Saiyuki: Hakkai and Conversion

Of all the characters in Saiyuki, Cho Hakkai is easily the most familiar to the Catholic worldview I come from. While he is filtered through the lens of an Eastern misunderstanding of Catholicism, Hakkai is still recognizable as a Catholic. He wears a cross under his shirt (in the manga at least) and was raised by nuns. But the part of Hakkai’s character that is the most deeply Catholic is the way in which he relates to sin.

Hakkai is, if nothing else, a major sinner. When he was known as Cho Gonou, he married his sister, slaughtered at least a thousand youkai and several hundred humans, and describes himself as vain and prideful. When Gojyo finds him disemboweled in the rain, Gonou seems to want nothing else than to die. When he regains consciousness in Gojyo’s bed, he asks one question:

Am I in hell?

It is obvious that Gonou thinks that he belongs in hell. After all, the things he has done seem unforgivable. Heaven’s doors aren’t likely to open for a incestuous mass-murderer. Admitting that fact to himself seems to be his first step towards becoming a good person again.

He certainly doesn’t act like a monster as he lives under Gojyo’s roof. He is extremely polite, to the point that Gojyo can’t believe he is a fugitive when Sanzo shows up to bring him to justice. But he is driven to accomplish one thing, before he can let Sanzo capture him: he has to bring his sister-wife’s body to a proper burial. Until then, he cannot die peacefully.

It turns out that the way Gonou clings to sin is the same way in which all humans do: we would repent, except that there is one thing which we need to do, one little barrier that stops us from becoming saints. We make excuses and delay our destinies because we are caught up in ending whatever brought us to sin. That is how the devil traps us, in little bits, and in one final quest that must be finished.

But Sanzo offers Gonou a way out. He agrees to let him go to the castle she died in, and in fact goes with him to chant sutras for Kanan (even though Sanzo doesn’t believe in them), thus placing Gonou in his custody. Then he brings him before the heavenly court, where he is purged of his sin and given a new name: Cho Hakkai.

In a sense, Hakkai is purified by taking on his new name. He becomes a new person, separate from his evil past (almost literally, as Sanzo tells Gojyo “Cho Gonou is dead”). And while he still carries the memories of that sin with him, it no longer is tearing at his soul. He is now free to do good, and to (by the grace of God) enter Heaven some day.

In answer to Hakkai’s question, I respond:

This is not Hell. This is Purgatory. Here, your evil will be burned away.

-The Anime Philosopher

In the next post, we will visit Sha Gojyo: the Loveless Cowboy.


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