Monkey | Chapter 1
Journey to the West Retold
A precocious monkey seeks out the secrets to immortality in this retelling of the Chinese classic Journey to the West.
A long time ago, in old China, there stood a rock in a forest that had been there since the dawn of creation. It had been washed by the rains and dried by the winds. One day this rock broke open and inside was a stone egg. After a time, the egg formed into arms and legs and a head, and out stepped a stone monkey.
The first thing the monkey did was to make a deep bow in the four directions: North, East, South and West. As he did so a glint of light shot from his eye and reached the Jade Emperor, the ruler
of heaven. The Jade Emperor was startled by this light and sent two of his emissaries, Thousand-League-Eye and Down-The-Wind-Ears, down to investigate.
The two emissaries descended to earth through the Southern Gate and when they returned they reported that a rock that had been there since the beginning of time had broken open to reveal an egg from which a stone monkey had emerged. A glint of light had escaped from the monkey’s eye and reached up to heaven and that is what they had seen. The Jade Emperor remarked portentously that no one should be surprised at the strange things that happen down on earth!
Meanwhile, in the forest the stone monkey had been busy. He was learning to run and jump and climb and had made friends with the deer and other animals in the forest including a group of monkeys.
Very quickly Stone Monkey became part of their troupe and for a long time he was happy climbing trees with the other monkeys and swimming in the river until one day he looked up and asked: “Why don’t we investigate and find the source of this river?” His new friends whooped and clapped their hands and quickly followed him upstream.
After a hard uphill climb, they came to a large waterfall with a long curtain of water spilling over the rocks. The monkeys stared at the curtain of water in wonder and dared each other to jump through it. They agreed that whoever managed to jump through and return unharmed would become their king.
Without further ado, Stone Monkey jumped straight through the curtain of water in one bound. Much to his surprise he discovered a large iron bridge spanning another body of water. On the cliff beside it was an inscription that read: “This Cave of the Water Curtain in the blessed land of the mountain of flowers and fruit leads to heaven.”
On the far side of the bridge, Stone Monkey spied a stone villa large enough to accommodate all his monkey friends. Upon reaching it he discovered stone beds and tables and chairs as well as stone bowls. It was everything they could possibly need.
When Monkey returned, he told his comrades what he had found and it didn’t take much persuasion to get them to overcome their fear and follow him back through the water curtain to the villa. Once there they did what monkeys always do and before long they were happily throwing furniture about and fighting over the beds. Then Monkey reminded them of their promise to make him king so they stopped their antics, drew themselves up in their ranks and all bowed before His Imperial Majesty.
And so they lived a rather wonderful secluded life for many hundreds of years behind the water curtain in the large stone villa that was now their home until one day King Monkey sitting down at his meal suddenly burst into tears. His friends turned to him in shock and said, “ Why are you crying? We have such a wonderful life here. We’re not beholden to anyone.”
Monkey nodded and said, “Yes it’s true. We're not beholden to anyone but I know that one day Yama, King of Death, will come for me.” With this, the other monkeys began weeping at the
thought that Yama was going to come for them too, until one of their company stepped forward and said:
“Don’t you know that there are three types of being who are not subject to Yama or to the Wheel of Birth and Death? And they are Buddhas, Immortals and Sages. If you could find one of these perhaps you could persuade him to teach Your Majesty the secret of immortality.”
And so with renewed hope Monkey quickly gathered himself together and set out in order to find one of these special beings and become his disciple. Building a raft he sailed down the river until he came to the Southern Continent, the land of mankind. But the men he found there didn’t impress him very much. All they seemed to care about was their own fame and their own wealth. They didn’t seem to think about anything else at all - certainly not about death.
So Monkey didn’t stay there and this time he sailed to the West until he came to another large continent with forests and mountains and it was by pure chance that he came across a woodcutter who was singing a song about an Immortal who happened to be living nearby. Monkey stopped him and asked where he could find this Immortal and the woodcutter pointed to a mist-covered peak and said:
“There you will find him. He lives up on that holy terraced mountain. If you go up there you will find a cave called the Cave of the Slanting Moon and the Three Stars and in that cave you'll find the Immortal called Subodhi living with his disciples. Perhaps he can help you in your quest.”
And so Monkey made the difficult journey up the mountain and finally came to the cave and waited patiently until one of the disciples came out. Bowing deeply before the disciple he asked to be granted an audience with the Immortal Subodhi. Monkey, having something of a silver tongue, was able to charm his way past most people and succeeded in meeting Subodhi, who eventually accepted him into the community and gave him his religious name: Awareness of Vacuity.
And if you want to know whether in the end, equipped with this new name, Monkey managed to attain enlightenment, please be patient until more is revealed to you in the next chapter.
The Stories of Monkey
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