Tuesday, August 9th
- Martin Goodson

Monkey Magic!

Forthcoming events for w/c 8th August 2022

Monkey Hero

The work to collect together information for the upcoming course on the development of Chinese Buddhism and Chan plus the life and works of the Zen masters continues apace.

There have been one or two film suggestions in the Telegram group and I think we will have a film list as well as a book list for this one.

Top of that list, for me, is going to the the Chinese classic: Monkey or A Journey to the West. The story of Tripitaka's travel to India to collect the Buddhist scriptures and bring them back to China. This is an historical event the original monk being Xuanzang in the 7th century who was sent on this perilous journey.

My late teacher put me onto the Arthur Waley translation of this epic tale. Waley only translated a small portion of the many stories of Monkey but he did a great job of it and it would make a good what-remains-of-the-summer read for anyone.

The book is a mixture of satire on the Chinese court, the war between Buddhism and Taoism (yes, it was a thing), and if you have some knowledge of Buddhism there are a few little insightful nuggets there too.

One of my favourite stories is as follows:

Monkey has learned magic from a great Taoist sage and used them to cause havoc in heaven. It had come to the point where the Jade Emperor of Heaven was challenged by Monkey for the Imperial Throne. As a last resort the Emperor petitioned Buddha to help.

Buddha summoned Monkey to the Himalayas where he revealed his cosmic body of great stature, and challenged Monkey to jump out of his hand. If he could do it then Buddha would command the Emperor to stand down and let Monkey take the throne, if he could not then Monkey would be subjugated by Buddha and cause no more trouble. Monkey agreed.

Monkey had a device, created by his Taoist magic, called a cloud trapeze which enabled him to travel anywhere just by giving a command. Monkey commanded the cloud trapeze to travel to the end of the universe. In a flash he was there, right at the end of universe where the heavens reached down towards the earth and was supported by four great pillars. Monkey chuckled to himself and at the Buddha's foolishness to make such a deal with him when he had such great powers and then jumped down from the trapeze. Thinking he would need to prove he had been there because he thought the Buddha a bit sneaky, he picked up a piece of chalk and wrote on one of the pillars 'Monkey was here' and then took a leak at the base of the pillar. Jumping back on to the cloud trapeze he was whisked back onto the Buddha's hand.

'There Buddha, I have been to the end of the universe and returned, now you keep your side of the bargain and give me my rightful throne.'

'What do you mean Monkey, you never jumped out of my hand.'

'You are a liar, Buddha! I have been to the end of the universe and what is more I wrote my name on one of the four great pillars that holds up the heavens. Go and take a look, if you can!'

'Turn around Monkey and take a look.'

Standing in the Buddha's palm, Monkey turned around to face the Buddha's four fingers. There on the central finger was his own writing 'Monkey was here'. and at its base a small puddle of steaming monkey urine.


Those of us of a certain age may remember the Japanese TV series from the 1970s. The decade when they made crazy children's TV (Children of the Stones, The Tomorrow People, Dr Who and the episode called 'Daemons')

Monkey at the end of the universe.

Casting the Buddha as a woman and mentioning it in the script - who said the 70s could not be progressive!

Well if you want to know what happened next you will have to get the book.


Forthcoming Events

We have our usual Thursday evening Live Zazen meditation at 1900hrs BST. The link is on the meditation page.

Have a great week.