A Travellerspoint blog

October 2013

Tripitaka & Monkey Magic & I Forgot My Birthday!

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya,

Knock, Knock. Good evening Teacher. You have a parcel from Xian. I wonder who that could be from and why? It was from my beeeeautiful friend Chen Miao.

After opening it I found it was just an empty box. I called her and said 'Baby, you sent me an empty box, why’. It’s your birthday today and it’s not empty, in fact it’s extremely full.

Oh it’s my birthday? Oh my gawd it is my birthday! Yes it is so you should look in the box again. When I did she went; MWA MWA MWA MWA MWA MWA! Then through big happy giggles said; see it is very full of love and kisses!

Well shake my shackles and call me Sherry!

Once again I totally forgot it was my birthday but what an amazing way to be reminded along with being one of the most beautiful and fun gifts I’ve ever received. Then again, Chen Miao is a giant bubble of happiness and fun and if anyone would dream up such a present it would be her.

Apart from forgetting my own birthday we’ve just finished National Day holidays, well to be honest I just finished them as I got an extra week off than most people. Not that I actually knew about the extra days until I turned up to class each morning to find that it was ‘exam’ day, as was the following day and the day after that. As for the actual National Day Weeks holiday, just like the week off for May Day, everyone gets the same holiday therefore hundreds of millions of people are all travelling at the same time, or at least trying to. Prices rise, mostly more than double, any type of ticket to fill a seat on any form of transport that gets you from here to there becomes as sort after as one of the golden tickets that were to be found inside the five random;

Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate Bars in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

I started this blog several weeks ago after a short discussion on Facebook with several friends about who watched Monkey as a child/teen. Most did but as for me, I was never really that caught up in it. Even back then I found the props and special effects to be rather ‘cheap’ so the only time I really sat back and actually enjoyed it was when I was at a friend’s home. It wasn’t until I returned to China in 2005 that I found out that though it was made in Japan it was actually based on a Chinese book and since then I’ve spent tiny pockets of time here and there looking into its history and the novel behind it all.

An English copy would make a damn fine birthday present. Well, it’s a bit bloody late now isn’t it!

The following is a little wordy but if you were or still are a Monkey fan then maybe you will find it rather interesting and now that I think about it, being shook in shackles while being Sherry’d is so totally not my bag of birthday sea shells to sell at the seashore so let’s just go with ‘Monkey Magic’ shall we.

<u>Monkey Magic or as GazzaBazza Once Said &#8216;Monkeye Magike’ </u>

Monkey King/Magic is based on one of the great Chinese quest stories, a 16th century epic called Hsi Yu Chi (Journey to the West) and the title Monkey is from Arthur Waley's English translation. The tales, set in 630 AD, describe the demons and monsters who try to stop the Tang Priest Hs En Tsang (Tripitaka) from reaching a Buddhist monastery in India to retrieve Buddhist scriptures. The entire series recounts the exploits of the resourceful, brave, and humorous Monkey, the real hero of the fantasy, as he escorts Tripitaka, the pig monster Pigsy and the water monster Sandy on their perilous mission.

Born from an egg on a mountain top The punkiest monkey that ever popped He knew every magic trick under the sun To tease the Gods and everyone and have some fun

What a cocky saucy monkey this one is All the Gods were angered And they punished him Until he was saved by a kindly priest And that was the start of their pilgrimage west

With a little bit of monkey magic There'll be fireworks tonight With a little bit of monkey magic Everything will be all right Monkey magic monkey magic Monkey magic monkey magic Monkey magic monkey magic

Click here to see photos of Masako Natsume who played Tripitaka. For some reason I don’t think the &#8216;real Tripitaka’ looked anything like this. Especially in a bikini, unless he was a cross dressing Monk...not good at that time.

<u>The Photo’s For This Entry</u>

The photos for this entry are from one of my most beautiful rides, the ride to Hua Qiao Town which is a splendidly peaceful ride along a river filled with a back drop of beautiful mountains. It was along this ride that I buried my little tea cup in memory of my beautiful friend Fran in the tea fields not far from its beginning. The food shots are from several &#8216;post’ birthday dinners that friends organised over the following weeks after me remembering that it was my birthday.

<u>Now For a Bit of the REAL History of &#8216;Monkey Magic’</u>

What most Monkey fans don’t know is that Hs En Tsang (Tripitaka) actually lived; And left Xian city for India in 629 AD to obtain Buddhist scriptures.

The year was 600AD and the place was Chen He (Old River) Village in Henan Province northern China where Chen Yi (to become the famous scholar and pilgrim Xuan Zang) was born. The Chen family consisted of a long line of government officials and scholars of Confucianism. Chen Yi was also expected to follow in his ancestors' footsteps and fortunately for all Buddhists, his father Chen Hui, was also extremely interested in Buddhism and studied both religions at home.

Naturally, this was a major influence on young Chen Yi and when his second elder brother became a Buddhist monk at Jing Tu Monastery, he also went there to practice and study Buddhism and the very same year (when he was merely six) he became a novice monk taking on the name of 'Xuan Zang'. From then on he studied both Theravada (Lesser Vehicle) and Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) Buddhism and showed a preference for the latter.

'Greater Vehicle' refers to teachings that can 'ferry' all beings towards salvation, as opposed to the 'Lesser Vehicle' teachings that focus on personal awakening or enlightenment.

From an early age, Xuan Zang's extraordinary intelligence stood out due to his ability to memorise entire scriptures that consisted of hundreds of thousands of words and his fellow monks hailed him as a genius. When his father died in 611AD, he and his brother continued studying at Jing Tu monastery until political unrest forced them to flee to the city of Changan which is now known as Xian City and he continued growing in knowledge and reputation.

At the age of twenty Xuan Zang was fully ordained as a Buddhist monk.

The more Xuan Zang studied the more he was dissatisfied with the quality of the Buddhist texts available. There were many different interpretations of a single scripture, most contradicting each other as there was no one single standard version of the scriptures which was due to the translations of the Buddhist scriptures of that period being mostly done by foreign monks (from India etc). Language barriers also hindered accurate translation, compounded by the fact that each translator had different understandings of the original scriptures themselves, which were inherently hard to understand.

Different branches of Buddhism also complicated the process of interpretation. All of this led Xuan Zang to a single conclusion:

In order to gain true understanding, he would have to go to the West to get the original holy scriptures and as fate would have it, a disciple of Abbot Silabhadra (the president and highest ranking monk of Nalanda University) arrived in Changan and informed Xuan Zang that to really understand the true meanings of the holy texts, he must go to Nalanda University and study under the Abbot Silabhadra. Therefore Xuan Zang made his goal Nalanda University in India which is the real life equivalent of the fictional Thundersound Monastery of the Western Heavens in the novel Journey to the West.

<u>Pilgrimage: The Lone Traveller</u>

In 629AD, three years after the Emperor Tang Zhen Guan ascended to the throne and the Gokturks (Eastern Turks) were constantly attacking at the western borders the government had closed the roads to the west, prohibiting everyone except merchants and foreigners from traveling in that direction. After having his passport request denied several times Xuan Zang quietly left Chang An and rode by night and hid by day, eventually reaching Gua Zhou where he had successfully evaded capture by the government.

However, the real dangers still lay before him.

Unlike in the fictional Journey to the West, the threats came not from demons waiting to kill him and eat his flesh. The dangers the real Xuan Zang faced were more mundane yet equally life threatening. As Xuan Zang left the safety of the Yu Men Guan (Gates of Jade), he stepped directly into the first danger, the vast and dry Gobi Desert with its extreme temperatures, both the scorching heat by day and the freezing cold by night. Such dramatic temperatures together with the lack of water, food and shelter made the desert a death trap for travellers of that century and death literally lay along the road to the west.

As Xuan Zang rode his horse into the desert, a lonely, desolate figure in the shifting sands, he saw human bones, evidently the remains of travellers that, like him, had the courage to take on the challenge of the dangerous Gobi Desert without permission from the government and as if the natural dangers weren't enough, there were five sentry towers in the Gobi Desert and the sentries were ordered to shoot and kill all travellers without a passport.

Xuan Zang's journey to the west continued, passing through various countries and visiting sites of Buddhism along the way. He finally arrived at the Nava Vihara (New Monastery), where he acquired the Mahavibhasa text and studied Theravada Buddhism with the master Prajnakara. However, he was a devout advocate of Mahayana Buddhism, which preached that monks should not merely strive for personal enlightenment as advocated by the Theravada sect, but instead, should be compassionate and help all beings to achieve salvation. His motive for studying the Theravada scriptures was not because he revered them;

Instead he studied them more to understand the weaknesses behind the Theravada teachings and three years after leaving Changan he finally reached India via the Khyber Pass.

<u>India: The Holy Land</u>

Xuan Zang had had to undergo many hardships and obstacles on his journey to India such as extreme temperatures, wild animals, bandits and diseases to name but a few. The following is one of the documented encounters.

Xuan Zang and his companions were navigating a river when they were accosted by bandits (once again) and this time the bandits weren't satisfied with just money. They wanted a strong, healthy human to sacrifice to their gods and Xuan Zang fit perfectly and they went about erecting a temporary altar. Once finished they pushed Xuan Zang onto the altar and began preparing the sacrifice. However Xuan Zang showed no signs of fear or anger, only a calm acceptance of the inevitable.

He said to the bandits; Since you are making a sacrifice to your gods, Be patient and let me be of service to your gods in peace.’

He then sat in a meditating pose on the altar and began chanting the names of the bodhisattvas showing no signs of struggle. His desperate companions started to cry in rage but were met without response. By sheer luck suddenly a strong wind arrived, the force breaking the trunk of a large tree on the river bank. Thunder and lightning clashed in a terrible display of light and sound sinking some of the bandits' boats while the rest stood upon their decks too frightened to continue the sacrifice.

After crossing the Khyber Pass he arrived in Peshawar where Buddhism had once flourished and he was greatly saddened by the sight of the once great capital of Gandhara which now lay destroyed by war and invasion. He then passed through many other places until he arrived at Kashmir, one of the most important centres of Buddhism that had over five thousand Buddhist monks and there he stayed in the valley of the Jhelum River for two years studying under a famous monk.

<u>Nalanda University: San Zang (Tripitaka)</u>

The Nalanda University was the largest of all the Buddhist temples in India and the earliest university in the world. The best students of Buddhism flocked to this place, many of whom were from foreign countries just like Xuan Zang. The head of this prestigious university, Abbot Silabhadra was more than a hundred years old and had mastered all of the Buddhist scriptures and religious texts;

So he bore the honoured title of &#8216;Zheng Fa Zang’.

Zang is Chinese for the Sanskrit word pitaka, literally meaning bamboo container or basket, thus the translation of Tripitaka (or San Zang, as Xuan Zang is commonly known) is three baskets (tri = 3). 'Basket' actually refers to the meaning 'containing everything', describing the Buddhist scriptures as 'all compassing'. Tripitaka is the name for a Buddhist canon of scriptures, or pitaka, which have three categories, thus the name tri-pitaka;

&#8216;San Zang’ or in Sanskrit&#8216;Tripitaka’.

Abbot Silabhadra was extremely pleased to have Xuan Zang as a disciple and he lectured Xuan Zang on the Yogacaryabhumi-sastra, taking seventeen months to fully explain the content of that single scripture. After much study and hard work, Xuan Zang finally managed to master fifty of the Buddhist scriptures, becoming the tenth 'San Zang' of Nalanda University.

Many readers of Journey to the West misunderstand 'San Zang' as being a name &#8216;given to him’ by the emperor of Great Tang and not obtaining the title through many years of extremely hard study.

After studying for five years at Nalanda University, Xuan Zang travelled throughout India, including the southern countries visiting many sites of Buddhism and then crossed the sea to reach Sri Lanka where Buddhism flourished. After which, supposedly his journeys took him to over one hundred and thirty small and yet to be unified countries

<u>Home: The Legacy of Xuan Zang</u>

After many years in India and abroad, Xuan Zang finally made the journey home with many companions, most of which were sent by the king of India and by the time they reached XinJiang, sixteen years after he first started out on his journey, there were only seven people left. He then sent a letter to the Tang Emperor describing details of his journey and asking permission to return home. With the permission of the emperor, Xuan Zang returned to his homeland, taking with him over six hundred Buddhist scriptures, most of them Mahayana Buddhism scriptures.

In the spring of the year 645AD, seventeen years after he began his momentous journey, Xuan Zang finally arrived back in Chang An (Xian city) to find the streets lined with people and government officials all welcoming him home. The emperor invited him to the palace where Xuan Zang calmly answered all questions about his journey and experiences. Pleased with his knowledge and insights, the emperor asked him to become an official of the court to which Xuan Zang declined as he wanted to focus all his efforts on translating the Buddhist scriptures he had brought back.

However, knowing the emperor's desire to spread his influence to the western countries, he promised the emperor that he would write a detailed account of the politics, economics, culture, geography and other aspects of the countries of the west. This became another of his great achievements which became the famous book, &#8216;Journey to the West in the Tang Dynasty’, which has remained until this day an important source of information on the countries of Central Asia and is also an important work to those studying the history of the interaction of China with the western countries at that time.

At the age of sixty three, due to health complications arising from overwork and exhaustion, Xuan Zang passed away in Yu Hua Monastery in Chang An/Xian city

Beers N Noodles toya…..shane ___________________________________________________________

The soundtrack to this entry was by The Cure The album was &#8216;Staring At The Sea The Singles’ ____________________________________________________________

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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)