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a guest

  • Published: 

Cover of “a guest”, page 1, illustrated in black and white ink brush-style art.

Page 2 of a guest.

Page 3 of a guest.

Page 4 of a guest.

Page 5 of a guest.

Page 6 of a guest.

Page 7 of a guest.

Page 8 of a guest.

Page 9 of a guest.

Page 10 of a guest.

Page 11 of a guest.

Page 12 of a guest.

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Page 17 of a guest.


Page 1: 1 small quiet somewhere - “a guest” by Maiji/Mary Huang.
A person with a wide-brimmed hat riding on a horse. They are travelling through a desert with swaths of clouds overhead. The rider is slouching slightly and appears fatigued.

Page 2: Clouds float over sand dunes. A figure lies in the sand, hat on the ground nearby. The horse nudges the figure’s shoulder.
?: …Water…All I can think about is water…
*A shadowy figure looms.*

Page 3: The shadowy figure is powerfully muscled, with sharp teeth, and clearly not human. It seems to be holding a banner, and speaks with speech bubbles shaped like dark clouds with ink trails wafting about them.
Dark figure: How can you sleep now at such a critical point of your journey…?
*The horse rears back slightly, and the man continues lying there, clearly unconscious. He appears to be a monk with a shaved head, and beads around his neck.*
Dark figure: Well.. perhaps a little rest is in order…

Page 4: The inky lines of the dark figure’s speech dissipate to a new scene. A broom sweeps a cobbled stone path with horse’s feet following it, revealed to be that of the centaur-monk Kanthaka. He sweeps at the top of a series of steps crowned with weeping willows. At the foot of the steps, the hamster-like Little Yì happily sweeps as well with a tiny broom. One round ear perks up as it notices something.
Little Yì: ?

Page 5: Little Yì’s ears are fully raised as it sees the monk lying on the ground a distance away, by the river. It runs up the stairs to let Kanthaka know.
Little Yì: Kanthaka! Kanthaka! *huff puff*
Kanthaka: *looking over, concerned* Are you all right?
Little Yì: We have a guest!!
Kanthaka: !

Page 6: A closeup of the face of the monk who was by the river, his eyes closed. He is resting on a floor mat with a soft pillow under his head and a blanket over him, his prayer beads carefully coiled next to him on the mat. He slowly opens his eyes, gripping his left temple in one hand as if he has a headache. Then he gives a start as he sees Kanthaka sitting calmly across from him, reading a sutra. There are several low tables past Kanthaka with various decorations, and calligraphy scrolls hanging on the walls - one large scroll, and several very tiny ones.
Monk: !!

Page 7: The monk stares, rubs his eyes, and stares some more. He considers Kanthaka’s form.
Monk: (Human and horse combined… A gandharva?) Pardon me…  Is this by any chance… Tusita?
Kanthaka: *looks up and smiles* Oh no, this isn’t any of the Buddhist heavens or Pure Lands. It’s just a little place to rest.
Monk: I… see.

Page 8: They stare at each other in silence for several moments, then the monk bows, palms pressed together in 合掌 hézhǎng or gassho gesture against his forehead. Kanthaka mirrors the gesture with hands at chest level.
Monk: Forgive my rudeness. I thank you for your aid. This humble monk is Xuánzàng.
Kanthaka: And this poor monk is Kanthaka.
Xuánzàng: The noble horse of the Buddha when he was a prince. A splendid name.
Kanthaka: Thank you. It’s very popular where I’m from. We have to add “Big Kanthaka”, “Little Kanthaka” and so on, or there’s too much confusion.
Xuánzàng: That… had never occurred to me, but it makes sense.
Kanthaka: (Ha ha ha) Here I am the only Kanthaka, so it’s not necessary.
*Something wriggles beneath Xuánzàng’s hand.*

Page 9: Little Yì pops up from beneath the blanket and Xuánzàng’s hand, surprising him.
Little Yì: But I’m the only Yì here, and I’m still “Little”!
Kanthaka: In your case, it is a term of endearment. Do you prefer to not be “Little”?
Little Yì: *wandering along Xuánzàng’s lap* No, I like it. It’s longer.
Kanthaka: I’m glad you like it. Though I’m not sure you should be sitting on our guest.
Xuánzàng: I don’t mind. I barely feel a thing.

Page 10:
Kanthaka: Very well. Little Yì, would you like ear scratches and head rubs?
Little Yì: *dancing on Xuánzàng’s lap and running closer to his hand* Yes! Yes!
Kanthaka: Would our guest like to practice giving ear scratches and head rubs while I fetch some refreshments?
*Xuánzàng puts his prayer beads around his neck, then carefully gives Little Yì some ear scratches with his forefinger. Kanthaka returns with a tray with a teapot, two teacups, one tiny teacup, and a dish with an assortment of diced-up preserved fruits.*

Page 11: Xuánzàng continues rubbing Little Yì’s head as it happily eats a piece of preserved fruit and kicks its feet.
Xuánzàng: This may not be Tusita, but I sense it is its own heaven of sorts.
Kanthaka: That is true of many places, when people can see them for what they are. Little Yì, let’s be mindful of our posture when we eat. *He gestures “up, up” with one hand. The three of them enjoy tea and snacks, with Little Yì sitting on a small cushion next to the dish of fruit, by Xuánzàng’s mat.*

Page 12: The dish only has a few bits of preserved fruit left. The teacups also seem to be empty. Xuánzàng is now holding Little Yì in his left hand and stroking it with his right hand into a soft pancake hamster form. He looks up as Kanthaka speaks to him.
Kanthaka: I would welcome you to stay longer, but I sense you are on a journey that is not to be delayed. Once you are back on your feet, you shall continue it.
Xuánzàng: *lowers his eyes and smiles, then looks back up with a firm gaze* Your words are as refreshing as your hospitality. Many have told me to go no further: to stay, or to turn back.
Little Yì: Why? They should help you!
Xuánzàng: They know the journey is dangerous. I cannot fault them for doing what they believe is best. And sometimes, they merely… need a little convincing.

Page 13: The three of them walk out to the river, shaded by gently swaying weeping willows. Little Yì is perched on Kanthaka’s shoulder.

Page 14: Xuánzàng looks out to the river, in deep thought.
Kanthaka: Is something on your mind?
Xuánzàng: Several times during my stay—I have considered asking if you know whether or not I will succeed. But it has also crossed my mind that… perhaps your answer will not make any difference to me.
Kanthaka: Perhaps that is so.

Page 15: Xuánzàng turns his head to look at Kanthaka and Little Yì. Light dances across their faces through the swaying leaves.
Kanthaka: You should head back now. Your noble horse has something to tell you.
Xuánzàng: Huh? —Oh! *he raises his arms to protect himself as a sudden strong gust of wind rises, sending leaves flying towards him, and his panel disintegrates in leaf shapes.*

Page 16: The split leaf shapes coalesce nto a panel of the horse tugging at an unconscious Xuánzàng’s collar. He opens his eyes, and lifts his head to stare at his horse. The horse turns its head and Xuánzàng’s gaze follows.
Xuánzàng: W-
Wild Horse Spring!

Page 17: Illustration of a smiling Xuánzàng clutching a bunch of scrolls in one arm against his chest. His other arm is patting a monkey-like Lively Yì that is clambering on his shoulder with a distinctive curled band decorating its head. The Lively Yì is holding a brush that seems to be painting the entire page with ink. It has ink on its cheeks and hands, and Xuánzàng also has small inky handprints on his cheeks.
Postscript: In 627 or 629 CE (Tang Dynasty), a monk named 玄奘 Xuánzàng was concerned by discrepancies in the limited Buddhist texts available in China. He decided the only way to get answers was to go to the source. Defying an imperial travel ban, he snuck out on an adventure-filled journey to India. 16 years and a caravan full of scriptures and artifacts later, he was welcomed home to great acclaim. At the Emperor’s request, he wrote a detailed report of his travels. The Great Tang Records on the Western Regions remains a valued reference for scholars and researchers around the world.
Xuánzàng focused the remainder of his life on translation, leading an extremely productive team. His version of the Heart Sutra is used by practically all Mahayana Buddhist traditions in Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, English and more. His trip, and his own person, became legend: the inspiration for Journey to the West and the character of 唐三藏 Táng Sānzàng/Tripitaka. “a guest” includes elements based on an early part of Xuánzàng’s travels, after he had spent five days in the Gobi Desert without water. It is documented in a biography by his student, the monk 慧立 Huìlì.

Author’s notes

I’ve always wanted to draw an interpretation of Xuánzàng. The fictional Tripitaka’s personality seems almost nothing like what we know of the historical Xuánzàng, who was (by pretty much all the evidence left to us, anyways) bold and resourceful.

It should be noted that Xuánzàng was neither the only nor the first such traveler to India. Among many others, 法顯 Fǎxiǎn (before him, around 399 CE) and Yixing (after, in 671) are two other Buddhist monks of note who made similar journeys. They focused more on Vinaya (monastic code) texts, and neither of them matched Xuánzàng’s translation output, nor his modern-day Journey to the West celebrity power.

Xuánzàng’s own interest was the field of Yogacara, which outlined the eight types of minds or consciousnesses referenced by many Mahayana Buddhist traditions today. The main reason for his journey was to seek out Asanga’s Yogacharabhumi-shastra (Treatise on the Stages of Yoga Practice - “yoga” in the traditional context refers to mental training). It’s a vast work that, as of today, still has not been fully translated into English.

There are a few little Yogacara jokes scattered throughout “a guest”. For example, on page 9, Little Yì is not the only yi present! And the Postscript illustration has an obvious reference to Sun Wukong with the Lively Yi. The monkey is also a frequent metaphor for an undisciplined mind, and Sun Wukong’s adventures with Tripitaka can be interpreted as a metaphor of the mind’s development and enlightenment.

Perhaps Xuánzàng’s greatest personal aspiration, beyond translating as many of the texts he brought back as he could, was to be reborn in Tusita to study with the future buddha Maitreya. The Inner Court of Tusita is said to be a grand heaven/Pure Land full of wondrous devas, including gandharvas. (If you’re interested in seeing a story featuring this Buddhist heaven, I offer a much humbler interpretation in Tusita’s Last Tenant.)

For some accounts in English of Xuánzàng’s life and journey: