Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The morals behind the Journey to the West

To people of my generation, the 1986's CCTV version of Journey to the West is the one and only classic version that should ever exist. 

I don't care whether or not a costume designer from Lord of the Rings had designed the monsters' masks. They don't matter at all. As a matter of fact, I don't like all the colourful dresses and make-ups on these monsters's faces in the 2012 version. They looked odd. 

Over the few weeks, I have been watching DVDs of the original series, reminiscing my childhood. I remembered Singapore's broadcasting station only played this series on Saturday at 3 pm. At 2.30 pm, I will be making my way down to my Grandmother's house to get ready to watch it. 

I remembered Channel 8 will also show an animal documentary after the Journey to the West episode. While watching the animals eating each others up, my Grandmother will add in her views about these animals. It was such great time spending my weekend. 

As I grew older, I have different interpretations on the show. In the past, things are just black and white.  All those monsters who stopped Tang San Zang in his journey to the west are all evil. They should all be eliminated. When I looked back at some of these monsters, I realised that some of them are actually not that evil.

One example is the spider sisters demons They didn't plot to harm Tang San Zang. It was Tang San Zang who bumped into them and disrupted their lives. At the end of the story, you will see that the Mother of Hen God took them in as maids. She only killed their senior, the evil centipede demon.

And of course most of the demons are pets belonging to Gods. They were bored with life at the celestial palace. When fate presents them with the opportunity to escape, they run and have fun down at the earth.

However, there is one part of the show baffled me.  At the very last episode, you would have thought that Tang San Zang and his disciples have finally made it to the wonderful Western paradise to get the scriptures after overcoming all these challenges.

To much of their disappointments, the western paradise isn’t that perfect at all. There are beings with ugly personalities in the paradise and they happened to be Buddha’s disciples.

So what happened is that these two disciples were instructed to pass on the scriptures to Tang. However before they agreed to pass the scriptures, they have asked for a bribe from Tang. Tang and gang couldn’t understand what is going and why the two Buddha disciples have asked for a bribe. They didn’t give any.

To get back to Tang, the two disciples decided to pass them the fake scriptures with no writings. Unknown to the Tang San Zang, he and his gang left the Western paradise happily.

On their way out, they were attacked by a large eagle who snatched the scriptures parcel from them. The books fell out and revealed that they have been duped.

Of course, the jumpy Monkey God wouldn’t have any of these nonsense. He brought everyone back to Buddha’s court and confronted him why they were asked for a bribe from his disciples.

Instead of chiding his two disciples for committing the ugly act, Buddha sided with them explaining that he is aware of the rule and that they were acting on his behalf. He explained that scriptures are not to be given away freely and definitely not free for anyone to take.

He related that many nuns and monks who have collected the scriptures over the centuries were only given meager returns for their efforts of chanting the scriptures. The Buddha thought they were too selling their services too cheaply. Henceforth, he implemented a rule that whoever wants to collect the scriptures should give something precious in return.

I don’t understand this part of the show.

  • Why are there ugly beings in Western Paradise?
  • Why did they extort a bribe from Tang Sang Zang?
  • Haven’t Buddhism taught us that wealth and riches aren’t important? So why did Buddha tolerate their acts and even agreed that he wouldn't let Tang have the sutras for free?
  • Didn’t Tang and disciples overcome numerous challenges? Aren’t these enough to prove that they can have the sutras for free?
  • What are the morals behind this story plot?

Can anyone explains this? If not, let's have a discussion about it. 

Here is the video of the last episode. 

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