Monkey | Chapter 14
Stories Retold: Journey to the West
In this episode, the monk Tripitaka stumbles across a particular Monkey who has been trapped under a mountain…
Monkey Gets Paroled
In this episode the monk Tripitaka stumbles across a particular Monkey who has been trapped under a mountain…
Tripitaka and the hunter looked around, but could not see the source of the voice. A moment later it came again: “The master has come!”
One of the hunter’s servants piped up: “It’ll be the old monkey, who is trapped under the mountain.”
“Of course!” replied the hunter. “Legend has it that a troublesome monkey divinity had this mountain dropped on him as punishment for his misdeeds. It all happened a long time ago, and Buddha Shakyamuni had been called upon to help the Jade Emperor of Heaven sort out this ruffian. We can go and see him; he is imprisoned in a stone casket not far from here.”
They went and soon found the casket, which had a slight gap at one end so that they could see Monkey’s face. As soon as he caught sight of Tripitaka, Monkey waved his paw frantically through the gap, saying: “Over here! Over here, Master!”
Monkey made a show of putting his paws together and lowering his eyes as a mark of respect and humility. He asked Tripitaka if he had been sent to retrieve scriptures from India, and was delighted to discover that this was, indeed, the case. Monkey quickly explained that when the Buddha trapped him there, he had promised parole when someone came along who was to bring scriptures back to China from India. Monkey, doing his best to look contrite, offered himself as Tripitaka’s disciple, to serve him faithfully and protect him on the long and hazardous trip to India.
Tripitaka was quite relieved to have this offer of a companion, as the hunter was keen to return home; despite the hunter’s misgivings about the silver-tongued simian, the priest decided to accept the offer.
Monkey directed them to the top of the mountain, where they found a golden seal that secured Monkey in place. On it were written the sacred characters om mani padme hum!
Tripitaka said a short prayer to Buddha: “If what he says is true, then may this holy seal be broken, its work done. However, if he is not sincere and true, then may its prisoner remain bound.”
The two men watched in awe as the characters of the sacred mantra floated upwards and away to the east. From below, there was the sound of an explosion, and bits of rock showered around them. Going back down, they were just in time to see Monkey brushing some weeds off his cheeks. When he espied the priest, he came over quickly and bowed deeply to Tripitaka, calling him “Master” again, and vowing undying obedience and his protection and service for as long as Tripitaka required it.
The hunter could see that his duty was at an end, and bade farewell to Tripitaka, who offered his profuse thanks for all the kindness the hunter and his family had shown him. For his part, the hunter whispered in the priest’s ear to keep a close eye on his new ‘disciple’, as, frankly, he was not sure how ‘reformed’ he would be.
Monkey scrambled up onto the horse behind Tripitaka, and together they rode across the border out of China.
They rose early and rode until late, until by the fifth day they were well and truly in the wilderness. One evening, as Monkey prepared a fire for cooking, there came a roar from the undergrowth – and a tiger sprang forward.
Tripitaka nearly fainted in fright, but Monkey turned around and began calling the tiger over, saying: “Here, puss, puss, puss … come to Monkey … he needs your clothes.”
With his other hand, he reached behind his ear and removed a darning needle hidden there; then he recited a few words over it. Suddenly, he held a huge iron cudgel in his hand, and wasted no time splitting the tiger’s skull in half ;– blood and brains were everywhere. Another magical pass, and the cudgel disappeared; Monkey replaced the needle behind his ear once more.
Tripitaka was astounded to discover his new disciple had an abundance of magic powers: “Sage, ‘Equal of Heaven’ is my official title in Heaven,” Monkey said smugly. Tripitaka was worried about this show of naked pride, and replied that it was more fitting for him to have a new religious name. Monkey retorted that he already had one: “Aware of Emptiness.” Tripitaka seemed satisfied, and said that this is how Monkey would be known from now on.
It did not take long for Monkey to skin the corpse and make some clothes. Then they were on their way again.
It was a common perception in China that the lands beyond its own borders were home to barbarian hordes, and for Tripitaka the rumours were proving themselves to be true: no sooner had they travelled a distance of ten li did they hear a wild shout, and out of the bushes rode six huge, hairy men on horseback, wielding swords and spears. The men rode round our intrepid pair, corralling them so that they could neither advance nor retreat.
These bandits – for that is what they were – demanded all their belongings in return for their lives. Tripitaka was already off his horse, unshackling the saddlebags.
“Not so fast, Master,” said his companion. “Old Monkey knows a little bit about diplomacy.” With that, he turned to the bandits: “Gentlemen, to whom do we owe this pleasure?”
One of the bandits rode forward a few paces. Puffing out his chest, he replied: “We are the bandit kings! You have the honour of being fleeced by the nobility of hereabouts; so enough of this chit-chat, or we shall take your lives as well!”
“What’s the hurry! Don’t the sages all say that patience is a virtue? I would like to know your names first. As you are kings, your victories must be well known, and your fame spread far and wide. You would do us a great honour to let us know who intends to rob us.”
“In that case, I am known as ‘Eye Who Sees and Delights’; the others are 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; and the sixth, Body That Supports and Suffers.”
Monkey guffawed, and said: “Well, you are nobodies after all! Now get off your horses, empty your saddlebags and strip off your clothes. – I am taking them, and I might just spare your lives if you hurry!”
Realising they were being mocked, the six bandits roared with rage and charged at Monkey. As quick as lightning, Monkey withdrew his needle; before long, the shaft had been well wetted with bandit blood, bone and brains.
Monkey was still laughing when Tripitaka came forward, a dark look on his face: “You did not have to do that. Yes, they were bandits, – but you could have just subdued them and taken them before the magistrate. You had no right to kill them! Your powers are greatly in excess of theirs. What you did was cruel and wicked and wholly unfitting to one in your position.”
If there was one thing Monkey really hated, it was being scolded. An army throwing spears at him or a hundred swords could inflict no injury, but harsh words made the deepest wound in his pride. When he tried to defend his actions, Tripitaka remained silent; yet his face told Monkey that he would not win the argument. Calling Tripitaka ungrateful, naïve and a few other choice epithets, Monkey flounced off. In one bound, he disappeared amongst the clouds.
Tripitaka was at a loss. He realised that he was once again on his own and sat, despondent, by the side of the road. However, Kwan-yin, who knew how volatile the new disciple could be, visited Tripitaka and comforted him, assuring him that Monkey would soon be back. In the meantime, she gave the priest a cloak and a cap with a metal fillet in it. She also taught him a spell, assuring him that if he could get Monkey to wear the two items, and then recite the spell while they were on him, then Tripitaka would have no further trouble.
In the meantime, Monkey – also at a bit of a loss, and unsure, for once, that he had done the right thing, – visited his old friend, the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea. The dragon sat him down and gave him a pot of tea and a sympathetic ear.
As is always wise when dealing with someone in a stew who has yet to admit the error of his ways, the Dragon King let Monkey vent his anger and parade all the injustices that had befallen him. Choosing his moment, he simply spoke of the mountain, which does not complain about the sun, rain, wind or snow, and which does not care who walks upon it, good or bad – yet is a symbol of great strength. So, too, said the Dragon King, Monkey would have to learn to hold his temper better: undoubtedly, it had got him into such hot water in the first place.
Monkey could see that his friend was speaking truth, and it wasn’t as though he didn’t like Tripitaka, or the idea of adventure; so he resolved to go back and try again.
Tripitaka was still sitting somewhat forlornly when Monkey returned, cheerful as though nothing untoward had ever happened between them. He immediately set to making his master’s supper, and noticed the cap and cloak as soon as he opened the saddlebags.
“What are these?” he enquired.
“Oh, they were given to me by my master,” Tripitaka replied. He could see that they had taken Monkey’s fancy. “I have others, if you would like those.”
Monkey didn’t need telling twice; he immediately wrapped the cloak around himself and placed the cap firmly upon his head. Tripitaka watched and recited the spell when the items were in place. Monkey screamed and fell to the floor, kicking his legs and trying to lever off the cap – which, mysteriously, was now bonded to his head. “Get it off! GET IT OFF!” Monkey begged.
Tripitaka stopped the recitation. Relief from the pain was immediate.
The priest quietly explained how it was going to be from then on. As welcome as Monkey’s return may have been, there was a long way to go to get his temper under restraint. Kwan-yin had provided the means, and Tripitaka would be no slouch in using it – when necessary!
Monkey, of course, thought this the most unfair development of all time, and ranted and even tried to attack Tripitaka, – but a few more examples of the cap’s power put paid to such attempts.
If you want to know how the two of them got on under this new balance of power, read on into the next chapter.
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