Journey to the West

Original Series

Happy Chinese New Year!

What better way to start the Year of the Monkey than with a chapter from Wu Cheng’en’s sixteenth century classic Xiyouji 《西游记》 Journey to the West? The adventures of irrepressible, ingenious Monkey – together with his friends Pigsy and Sandy, and the monk Sanzang (aka Xuanzang, Tripitaka) – delight people the world over. The novel’s been printed countless times, illustrated and abridged, and there have been so many media adaptations; for the stage, the screen, TV, cartoons and picture-story books and more. Like many of us, Professor W.J.F. Jenner first came across Monkey as a child… and he was hooked.

A chain of lucky events led me to Journey to the West. It all started when I was a boy, twelve perhaps, stuck in bed with bronchitis and bored. My mother brought me a book she had found for me in a church jumble sale. It was a pocket-sized book-club hardback bound in yellow cloth that soon drove the boredom away: Arthur Waley's Monkey. It was captivating, and fun, and that was that. – W.J.F. Jenner

This is the first paragraph in Professor Jenner's account of his long journey translating Journey to the West, written specially for this Year of the Monkey. Read 'Journeys to the East, Journey to the West' in the Los Angeles Review of Books. We hope it will tempt you to read his translation of the entire novel too.

Chapter 15 is reproduced below by kind permission of W.J.F. Jenner.

Illustrated by Isobel Haysom.

Chapter 15

On the Coiled Snake Mountain the

Gods Give Secret Help

In the Eagle’s Sorrow Gorge the

Thought-Horse Is Reined in

Monkey looked after the Tang Priest as they headed west. They had been travelling for several days in the twelfth month of the year, with its freezing north winds and biting cold. Their path wound along overhanging precipices and steep cliffs, and they crossed range after range of dangerous mountains. One day Sanzang heard the sound of water as he rode along, and he turned around to shout, “Monkey, where’s that sound of water coming from?” “As I remember, this place is called Eagle’s Sorrow Gorge in the Coiled Snake Mountain. It must be the water in the gorge.” Before he had finished speaking, the horse reached the edge of the gorge. Sanzang reined in and looked. He saw:

A thin cold stream piercing the clouds,

Deep, clear waves shining red in the sun.

The sound shakes the night rain and is heard in the quiet valley,

Its colour throws up a morning haze that obscures the sky.

A thousand fathoms of flying waves spit jade;

The torrent’s roar howls in the fresh wind.

The current leads to the misty waves of the sea;

The egret and the cormorant never meet by a fisherman.

As master and disciple watched they heard a noise in the gorge and a dragon emerged from the waves, leapt up the cliff, and grabbed at Sansang. In his alarm Monkey dropped the luggage, lifted Sanzang off his horse, turned, and fled. The dragon, unable to catch him up, swallowed the white horse, saddle and all, at a single gulp, then disappeared once more beneath the surface of the water. Monkey made his master sit down on a high peak and went back to fetch the horse and the luggage. When he found that the horse had gone and only the luggage was left, he carried the luggage up to his master and put it down before him. “Master,” he said, “that damned dragon has disappeared without a trace. It gave our horse such a fright that it ran away.” “However are we going to find the horse, disciple?” “Don’t worry, don’t worry, wait here while I go and look for it.”

He leapt into the sky, whistling. Putting up his hand to shade his fiery eyes with their golden pupils, he looked all around below him, but saw no sign of the horse. He put his cloud away and reported, “Master, that horse of ours must have been eaten by the dragon—l can’t see it anywhere.” “Disciple,” Sanzang protested, “how could that wretched creature have a mouth big enough to swallow a horse that size, saddle and all? I think the horse must have slipped its bridle in a panic and run into that valley. Go and have a more careful look.” “You don’t know about my powers,” Monkey replied. “These eyes of mine can see what’s happening three hundred miles away, and within that range I can even spot a dragonfly spreading its wings. There’s no way I could miss a big horse like that.” “But we’ll never get across those thousands of mountains and rivers.” As he spoke, his tears fell like rain. The sight of him crying was too much for Brother Monkey, who flared up and shouted, “Stop being such an imbecile, master. Sit there and wait while I find that wretch and make him give us back our horse.” “You mustn’t go,” said Sanzang, grabbing hold of him. “I’m frightened that he’ll come creeping out again and kill me this time. Then I’ll be dead as well as the horse, and that would be terrible.” This made Monkey angrier than ever, and he roared with a shout like thunder, “You’re hopeless, absolutely hopeless. You want a horse to ride but you won’t let me go. This way you’ll be sitting there looking at the luggage for the rest of your life.”

As he was yelling ferociously in a flaming temper, a voice was heard in the sky that said, “Don’t be angry, Great Sage; stop crying, younger brother of the Tang Emperor. We are gods sent by the Bodhisattva Guanyin to give hidden protection to the pilgrim who is fetching the scriptures.” At these words Sanzang immediately bowed, but Monkey said, “Tell me your names, you lot.” “We are the Six Dings, the Six Jias, the Revealers of the Truth of the Five Regions, the Four Duty Gods, and the Eighteen Protectors of the Faith; we shall take it in turns to be in attendance every day.” “Who starts today?” “The Dings and Jias, the Four Duty Gods, and the Protectors of the Faith will take turns. Of the Revealers of the Five Regions, the Gold-headed Revealer will always be with you by day and by night.” “Very well then,” said Monkey, “all those of you who are not on duty may withdraw. The Six Ding Heavenly Generals, the Duty God of the Day, and the Revealers of the Truth will stay here to protect my master, while I shall go to find that evil dragon in the gorge and make him give our horse back.” The gods all did as they were told, and Sanzang, now greatly relieved, sat on the cliff and gave Monkey detailed instructions. “There’s no need for you to worry,” said the splendid Monkey King as he tightened the belt round his brocade tunic, folded up his tiger-skin kilt, grasped his cudgel, went to the edge of the gorge, and stood amid clouds and mist above the water. “Give us back our horse, mud loach, give us back our horse,” he shouted.

Now when the dragon had eaten Sanzang’s white horse, it lay low in the stream, hiding its miraculous powers and nourishing its vital nature. When it heard someone shouting and cursing it and demanding the horse back, it was unable to hold back its temper. Leaping up through the waves it asked, “How dare you make so free with your insults?” The moment he saw it, Monkey roared, “Don’t go! Give us back our horse!” and swung his cudgel at the dragon’s head. Baring its fangs and waving its claws, the dragon went for him. It was a noble battle that the pair of them fought beside the ravine.

The dragon stretched its sharp claws

The monkey raised its gold-banded cudgel.

The beard of one hung in threads of white jade,

The other’s eyes flashed like golden lamps.

The pearls in the dragon’s beard gave off a coloured mist

The iron club in the other’s hands danced like a whirlwind.

One was a wicked son who had wronged his parents;

The other, the evil spirit who had worsted heavenly general

Both had been through trouble and suffering,

And now they were to use their abilities to win merit

Coming and going, fighting and resting, wheeling and turning, they battled on for a very long time until the dragon’s strength was exhausted and his muscles numb. Unable to resist any longer, it turned around, dived into the water, and lay low at the bottom of the stream. It pretended to be deaf as the Monkey King cursed and railed at it, and did not emerge again.

Monkey could do nothing, so he had to report to Sanzang, “Master, I swore at that ogre till it came out, and after fighting me for ages it fled in terror. It’s now in the water and won’t come out again.” “Are you sure that it really ate our horse?” Sanzang asked. “What a thing to say,” said Monkey, “If it hadn’t eaten the horse, it wouldn’t have dared to say a word or fight against me.” “When you killed that tiger the other day you said you had ways of making dragons and tigers submit to you, so how comes it that you couldn’t beat this one today?” Monkey had never been able to stand provocation, so when Sanzang mocked him this he showed something of his divine might. “Say no more, say no more. I’ll have another go at it and then we’ll see who comes out on top.”

The Monkey King leapt to the edge of the ravine, and used a magical way of throwing rivers and seas into turmoil to make the clear waters at the bottom of the Eagle’s Sorrow Gorge as turbulent as the waves of the Yellow River in spate. The evil dragon’s peace was disturbed as he lurked in the depths of the waters, and he thought, “How true it is that blessings never come in pairs and troubles never come singly. Although I’ve been accepting my fate here for less than a year since I escaped the death penalty for breaking the laws of Heaven, I would have to run into this murderous devil.” The more he thought about it, the angrier he felt and unable to bear the humiliation a moment longer he jumped out of the stream cursing, “Where are you from, you bloody devil, coming there to push me around?” “Never you mind where I’m from,” Monkey replied. “I’ll only spare your life if you give back that horse.” “That horse of yours is in my stomach, and I can’t sick it up again, can I? I’m not giving it back, so what about it?” “If you won’t give it back, then take this! I’m only killing you to make you pay for the horse’s life.” The two of them began another bitter struggle under the mountain, and before many rounds were up the little dragon could hold out no longer. With a shake of his body he turned himself into a water-snake and slithered into the undergrowth.

The Monkey King chased it with his cudgel in his hands, but when he pushed the grass aside to find the snake the three gods inside his body exploded, and smoke poured from his seven orifices. He uttered the magic word om, thus calling out the local tutelary god and the god of the mountain, who both knelt before him and reported their arrival. “Put out your ankles,” Monkey said, “while I give you five strokes each of my cudgel to work off my temper.” The two gods kowtowed and pleaded pitifully, “We beg the Great Sage to allow us petty gods to report.” “What have you got to say?” Monkey asked. “We know when you emerged after your long sufferings, Sage,” they said, “which is why we didn’t come to meet you. We beg to be forgiven.” “In that case,” Monkey said, “I won’t beat you, but I’ll ask you this instead: where does that devil dragon in the Eagle’s Sorrow Gorge come from, and why did he grab my master’s white horse and eat it?” “Great Sage, you never had a master,” said the two gods, “and you were a supreme Immortal with an undisturbed essence who would not submit to Heaven or Earth, so how does this master’s horse come in?” “You two don’t know that either,” Monkey replied. “Because of that business of offending against Heaven, I had to suffer for five hundred years. Now I’ve been converted by the Bodhisattva Guanyin, and she’s sent a priest who’s come from the Tang Empire to rescue me. She told me to become his disciple and go to the Western Heaven to visit the Buddha and ask for the scriptures. As we were passing this way we lost my master’s white horse.” “Ah, so that’s what’s happening,” the gods said. “There never used to be any evil creatures in the stream, which ran wide and deep with water so pure that crows and magpies never dared to fly across it. This was because they would mistake their own reflections in it for other birds of their own kind and often go plummeting into the water. That’s why it’s called Eagle’s Sorrow Gorge. Last year, when the Bodhisattva Guanyin was on her way to find a man to fetch the scriptures, she rescued a jade dragon and sent it to wait here for the pilgrim without getting up to any trouble. But when it’s hungry it comes up on the bank to catch a few birds or a roe deer to eat. We can’t imagine how it could be so ignorant as to clash with the Great Sage.” “The first time he and I crossed swords we whirled around for a few rounds,” Brother Monkey replied. “The second time I swore at him but he wouldn’t come out, so I stirred up his stream with a spell to throw rivers and seas into turmoil, after which he came out and wanted to have another go at me. He didn’t realize how heavy my cudgel was, and he couldn’t parry it, so he changed himself into a water snake and slithered into the undergrowth. I chased him and searched for him, but he’s vanished without a trace.” “Great Sage, you may not be aware that there are thousands of interconnected tunnels in this ravine, which is why the waters here run so deep. There is also a tunnel entrance round here that he could have slipped into. There’s no need for you to be angry, Great Sage, or to search for it. If you want to catch the creature, all you have to do is to ask Guanyin to come here, and it will naturally submit.”

On receiving this suggestion Monkey told the local deity and the mountain god to come with him to see Sanzang and tell him all about what had happened previously. “If you go to ask the Bodhisattva to come here, when will you ever be back?” he asked, adding, “I’m terribly cold and hungry.” Before the words were out of his mouth they heard the voice of the Gold-headed Revealer shouting from the sky, “Great Sage, there’s no need for you to move. I’ll go and ask the Bodhisattva to come here.” Monkey, who was delighted, replied, “This is putting you to great trouble, but please be as quick as you can.” The Revealer then shot off on his cloud to the Southern Sea. Monkey told the mountain god and the local deity to protect his master, and sent the Duty God of the Day to find some vegetarian food, while he himself patrolled the edge of the ravine.

The moment the Gold-headed Revealer mounted his cloud, he reached the Southern Sea. Putting away his propitious glow, he went straight to the Purple Bamboo Grove on the island of Potaraka, where he asked the Golden Armour Devas and Moksa (or Huian) to get him an audience with the Bodhisattva. “What have you come for?” the Bodhisattva asked. “The Tang Priest,” the Revealer replied, “has lost his horse in the Eagle’s Sorrow Gorge, and the Great Sage Sun Wukong is desperate, because they can neither go forward nor back. When the Great Sage asked the local deity he was told that the evil dragon you sent to the ravine, Bodhisattva, had swallowed it, so he has sent me to ask you to subdue this dragon and make it give back the horse.” “That wretched creature was the son of Ao Run, the Dragon King of the Western Sea, whom his father reported for disobedience when he burned the palace jewels. The heavenly court condemned him to death for it, but I went myself to see the Jade Emperor and asked him to send the dragon down to serve the Tang Priest as a beast of burden. Whatever made it actually eat the Tang Priest’s horse? I’d better go and look into it.” The Bodhisattva descended from her lotus throne, left her magic cave, and crossed the Southern Sea, travelling on propitious light with the Revealer. There is a poem about it that goes:

Honey is in the Buddha’s words that fill Three Stores of scripture

The Bodhisattva’s goodness is longer than the Great Wall

The wonderful words of the Mahayana fill Heaven and Earth

The truth of the prajna rescues ghosts and souls

It even made the Golden Cicada shed his cocoon once more

And ordered Xuanzang to continue cultivating his conduc

Because the road was difficult at the Eagle’s Sorrow Gorge

The dragon’s son returned to the truth and changed into a horse

The Bodhisattva and the Revealer reached the Coiled Snake Mountain before long, and stopping their cloud in mid-air they looked down and saw Brother Monkey cursing and shouting at the edge of the ravine. When the Bodhisattva told him to call Monkey over, the Revealer brought his cloud to land at the edge of the ravine. Instead of going to see Sanzang first, he said to Monkey, “The Bodhisattva’s here.” Monkey leapt straight into the air on his cloud and shouted at her at the top of his voice, “Teacher of the Seven Buddhas, merciful head of our religion, why did you think up this way of hurting me?” “I’ll get you, you outrageous baboon, you red-bottomed ape,” she replied. "I was at my wit’s end two or three times over to fetch that pilgrim, and I told him to save your life. But so far from coming to thank me for saving you, you now have the effrontery to bawl at me.” “You’ve been very good to me, I must say,” retorted Monkey. “If you’d let me out to roam around enjoying myself as I pleased, that would have been fine. I was all right when you met me above the sea the other day, spoke a few unkind words, and told me to do all I could to help the Tang Priest. But why did you give him that hat he tricked me into wearing to torture me with? Why did you make this band grow into my head? Why did you teach him that Band-tightening Spell? Why did you make that old monk recite it over and over again so that my head ached and ached? You must be wanting to do me in.” The Bodhisattva smiled. “You monkey. You don’t obey the commands of the faith, and you won’t accept the true reward, so if you weren’t under control like this you might rebel against Heaven again or get up to any kind of evil. If you got yourself into trouble as you did before, who would look after you? Without this monstrous head, you’d never be willing to enter our Yogacarin faith.” “Very well then,” Monkey replied, “let’s call this object my monstrous head. But why did you send that criminal and evil dragon to become a monster here and eat my master’s horse? Letting evil creatures out to run amuck like that is a bad deed.” “I personally asked the Jade Emperor to put the dragon here as a mount for the pilgrim,” said the Bodhisattva. “Do you think an ordinary horse would be able to cross the thousands of mountains and rivers to reach the Buddha-land on the Vulture Peak? Only a dragon horse will be able to do it.” “But he’s so afraid of me that he’s skulking down there and won’t come out, so what’s to be done?” Monkey asked. The Bodhisattva told the Revealer to go to the edge of the ravine and shout, “Come out, Prince Jade Dragon, son of the Dragon King Ao Run, to see the Bodhisattva of the Southern Sea,” on which he would emerge. The Revealer went to the edge of the gorge and shouted this twice, on which the young dragon leapt up through the waves, took human form, stepped on a cloud, and greeted the Bodhisattva in mid-air. “In my gratitude to you, Bodhisattva, for saving my life, I have been waiting here for a long time, but I have had no news yet of the pilgrim who is going to fetch the scriptures.” The Bodhisattva pointed to Brother Monkey and said, “Isn’t he the pilgrim’s great disciple?”

“He’s my enemy,” the young dragon replied when he looked at him. “I ate his horse yesterday because I was starving, so he used some powers of his to fight me till I returned exhausted and terrified, then swore at me so that I had to shut myself in, too frightened to come out. He never said a word about anyone fetching scriptures.” “You never asked me my name, so how could I have told you?” Monkey retorted. “I asked you ‘where are you from, you bloody devil?’ and you yelled, ‘Never mind where I’m from, and give me back that horse.’ You never so much as breathed the word ‘Tang’.” “You monkey, you are so proud of your own strength that you never have a good word for anyone else,” said the Bodhisattva. “There will be others who join you later on your journey, and when they ask you any questions, the first thing you must mention is fetching the scriptures. If you do that, you’ll have their help without any trouble at all.”

Monkey was happy to accept instruction from her. The Bodhisattva then went forward, broke off some of the pearls from the dragon’s head, soaked the end of her willow twig in the sweet dew in her bottle, sprinkled it on the dragon’s body, and breathed on it with magic breath, shouted, and the dragon turned into the exact likeness of the original horse. “You must concentrate on wiping out your past sins,” she told him, “and when you have succeeded, you will rise above ordinary dragons and be given back your golden body as a reward.” The young dragon took the bit between his teeth, and her words to heart. The Bodhisattva told Sun Wukong to take him to Sanzang as she was returning to the Southern Sea. Monkey clung to her, refusing to let her go. “I’m not going,” he said, “I’m not going. If the journey to the West is as tough as this, I can’t possibly keep this mortal priest safe, and if there are many such more trials and tribulations, I’ll have enough trouble keeping alive myself. How can I ever achieve any reward? I’m not going, I’m not going.” “In the old days, before you had learnt to be a human being,” the Bodhisattva replied, “you were prepared to work for your awakening with all your power. But now that you have been delivered from a Heaven-sent calamity, you have grown lazy. What’s the matter with you? In our faith, to achieve nirvana you must believe in good rewards. If you meet with injury or suffering in future, you have only to call on Heaven and Earth for them to respond; and if you get into a really hopeless situation I shall come to rescue you myself. Come over here as I have another power to give you.” The Bodhisattva plucked three leaves from her willow twig, put them on the back of Brother Monkey’s head, and shouted “Change”, on which they turned into three life-saving hairs. “When the time comes when nobody else will help you,” she said, “they will tum into whatever is needed to save you from disaster.”

After hearing all these fine words, Monkey finally took his leave of the All-merciful Bodhisattva, who went back to Potaraka amidst scented breezes and coloured mists.

Monkey brought his cloud down to land, and led the dragon horse by the mane to see Sanzang. “Master,” he said, “we’ve got our horse.” “Sanzang cheered, up the moment he saw it. “Why is it sturdier than it was before?” he asked. “Where did you find it?” “Master, you must have been dreaming. The Golden-headed Revealer asked the Bodhisattva to come here, and she turned the dragon in the gorge into our white horse. The colouring is the same, but it hasn’t got a saddle or a bridle, which is why I had to drag it here.” Sanzang was astounded. “Where’s the Bodhisattva? I must go and worship her,” he said. “She’s back in the Southern Sea by now, so don’t bother,” Monkey replied. Sanzang took a pinch of earth as if he were burning incense, knelt down, and bowed to the south. When he had finished he got up and helped Monkey put their things together for the journey. Monkey dismissed the mountain god and the local deity, gave orders to the Revealer and the Duty Gods, and invited his master to mount the horse. “I couldn’t possibly ride it—it’s got no saddle or bridle,” his master replied, “but we can sort this out when we’ve found a boat to ferry us across the stream.” “Master, you seem to have no common sense at all. Where will a boat be found in these wild mountains? This horse has lived here for a long time and is bound to know about the currents, so you can ride him and use him as your boat.” Sanzang had no choice but to do as Monkey suggested and ride the horse bareback to the edge of the stream while Monkey carried the luggage.

An aged fisherman appeared upstream, punting a raft along with the current. As soon as he saw him, Monkey waved his hand, and shouted, “Come here, fisherman, come here. We’re from the East, and we’re going to fetch the scriptures. My master is having some trouble crossing the river, so come and ferry him over.” The fisherman punted towards them with all speed, while Monkey asked Sanzang to dismount and helped him on board the raft. Then he led the horse on and loaded the baggage, after which the fisherman pushed off and started punting with the speed of an arrow. Before they realized it they had crossed the Eagle’s Sorrow Gorge and were on the western bank. When Sanzang told Brother Monkey to open the bundle and find a few Great Tang coins and notes to give the fisherman, the old man pushed his raft off from the shore with the words, “I don’t want your money, I don’t want your money,” and drifted off into mid-stream. Sanzang was most upset, but could do nothing except put his hands together and thank him. “There’s no need to thank him, master,” Monkey said. “Can’t you see who he is? He’s the water god of this stream, and I should be giving him a beating for not coming to welcome me. He should consider himself lucky to get off the beating—how could he possibly expect money too?” His master, who was only half-convinced, mounted the saddleless horse once more and followed Monkey to join the main path, and then they hurried on towards the West. Indeed,

The great truth landed on the opposite bank

The sincere heart and complete nature climbed Vulture Peak.

As disciple and master went forward together, the sun slipped down in the west and evening drew in.

Pale and ragged clouds,

The moon dim over the mountains,

As the cold frost fills the heavens,

And the wind’s howl cuts through the body,

With the lone bird gone, the grey island seems vast;

Where the sunset glows, the distant mountains are low.

In the sparse forests a thousand trees moan,

On the deserted peak a lonely ape screams.

The path is long, and bears no footprints.

As the boat sails thousands of miles into the night.

As Sanzang was gazing into the distance from the back of his horse, he noticed a farm-house beside the path. “Monkey,” he said, “let’s spend the night in the house ahead of us and go on in the morning.” Monkey looked up and replied, “Master, it’s not a farm-house.” “Why not?” “A farm-house wouldn’t have all those decorative fishes and animals on the roof. It must be a temple or a nunnery.”

As they were talking they reached the gate, and when Sanzang dismounted he saw the words TEMPLE OF THE WARD ALTAR written large above the gate and went inside. Here an old man with a rosary of pearls hanging round his neck came out to meet them with his hands held together and the words, “Please sit down, master.” Sanzang quickly returned his courtesies and entered the main building to pay his respects to the divine image. The old man told a servant to bring tea, and when that had been drunk Sanzang asked the old man why the temple was dedicated to the ward altar. “This place is in the territory of the western land of Hami,” the old man replied, “and behind the temple lives the devout farm family which built it. ‘Ward’ means the ward of a village, and the altar is the altar of the local tutelary deity. At the time of the spring ploughing, the summer weeding, the autumn harvest, and the storing away in winter they all bring meat, flowers, and fruit to sacrifice to the altar. They do this to ensure good fortune throughout the four seasons, a rich crop of the five grains, and good health for the six kinds of livestock.” On hearing this Sanzang nodded and said in approval, “How true it is that ‘Go three miles from home, and you’re in another land.' We have nothing as good as this in our country.” The old man then asked him where his home was. “I come from the land of the Great Tang in the East,” Sanzang replied, “and I have imperial orders to go to the Western Heaven to worship the Buddha and ask for the scriptures. As our journey brought us this way and it is almost night, we have come to this holy temple to ask for a night’s lodging. We shall set off at dawn.” The old man, who was very pleased to hear this, apologized profusely for having failed in his hospitality and told the servant to prepare a meal. When Sanzang had eaten he thanked the old man.

Monkey’s sharp eyes had noticed a clothes-line under the eaves of the building. He went over, tore it down, and hobbled the horse with it. “Where did you steal that horse from?” the old man asked with a smile. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Monkey replied. “We’re holy monks going to visit the Buddha, so how could we possibly steal a horse:” “If you didn’t steal it,” the old man continued, the smile still on his lips, “then why do you have to break my clothes-line because it’s got no saddle, bridle or reins?” Sanzang apologized for Monkey and said to him, “You’re too impatient, you naughty monkey. You could have asked the old gentleman for a piece of rope to tether the horse with. There was no need to snap his clothes-line. Please don’t be suspicious, sir,” Sanzang went on, addressing the old man. “This horse isn’t stolen, I can assure you. When we reached the Eagle’s Sorrow Gorge yesterday I was riding a white horse complete with saddle and bridle. We did not know that there was an evil dragon in the stream who had become a spirit, and this dragon swallowed my horse saddle, bridle and all, in a single gulp. Luckily this disciple of mine has certain powers, and he brought the Bodhisattva Guanyin to the side of the gorge, where she caught the dragon and changed it into a white horse, exactly like the original one, to carry me to the Western Heaven to visit the Buddha. It’s been less than a day from when we crossed that stream to when we reached your holy shrine, sir, and we haven’t yet saddle or bridle for it.” “Please don’t be angry, Father. I was only joking,” the old man replied. “I never thought your respected disciple would take it seriously. When I was young I had a bit of money, and I was fond of riding a good horse, but many years of troubles and bereavement have taken the fire out of me, and I’ve come to this miserable end as a sacristan looking after the incense. Luckily the benefactor who owns the farm behind here provides me with the necessities of life. As it happens, I still have a saddle and bridle—I was so fond of them in the old days that I have never been able to bring myself to sell them, poor as I am. Now that I have heard, venerable master, how the Bodhisattva saved the divine dragon and changed it into a horse to carry you, I feel that I must help too, so I shall bring that saddle and bridle out tomorrow for you to ride on. I beg you to be gracious enough to accept them.” Sanzang thanked him effusively. The servant boy had by now produced the evening meal, and when it was over they spread out their bedding, lamp in hand, and all went to sleep.

When Monkey got up the next morning he said, “Master, that old sacristan promised us the saddle and bridle last night. You must insist and not let him off.” Before the words were out of his mouth, the old man appeared with the saddle and bridle in his hands, as well as saddlecloth, saddle-pad, reins, muzzle and all the other trappings for a horse. Nothing was missing. As he put it all down in front of the verandah he said, “Master, I humbly offer this saddle and bridle.” When Sanzang saw them he accepted them with delight. Then he told Monkey to put them on the horse to see if they fitted him. Monkey went over and picked them up to look at them one by one: they were all fine pieces. There are some verses to prove it that go:

The well-carved saddle shines with silver stars

The jewelled stirrups gleam with golden light.

Several layers of saddle-pads are made from wool

The lead-rope is plaited from purple silk.

The reins are inlaid with flashing flowers,

The blinkers have dancing animals outlined in gold.

The bit is made of tempered steel,

And woollen tassels hang from either end.

Monkey, who was secretly very pleased, put the saddle and bridle on the horse and found that they fitted as if they had been made to measure. Sanzang knelt and bowed to the old man in thanks, at which the old man rushed forward and said, “No, no, how could I allow you to thank me?” The old man did not try to keep them a moment longer, and bade Sanzang mount the horse. When he was out of the gate, Sanzang climbed into the saddle, while Monkey carried the luggage. The old man then produced a whip from his sleeve and offered it to Sanzang as he stood beside the road. Its handle was of rattan bound with leather, and its thong of tiger sinew bound at the end with silk. “Holy monk,” he said, “I would also like to give you this as you leave.” As Sanzang took it sitting on horseback, he thanked the old man for his generosity.

As Sanzang was on the point of clasping his hands together to take his leave of him, the old man disappeared, and on turning round to look at the temple, the monk could see nothing but a stretch of empty land. He heard a voice saying in the sky, “Holy monk, we have been very abrupt with you. We are the mountain god and the local deity of Potaraka Island, and we were sent by the Bodhisattva Guanyin to give you the saddle and bridle. You two are now to make for the west as fast as you can, and not to slacken your pace for a moment.” Sanzang tumbled out of the saddle in a panic, and worshipped the heavens, saying, “My eyes of flesh and my mortal body prevented me from recognizing you, noble gods; forgive me, I beg you. Please convey my gratitude to the Bodhisattva for her mercy.” Look at him, kowtowing to the sky more often than you could count. The Great Sage Sun Wukong, the Handsome Monkey King, was standing by the path overcome with laughter and beside himself with amusement. He went over and tugged at the Tang Priest. “Master,” he said, “get up. They’re already much too far away to hear your prayers or see your kowtows, so why ever are you doing that?” “Disciple,” Sanzang replied, “what do you mean by standing beside the path sneering at me and not even making a single bow while I’ve done all those kowtows?” “You don’t know anything,” Monkey retorted. “A deceitful pair like that deserve a thrashing. I let them off out of respect for the Bodhisattva. That’s quite enough: they couldn’t expect me to bow to them too, could they? I’ve been a tough guy since I was a kid, and I don’t bow to anyone. Even when I meet the Jade Emperor or the Supreme Lord Lao Zi I just chant a ‘na-a-aw’ and that’s all.” “You inhuman beast,” said Sanzang, “stop talking such nonsense. Get moving, and don’t hold us up a moment longer.” With that Sanzang rose to his feet and they set off to the west.

The next two months’ journey was peaceful, and they only met Luoluos, Huihuis, wolves, monsters, ligers, and leopards. The time passed quickly, and it was now early spring. They saw mountains and forests clad in emerald brocade as plants and trees put out shoots of green; and when all the plum blossom had fallen, the willows started coming into leaf. Master and disciple travelled along enjoying the beauties of spring, and they saw that the sun was setting in the west. Sanzang reined in his horse to look into the distance, and in the fold of a mountain he dimly discerned towers and halls. “Wukong,” he said, “can you see if there’s anywhere we can go there?” Monkey looked and said, “It must be a temple or a monastery. Let’s get there quickly and spend the night there.” Sanzang willingly agreed, and giving his dragon horse a free rein he galloped towards it. If you don’t know what sort of place it was that they were going to, listen to the explanation in the next instalment.


# 1.   

A new complete translation of the Xiyouji into German by Eva Lüdi will be published soon (Reclam Verlag, Germany).

Rupprecht Mayer, February 8, 2016, 7:53a.m.


Your email will not be published
Raw HTML will be removed
Try using Markdown:
[link text](
End line with two spaces for a single line break.