Monkey | Chapter 8
Stories Retold: Journey to the West
Monkey has now been imprisoned under a mountain by the Buddha but a Bodhisattva who’s on a mission, may be able to get this monkey out of its cage.
At the centre of the world, stands the great mountain Sumeru. This mountain contains six realms. There are thirty three heavens in the top realm and sixteen hells in the bottom one. Sumeru is surrounded by a vast ocean. At the cardinal points of this ocean are four great continents.
One day, after preaching to an assembly of Bodhisattvas and Arhats, the Buddha remarked: “There are great differences between the people of the four great continents. In our western continent there is no greed nor is there hatred. We are modest and everyone is safe from old age and death. The people in the north are rather violent but they are also lazy and so do not cause too much trouble. In the other two continents the situation is different. Some people in China are peaceful and cheerful, but others are full of greed. They quarrel and are very warlike. “I wonder,” said the Buddha. “Would these people not benefit from our Holy Scriptures and their teachings?”
The assembly nodded in agreement, but they wondered who would come to collect the scriptures from the far-off land of India. What’s more, the people in China would be unlikely to understand them without someone who could adequately explain the teachings.
The Buddha thought about this and wondered if there might be someone of the faith in China who could undertake such an important task. The Great Bodhisattva Kwan-yin stepped forward and volunteered to find such a pilgrim. The Buddha was very pleased and remarked that no one was better suited to the job.
The Buddha took Kwan-yin to one side and instructed her to make a close study of the route between India and China so that she could guide the pilgrim on his way.
“This journey will be difficult.” said the Buddha. “ I have five talismans that I would like you to give him: a cassock to give him courage when his heart fails, a walking staff to protect him from poison and violence, and these three metal headbands. If he should meet an ogre, he should try to talk him round to the faith. Otherwise he is to place a headband on his crown and recite the spell. The ogre’s eyes will bulge and he will suffer excruciating headaches and will very quickly desist in his attack.’
Kwan-yin bowed and called her disciple Hui-yen to follow her, and the two of them set off towards China. After a while they came to a river of sand and as they flew down to examine it, a monstrous creature emerged waving a huge staff in his hand. It ran straight for the Bodhisattva. Hui-yen parried his attack and for twenty or thirty bouts the two of them engaged each other up and down the riverbank. Hui-yen caught his breath and yelled: “Who are you to impede the Great Bodhisattva Kwan-yin? We are on a mission on behalf of the Buddha to find someone to bring the scriptures to China.’’ The monster immediately stopped in his tracks, bowed deeply and asked to be brought before the Bodhisattva.
The monster apologised profusely to the Bodhisattva, touching his forehead to the ground several times. He explained that in a previous life he had been a marshal in heaven but unfortunately had broken a precious crystal bowl. The Jade Emperor had punished him by turning him into a monster and sending him to live in the river of sand. Every seven days flying swords would stab his breast and sides, and in addition he had nothing to eat. The only way he could survive was by devouring the odd traveller who passed by. Kwan-yin frowned and said: “Two wrongs do not make a right. Devouring living people also goes against heaven. If you are willing to convert to our cause and to help our pilgrim I will speak to the Emperor and ask him to cease his punishment. By the end of our pilgrim’s journey all your bad karma will be exhausted.”
The monster readily agreed and the Bodhisattva shaved his head and gave him the precepts and robe. His name in religion was to be ‘Sandy’.
Kwan-yin and Hui-yen continued on their way. After a short while they were almost overpowered by a revolting stench coming from a nearby mountain. All of a sudden there was a blast of wind and there appeared another monster shaped like a pig. He carried a rake and also charged the Bodhisattva.
Another fight took place but this time Kwan-yin dropped lotus petals into the eyes of the pig-monster and it was immediately overpowered.
Hui-yen reproached the creature but when the pig-monster realised he had nearly attacked Kwan-yin, he too asked to be taken before the Bodhisattva:
“ Forgive me, forgive me! I am not really a pig at all! I was a marshal in heaven and one day I got drunk and misbehaved with the goddess of the moon. When the Emperor found out, he transformed me into this shape and cast me out and here is where I live. I have nothing to eat and so I have to roam the land devouring whomever I can get my hands on.”
The Bodhisattva replied saying: “This is not the way to salvation!”
“But what am I to eat?” said pig-monster. “The wind? There is a proverb: If the government gets hold of you they flog you to death. If the Buddhists get hold of you they starve you to death.”
The Bodhisattva replied: “Heaven helps those who mean well. Why not help me in my mission? We are seeking someone to bring holy scriptures from India to China; if you help my pilgrim all your past pig-karma will become exhausted.”
And so the monster converted, accepted the precepts and took the religious name ‘Pigsy’ and was told to watch out for the pilgrim.
A little later on they came across a dragon who had accidentally burnt down his father's palace. He was awaiting execution but the Bodhisattva extracted a promise from him that in exchange for his life he too would help the pilgrim.
In the distance they saw the Mountain of the Five Elements. There were great shafts of light radiating from it. The Bodhisattva remarked: “Underneath that mountain there is Monkey, Great Sage Equal of Heaven, who was imprisoned for his misdemeanors. Let us visit him.”
Monkey was being held inside a stone box and although he could not move he could see out. He greeted the Bodhisattva respectfully and asked her if she could but help him. The Bodhisattva replied: “Monkey, you caused a lot of trouble in heaven. How can I know that if you were released you would not cause more trouble?”
“I have repented fully of my former deeds and wish only to be of service,” replied Monkey.
The Bodhisattva was delighted to hear this and told him to be patient for just a little longer. When the pilgrim came to fetch the scriptures he would be the one to release poor Monkey.
In a short while they arrived at the city of Chang’an. There they disguised themselves as two poor priests. The temple deities saw through their disguise and were delighted to have such an auspicious guest and her assistant. The two poor priests rested at the temple of the municipal god whilst they searched for their candidate.
If you want to know whether or not they found a pilgrim you must listen to what is told in the next chapter.
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