It relates the amazing adventures of the priest San-zang as he travels west in search of Buddhist sutras with his three disciples, the irreverent and capable Monkey, greedy Pig, and Friar Sandy. The opening chapters recount the earlier exploits of Monkey, culminating in his rebellion against Heaven. The main story, the journey, takes the priest through all kinds of entertaining trials and tribulations, mainly at the hands of monsters and spirits who want to eat him. Only the courage and powers of his disciples, especially Monkey, save him from death.
A monkey born from a stone nourished by the Five Elements, who learns the art of the Tao, 72 polymorphic transformations, combat, and secrets of immortality, and through guile and force makes a name for himself as the Qítiān Dàshèng or "Great Sage Equal to Heaven". His powers grow to match the forces of all of the Eastern (Taoist) deities, and the prologue culminates in Sūn's rebellion against Heaven, during a time when he garnered a post in the celestial bureaucracy. Hubris proves his downfall when the Buddha manages to trap him under a mountain and sealing the mountain with a talisman for five hundred years.