Sun Wu Kung: Journey to the West (conclusion)

This story is part of the The Monkey King unit.

On the previous page you saw the Wikipedia synopsis of the plot of Journey to the West. Here is a different king of summary, but still very abbreviated form, of the final chapters of Journey to the West, as found in Myths and Legends of China by Edward T.C. Werner (1922). I hope that reading this admittedly brief summary of the end of the novel will give you a sense of just how Sun Wu Kung's own story come to a triumphant conclusion, while also giving you a feel for the adventures that make up the Journey to the West.

The Spiders and the Extinguisher

When they had gone a short distance they perceived a great building of fine architecture ahead of them. It proved to be a Taoist temple. Sha Ho-shang said: “Let us enter, for Buddhism and Taoism teach the same things. They differ only in their vestments.” The Taoist abbot received them with civility and ordered five cups of tea. Now he was in league with the seven women, and when the servant had made the tea they put poison in each cup. Sun, however, suspected a conspiracy, and did not drink his tea. Seeing that the rest had been poisoned, he went and attacked the sisters, who transformed themselves into huge spiders. They were able to spin ropes instead of webs with which to bind their enemies. But Sun attacked and killed them all.

Sun Steals Clothing for His Master

The Taoist abbot then showed himself in his true form, a demon with a thousand eyes. He joined battle with Sun, and a terrible contest ensued, the result being that the Demon succeeded in putting an extinguisher on his enemy. This was a new trick which Sun did not understand. However, after trying in vain to break out through the top and sides, he began to bore downward, and, finding that the extinguisher was not deep in the ground, he succeeded in effecting his escape from below. But he feared that his Master and the others would die of the poison. At this juncture, while he was suffering mental tortures on their behalf, a Bodhisattva, Lady Pi Lan, came to his rescue. By the aid of her magic he broke the extinguisher, gave his Master and fellow-disciples pills to counteract the poison, and so rescued them.

Shaving a Whole City

The summer had now arrived. On the road the pilgrims met an old lady and a little boy. The old lady said: “You are priests; do not go forward, for you are about to pass into the country known as the Country that exterminates Religion. The inhabitants have vowed to kill ten thousand priests. They have already slain that number all but four noted ones whose arrival they expect; then their number will be complete.”

This old lady was Kuan Yin, with Shên Tsai (Steward), who had come to give them warning. Sun thereupon changed himself into a candle-moth and flew into the city to examine for himself. He entered an inn, and heard the innkeeper warning his guests to look after their own clothes and belongings when they went to sleep. In order to travel safely through the city, Sun decided that they should all put on turbans and clothing resembling that of the citizens. Perceiving from the innkeeper’s warning that thieving was common, Sun stole some clothing and turbans for his Master and comrades. Then they all came to the inn at dusk, Sun representing himself as a horse-dealer.

Fearing that in their sleep their turbans would fall off, and their shaven heads be revealed, Sun arranged that they should sleep in a cupboard, which he asked the landlady to lock.

During the night robbers came and carried the cupboard away, thinking to find in it silver to buy horses. A watchman saw many men carrying this cupboard, and became suspicious, and called out the soldiers. The robbers ran away, leaving the cupboard in the open. The Master was very angry with Sun for getting him into this danger. He feared that at daylight they would be discovered and all be executed. But Sun said: “Do not be alarmed; I will save you yet!” He changed himself into an ant and escaped from the cupboard. Then he plucked out some hairs and changed them into a thousand monkeys like himself. To each he gave a razor and a charm for inducing sleep. When the King and all the officials and their wives had succumbed to this charm, the monkeys were to shave their heads. On the morrow there was a terrible commotion throughout the city, as all the leaders and their families found themselves shaved like Buddhists.

Thus the Master was saved again.

The Return to China

The pilgrims having overcome the predicted eighty difficulties of their outward journey, there remained only one to be overcome on the homeward way.

They were now returning upon a cloud which had been placed at their disposal, and which had been charged to bear them safely home. But alas! the cloud broke and precipitated them to the earth by the side of a wide river which they must cross. There were no ferry-boats or rafts to be seen, so they were glad to avail themselves of the kind offices of a turtle, who offered to take them across on his back. But in midstream the turtle reminded Hsüan Chuang of a promise he had made him when on his outward journey, namely, that he would intercede for him before the Ruler of the West, and ask his Majesty to forgive all past offences and allow him to resume his humanity again. The turtle asked him if he had remembered to keep his word. Hsüan Chuang replied: “I remember our conversation, but I am sorry to say that under great pressure I quite forgot to keep my promise.” “Then,” said the turtle, “you are at liberty to dispense with my services.” He then disappeared beneath the water, leaving the pilgrims floundering in the stream with their precious books. They swam the river, and with great difficulty managed to save a number of volumes, which they dried in the sun.

The Travellers Honoured

The pilgrims reached the capital of their country without further difficulty. As soon as they appeared in sight the whole population became greatly excited, and cutting down branches of willow-trees went out to meet them. As a mark of special distinction the Emperor sent his own horse for Hsüan Chuang to ride on, and the pilgrims were escorted with royal honours into the city, where the Emperor and his grateful Court were waiting to receive them. Hsüan Chuang’s queer trio of converts at first caused great amusement among the crowds who thronged to see them, but when they learned of Sun’s superhuman achievements, and his brave defence of the Master, their amusement was changed into wondering admiration.

But the greatest honours were conferred upon the travellers at a meeting of the Immortals presided over by Mi-lo Fo, the Coming Buddha. Addressing Hsüan Chuang, the Buddha said, “In a previous existence you were one of my chief disciples. But for disobedience and for lightly esteeming the great teaching your soul was imprisoned in the Eastern Land. Now a memorial has been presented to me stating that you have obtained the True Classics of Salvation, thus, by your faithfulness, completing your meritorious labours. You are appointed to the high office of Controller of Sacrifices to his Supreme Majesty the Pearly Emperor.”

Turning to Sun, the Buddha said, “You, Sun, for creating a disturbance in the palace of Heaven, were imprisoned beneath the Mountain of the Five Elements, until the fullness of Heaven’s calamities had descended upon you, and you had repented and had joined the holy religion of Buddha. From that time you have endeavoured to suppress evil and cherish virtue. And on your journey to the West you have subjugated evil spirits, ghosts, and demons. For your services you are appointed God of Victorious Strife.”

For his repentance, and for his assistance to his Master, Chu Pa-chieh, the Pig Fairy, was appointed Head Altar-washer to the Gods. This was the highest office for which he was eligible, on account of his inherent greed.

Sha Ho-shang was elevated to the rank of Golden Body Perpetual Saint.

Pai Ma, the white horse who had patiently carried Hsüan Chuang and his burden of books, was led by a god down the Spirit Mountain to the banks of the Pool of Dragon-transformation. Pai Ma plunged in, when he changed at once into a four-footed dragon, with horns, scales, claws, and wings complete. From this time he became the chief of the celestial dragon tribe.

Sun’s first thought upon receiving his promotion was to get rid of the Head-splitting Helmet. Accordingly he said to his Master, “Now that I am, like yourself, a Buddha, I want you to relieve my head of the helmet you imposed upon me during the years of my waywardness.” Hsüan Chuang replied, “If you have really become a Buddha, your helmet should have disappeared of itself. Are you sure it is still upon your head?” Sun raised his hand, and lo! the helmet was gone.

After this the great assembly broke up, and each of the Immortals returned in peace to his own celestial abode.

(1500 words)

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