Monkey | Chapter 2
Journey to the West Retold
Monkey learns the secrets of immortality from a Daoist mystic, but how long will his teacher’s patience last?
Stone Monkey was pleased with his new name, Awareness of Vacuity, and keen to prove himself a worthy disciple. He swept the floor and tended the garden. He learned to pray and to chant and even to burn incense. He threw himself wholeheartedly into each of the tasks he was given and for seven years he lived happily in the Cave of the Slanted Moon and Three Stars.
One day the patriarch ascended to the high seat from where masters traditionally spoke to the assembly and said:
“Today I will teach you about the Great Way.”
Monkey thought to himself: “This is exactly what I’ve come here to learn.’’ He tweaked his ears and rubbed his cheeks. Overcome with emotion, he began to dance. He jumped up and down repeatedly until the patriarch became annoyed with him:
“What are you doing, you stupid monkey?’’
“I’m so happy I can’t help myself,” he replied.
“Really. So what other teachings would you like to hear?”
“What's on offer?” said Monkey, suddenly curious.
“Well, there are 360 teachings,” replied the patriarch.
He then suggested that Monkey take a few courses in art.
“What is art?” asked Monkey.
“You will learn to summon fairies and to ride the Phoenix and you will cast yarrow sticks to divine the future.”
“Hmm”, said Monkey, “Will I learn how to become immortal?”
“Not very likely!” exclaimed the patriarch.
“In that case I’ll try something else.” said Monkey.
The patriarch then told him about natural philosophy and the teachings of the great sages: Confucius, Buddha, and Lao Tzu.”
“Will I learn how to live forever?” asked Monkey.
“Your memory is poor, Master. This isn’t for me… what else is there?”
And so it went on. Whatever he suggested Monkey rejected until the patriarch finally came down from the high seat and rapped him three times on his skull:
“I won't learn this. I won't learn that. What is it you would learn?”
Without waiting for an answer, the patriarch stormed off. The other disciples accused Monkey of upsetting their master but Monkey was secretly delighted. Waiting until it was dark he crept into the patriarch’s room and sat beside him while he slept. When the man awoke he glared at Monkey, demanding an explanation.
“Master, you rapped me on the skull three times. I took it as a sign and came to you at the third watch of the night.”
The patriarch was pleased. He now realised that Monkey was an advanced disciple so he said to him:
“If you want to learn the Secret of the Immortals, listen carefully. All things are made up of these three: spirit, breath and soul. Guard them well and do not let them leak away. The Golden Lotus, placed firmly within the frame, will bloom even in the midst of fire.”
Monkey was delighted and committed these words to memory.
For the next three years, Monkey practised in secret. Then one day the master asked how he was getting on.
“I have learned your lessons well, Master, and even managed to come up with a few extra tricks of my own. I can now soar through the clouds.”
And with that, Monkey shot up into the air, hopped from one cloud to another and came back to earth with a smug little smile on his face.
“That was more like crawling than soaring!” laughed the patriarch. ‘’I will teach you to trapeze your way through the clouds so you can go as far as you like in any direction.’’ The master then whispered the spell into Monkey’s ear.
“And now one final teaching.” said the master. “You have learned the secret of immortality but you must now learn to avoid the three great calamities. After 500 years, heaven will send down a great lightning and if that lightning touches you, you are a goner. After another 500 years, heaven will send down a fire, but not an ordinary fire. This one will come from within and burn your vital organs to a crisp. Should you survive the first two calamities, after another 500 years, heaven will send down a wind. And if that wind ever touches you, all your practices will have been to no avail. The way to avoid these calamities is to learn the transformations. You can learn either 36 or 72. Which is it to be?”
“72 sounds like better value than 36.” replied Monkey.
And so the patriarch taught him the spells for the 72 transformations.
Shortly after this, the patriarch came upon Monkey showing off his supernatural powers to the other disciples. He was very angry. Dismissing them he turned on Monkey:
“Why are you showing off to the others in this way? Don’t you realise that they will want to know your secrets? If you tell them, you will have broken your promise to me and if you don’t they will treat you roughly.” The patriarch sighed. “I won’t punish you, but you can’t stay here any longer.”
Monkey was horrified. “At least let me repay my debt to you.”
“No need, but I can see you’re going to get yourself into trouble. All I ask is that you keep my name out of it. Don’t let anyone know you were ever my pupil.”
“Alright, alright.” said Monkey, “I’ll just say that I picked up everything myself.”
So Monkey returned to the Water Curtain Cave and his old friends. The other monkeys were overjoyed and welcomed him back as their king. While he was away, demons had come and terrorized the little troupe of monkeys. They had kidnapped some of their children and disappeared with them.
Monkey leapt onto his cloud trapeze and soared high into the sky. Drifting north he came upon a mountain cave. Down below he could see some young demons playing about outside so descending to them he said:
“Tell your master I have come to sort him out and bring back our little ones.”
The young demons ran into the cave and told the Demon King who stepped outside wielding his sword. The demon laughed when he saw only a little monkey before him and tossed away his sword.
“It would be unfair to fight a monkey with a sword. How about I do it with my fists instead?”
Now the Demon King had a long reach, but Monkey was very agile and was soon pummeling his ribs. Monkey even managed to punch the demon in the face. Furiously he reached for his sword again but Monkey had learned a thing or two about magic. He grabbed a handful of hairs from his own body, threw them on the ground and said “Change!”
Immediately the little hairs all became tiny copies of Monkey and swarmed over the Demon King. Although the demon was large and the monkeys were very small, their numbers quickly overwhelmed him. Monkey then picked up the demon’s sword and with one swing split his skull in two. He and the other monkeys quickly dispatched the minor demons. They snatched up the baby monkeys and some stolen treasure and returned safe and sound to the Water Curtain Cave.
And if you want to know what Monkey did next with his new powers, you will have to wait patiently to read about it in the next chapter.
The Stories of Monkey
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