Qi-Cultivation and Dao

Jing, Qi, Shen in The Journey to the West

Jill Gonet, MFA and Guan-Cheng Sun, PhD

One of the greatest works in Chinese literature, and in world literature, for that matter, is Wu Cheng-En’s The Journey to the West.  Spanning 100 chapters, and four volumes, it teaches, inspires, and delights its readers all at once.  And Anthony C. Yu’s translation, from University Of Chicago Press, deserves rave reviews.  It is unusual to find a book that simultaneously instructs the mind and spirit, delights the aesthetic sensibilities, and causes one quite frequently to laugh out loud—but just such a book is The Journey to the West.  Not only is it a memorable tale conveyed in great style, its main characters are thoroughly and indelibly drawn. Internal cultivators will find great wisdom embedded in the feats of the protagonists, and in their foibles as well, for these protagonists dwell in the land of allegory, and from a certain perspective each character may be seen to represent a dominant type of energy or aspect of internal cultivation.

Jing and Chu Pa-chieh (Zhu Ba-Jie)

Chu Pa-chieh, representing Jing, is a slapstick character, always to be counted on to be red-eyed when anywhere in the vicinity of the well-to-do.  His appetites for food and for the company of the fair sex often cause the entire group of pilgrims to be waylaid on their journey.  Chu Pa-chieh is a pig, it is to be remembered, and as such, one makes allowances for the fact that although one is en route to higher ground in cultivation, this aspect of one’s self and one’s nature is also along for the journey.  Chu Pa-chieh provides much comic relief amidst the others’ relatively more earnest striving, as he creates situation after situation that puts the pilgrims on the spot.  But, it must be noted, that when the going gets tough, in multiple instances Chu Pa-chieh comes out swinging on behalf of the group and its survival and its purpose, wielding his hoe with splendid martial arts finesse, and contributing enormously and with heartfelt action on behalf of the group enterprise.

Jing is a raw and genuine energy, and as it is refined and cultivated it becomes capable of achieving a higher purpose, working with others as a member of a team, and providing a certain muscular power that assists in manifesting the desired outcome. Everyone, pretty much, has a Chu Pa-chieh within to contend with and to train, and that is one’s Jing.

Qi and Sun Wu-k’ung (Sun Wu-Kong)

Sun Wu-k’ung, the Monkey King is quite the character—after all he is a monkey–and represents Qi.  Moreover, however, he represents a Qi delinquent: one who has cultivated Qi and gone wrong, abusing his empowerment for his own fame, self-glorification, and all-around selfish purposes.  He goes too far too often, thieving and stealing power at any opportunity, causing chaos in heaven itself, until the Buddha himself manages to put him in lock down.  And while these exploits and demerits make for entertaining and instructive reading, it is understood that it can also be worthwhile to have such power available in such a person, and so Wu-k’ung becomes indentured as a bodyguard. 

Qi, when focused only on itself, and drunk with itself, can create the kind of commando we see in Sun Wu-k’ung the Monkey King: on behalf of himself, glorifying himself at any and every opportunity, with no regard for orderly creation, or for virtue. Monkey King is a martial arts wizard, and believes he is the greatest, equal to heaven.  His power is, indeed, very great, and is based on real disciplined cultivation, as well as some supernatural abilities and longevity stolen from the heavenly realm.  He is so often the hero in the group’s adventures and misadventures because his Qi enables him to accomplish the impossible, time and again.  He can change form, he can exercise astute discernment, create an army of himself from a mere handful of his own hairs, turn a needle into a formidable martial arts killing machine.  What can’t he do?  Basically he can’t control himself.  He has little or no conscience, or remorse.  He can manage his desires and appetites, unlike Chu Pa-chieh, and is not lured by money, sex, food, and such.  But Monkey King must be brought into alignment with the group’s higher purpose, and the means of doing so is a filet bound round his head.  Bodhisattva Kuan-Yin puts it there, and gives the spell for activating its power to the person for whom he is to act as  bodyguard, Tripitaka.  When Tripitaka recites the spell, Wu-k’ung the Monkey King gets a headache that renders him powerless, and thus obtains his continued cooperation to the group endeavor and his continued service as bodyguard to Tripitaka. 

Qi without conscience and virtues was obviously a matter of concern back in the Ming dynasty, when this novel was penned.  It is always a matter of concern when there is flagrant disregard for the orderly principles of creation, and Sun Wu-k’ung the Monkey King is at his best in the harness on behalf of Tripitaka and the group.  The transformation that happens in Wu-k’ung over the course of their many-years-long journey is a wonder to behold.  It is, in a sense, a natural process for cultivators to experience Qi and its power, and to learn about it by using and exercising it.  But it is sad when cultivation stops there, for what could have been used and managed to create a higher level of order and consciousness in the world gets dispersed and fragmented into smaller aims. Monkey King’s transformation is at the heart of the novel, and it is a glorious transformation: Qi aligns with the Dao and transforms to Shen, spiritual power.

Shen and Tripitaka

Tripitaka is a holy man, one who has come into this world with a great purpose and mission to fulfill.  He represents the Shen.  By himself, Tripitaka is ineffective, in addition to being easily duped, gullible, and naïve in general.  Tripitaka needs to get things done—he has places to go and people to meet, but he can’t get there on his own.  In fact, he can’t go more than a few steps without being victimized.  This is why heaven has wisely teamed him up with his companions.  And while they help instill in him a sense of humor and greater discernment and savvy, in return he instills in them a sense of conscience, duty, purpose, teamwork, righteousness, loyalty, and virtue.  Thus, the three energies—of Jing, Qi, Shen—create a sum greater than their parts.  They create a synthesis of epic proportions.

When Taoist tradition speaks of Jing Qi Shen it is in that order; it is not Shen Qi Jing.  And why is that?  Perhaps because, in this world, Jing is the basic vital energy that sets things in motion, and then Qi helps keep it going.  Shen is a higher order of functioning.  It answers the question: “What is the meaning of life? Or “Why are we here?”  Once one has a mature and able body that has been nourished and tended, whose Qi is strong and stable, it is natural to move on from there, to return to dwell, to recognize one’s source and then finish the process of maturation and nourishment at that level.  As The Journey to the West reveals, these three energies aren’t always on the same page, and they aren’t always easy to coordinate with each other, but the rewards for getting them into alignment are profound and, ultimately, the most satisfying.

Tranquility and Sha Monk

One may ask: “How does a practitioner bring the Jing, Qi, and Shen together into greater alignment?”  There is another important character in the journey to the West, and that is Sha Monk.   Whenever Chu Pa-chieh or Monkey King or Tripitaka get into trouble, Sha Monk is always the essential helper.  Sha Monk’s other appellation is “Wu-ching” (Wu-Jing) (悟静) in Chinese, which means “realization of tranquility.” From the view of internal cultivation, Sha Monk represents the state of stillness and tranquility.  During internal cultivation, the practice of stillness results in internal peace and clarity.  With continued quiet sitting and stillness practice, the mind can reach a state of tranquility, and naturally forms a mind-mirror; this mind-mirror will reflect one’s thoughts, images, memories, and emotions vividly and clearly.  In this state, internal cultivators are able to observe their own thoughts and emotions, as well as other’s thoughts and emotions. In the deep state of tranquility, everything can rise up to the screen of the mind.  Once a disciplined practitioner achieves a stable state of tranquility they are more able to observe the natural course of the development of things and events, and also to understand what’s wrong and what’s right internally.  Thus, stillness and tranquility practice can be very helpful for self-realization and self-transformation.

Body and White Horse

In the Journey to the West, a white horse is the companion of Tripitaka. This is not just any white horse, but a dragon that has been given the form of a horse; therefore it has some pretty special abilities. This reflects that when one is here to cover a lot of ground spiritually, there will be a commensurate energy available in the body.  An integral part of the journey for Tripitaka, the white horse represents the physical body, which is the vehicle of the Shen.  The Journey to the West symbolizes the spiritual journey of internal cultivators.  A human being is a unity of body and spirit. Jing and Qi are the essence and life force of the body and spirit.  In The Journey to the West, each character—Chu Pa-chieh, Monkey King, Sha Monk, and Tripitaka–represents a part of intrinsic human nature.   Every human being may have a raw nature like Chu Pa-chieh, very much attached to food and sex, or, like Sun Wu-k’ung, be very much attached to fame and power, or, like Tripitaka, be a kind and loving and holy person with unbelievable naivety.

Chu Pa-chieh’s monk name is “Wu-Neng” (悟能) in Chinese, which means “Realization of Energy.”  The monkey king’s monk name is “Wu-k’ung” (悟空) in Chinese, which means “Realization of Emptiness.” And Tripitaka’s monk name is “Hsuan-tsang” (Xuan Zang) (玄藏) in Chinese, which means “Realization of the treasure of hsuan (Xuan). ” With great willingness, with higher purpose, with persistent and sincere effort, Chu Pa-chieh (Jing), Monkey King (Qi), and Tripitaka (Shen), were all refined and transformed throughout the years and stages of the Journey to the West.

The journey of Qi cultivation and spiritual growth is a lot like The Journey to the West— it is not a quick and easy journey.  Obstacles and challenges are there at every step, at every stage, in every situation.  But the journey is very valuable and meaningful. In the novel, at the end, everyone achieved the goal of internal realization successfully, with great teamwork and with spiritual guidance, throughout their eighty-one ordeals.  Their journey was one of growth and learning–about virtue and wisdom, discipline, teamwork, and the importance of achieving the goal.  So much of the journey that took place as they traveled over foreign lands also took place on the inside of these pilgrims, and led them to internal freedom and transformation. For the group of pilgrims, and for each member of the group, it was a journey of internal realization and fulfillment.  

1. The Journey to the West Image-Figure 1
Jill Gonet, MFA earned her B.A. at the University of Massachusetts, and her M.F.A. from the University of Washington. Her writing has appeared in numerous literary journals over the years, including Poetry, Ploughshares, The New England Review, The Gettysburg Review, and The Best American Poetry, among others. She is the recipient of awards from the Poetry Society of America, as well as grants from the Seattle Arts Commission. She was interested in ancient Daoist classics since high school years, and has studied Dao De Jing-the Way of Virtues, Yi Jing-the Book of Change, Ling Shu-the Spiritual Pivot, Zhuang-Zi, Lie-Zi, diligently. She meditated and practiced Qigong daily for over 20 years. She has combined her interests in writing, Chinese culture, and the art of internal cultivation by collaborating on many writings with Dr. Sun.
Guan-Cheng Sun, PhD is the founder of the Institute of Qigong & Internal Alternative Medicine. Dr. Sun earned his Ph.D. in molecular genetics from the Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Japan in 1993, and was awarded a fellowship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. From 1994-1997 Dr. Sun conducted postdoctoral research in molecular endocrinology at the University of Washington. This research enriched his theory and practice of Qigong. His understanding of modern molecular genetics and scientific principles, as well as his experience with internal cultivation, allowed him to create a unique bridge between cultures. Dr. Sun has spent over 30 years refining his skills and has developed a new system of Qigong called “Yi Ren® Qigong.” He is currently engaged in mind-body medicine and energy medicine research at Bastyr University, Seattle, Washington.
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