W.L. Wilmshurst says in The Meaning Of Masonry, the west (where the sun sets) represents darkness and ignorance, while the east (where the sun rises) represents enlightenment. Is it possible, due to the common origins of the philosophies mentioned, that the earliest forms of the monkey king myth stem from these notions of englightenment, divinity in all of us, and so on? The monkey's journey to the west was toward the source of the Hindu and Buddhist philosophies (Persia). If you're over in Europe and the Middle East, the source of those same ideas is in the east, where the sun rises, the direction of enlightenment. Just a possibility to consider.

The Monkey King.

Now that the background is out of the way, I'll discuss the Monkey King, Sun Wukong. Now, in many religions, the term "heaven" does not just mean some happy place on fluffy clouds where gods and angels and such play harps. It's as much to do with a state of being as it is anything else. Humans are considered by many to be animals, unenlightened, but with the potential to become enlightened, or to transcend, and thus reach divinity, transcendence, heaven, et cetera. The monkey represents the highest animal prior to awareness. Sun Wukong, in his journey to the source of Buddhism, is an analogy for the progress of the unenlightened animal toward enlightenment.

Now, although some aspects of the story are said to be based on real events, such as the pilgrimage of Xuanzang, I think we can discount the notion that he was really accompanied by a monkey man and other such characters. No, these characters represent ideas rather than people.

Following on from that, it is my belief that Sun Wukong doesn't represent any single character, but instead represents humanity. In particular our animal nature, and the efforts of some to seek enlightenment (by traveling westward, toward the source of Buddhism/Hinduism, and learning on the way). The physical journey toward the geographical source is a metaphor for the spiritual journey toward enlightenment.

It is this sort of concept, the connections between philosophies from around the world over many millennia, which leads me to consider the possibility that either they all share a common source (probably in Persia), or they all simply arrived at similar ideas for very good reasons (such as the obvious nature of humanity), or perhaps a bit of both.

Version full of links:
Yes, its filled with some of the greatest poems ever written in Chinese.

Heres my favourite:

A bright moon and the cold clear dew
In every corner not a speck of dust
Secluded fowls rest deep in the woods
A brook flows gently from its source
The glow of darting fireflies disperse the gloom
Wild geese pass in calligraphic columns through the clouds

Precisely it is the third watch
Time to seek the true and perfect way