Anaylysis of Journey to the West
Does the idea of a ‘journey’ apply to Tripitaka’s pilgrimage? If so, how?
The idea of embarking on journeys has stood the test of time - early man explored uncharted territories, while modern citizens jump at the chance to have an overseas experience. Are we truly concerned with materialistic experiences, or are we seeking to expand our horizons ? The term pilgrimage itself suggests a journey to a geographical location of spiritual importance. However, journey in this case may not solely be categorized as physical travel but also as the voyage of soul development. Tripitaka's pilgrimage is more likely a spiritual journey to enlightenment than a mission to retrieve Buddhist scriptures from the West.
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Knowledge of Buddhism would reveal to us that the narrative is ironic in nautre. The phrase from the Heart Sutra "Form is emptiness; and the very emptiness is form" exemplifies the Buddhist notion according to which the actual essence of all things is non-being. Thus even scriptures that teach and explictly define the path to enlightenment are imperfect for they seemingly go against the concept that the essence of things is elusive and cannot be pinpointed. Likewise, it is ironic that Tripitaka and Wukong seek the scriptures to attain enlightenment when in truth their journey to the scriptures was the means to that end. At the Thunderclap temple, Kaspaya and Ananda, Buddha's servants, give Tripitaka wordless scriptures in place of the real scriptures under Buddha's instructions, saying that they "were just as good". This, while symbolizing the Buddhist's embrace of emptiness that comes with putting aside all desire, further exemplifies the idea that the point of the entire pilgrimage was the spiritual development, and the scriptures attained at the end were nothing but a symbolic token of completion of the journey to illumination.
This irony of wordless scripture brings about a myraid of interpretation about the true nature of the pilgrimage. It opens up the possiblilty to wonder wheather the pilgrimage actually physically happened, or was only a phenomenon in the character's mind. Early on in
the story, Buddha makes a wager with Monkey that, if he