Tang Seng 唐僧.jpg

Tang Seng, often referred to in English by his Sanskrit name, Tripitaka (唐三藏 táng sān zàng)1, is one of the main characters from the Journey to the West (西游记 xī yóu jì). The story revolves around Tang Seng and his pilgrimage to India to bring a set of Buddhist scriptures back to China to spread Buddhist teachings across his native land. On his journey he is accompanied by three "bodyguards", each of which is on their own personal journey of enlightenment; the Monkey King (孙悟空 sūn wù kōng)Zhu Ba Jie (猪八戒 zhū bā jiè); and Sha Wu Jing (沙悟净 shā wù jìng)

1 Tripitaka means "Three Collections of (Buddhist) Scriptures", and is one of Tang Seng's courtesy names (字 zì)2.

2 A courtesy name, is a name that is bestowed upon an adult in addition to their given name. In Chinese tradition, such a name may be given by parents or a teacher, though oftentimes the name can be self-chosen. 

The story is based on a real monk named Xuan Zang (玄奘 xuán zàng) who, whilst studying Buddhist scripture in China, grew impatient with the inconsistencies he came across in his learning. He decided to travel to India in search of the original texts, a journey that would take him 16 years to complete (from 628 to 643).

Upon return to China, Xuan Zang had achieved his original goal. He had learnt Sanskrit and translated everything he could get his hands on in India then brought his findings back to China where he began preaching True Buddhism. 

Tang Seng 唐僧 (táng sēng)
Status: Deity/Monk
Gender: Male
Pronunciation: (audio file coming soon)
Best known for: His journey to the west

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But along with his translations and teachings, Xuan Zang had compiled another text during his pilgrimage, one that described his journey through various kingdoms, the different cultures he came across and the people he encountered. His notes would one day be collected into one single book, the Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions (大唐西域记 dà táng xī yù jì). And this book would one day inspire Wu Cheng En (吴承恩 wú chéng'ēn) (1500-1582) to write the Journey to the West.


Golden Cicada

In the book, Tang Seng is the reincarnated form of a once divine Golden Cicada3 (金蝉子 jīn chán zi) - or Golden Cicada Elder (金蝉长老 jīn chán zhǎng lǎo) - that resided in Heaven and was the second disciple of Sakyamuni (释迦牟尼如来佛 shì jiā móu ní rú lái fó). He was banished to the mortal realm due to his disdain toward the Buddhist doctrine by Tathagata (如来佛 rú lái fó) where he was reincarnated ten times, each time living a pious life in China, until he was finally reincarnated as the monk we all know and love, to serve Emperor Tai Zong under the guidance of Guan Yin (观音菩萨 guān yīn pú sà). In order to gain reentry to paradise, Tang Seng would have to prove himself by going on a journey, to the west, in search of Buddhist scripture. 

3 an insect that as part of it's lifecycle sheds its exoskeleton (original form) to become an adult with wings (symbolising reincarnation).