As our pilgrims travel to the West Tripitaka hears rushing water and grows alarmed. Monkey chides him, saying that he has forgotten the Heart Sutra. Tripitaka assures him that he has memorized all 270 characters that make up the 54 sentences of the sutra and wonders what he has forgotten. Monkey responds:
“You have forgotten the one about, ‘no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind’. Those of us who have left the family should see no form with our eyes, should hear no sound with our ears, should smell no smell with our noses, should taste no taste with our tongues; our bodies should have no knowledge of hear or cold, and our minds should gather no vain thoughts. This is called the Extermination of the Six Robbers. But look at you now. Though you may be on your way to seek scriptures your mind is full of vain thoughts: fearing the demons you are unwilling to risk your life. … You have, in sum, assembled the Six Robbers. How could you possibly get to the Western Heaven to see the Buddha?” JW 2 p284
In short Tripitaka is able to recite the sutra but has not incorporated it into his soul. He is like the woodsman that Monkey met on his quest for a master in the first chapter, who was just chanting a mantra to soothe his fears, but didn’t really understand it. The heat of Tripitaka’s many ordeals are necessary for him to fuse the concepts behind the Heart Sutra into his Being.
The inherent suggestion behind the sutra is to subdue our 6 senses, not to kill them. We can still enjoy food, beauty, music, ideas and the like. But we should avoid craving these sensual delights, and definitely not pursue them with abandon or they will steal our Soul.
What’s the difference, you might wonder?
In the ideal state we accept what comes our way without judgment - appreciating the Buddha-nature in all things. The taste of the food can be exquisite, the music inspiring, and the touch sensations luscious. We should even appreciate the daunting fear for what it is - rather than being paralyzed by it. Like wise it’s important to just feel the pain of separation from loved ones without trying to numb or distract it. This way we can fully appreciate what the Universe throws our way, whether a beautiful vacation or working in a boring job - each contains the Buddha nature.
Similar by a hair’s breadth, which turns into miles when extended, is becoming lost in regret that we can’t be rich enough to continually travel the world - eating scrumptious food and seeing stimulating sights. A step further from the path is when we mortgage our freedom to attain these things by taking on stress that is harmful to our health. The next step away is when we inflict pain on others to satisfy the Six Robbers that we have assembled. Many of our political leaders and their rich friends have adopted this last destructive stage and elevated it to a virtue. Then the populace, emulating the rich and powerful, step willingly into their golden cage to become slaves to their unfulfilled desires - afraid of taking risks because the mind with the knowledge of demons has created potential dangers, which paralyze the will.
However although it is easy to recite this mantra of detachment, as with Tripitaka it is not so easy to incorporate these no-mind ideas into the core of our being. The constant litany of Journey to the West is that study is not sufficient, no matter how long and hard, and that direct experience, which will contain suffering, tempered by wisdom and meditation is the only way. The true Journey has pain.
The beginning of wisdom is the awareness that one is on a Side Path. The mainstream, which embraces the aberrant emotion of greed as a virtue, is moving backwards into the wilderness. Those who are aware of the negative aspect of their greed are like Tripitaka, stumbling in the right direction.
“As for unawares oblivion and oblivion of which you become aware, there is an inconceivable difference between them. Unawares oblivion is real oblivion; oblivion that you notice is not completely oblivious. Clear light is in this.” Golden Flower p 26
Hence Monkey is continually attempting to return Tripitaka’s awareness to the No-Mind message of the Heart Sutra, so that he is at least aware that he is on a Side Path. Similarly this book is an attempt to prevent those of us of mortal stock from sliding inadvertently into the oblivion of the senses, which inspires fear and craving. Let us recollect an earlier testimonial poem to keep us focused on our own Journey.
“Good and evil, the false thoughts of a moment;
Shame and honor, neither should concern you.
Failure, success, leisure, or work - let it come and go;
Live in accord with your needs and your lot.”
Easy to say. Hard to do. Only through pain and mistakes will we learn.
Tripitaka doesn’t quite get what Monkey is talking about and continues to wonder when he will reach the Buddha. Monkey laughs saying:
“Success will come when meritorious service is done.” JW 2 p285
Piggy says that will take forever. Sha Monk responds that while he shares the same emotions that it is important not to wag the tongue pointlessly but instead:
“Just concentrate on carrying the loads on our backs; there will be a day when the service is completed.” JW 2 p285
Similarly with each of us, it’s important to focus our entire energies on the task at hand rather than cultivating impatience to reach the end. Concentrate on the job of raising children, pursuing a career, or incorporating No-Mind into our Being, instead of craving completion. Like fruit on a tree, everything ripens with time, as long as the fire from the sun and the water from the rain are not blocked.
Our travelers reach a Black River, which is 10 miles wide. A boatman appears who offers to take Tripitaka across, but instead captures him. Monkey laments:
“Our old Master faces adversity each step of the way. He just escaped from one demonic ordeal and journeyed safely for little while before he is in the clutches again of these black waters.” JW 2 p218
This is merely an affirmation of the story of Job. Afflictions are not a sign of disfavor from God or the Universe, but are instead to be expected. Indeed because adversity arises each step of the way it’s important not to get discouraged and change course, but to instead employ the Mind to solve the problems and not to get discouraged, thinking that you’ve done something wrong to pull these tests upon one. The real Path is fraught with difficulties.
Once again the monster has been lying in wait to capture Tripitaka so that he can eat him. In this case he wanted to steam Tripitaka for his uncle’s birthday. On the personal level these monsters are attempting to consume our peace of mind. If our thoughts are disturbed and our behavior is fragmented. Our Art suffers, the Mission is imperiled, and the firing process is stalled.
Although sometimes our emotions are aroused due to residual attachments to this realm of suffering, which leads us off the trail onto a destructive Side Path, other times the Universe places obstacles in our way to Test us or give others the chance to do good - rising to their power. The latter was the case here. Tripitaka did nothing wrong. But his capture enabled Sha Monk to exert his energies to help save Tripitaka. This event also acted to further wear away Tripitaka’s fears by illustrating through deeds that he was loved, protected and cared for on divine levels. Because Sha Monk couldn’t quite subdue the water monster the monster’s dragon family are called in to tame his violent nature.
As an aside, the dragon turned monster was the son of the dragon whose execution led to the descent of the T’ang Emperor into the Underworld and back again, which inspired the Grand Mass, at which Kuan-yin revealed herself and gave Tripitaka his Mission Quest. So this monster-son of the executed dragon was raised by his uncle, who instructed him to stay at this river and practice self-cultivation. Instead, for unknown reasons, he had slipped onto a Side Path and become a monster, who consumed humans. This is another reference to those who practice the external alchemy of wealth and power, consuming others for their own gain, rather than the internal arts, which lead to harmony and enlightenment. Once again self-cultivation without wisdom to subdue leads to the manifestation of a destructive power.