Once upon a time, there was a Buddhist monk named Tang Sanzang. He was compassionate to a fault, and he was prone to being fooled. Nevertheless, he was chosen by the Chinese emperor to go on a journey to Tianzhu, or modern-day India, to obtain Buddhist scriptures and bring them back to China to help spread Buddhism. It was a high calling to a dangerous journey ahead.
Guanyin, the goddess of compassion, appeared to Tang Sanzang just as he was leaving Chang’an on his own.
“Go westward beyond the mountains,” she said, “and you will find what you are looking for.”
Guanyin promised to guide Tang Sanzang to three powerful beings who would protect him on this journey and then, without any further instructions, bade him farewell, sending him on his journey to the West.
As Tang Sanzang traveled westward, he gained three companions who protected him and walked with him on this journey.
The first companion was Sun Wukong, the Monkey King and self-dubbed “Handsome Monkey King in the Water Curtain Cave of Flower Fruit Mountain, Great Sage Equal of Heaven, Sun Wukong.” Reckless and conniving yet brave and earnest, Sun Wukong vowed to be with Tang Sanzang all the way to the end. At first, Sun Wukong only wanted the honor and glory promised to him at the end of the journey, but after defeating demons who threatened to eat Tang Sanzang, Sun Wukong saw that this journey was a greater calling, and he only grew in his devotion to Tang Sanzang.
The second companion was Zhu Bajie, a former commander-in-chief in Heaven who was banned to earth for lusting after the Goddess of the Moon. Lazy and gluttonous, Zhu Bajie cared deeply about his own comfort and would constantly prioritize his own needs and desires, including walking away from the group to talk to every pretty woman along the journey. Knowing this fault in Zhu Bajie, many demons would transform into pretty women to distract him, and Sun Wukong came to Zhu Bajie’s rescue every time. As time went on, Zhu Bajie saw Tang Sanzang’s unwavering commitment to the journey, no matter the challenges, and Zhu Bajie was eventually moved to do the same.
The last companion was Sha Wujing. Originally a general in Heaven, Sha Wujing broke a vase and was banished from Heaven by the Jade Emperor, reincarnating into a man-eating sand demon. A little dense, but extremely humble, Sha Wujing repented of his old ways and vowed to be a new man. After meeting Tang Sanzang, Sha Wujing did everything in his power to serve the others on the journey, constantly putting their needs above his own. If Sun Wukong felt hot, Sha Wujing would be the first to fan him. If Zhu Bajie was feeling tired, Sha Wujing would offer to carry him on his back. Tang Sanzang was very thankful for Sha Wujing’s faithfulness and servant heart.
Together the three companions traveled over land and sea with Tang Sanzang, defeating the demons and monsters who threatened to kill the monk and eat his flesh. They overcame many trials and tribulations, but after an arduous journey, they obtained the Buddhist scriptures and safely brought them back to Chang’an.
The year was 1985. The location: Guangzhou, China. The main character: my mother.
My grandfather was very sick — my mother couldn’t explain to me what the illness was — and needed to see a doctor from the city immediately. But because he was poor, the doctors rejected him at the hospital doors.
“Come back when you can show us you can pay us,” they said. “Until then, go home.”
My mother, 20 years old at the time, went back home to her village and begged every neighbor, cried to them, pleaded with them to let her borrow money for her father’s medical treatment. The villagers, feeling pity for my mother yet moved by her persistence, each gave her a small portion of their daily earnings. After going to every villager’s house, my mother felt that she had finally obtained what was enough. She quickly brought her father and the sum of money to the hospital once again.
When the doctors finally started running tests on my grandfather, they realized that he was too sick and wouldn’t last the week. My mother, again, begged the doctors, cried to them, pleaded with them to save her father. They shrugged, pocketed the money, and left my mother in the hospital room.
My grandfather passed away a few days later in the hospital on his 52nd birthday: December 28, 1985.
That night, as my mother walked back to her village alone, she saw a faint light in the distance. In a flash, a goddess appeared in a white robe, a water jar in her right hand and a willow branch in her left.
“Do you need help?”
My mother didn’t know what to say.
“What do you need?”
My mother looked at the goddess and said, “Money. Money would have saved my father.”
“Go westward to the Golden Mountain,” the goddess said, “And you will find a rich inheritance waiting for you.”
“You will have to go through trials and tribulations to receive it. And you will not be able to return to the way things were. Will you go on this journey?”
My mother talked to her older sister, my aunt, who had just married into a new family about a year ago.
“Big Sister,” my mother said, “Guanyin appeared to me and told me that if we head west to the Golden Mountain, we can gain riches. Will you go with me? We can repay our debt to the villagers for Father’s medical fees, and Mother won’t have to work so hard in the fields.”
My aunt thought about the pros and cons. She knew that she needed to solidify her place in her new family now. Besides, her husband’s family had just started a new business in Guangzhou, and she was counting on her husband’s business to get rich. This was her new family now.
“Why should I go with you?” my aunt said. “I am no longer part of your family now. This debt is your problem, not mine.”
My mother then went to her younger brother, my uncle, to ask if he would go with her to the Golden Mountain.
“Well,” my uncle said, “I think I have more potential of finding a wife here. If I’m so focused on gaining riches, then I won’t be able to settle down and find a woman.”
Finally, my mother went to her mother, my grandmother. My mother didn’t want to ask my grandmother to go on this long journey with her, but she had no one else to turn to.
“Mother,” she said. “Father is gone now, and we have to pay back our friends in the village, but Guanyin has come to help us. She told me that if we go westward to the Golden Mountain, we will gain riches. We can pay back the debt and maybe have money left over to live comfortably. Will you come with me?”
“Daughter, I have to tend to the fields now that your father is gone. Your sister is living with her new family now, and your brother will hopefully bring a new woman into ours. I still have many mouths to feed and no one to support me. You should get married and find someone to go with you.”
With that, my grandmother left for the day to the city marketplace, lifting two baskets of vegetables, one on each end of a wooden rod that she balanced upon her shoulders.
In her desperation, my mother went back to the road where she met Guanyin. In a flash, the goddess appeared before her again.
“Have you decided?”
“I will go, but I have no one to go with me.”
Guanyin smiled and said, “There is a man in the village down the road who has agreed to go on this same journey for a different kind of inheritance. You do not know each other, but do not fear. You both will need each other to reach your destination and reward.”
That night, my mother quietly packed her three outfits, two undershirts, and a pair of shoes into a bag and pocketed the $10 bill that Guanyin graciously provided for her journey. As she waited on that same road, she saw the man walking towards her with his own small bag.
That man was my father. Together, they traveled over land and sea, overcoming multiple trials and tribulations to reach the Golden Mountain.
About the Author: Cindy is an aspiring mental health counselor. She loves Korean food, boba, and her family.
About the image: Sun Wukong, aka the Monkey King