Nov 5, 2022
Martin Goodson

Monkey | Chapter 6

Journey to the West Retold

With no one able to defeat the monkey king the great magician Erh-lang comes up with a cunning plan...

Monkey steals the heavenly peaches by Roberta Mansell


Roberta Mansell

Whilst the Great Sage Equal of Heaven rested in Water Curtain Cave surrounded by the heavenly army at the foot of the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers, the Great Compassionate Bodhisattva Kwan Yin arrived at the peach banquet.

Everything was in disarray: couches upended, silver platters scattered across the floor. Small groups of Immortals were gathered together gossiping. They welcomed the Bodhisattva Kwan Yin and told her what had happened, adding that the Emperor had sent his army to arrest the simian scoundrel.

Kwan Yin and her disciple Hui-yen made their way to the Imperial Court to meet with the Emperor and the Queen of Heaven. Kwan Yin lamented the fact that there would be no peach banquet this year as it was always such fun.  However, she recognised that need must take precedence over desire and instructed Hui-yen to go down to Earth and seek the help of General Vaisravana.   

The disciple, who was also called Prince Moksha, was the second son of General Vaisravana. When the prince arrived at the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers everything was quiet. With the heavenly hosts doggedly guarding every escape route there seemed to be no way that Monkey and his army could escape.

Father and son were deep in conversation when a messenger rushed into their tent. Monkey had decided on a surprise attack. Vaisravana quickly ordered his troops against the simian hordes, but Prince Moksha reminded him that the great Bodhisattva Kwan Yin had asked her disciple to lend a hand. The general replied that if his son had learnt any magic from Kwan Yin now would be a good time to use it. At that Prince Moksha picked up a cudgel and set out to confront the monkey known as the Great Sage Equal of Heaven!

After the customary insults Monkey and the Prince set to fighting. Everyone else kept their headsdown. The two combatants closed upon each other fifty or sixty times that day until in the end, Prince Moksha, his shoulders aching from the enormous exertion, had to beat a retreat.

The Prince admitted defeat and returned to his father General Vaisravana who sent him back to Heaven to ask for reinforcements. Accompanying him was the demon king Mahabali. When they appeared before the Jade Emperor he was both incredulous and dismayed to learn that his general with an entire army of 100,000 men was incapable of capturing a single renegade monkey.

Kwan Yin pressed her hands together and suggested to the Emperor that there might yet be one divinity who could capture this creature:

“What about your nephew, the great magician Erh-lang?”

The Emperor thought for a moment and realized that it was an excellent suggestion. He immediately sent a message with the demon King Mahabali to Erh-lang at the River of Libations. This is where the great magician lived and received offerings of incense from the world below.

The demon king arrived at the shrine of Erh-lang in less than half an hour and there he made known the Emperor’s request. The magician summoned his brothers and one thousand plant-headed deities, all of whom possessed great magical powers, and instructed them to go at once to the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers and do the Emperor’s bidding.

How magnificent the magician Erh-lang’s army looked! All of its soldiers had falcons on their wrists and rode magnificent horses with packs of hunting dogs in tow. Moreover, they were carried to their destination by a magic wind. As soon as the army arrived, the magician went to the general and told him to keep his troops where they were; his own army would take care of the situation.  However ,Erh-Lang gave the general a magic mirror and told him to keep it trained on Monkey. In that way if he should try to escape by magic they would always be able to find him.

When the magician appeared at the Water Curtain Cave, Monkey emerged as usual in his gold chain mail, plumed hat and cloud-stepping shoes. He was twirling his iron cudgel.

Following the customary hostile words, they engaged in a battle of such ferocity as to make the heavens weep. They clashed over 300 times. It was a magnificent show with both sides undergoing constant transformations until at one point they formed themselves into giant ogres 100,000 feet high waving magic tridents shaped like mountain peaks. It was clear that they were evenly matched.

Monkey and the magician Erh-lang were still fully engaged in their battle when the magician’s brothers and the plant-headed deities launched a surprise attack on the monkey army at Water Curtain Cave. The monkeys threw down their weapons and ran hither and thither in a blind panic. When Monkey caught sight of this, his heart fluttered and he fled from the magician in order to help his monkey brothers. Monkey raced into the cave hotly pursued by the magician but in a flash transformed himself into a fish and slipped into the waters under the Iron Bridge.

The breathless Erh-lang arrived at the water’s edge in time to spot the bubbles rising to the surface and instantly realized what happened. The magician then transformed himself into a cormorant and flew menacingly over the surface of the water waiting for a chance to seize his opponent.

Quick as a flash Monkey leapt out of the water and changed himself into a freckled bustard. Now this bird is considered to be low and promiscuous and Erh-lang did not wish to engage with Monkey in this undignified form. Instead, he fired a pellet from a slingshot that sent the freckled bustard rolling down the mountainside. As soon as he was out of sight Monkey turned himself into a wayside shrine.

Arriving at the shrine, Erh-lang eyed it suspiciously.  Monkey was nowhere to be seen, but the shrine doors were open and the magician could see the statue of the bodhisattva inside. There were two windows on either side of the altar that looked strangely like eyes but it was the sight of the temple pole at the back of the shrine that gave the game away. He realized that this must be Monkey’s tail. Erh-lang shouted out that he would smash the windows and break down the doors. Since Monkey wished neither to be blinded nor to lose his precious teeth, he quickly transformed himself into his true shape and disappeared into the sky.

But there was no escape for poor Monkey! General Vaisravana had been following his movements in the magic mirror all through the battle.

Back in heaven the Emperor and Kwan Yin were wondering what was going on. So, accompanied by the great Taoist sage Lao Tsu, they made their way to the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers.

The battle between Erh-lang and Monkey continued. Kwan Yin offered to drop her porcelain vase and willow fan onto Monkey in order to help the magician but, in the end, it was Lao Tsu who played the decisive role with his diamond snare and before long Monkey’s heroic exertions came to an end. He suffered the further indignity of being trussed up like a chicken and carried back to Heaven at the head of the very same heavenly army that had been unable to defeat him on its own.

The Emperor waved the usual formalities of a trial and ordered the unruly simian to be taken straight to the execution block where he was to be cut into tiny pieces.

And if you want to know what happened next to poor King Monkey you must wait for the next chapter.

From the series

The Stories of Monkey

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