Image: Sanzang and disciples in the bottomless boat.
In chapter 98 of Journey to the West, Sanzang and disciples reach the Thunder monastery on Vulture Peak, where Buddha resides; this represents the end of the Journey to the West and symbolizes reaching enlightenment.
When achievements are complete it is right to bathe;
The fundamental nature has been trained into innate truth.
Many a thousand troubles end today:
The nine prohibitions and triple surrender lead to renewal.
The monsters all done with, they climb to the Buddha land;
With disasters ended they see the Sramana.
Dirt and filth now washed away, they are wholly pure;
Returning to the fundamental, their bodies are imperishable.
-- Journey to the West, Ch 98
Before reaching Thunder monastery, they reach the Cloudtouching Crossing. While trying to find a way to cross the river Monkey sees a ferry approaching.
Monkey had already spotted with the golden pupils in his fiery eyes that this was the Welcoming Lord Buddha, who is also known as Ratnadhvaja, the Royal Buddha of Brightness, but instead of giving this away he just kept calling, “Over here, punt, over here.” A moment later the ferryman had punted his boat up to the bank and was again shouting, “Ferry! Come aboard!” Sanzang was alarmed at the sight. “Your boat has no bottom,” he said, “so however could you ferry anyone across?” -- Journey to the West, Ch 98
“This boat of mine,” the Buddha said,
“Has been famous since Chaos was first divided,
And been punted by me without any changes.
It is stable in wind and stable in waves,
Enjoying great peace with no start and no end.
Untouched by the six types of dust, it returns to the One,
Carries on calmly through all kinds of calamity.
Hard it is for a bottomless boat to cross the oceans,
But since ancient times it has ferried many creatures.”
-- Journey to the West, Ch 98
A boat is a vehicle, symboling the heart, using the method that brings one from this shore (the state of sleep) to the other shore (the state of awakening).
This scripture is the boat that helps you cross the sea of earthly existence. -- Shui-Ching Tzu, Commentary on Cultivating Stillness
The ship is your heart. Guard it. -- The Philokalia, Macarius the Great
This blessed human form is like a sturdy boat, with the guru at its helm and the wind in its sails, on which one may cross this ocean of samsara. The Uddhava-Gita (Hindu text)
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Note: The meaning of the bottomless boat is that Sanzang doesn`t need the method to reach the other shore anymore; he has arrived and is able to walk on water; however the heart is still needed to support self-awareness. It has the same meaning as Christ walking on water.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
-- The Bible, Matthew 14:25-32
Water can refer to the ‘younger water’ or salt water.
Jesus said, ‘Whoever seeks the world is like one who drinks seawater. The more he drinks, the more his thirst increases, until it kills him.’ -- Al-Ghazali (11th c. Persian Sufi mystic)
JOURNEY TO THE WEST — In chapter 81
Image by Chen Huiguan
In chapter 81, Sanzang is captured by a demon and taken to the demon`s cave. Monkey, Pig, Friar Sand and the dragon horse go after their master on clouds.
“The master's a long way from here,” said Monkey to Pig and Friar Sand. “If it's a long way let's go there by cloud,” Pig replied. The splendid idiot went ahead on a wild wind followed by Friar Sand on a cloud. As the white horse had originally been a dragon's son he too came by wind and mist as he carried the luggage on his back. The Great Sage set off by somersault as he headed due South. – Journey to the West, Ch 81
Traveling by cloud has the same meaning as walking on water. Clouds blocking the sunlight represent worldly thoughts blocking the inner light or awareness of the original spirit. This is the most important meaning of yin energy. The right part of the character for yin is made up of above, meaning ‘now’ or ‘present’, while below, means ‘cloud.’ Yang energy refers to unobstructed sun light, symbolizing the inner light of self-awareness. The character for yang is made up of, ‘the sun’ above, and below, referring to ‘sunrays coming down.’
The purity of the nature of man in this world is like the blue sky; wisdom is like the sun, knowledge like the moon. Although knowledge and wisdom are always clear, if you cling to external environments, the floating clouds of false thoughts will create a cover, and your own natures cannot become clear. -- Huineng, 6th Partriarch of Zen Buddhism, 7th c.
When one is on clouds, the sun is visible. Standing on the clouds also means one uses thought to rise above thoughts.
Sweep away miscellaneous thoughts and return to one thought. -- Master Zhenyang (Master of True Yang) from ‘Secret Records of Understanding the Way’'
Return to the one thought, to the spring of cultivating the Tao. Spring is yang because all things begin their growth in this season. -- Shui-Ching Tzu, Commentary on Cultivating Stillness
When the superior man focusses his attention on the fundamental, the path appears. One thought brings back the (celestial) mechanism, which is like obtaining the fundamental from degeneration. This is attaining great development in degeneracy. -- Liu Yiming, The Taoist I Ching, hexagram #18 Degeneration
All wisdom contained in a single thought. -- Zhiyi, 6th c. Tiantai Buddhist master
Consciousness is something different from thought. You use thought just to give a push, and then it begins to move in this direction and you become conscious without thought. -- Peter Ouspensky
In carrying out this principle there is no other method that brings more progress, one must only concentrate one`s thoughts on it. -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Ch 1
Who knows when the journey will end as they find the true word? -- Journey to the West, Ch 18