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A Hidden Theory of Mind in Journey to the West

The essay demonstrates that ‘Journey to the West’ (JW) treats all Buddhist and Daoist scriptures as cannons for cultivating the mind. Since the novel explicitly states that Sun Wukong is resolved to cultivate Xuan (玄), Xuan should be interpreted as a faculty of the mind, which has never been done before. A hermeneutic reading of the novel and Dao De Jing (DDJ) under the constraint that all text are referring to minds gives rise to a tri-part model, which consists of an “empty” mind state free of concepts, a mindful state filled with concepts, and a dualistic mind faculty that goes between the other two (Xuan). By this token, it can be established that the protagonist Tripitaka represented the “empty” mind, while the protagonist Wukong represents the dualistic Xuan. This understanding thus makes it possible to explain the relationship between Daoism and Buddhism in JW. Without Buddhist Tripitaka, Wukong would be lost due to his desires that drive Xuan. Without Daoist Wukong, who had insight into the forms of the Way, Tripitaka would fall for distractions and misunderstandings. Thus, only when Buddhism and Daoism are combined, we can get the true Buddhist sutras. This analysis also makes it possible to understand the core debate between the southern and northern lineage of Daoism, and JW’s stance on such debates.

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