Although also with ‘casual spirituality’ added for such movies meant to be entertaining yet somewhat ‘enlightening’, this third instalment (西游记女儿国) offers quite a bit of subtle food for thought on love and attachment. The titular character, with ‘Pigsy’ and ‘Sandy’, as led by the fictitious version of their Master got themselves stranded in a kingdom of women, which had a long-standing policy of demonising men…
As summarised, men were taught to be the foremost of ten thousand poisons. If upon seeing them, with one’s heart beating faster, four limbs weakening and whole body trembling, this is when one is cursed by men’s poison of love. Men are most malicious and full of lies, (including those who claim they are not this kind of men described), who first trick women to be with them, thereafter forcing them to have children, after which not caring for them, to look for other women. If poisoned by love, one’s ‘liver and guts’ will be ‘cut to pieces’ (i.e. also the Chinese idiom for being heartbroken: 肝肠寸断) and die of exhaustion, (probably from grief and pining). The antidote for this poison is uproot the problem, by killing them. (Such is the potential terrifying nature of worldly love, that when extreme, can flip over to be extreme hatred!)
Perhaps some men who hear the above might laugh and shrug a little nervously, because it does describe the misgivings of some actually and potentially lustful and heartless men. More accurately, the foremost of all poisons are the three poisons of greed (which includes lust and attachment), hatred (which the women were also poisoned by) and delusion (which includes not understanding these three poisons).
The above emotional and physical responses to one’s love interest are not so much due to the other party’s ‘fault’, but one’s own, for becoming attached, unless there was lying to ‘create’ the attachment. Yet, there is always choice for the more mindful to not fall for it. The true antidote to suffering from attachment is to let it go, by realising how it does not bring lasting happiness. This is to ‘kill’ the poisons of greed and delusion instead, while not being poisoned by hatred that motivates killing of heartbreakers. (The good news is that we can be free from all gender tensions in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land!)
The Master, having developed attachment to a girl in the kingdom, who was also attached to him, was asked by (an also fictitious version of) Guanyin Bodhisattva, ‘Do you choose to love one person, or to love sentient beings?’ This was to let him reflect on whether he should stay with her, or to continue on his journey to the West (i.e. India) to retrieve sutras for the sake of benefiting all beings. Stumped by this ‘koan’, it was when he was one of the many trapped and drowning in the sea, that the answer arose.
Praying to Sakyamuni Buddha, he asked how he could save so many, who are drowning (in the also metaphorical sea of suffering). This is reminiscent of how the Buddha himself once awakened to Bodhicitta, (which is the most noble aspiration to save all from suffering), in a similar situation within a past life. The Master realised then, that ‘to love one person and to love sentient beings is without difference.’ The struggle is there only when there is non-equanimous love. With pure and equal loving-kindness and compassion for all beings as one, without particular attachment to any, this struggle ends.
As the way out of the kingdom was by discovering the answer to the classic question of ‘What is love?’, the gate to freedom opened. As the Master reminded, the gate is always there, while we are the ones who choose to cling, to thus be reborn due to attachment, to be trapped. While worldly attachment seems to ‘promise’ lasting happiness, what it eventually offers is suffering instead, if not released in time. All reluctance to let go is due to not realising this truth… and the greater truth that it is possible to love more and all, with less and no attachment, like the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. This might be challenging here, but with the swiftest blossoming of Bodhicitta in Pure Land, we can easily and fully awaken to it there.