Jan 22, 2023
Martin Goodson

Monkey | Chapter 15

Stories Retold: Journey to the West

Everyone is blaming Monkey for their misfortune again but surely this time it isn’t his fault?

The Dragon of Eagle Grief by Roberta Mansell

©

Roberta Mansell

Monkey was feeling aggrieved at his subjugation by the bodhisattva Kwan-yin. Every so often, he would try to pry off the metal circlet that Tripitaka had placed around his head to control him – to no avail. Monkey’s pride was easily wounded, and he was quick to complain at the slightest injustice against him; otherwise, he was a great adventurer, and quite fearless. This was just as well, for it was not long before his strength would be needed again.

A short time later, Tripitaka and Monkey came to a swift, flowing river and began to follow its path upstream. As they rounded a bend they saw, midstream, a powerful disturbance in the water. Mud churned up from the riverbed, making the water yellow, and fountains of spray were ejected into the air. The two travellers stopped to look at this curious sight when – for a moment – the river went quiet. Seconds later the waters parted, and a huge dragon leaped into the air, looking all around him. It espied the two onlookers and made a beeline for them.

Monkey lost no time pushing Tripitaka off the horse, un-strapping the baggage from the animal and dragging his master and their provisions together up the bank. However, he need not have worried: the dragon was only interested in the horse. No sooner were the two out of the way than the dragon swallowed the horse whole, harness and all.

By the time Monkey returned, the horse had vanished, as had the dragon, back to the bottom of the river. Monkey took a huge leap and looked at the ground all around him from the air.

“Can you see our horse?” yelled Tripitaka.

Monkey looked around and became increasingly infuriated by this latest disaster. “No, Master, I cannot. That fat dragon must have eaten him.”

“That’s impossible,” replied Tripitaka. “He was too big for him to swallow.”

Monkey was becoming impatient with Tripitaka’s doubts about his abilities. “I tell you, Master, my eyesight is so good that I could see a gnat flap its wings at a thousand li. That horse is nowhere to be seen. It can only be that dragon.”

At this news, tears rolled down Tripitaka’s cheeks. “What will become of us without transport! We are done for this time.

Monkey sighed in despair, but tried in vain to console his master.

“You told me,” said Tripitaka, “when you killed that lion, that you could also subdue dragons. Well, why don’t you do something!”

That was enough to sting Monkey into action. He took his cudgel and plunged it into the river, stirring the waters with increasing rapidity, stirring and stirring, until the silt at the bottom became quite agitated. In no time, the river looked like the Yellow River in full spate, all churned up with whirling eddies that quite disoriented the dragon at the river bottom.

“Trouble never comes singly,” sighed the dragon, and leaped out of the river onto the shoreline to confront Monkey. A few more skirmishes followed – but, as before, Monkey was superior in the fight, and the dragon escaped by turning into a grass snake and dashing into the undergrowth.

At this point Monkey intoned loudly: “OM!” The local land spirits appeared at once and made their obeisance. Monkey interrogated them about the identity of the dragon. They told him he had been banished by Heaven for some misdemeanour, and been told to look after the river – the usual function of dragons on Earth. If Monkey really wanted to catch him, they said, then he had better go ask Kwan-yin, as she was the one who had put him there.

“That meddlesome bodhisattva!” exploded Monkey. He brought out his cloud trapeze and made ready to go to Heaven to find her, when the local guardian appeared to tell him not to bother: Kwan-yin was already on her way. Indeed, true to his word, a gentle breeze ensued, and the bodhisattva arrived on a small cloud that descended from the heavens.

“Can’t you do anything right?” Monkey yelled at her. “First you send us on this fool’s errand, and then place obstacles in our path. You ask me to protect Tripitaka and get him to India and back safely; but it seems the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing!”

Kwan-yin, every inch the patient bodhisattva, took all of Monkey’s opprobrium on the chin. Once he had stopped to draw breath, she replied in a quiet voice that, on the contrary, all was going to plan, and if Monkey had only mentioned that he was the disciple of the scripture-bearer, the problem could have been sorted out there and then.

She went on to explain that the dragon was the son of a heavenly dragon, but had, unfortunately, set fire to some magic pearls. This had upset the Jade Emperor in Heaven, who then condemned the dragon to death. Kwan-yin had intervened, and had the sentence commuted to life on Earth until such time as the dragon’s assistance would be needed by someone bringing scriptures from India to China. Upon offering his services and fulfilling this duty, the dragon – like all others who helped Tripitaka – would attain Enlightenment for his pains.

“As will you, Monkey, if you fulfil yours,” added Kwan-yin. Now, go to the river and call for the ‘Third Son of the Dragon King’; he will be obliged to appear.”

Feeling marginally contrite now that he had all this new information, Monkey did as asked. Sure enough, the dragon came forth from the water, this time in human form. Once he realised that he’d eaten the horse belonging to the scripture-bearer, he was full of apologies. Yet he seemed only too delighted that now he would be released from his confinement, finally able to fulfil his duty.

Monkey, on the other hand, was still rather begrudging, until Kwan-yin sidled up to him and flashed one of her warmest and most motherly smiles. She dropped three leaves from her willow spray down Monkey’s back, which turned into three hairs that snuggled into his fur.

“When you need help, all you need do is ask for it. The local spirits and the guardians are all obliged to help you. If this is not enough, then use these three hairs,” Kwan-yin told him.

Finally won over, Monkey picked up the baggage. Once the bodhisattva had transformed the dragon into a white horse – not unlike the original one he had swallowed – they found Tripitaka, and brought him up to speed on matters.

Then they crossed the river and continued on their way.

From the series

The Stories of Monkey

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