The Monkey King: a fighting Buddha

The Monkey King(or Journey to the West) is a great novel of the ancient China. It is probably the most imaginary novel of China. It is still of question that who wrote the Monkey King. For me, it is actually a great Buddhism novel. The major character of this novel should be the Monkey King instead of the Tang Monk(the monk of the Tang Dynasty who went to India for Buddha’s sutras.). It is about how the Monkey King became a Buddha and finally went beyond life and death. Let me tell you why.

The stone absorbed the spirits of the sun and the moon for thousands of years and finally a monkey was born out of it. The same as the stone monkey, each of us is also a spirit in this world.

This stone monkey has great courage. He later became the Monkey King. He had a lot of fun with his fellow monkeys in the Mt. Flowers and Fruit. But one day in a party he saw the death of an old monkey and was greatly touched. He wanted to look for a way to stay away from death. That is the same thing that each of us is very much concerned with. As spirits in the universe, we first of all want to survive in this universe. We need to learn how to stay alive. And death is always what we are afraid of. We should never ignore this fact that we are going to die one day. Buddha himself went for practice out of the sight of death.

The Monkey King tried very hard to go over all the world to find a master to teach him how to escape death. He went through a lot. He saw the human world. He was laughed at by people. He made friends. As us, the Monkey King had some experience of the human world. Finally he found a Taoist master. This Taoist master is a very great master. After the Monkey King refused to learn many of his techniques(as the Monkey King was only interested in learning how to escape from death), he gave the Monkey King a koan. He pretended to be angry, tapped on the head of the Monkey King for three times and went out of the door with his hands behind his back. The Monkey King understood immediately that the master wanted him to come to see the master at three o’clock at night through the back door. The master taught the Monkey King flying 54,000 km with a single leap and 72 Transformations. The world became much smaller for the monkey. And with 72 Transformations, he can transform into tigers, birds and so on so he can survive in various conditions. But this monkey king has a very strong self. He couldn’t hide what he had learned in front of his classmates. He liked to show off a little bit. He didn’t know when to hide and when to show. So the master knew that the Monkey King would make a big trouble in the future. What the master did is not to teach the Monkey King anymore. He kicked him out of school and told him never to reveal the Taoist master’s name. That is what the Taoist master will do. They teach you the skills of transformation. But they don’t save people completely.

So the monkey went back to Mt. Flowers and Fruit. He was so powerful now. He was challenging all the authorities of the old corrupt system, which was based on the Confucius hierarchy. He fought with the authorities of the hell, the sea, and finally the almighty sky. He even claimed that the position of Jade Emperor should be taken in turn and it was then his turn. (What a democratic idea! From a monkey!) Finally, the Jade Emperor of the sky had to ask for help from Buddha.

Although very powerful, the monkey couldn’t escape the palm of Buddha. Buddha locked him under Mt. Five Fingers. He had to wait for 500 years until the Tang Monk came along to release him.

Critics criticize Buddha for protecting the corrupt Confucian system. But as we know, at that time there was not much Buddha could do to change the system. The context/society was just not mature enough. The mankind was not ready yet. It would take thousands of years of development to make the society ready. The system has to progress slowly step by step.

The Tang Monk, who was going to the west for the sutras of Buddha, released the Monkey King from the mountain. So the Monkey King became a disciple of the Tang Monk and protected the Tang Monk along the way.

The Tang Monk is a very nice and selfless person. Even though he knew that all the demons wanted to eat him because they can obtain longevity if they consume his flesh, he was still very kind to those demons. But he was too talkative. He didn’t know what was more important. He couldn’t tell whose intention was good and whose was bad. He doesn’t have the analytic mind to tell the differences in the world. He couldn’t recognize the disguise of the demons, so he couldn’t even save himself from them. On the contrary, the monkey can tell the bad ones and the good ones. He has very sharp eyes, which were trained in the stove of the Lao Tzu god when Lao Tzu god was trying to burn him into an elixira. The monkey king is able to recognize the demons whatever their transformation.

At the beginning, the Monkey King doesn’t like the Tang Monk very much. So when the Tang Monk scolded him for killing a few robbers, the monkey king just flew back to his mountain to play with his fellow monkeys. But this monkey king has a very touching heart. The Monkey King, originally just a wild beast and just wanting his fun and freedom, got gradually moved by the human being’s feelings. He witnessed the Tang Monk’s great care for him and everyone else. He was deeply touched by it. He was going through a deeper transformation. Even though the Tang Monk laid harsh blame on him for killing the demons, he kept caring and protecting the Tang Monk.

After going through 81 tribulations together with the Tang Monk, the Monkey King finally became the fighting Buddha. He finally went beyond his strong self. He finally went beyond life and death.

The Tang Monk, after so many sufferings, also realized he needed the Monkey King to function better and more correctly to save all people. He understood how to tell the difference. He also learned to speak only when necessary. He understood the need to rely on the external resource and when to use it.

From all these, I would say that the Monkey King is actually a great Buddhism novel.

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Filed under Chan/Zen, Chinese, Novel

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