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"The nature of Monkey is irrepressible"

Monkey - from the TV series - click for larger image

Monkey is all around us. He repeats and is irrepressible.

This Monkey comes from the TV series made in Japan, dubbed into English by the BBC and aired in Australia by the ABC about 20 years ago. It had a cult following in Australia at the time.

The real Monkey in the "Journey to the West" has as many forms as the artists who created him. The best I've seen is a little statue, quite Monkeish with a tiger skin around his waist. The comic book images look like American super heros and the classical Asian woodcuts don't (well) quite cut it!

"Monkey, Journey to the West." By Wu Cheng-en Translated by Arthur Waley.

The Start of Chapter one ...

Here Monkey is the proto-human. The Double as it came to the planet earth. There is a level of allegory between the creation of all humans and the conception of an individual.

The tale is told in the language of myth as told by a story teller to a group of people sitting on the ground in front of a wine shop.

There was a rock that since the creation of the world had been worked upon by the pure essences of Heaven and the fine savours of Earth, the vigour of sunshine and the grace of moonlight, till at last it became magically pregnant and one day split open, giving birth to a stone egg, about as big as a playing ball.

Fructified by the wind it developed into a stone monkey, complete with every organ and limb. At once this monkey learned to climb and run; but its first act was to make a bow towards each of the four quarters. As it did so, a steely light darted from this monkey's eyes and flashed as far as the Palace of the Pole Star. This shaft of light astonished the jade Emperor as he sat in the Cloud Palace of the Golden Gates, in the Treasure Hall of the Holy Mists, surrounded by his fairy Ministers. Seeing this strange light flashing, he ordered Thousand-league Eye and Down-the-wind Ears to open the gate of the Southern Heaven and look out. At his bidding these two captains went out to the gate and looked so sharply and listened so well that presently they were able to report ...

"This steely light comes from the borders of the small country of Ao-lai, that lies to the east of the Holy Continent, from the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit. On this mountain is a magic rock, which gave birth to an egg. This egg changed into a stone monkey, and when he made his bow to the four quarters a steely light flashed from his eyes with a beam that reached the Palace of the Pole Star. But now he is taking a drink, and the light is growing dim."

The jade Emperor condescended to take an indulgent view.

'These creatures in the world below,' he said, 'were compounded of the essence of heaven and earth, and nothing that goes on there should surprise us.'

That monkey walked, ran, leapt, and bounded over the hills, feeding on grasses and shrubs, drinking from streams and springs, gathering the mountain flowers, looking for fruits. Wolf, panther, and tiger were his companions, the deer and civet were his friends, gibbons and baboons his kindred. At night he lodged under the cliffs of rock, by day he wandered among the peaks and caves.

From Chapter 14.

By now the story has moved along quite a way. In the original Chinese version the Monkey tale has 100 Chapters. In the early Chapters Monkey moves to being the monkey king, achieving immortal power, and causing such chaos in heaven that he was locked into a Mountain by Buddha for 500 years. Meanwhile the story tells of Tripitaka, the priest, who is asked by the Chinese Emperor to get Buddhist scriptures from Buddha's Mountain in India to relieve the suffering of the people of his empire. Kwan Yuan and other spirit beings move in and out of the tale facilitating human endeavours.

Tripitaka represents the weak oversoul, our spiritual self without the necessary skills to survive in the world. Monkey is our 'monkey soul' the earthly part of our personality that needs to be tamed by our oversoul if our personality is to find harmony and enlightenment.

The quote below is a clear piece of myth. The 6 bandits are the aspects of our personality that need to be overcome on our path of enlightenment on 'Buddha's Mountain'.

But to just kill the six undesirable human characteristic of visual delight, anger, coveting, lust and suffering is unsatisfactory. One needs to bring them 'before a magistrate' ... one needs to tame, to control, these aspects of our personalty. Even Monkey' idea of making a deal with them the basic human lusts by letting them take 6/7 of our life into their control is (the story suggests) unsatisfactory.

... Then Monkey and Tipitaka ... set out again on their way, lodging late and starting early for many days. One morning they suddenly heard a cry and six men rushed out at them from the roadside, all armed with pikes and swords. 'Halt, priest!' they cried. 'We want your horse and your packs, and quickly too, or you will not escape with your life.'

Tripitaka, in great alarm, slid down from his horse and stood there speechless.

'Don't worry,' said Monkey. 'This only means more clothes and travelling-money for us.'

'Monkey, are you deaf?' said Tripitaka. 'They ordered us to surrender the horse and luggage, and you talk of getting clothes and money from them !'

'You keep an eye on the packs and the horse,' said Monkey, 'while I settle matters with them I You'll soon see what I mean.'

'They are very strong men and there are six of them,' said Tripitaka. 'How can a little fellow like you hope to stand up against them single-handed?'

Monkey did not stop to argue, but strode forward and, folding his arms across his chest, bowed to the robbers and said. 'Sirs, for what reason do you stop poor priests from going on their way?'

'We are robber kings,' they said, 'mountain lords among the Benevolent. Everyone knows us. How comes it that you are so ignorant? Hand over your things at once, and we will let you pass. But if half the word "no" leaves your lips, we shall hack you to pieces and grind your bones to powder.'

'I too,' said Monkey, 'am a great hereditary king, and lord of a mountain for hundreds of years; yet I have never heard your names.'

'In that case, let us tell you,' they said. 'The first of us is called Eye that Sees and Delights; the second, Ear that Hears and is Angry; the third, Nose that Smells and Covets; the fourth, Tongue that Tastes and Desires; the fifth, Mind that Conceives and Lusts; the sixth, Body that Supports and Suffers.'

'You're nothing but six hairy ruffians,' said Monkey, laughing. 'We priests, I would have you know, are your lords and masters, yet you dare block our path. Bring out all the stolen goods you have about you and divide them into seven parts. Then, if you leave me one part, I will spare your lives.'

The robbers were so taken aback that they did not know whether to be angry or amused. 'You must be mad,' they said. 'You've just lost all you possess, and you talk of sharing our booty with us!' Brandishing their spears and flourishing their swords they all rushed forward and began to rain blows upon Monkey's head. But he stood stock still and betrayed not the slightest concern.

'Priest, your head must be very hard!' they cried.

'That's all right,' said Monkey, 'I'm not in a hurry. But when your arms are tired, I'll take out my needle and do my turn.'

'What does he mean?' they said. 'Perhaps he's a doctor turned priest. But we are none of us ill, so why should he talk about using the needle?'

Monkey took his needle from behind his ear, recited a spell which changed it into a huge cudgel, and cried, 'Hold your ground and let old Monkey try his hand upon you!' The robbers fled in confusion, but in an instant he was among them and striking right and left he slew them all, stripped off their clothing and seized their baggage. Then he came back to Tripitaka and said laughing, 'Master, we can start now; I have killed them all.'

'I am very sorry to hear it,' said Tripitaka. 'One has no right to kill robbers, however violent and wicked they may be. The most one may do is to bring them before a magistrate. It would have been quite enough in this case if you had driven them away. Why kill them? You have behaved with a cruelty that ill becomes one of your sacred calling.'

'If I had not killed them,' said Monkey, 'they would have killed you.'

'A priest,' said Tripitaka, 'should be ready to die rather than commit acts of violence.' ...

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original content by Steven Guth,
page uploaded 14 September 2003