民間道敎 as Religion of the People: Journey to the West, Part 3.

Within this novel which is full of criticism against religions, the character that manifests all that is good – an ideal man in thoughts of Wu Cheng En – is 孫悟空. He has talents outstanding numerous generals and 神仙 of the heaven in battle or spell. Given the sensible decisions he made throughout the journey, he seems to be quite clever as well. With all these diverse capabilities, he also detests unfair authorities. He is also an only reasonable thinker along with 太上老君 within this novel which is full of characters with the mentality we cannot easily understand.

It seems that Wu Cheng En tried to express his desire to drive unjust court and authorities of 明代 into the character of 孫悟空, the incarnation of talented and good-hearted Taoist 神仙. The character shares some aspects with “Superman” of Nietzsche, one who is infinitely reasonable by overcoming humane limits. Not only he is talented, but considering that he endured all the hardships 玄奘 caused and still served him to the end, he shows somewhat astonishing endurance too. 孫悟空 also has a good deal of leadership in situation of crises. All in all, perhaps these might be the features that Wu Cheng En desired in his ideal leader: wise and talented, yet very just one with, more than any other things, practical mind.

As I said at the beginning, you can only think about higher concepts or afterlife, when you are done with concerns about this life. Survival – necessary wealth thereof – is the primary concern, the better life the next, and something irrelevant to this life and this world will be the last concern. For so many people, neither most religions nor most leaders provided real-life comforts. Most elites were chasing their own aim, which was not in the physical realm. Their abstract thoughts and formalisms did not enhance people’s life. Religions were not different. They had too complex theories for average people to understand, and would not show what people can benefit from them in real life.

While such was the case of established religions and imperial court, folk religions concentrated in dealing with people’s ongoing hardships. They often listened to the cries and answered by promising fortune in return for the prayer and a little bit of donation. Then people began to wait for messiah – not the one who will make everybody disappointed with idealism, but make their lives actually better with brightness and practicality. Such a desire always used to exist in history: the desire for real human 孫悟空.

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