Journey to the West is a well-known Chinese literary work and classified as one of the Four Great Classical Novels in Chinese literature. Perhaps you are familiar with the story’s intriguing plot, which involves a journey from China to the West in order to obtain sacred Buddhist scriptures. It features five interesting characters: a monk named Tang San Zang and his four disciples: a monkey named Sun Wu Kong, a pig named Zhu Ba Jie, an ogre named Sha Wu Jing, and a steed, one of the Dragon King’s sons, ridden by Tang San Zang. As a child I never considered the deep hidden meaning of this story, but as I grew older I realised that it actually reflects our inner world.
The monk refers to our human nature, which is our fundamental character and traits. For instance, we understand that the only way to improve is to put forth effort in self-improvement, so we never stop learning. As you gain strength, you will be able to make more informed decisions. The monk also refers to the emptiness, the true nature of everything, such as being aware of changes. Change is the only constant in life; and once you understand the inner meaning, you will always be prepared ‒ you won’t experience various extreme emotions when confronted with change, such as agitation, frustration, disappointment and so on. The faithful steed that never leaves the monk refers to our human bodies because our thoughts and deeds are interrelated.
The monkey represents our actual intention, which is our goal to accomplish something worthwhile, while the gold hoop worn by the monkey represents the obstacles that hinder us in real life, such as morality, practices and customs. The monkey’s special abilities represent our awareness through sight, smell, hearing, taste, body, consciousness and uncertainty in the future. The transformation of the monkey into other objects or subjects can be referred to as human characteristics changing with time, environment, and experiences. You will be able to lead yourself down different paths if you keep an open mind and make allowance for changes in order to improve.
The pig symbolises our instinct, the human desire to gain something. When you have desire, you are driven to achieve it and are willing to go to any length to achieve it. However, the pig’s appearance is ugly because when people have extreme desire, they can appear to be ugly in appearance and in behaviour. This serves as a reminder to us to maintain control over our desires when undertaking any accomplishment in our lives.
The ogre could be a metaphor for purity of heart, peace and logic. As you can see from the story, the monk always consults with him and they have in-depth discussions.
Meanwhile, the evil spirits, demons, and monsters in the story reflect the allurement of life; they appear fascinating and appealing, but we should not give in to their temptations.
Though you may not be a leader right now, you can start your journey by cultivating self-leadership in your daily life. Just like the story in Journey to the West, once you fully realise yourself, you will be ready to empower others.
By Lee Yan Yee
NOTE: The view and opinion expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PSU Phuket and its employees or official policies of PSU Phuket.
This article was featured in ’The Phuket Collegiate Magazine’, the university magazine published by Milla Budiarto at PSU Phuket. For more information, visit: https://www.phuket.psu.ac.th/en/magazine or to share ideas with Milla email: email@example.com.