AND THE JOURNEY TO THE WEST
The dreams of the Monkey King
On the Mountain of Flowers and Fruits, the island monkeys were celebrating the birthday of their King. “I’ve already reached the heights of greatness. What is left to hope and strive for? What can be higher than a king?” said the Monkey King.
“Your Majesty,” said the gibbon carefully, “The king is not the highest of beings. Above the King, there are gods who dwell in Heaven and govern the Earth. Then, there are Immortals who have gained great powers and live forever. And, finally there are Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, who have conquered illusion and attain enlightenment.”
“Wonderful! Maybe I can become all three!” said the Monkey King. The very next morning, heordered a pine raft to be built, and loaded it with fruits for the journey. Then, he floated downstream to the island’s edge, and started across the great sea.
Meeting Taoist Lord Lao-Tzu
On the Mountain of Heart and Mind, the Monkey King stood before a double door in the mountainside. Lord Lao-Tzu , who was the founder the Taoism (or the Way), asked one of his disciples to open the door because he dreamed of the Monkey King coming to study the Taoism.
“Master! Please accept this humble seeker as your disciple!” said the Monkey King, dropping to his knees and knocking his head on the floor before a man who looked as old as Heaven, yet strong and healthy. Lao–Tzu askedthe Monkey King, “What is your name?” “I have no name, Master, for I had no parents to give me one. I was born from a magic stone,” said the Monkey King. “Well, what if I name you “Soon Wu-Kong?” So, the Monkey King became a student of the Taoism . After seven years, Lao-Tzu started teaching the Monkey King the Way of Seventy-Two Changes that allowed the Monkey King to turn himself into anything he wished. (Note: “Soon” signifies the appearance of a monkey; “Wu-Kong” means the realization of emptiness. Lao-Tzu usednameWu-Kong according to the seniority order of his disciples.)
As time passed by, the Monkey King begged Lao-Tzu to teach him more. So, Lao-Tzu taught the Monkey Kingabout the Cloud Somersault that allowed the Monkey King to somersault high into the air, landed on a magic cloud, and propelled it across the sky with more somersaults.
Again, the Monkey King begged Lao-Tzu to teach him things that would make him Immortal. Finally, Lao-Tzu had no choice but to fullfil the Monkey King’s dream because the Monkey King understood Lao-Tzu’s secret signs. “It’s your destiny to learn the Way of Immortality,” said Lao-Tzu. “Come close, my disciple, and hear the secrets of Eternal Life.” Then, Lao-Tzu told the Monkey King to leave and to get a magic weapon for protection from the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea because he foresaw that the Monkey King will land in serious troubles.
The Dragon King’s Gift
At the bottom of the Eastern Sea, before the Green Jade Palace of the Dragon King, the Monkey King marched up to a cowrie shell gate where a Dragon Captain stood guard. The captain stared in amazement. “I am here to see the Dragon King. Tell him it’s the Monkey King and be quick about it,” declared the Monkey King.
“I am an Immortal, and I need a magic weapon to match my abilities,” said the Monkey King to the Dragon King. The Dragon King showed several weapons to the Monkey King, but none of the weapons pleased him. Just then, the Dragon Queen entered from a door behind the throne, bowed graciously to the Monkey King, then spoke to the King softly , “This is no ordinary fellow. Perhaps you should give him the giant stamping iron rod in your treasury and get him out of the palace as quick as possible.”
The Dragon King led the Monkey King across a courtyard and into the treasury, then pointed out a pillar of black iron. It was twenty feet high and as thick as a barrel, and both ends were tipped with gold. As the Monkey King approached, the pillar began to glow. This massive 20-foot iron rod was used by the Great Yu to pound down the beds of the rivers and seas and subdued the huge floods. The Monkey King transformed the giant iron rod into a needle and put it behind his ear, but he could transform it into any size. The Monkey King said “Thank you” to the Dragon King and with a leap and a somersault, he was gone.
Havoc in Heaven
High above in Heaven, at the Cloud Palace of the Golden Doors, in the Hall of Divine Mist, the Jade Emperor, the Ruler of Heaven and Earth, was busy in reviewing tons of documents. “Your Majesty, there’s trouble at the East Gate. A talking monkey arrived there and demanded entrance. Four of our guards could not control him because he is holding a simple staff which seemes extremely powerful.” “This must be the Monkey Immortal that was reported to us complaining about him. Bring the twelve Thunder Generals to arrest the Monkey,” said the Jade Emperor.
“May I suggest to invite him into here and offer him a minor position? This way we could keep an eye on him and avoid any further trouble,” said the chief minister. “An excellent idea,” said the Jade Emperor. “You may go at once to extend the invitation.” So, the Jade Emperor offered the Monkey King a position of “the Protectors of Horses.” The Monkey King gladly accepted it because he thought he had a very high rank. When he learnt that it was one of the lowest jobs, he left it in a huff.
The Jade Emperor sent his several generals to bring the Monkey King back, but they could not capture him. The Monkey King finally agreed to return to Heaven only if he would be acknolwedged with a title he had given himself, “Great Sage Equal to Heaven.” Since the title was without compensation, the Jade Emperor agreed and assigned the Monkey King to guard the Garden of Immortal Peaches. The magic peaches took 9,000 years to ripen. Anyone who ate those peaches would live forever.
The Monkey King was supposed to protect those peaches for the annual Grand Banquet of Immortal Peaches, which the Monkey King was not invited to attend. “I won’t stand for it! I will go to the banquet whether they want me or not,” said the Monkey King. He used his magic tricks and ate all the delicious food and messed up the banquet tables before the guests arrived. Realizing that he had done something really bad, he ran away quickly. The Jade Emperor called upon his Thunder Generals to catch the Monkey King , but he was too powerful and got away.
Kuan Yin who was one of the guests for the banquet offered her help. She stamped her foot, rose a hundred feet in the air, and landed on a magic cloud. Then taking careful aim, she dropped her vase right onto the Monkey King’s head. The Monkey King dropped unconsciously to the ground. “Take him at once to the execution block,” said the Jade Emperor. “Your Majesty,” said Lord Lao-Tzu who was also one of the guests. “I’m afraid such a punishment is no longer possible. After eating so many of my Pills of Immortality, he has a bronze head and iron shoulders and his body is as hard as a diamond. How about let me heat him in my crucible of the Eight Trigrams.”
In the alchemy laboratory of the Cinnabar Palace, Lord Lao-Tzu dumped the Monkey King into the Crucible of the Eight Trigrams, clamped down the lid, and lifted the crucible onto the hearth. Meanwhile, the Monkey King was starting to come to. “What happened to me? Where am I now?” The Monkey King wondered. When he felt getting warm and realized that he would be burned to ashes, he pushed and kicked at the lid. The fire and smoke added to the Monkey King a pair of blazing and golden crystal eyes that could see through what people normally could not. Finally, the Monkey King jumped out of it and he knocked over his master, Lord Lao-Tzu, sending him head over heels.
The Monkey King ran in a blind rage all the way from the Cinnabar Palace to the Cloud Palace of the Golden Doors, brandishing his staff at every heavenly official along the way. At the palace steps, the Monkey King found the twelve Thunder Generals, who all grew pale at the sight of him. “So, you thought you could do away with the Monkey King!” shouted the Monkey King. “Here is my message for the Jade Emperor: I am no longer the Protector of Horses. I am now the Great Sage Equal to Heaven. And, he is no longer the Jade Emperor, because I am taking over! If he doesn’t step down from the Celestial Throne, I will come and pull him off it!”
Buddha’s Great Palm
In the Hall of Divine Mist, the Jade Emperor could hardly believe the message he had heard. “I fear we are unable to do anything about the Monkey King. We have no way to destroy or imprison him,” said the Jade Emperor. “Your Majesty,” said Kuan Yin. “There is still one who could defeat the rebellious Immortal Monkey. Why not ask the assistance of the Buddha who is currently practicing meditation in the Western Pureland.”
Outside the Cloud Palace of the Golden Doors, the Monkey King marched up and down, swinging his staff, till his patience ran out. “Time’s up!” He yelled at the Thunder Generals. “I am coming in!” But, just as he stepped forward, a magic cloud landed in front of him. Off it stepped a huge man. “What’s this”? said the Monkey King. “Who are you? An old monk? Why are you standing in my way?”
The man laughed. “I am Siddhartha, often called the Buddha. I was told that you call yourself the Great Sage Equal to Heaven and even demand the Jade Emperor’s place on the Celestial Throne.” “That’s right,” said the Monkey King. “He has been there long enough. Someone else should get a turn. I have great powers. I have mastered the Seventy-Two Changes. And, I can travel for hundred of miles with a single somersault!”
“Indeed!” said the Buddha. “Then could you stand on the palm of my hand and somersault clear out of it?” TheMonkey King stared at the Buddha. “I just said I can somersault hundred of miles. How could I not jump out of your palm?” “Then wager with me,” said the Buddha. “If you get off my palm with a single somersault, the Celestial Throne will be yours.”
Head over heels the Monkey King tumbled through the air, spinning like a windmill for hundreds, thousands of miles. At last he came to five olive-colored pillars reaching high into the sky. He plucked a hair from his tail and said, “Change!” The hair turned into a writing brush filled with ink, and the Monkey King wrote on the middle pillar, “Monkey King was here.”
“All right! Old monk,” said the Monkey King. “Now keep your promise and tell the Jade Emperor to clear out.” “You have been on my palm the whole time!” said the Buddha. The Monkey King looked down, and there at the base of the Buddha’s middle finger were the words, “Monkey King was here.” “It can’t be!” declared the Monkey King. “It’s some kind of trick. I am going back to look for myself.”
But before the Monkey King could leap again, Buddha turned his hand over, thrust the Monkey King out of the West Gate of Heaven, and pushed him down to Earth. The land turned into a Five-Peaked Mountain which pinnedthe Monkey King between the stone walls. His head and arms were out, but the rest of him was hopelessly trapped. Buddha asked the Earth God to take care of the Monkey King. “About five hundred years from now, someone will come to rescure The Monkey. ” said the Buddha. “He is destined to become an enlightened one, a true Buddha.”