Monkey | Chapter 5
Journey to the West Retold
Monkey, now the Great Sage and Equal of Heaven, has become so powerful that even the emperor of heaven is scared of him, after all he’s still a monkey.
And so the Great Sage, Equal of Heaven, found he had nothing to do all day except occasionally to sign his name at the bottom of a report.
Monkey and his subordinates ate three meals a day and slept soundly at night. In between meals Monkey was free to do whatever he wanted so he wandered around Heaven making friends with everyone from the Lunar Mansions and the Planets to the Spirits of the Hours and Days.
One day an Immortal at court suggested to the Emperor that the Great Sage, Equal of Heaven, having no duties to perform, might have too much time on his hands. He reminded the Emperor of the old saying: “Idle hands find trouble!”
So, the Emperor summoned Monkey and gave him a new duty:
“From now on you will be in charge of the imperial peach garden.”
Monkey was delighted and did a double somersault out of pure joy.
When Monkey arrived at the peach garden, the gardeners all kowtowed to him after which they gave him the grand tour.
The head gardener informed Monkey that the peach trees near the entrance carried a small fruit that ripened once every 3,000 years. He also explained that whoever ate these peaches would become a fairy with a light and supple body. The peach trees in the middle of the garden bore fruit that ripened every 6,000 years and a person who ate them would be able to levitate up into the sky. But the trees at the rear of the garden bore fruit only every 9,000 years and whoever ate these would outlive Heaven and Earth.
Monkey took his new duties very seriously indeed. No longer did he make the rounds to speak with the denizens of Heaven. Now he spent his time organising the garden and making sure it was perfect. He also enjoyed eating the peaches when they ripened, especially from the rear of the garden. He managed this by pretending to take an afternoon nap. Then making himself very small he would sneak into the branches and help himself to the ripening fruit.
One day some heavenly maidens arrived at the garden gates just when Monkey was having one of his feasts in the peach boughs. The Queen of Heaven had sent them to organise a peach banquet.
The head gardener informed the heavenly maidens that Monkey was taking his afternoon nap and could not be disturbed. They replied that they could not return to the Queen empty-handed. Perhaps the head gardener would allow them to fill their baskets and inform Monkey later.
The head gardener saw no problem with this and the maidens began collecting peaches. They collected two baskets from the entrance and two baskets from the middle garden but when they came to the rear of the garden no peaches could be seen at all. Where the fruit should have been there were only broken branches. After a long look round one of the maidens saw a single unripe peach. She reached up and pulled the branch down sharply.
This branch happened to be the very one on which Monkey was sleeping. As it rebounded Monkey was flung into the air. Startled awake, he transformed himself back to his full-size. He was very angry. The heavenly maidensapologised profusely and explained that they were collecting peaches for a banquet on orders from the Queen of Heaven.
At the mention of a banquet Monkey immediately calmed down and wanted to know who had been invited. The maidens told him that according to protocol it would be the Buddha of the Western Paradise, all the bodhisattvas, the goddess Kwan Yin, all the Immortals, the Pole Star, the Emperors of the Four Quarters, and all the deities.
Monkey asked them if he too had been invited but the heavenly maidens had to admit that he wasn’t – to the best of their knowledge - on the guest list.
“Not to worry, my dears,” said Monkey. “I don’t blame you. However, I want you to stay here while I sort this out.”
Monkey recited a magic spell and the heavenly maidens were rooted to the spot.
Jumping onto his cloud, trapeze Monkey swung over to the Pool of Green Shade where the heavenly maidens had told him the banquet would take place. On the way he spied the Red Legged Immortal and thought of a plan to attend the banquet. Descending in front of the Immortal, Monkey made a deep bow and said:
“Because I am the quickest messenger, the Emperor sent me to tell all the guests going to the banquet that there will be a ceremonial rehearsal prior to the feast in the Hall of Penetrating Light. The old Immortal fell for it hook, line and sinker and as soon as he had gone Monkey transformed himself into the very likeness of the Red Legged Immortal.
When Monkey arrived at the Pool of Green Shade, he found all the servants busily laying the tables and warming the rice wine. Taking a handful of his own body hairs he chewed them into pieces, spat them out and transformed them into drowsy insects. These landed on the servants. Very quickly they began to yawn and soon afterwards lay down and fell asleep.
Monkey did what he always did best: he greedily helped himself to the food and wine. By the time he finished he was pretty inebriated so he decided to go and sleep it off in his own quarters.
Monkey, staggering out of the banquet hall, jumped onto his cloud trapeze and very soon lost his way. Instead of arriving home, he found himself in front of the Tushita Palace where the Taoist sage Lao Tsu lived. Monkey had always wanted to meet this grand old gentleman so he decided to go in but found no one at home.
It turned out Lao Tsu was upstairs with one of the bodhisattvas, teaching the Great Way to several Immortals. Monkey went straight to the alchemical laboratory and there helped himself to the latest batch of Lao Tsu’s elixir of life.
By this time the wine was wearing off and Monkey realised he was going to be in grave trouble. So, he decided he had better leave Heaven and return to his old home on earth.
His old comrades-in-arms welcomed him home again with a great feast. But Monkey had hardly tasted their wine when he spat it out in disgust. The four wise old monkeys informed him that because he had tasted heavenly wine, no wine on earth would ever taste the same again. So, Monkey returned to Heaven and stole a few jars of heavenly wine. Then he came back home and shared the jars with the other monkeys, thus ensuring that they would all live a long life.
You can well imagine what happened next. It wasn't long before Lao Tsu, the Red Legged Immortal and a long line of heavenly maidens and banqueting servants were queuing up to complain bitterly to the Emperor.
The celestial detective was dispatched to investigate and quickly discovered Monkey’s whereabouts. The Emperor marshalled a great army to go and arrest him. The army descended to earth and surrounded the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers. It marched on the feasting monkeys in the Water Curtain Cave. When Monkey realised what was happening, he summoned a one-eyed ogre and put him in charge of the 72 demon kings who lived on the mountain. Monkey’s army clashed with the Heavenly Host and the sound of swords and shields, the shouts of men and the clattering of hooves lasted all day.
Finally, Monkey’s army was subdued and taken away, but Monkey himself emerged swinging his iron cudgel with all his might. The Planets leapt at him, but Monkey was too much for them. The Kings of the Four Quarters and the 28 Lunar Mansions were then ordered to advance but they too could not prevail. Nartha fought him in the sky, but in the end Monkey plucked out a handful of his hairs and turned them into one thousand monkeys each armed with an iron cudgel.
The Heavenly Host was driven back, but they camped for the night at the foot of the mountain. Monkey and his cohorts found themselves trapped. Everyone prepared for a great battle on the following day.
And if you want to know what is going to happen on that day you will have to wait for the next chapter.
The Stories of Monkey
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