sort of like a Hitherby Dragons story, except less whimsical and with more swears.
Zhu Bajie, disciple of Tang Xuanzang, stood with his brothers before Tathagata Buddha. All of them were greatly wearied in body from their long journey and ceaseless vigil, having guarded their master against all adversity, but their souls were light. Enlightenment hovered close, within reach, and each felt not exultation but rather, blissful peace, that of the still soul that does not expect fulfilment, but anticipates it.
The Tathagata sat before them, radiant and ineffable, his throne a lotus flower, his palm upraised in blessing spanning the universe. Wukong had once spent an eternity crossing the star-tossed void, only to find that he had never left the span of the Buddha’s fingers. The five travellers, monk, demons, and dragon, prostrated themselves before the supreme being.
As was fitting, Xuanzang, their leader, spoke first. “Master,” he said, “at your command, your disciples have journeyed west, crossing mountains and chasms, rivers and deserts, and have brought the sutras to the Great Tang, that the people, citizens of the greatest empire on earth, may be enlightened by their teachings. My three disciples have guarded my life and my spirit against all adversity — my good steed has borne me through all hazard and hardship. I ask nothing for myself, finding gladness in the task itself, but I beg indulgence for my disciples, that their good service may redeem their iniquitous pasts.”
The Tathagata smiled, and his thousand hands made a thousand mudras of blessing. “Xuanzang, in a former life, you were my disciple in truth, called Master Golden Cicada. You showed disrespect at my sermons, and so fell from enlightenment, and had to be reborn in the East, to live a life of hardship and tribulation to regain your former exalted position. Take your place among the enlightened once more — by your merit, you have earned Buddhahood.”
And Xuanzang’s visage shed pure radiance as he was transfigured, and he sat at the Tathagata’s feet, folding his multitude of limbs into a sublime posture of meditation. He lowered his head in contemplation, and never spoke again, so refined and complete was his bliss.
The Buddha then turned to the Monkey who had been given the name Awakened to Emptiness. “Sun Wukong, you were born a pure child of heaven and earth, gifted with great power, but in your youth and recklessness, you raised a great tumult in heaven. You even pissed in my palm. There was no option, but to subdue you for five hundred years beneath the Five Elements Mountain. But you were a valiant and loyal guardian of Xuanzang, and in your travels have learned forbearance, and attained enlightenment. By your merits, you have earned Buddhahood.”
And Monkey bowed his head, his headband glowing gold. As the brother disciples watched, the gold flared bright as the sun, and then dissolved, its curse no longer capable of restraining one whose consciousness had transcended mortality. And Monkey stood at the gates of Heaven, his Compliant Gold-Banded Staff in hand, arraying himself singularly against all the evils of the world, and the Victorious Fighting Buddha would never know defeat.
Then it was Sandy’s turn. A former heavenly general, a breach in etiquette saw him cast down to the mortal world, where in despair he became a demon through the unwholesome practice of devouring those who fell into his river. For his dedication and his unfailingly loyalty, Sandy was granted the title of Golden Arhat, and presided as abbot over an order of monks who came to follow his example. And the White Dragon, who had served as Xuanzang’s steed, was exalted even above his father, the Dragon King of the Western Ocean, becoming a Heavenly Dragon — a luminary of the Celestial Bureaucracy.
And through it all Pigsy, named Eight Restraints by his master, waited patiently. His heart sang as his brothers were lifted up one after the other — not because their glory reflected his own, but out of a deep and genuine conviction that each deserved their exalted reward. He remained prostrate as one after the other was exalted. He was a little put-out that none of them spared a word to their fellows, but he supposed that gaining transcendental wisdom might make one feel a little lofty. He hoped that he wouldn’t become too stuck-up, and made up his mind, when he attained Buddhahood, to crack wise with his brothers, just to show them that he hadn’t let enlightenment go to his head.
And at last, it was his turn. “Pigsy,” said the Tathagata, and Pigsy looked up, tears streaming from his eyes, his soul free from worldly attachments.
“Pigsy, you were a Heavenly General, Marshal Tianpeng, but in a moment of drunken weakness, you outraged the modesty of one of the heavenly maidens, the Moon Fairy Chang’e. For this, you were cast down to earth, to be born a half-man, half-pig monster. In this form, you became a demon to be feared, devouring whole harvests and despoiling women wherever you found them.”
Pigsy cleared his throat. “Er, yeah, I’m really sorry about all that. And the women never really complained, you know — ”
“Pigsy, for your good service carrying the luggage of the Tang monk and your brother disciples, you are hereby appointed Cleaner of the Altars. All the offerings that mortal folk lay upon our altars are yours to devour.”
We know here that Pigsy had definitely achieved enlightenment, because after hearing that bullshit, it took five whole seconds for him to lose his temper, and shout, “What the fuck? Seriously? I did everything that these assholes did, and this is what I get? And what the fuck do you mean, ‘carried the luggage’? Hey, I fought armies of fucking demons, okay? My nine-toothed rake left enough holes in monsters that the entire heavenly army could find a nice wet home for their millions of celestial pricks! I mean, you think Sandy fought harder than me? Fucking Sandy? Are you shitting me? The only thing he knows how to use that monk’s spade of his to do is to dig the fucking latrine!
“And you’re promoting the horse over me? What the fucking fuck? Are you high on lotus fumes or something? What the fuck did he do? Besides eat the original goddamn horse. And I guess carried Xuanzang on his back. Which was soooo difficult for a dragon to do, oh my god like I can’t even. I’ve fucked little girls who weighed more than he did! You know what I carried? I carried my entire fucking team, that’s what.”
The records don’t tell us exactly what happened after this.
But we know Pigsy returned to earth, and walked among people, loving, fighting, and indulging mightily. He soon discovered that all things sacrificed were his to devour, even if the gods themselves had not yet partaken of the offering. Soon he was running a protection racket for the terrestrial small gods, threatening to consume all their offerings unless they surrendered to him boons of power and vows of allegiance. It is known that through his exploits he gained great renown, and was granted the title of Zodiac Pig when the time came, and in his own way, Pigsy has served faithfully.
He has, however, never forgotten the indignity of that moment, when his true-hearted efforts and tremendous sacrifices and suffering had been ignored, discarded, held to be irrelevant. And he swore a mighty oath, that never again would he place his trust in the word of god or man or Buddha.