By Wu Ch’êng-ên, tr. Arthur Waley

This classic of Chinese literature from the 16th century was a satire on courtly life at the imperial palace as well as a political statement on the rivalries between Taoism and Buddhism. It also contains deep truths about human nature and shows the author's own sincere faith.



Copyright to Roberta Mansell

It happened that when they arrived, all the deities of the Holy Mountain were assembled before Buddha, to receive his instructions. ‘We beg to state that the pilgrims have been to Ch’ang-an, as commanded, have handed over the scriptures and have now returned to report,’ said the Vajrapanis. They then motioned to Tripitaka and the rest to come forward and receive their heavenly rank.

‘Holy priest,’ said the Tathāgata, ‘you in a previous existence were my second disciple and were called Golden Cicada. But because you paid no heed to my teaching and scoffed at my doctrine, I caused you to be reborn in the East. But now by the true devotion you have shown in the fetching of my holy scriptures, you have won great merit and herewith appoint you to be Buddha, with the title “Buddha of Precocious Merit”.

‘Monkey, because you made trouble in Heaven, it was found necessary to imprison you under the Mountain of the Five Elements. But fortunately, when the time of your retribution was ended, you turned your heart to the Great Faith and your endeavour to the scourging of evil and the promotion of good. Upon your recent journey you distinguished yourself by the subjugation of monsters and demons, and have done, first and last, so well that I hereby promote you to be the Buddha Victorious in Strife.

Pigsy, you were once a marshal of the watery hosts of Heaven. But at a peach banquet you drank too much and made free with a fairy maiden. For this you were condemned to be born into the common world, with a shape near to animal.

‘However, when you were haunting the cave of the Cloud Ladder, you were converted to the Higher Religion, eventually became a priest and gave your protection to Tripitaka on his journey. Greed and lust are not yet utterly extinct in you; but remembering that you carried the luggage all the way, I now promote you to be ‘Cleanser of the Altar.’ ‘Hey! What’s this? I don’t understand,’ said Pigsy. ‘You’ve just made the other two into Buddhas. Why aren’t I a Buddha too?’ ‘Because,’ said Buddha, ‘your conversation and appearance still lack refinement, and your appetite is still too large. But the number of my worshippers in all the four continents of the Universe is very large, and it will be your job to clean up the altar everywhere and whenever there is a Buddhist ceremony and offerings are made. So you’ll get plenty of pickings. I don’t see what you’ve go to complain of.’

(Monkey by Wu Ch’êng-ên, tr. Arthur Waley, pub. Mandala 1989)

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