Chaps 1&2: Monkey’s Quest
JW Chapter 1: Monkey’s response to Mortality
To elucidate all this ungrounded philosophy let us examine the first chapters of our Monkey book in closer detail. This way we will get to know the characters better as well as understanding the subtleties of our alchemical themes.
The first seven chapters show the results of unbridled mind. Without focus Monkey, who symbolizes lead = the discriminating mind, gets into unbelievable mischief. Without a mission to focus his incredible powers the Monkey-Mind runs amok. The discriminating mind without true intent to guide it is dangerous. True earth is needed to arrest true lead.
The first chapter begins with a cosmology which mixes Hindu and Chinese elements. The world is created with a mountain, which is the axis between heaven and earth.[i] On the top of this mountain is an immortal stone with symbolic measurements, which connect it with the seasons and days of the year. This stone ‘had been nourished for a long period by the seeds of Heaven and Earth and by the essences of the sun and the moon, until, quickened by divine inspiration, it became pregnant with a divine embryo. (JW Volume I, page 67) This was Monkey. This introduction reveals the alchemical nature of the book. The immortal stone practices self-cultivation, becomes inspired, and gives birth to a divine creation. This is what my Author is hoping for.
Monkey joins up with other monkeys and then becomes their king when he discovers a paradise where they will be safe from man and other predators[ii]. However after living in this idyllic world for 400 years Monkey sheds a tear for his mortality.
“Though we are not subject to the laws of man today, nor need we be threatened by the rule of any bird or beast, old age and physical decay in the future will disclose the secret sovereignty of Yama, King of the Underworld. If we die, shall we not have lived in vain, not being able to rank forever among the heavenly beings.’’ JW Volume I, page 73
Faced with the prospect of inevitable death, Monkey is dismayed, not just wanting to wile his time away in frivolous pursuits. What is the proper response to the transitory nature of existence? This is the subject of many, if not all, the major religions. The Fire burns up everything. How to survive the Fire becomes the question. The Biblical religions of the West say: Be good and go to Heaven. The Yogic tradition says: Practice detachment and escape rebirth into the transitory plane. The Chinese have a different answer.
One of his monkey friends says:
“If the Great King is so farsighted, it may well indicate the sprouting of his religious inclination. There are … only three species that are not subject to Yama, God of the Underworld. … They are the Buddhas, the Immortals, and the Holy Sages; these three alone can avoid the Wheel of Transmigration[iii] as well as the process of birth and destruction, and live as long as Heaven and Earth, the mountains and the streams.” JW Volume I, page 73
Buddhas are Buddhist, Immortals are Taoist, and Sages are Confucian. Members of each of China’s Three Doctrines are included in those who can escape the impermanence of Death. None are excluded. Journey like China embraces all under her umbrella.
Searching, but only finding emptiness
Inspired Monkey begins his quest to find one of these immortals to be his Master. He travels for years before finding anything.
“He was bent on finding the way of the Buddhas, immortals, and holy sages, on discovering the formula for eternal youth. He saw however that the people of the world were all seekers after profit and fame; there was not one who showed concern for his appointed end. This is their condition: The quest for fame and fortune, when will it end? This tyranny of rising early and retiring late! Riding on mules they long for noble steeds. Already prime ministers, they seek to be kings. For food and raiment they suffer stress and strain. Never fearful of Yama’s call to reckoning. Searching for wealth and power to give to grandsons and sons. No one is ever willing to turn back.” JW I, page 75&76
Journey pokes fun at all traditions. Here he chides those who pursue wealth and power and only attempt to accumulate things for their children and grandchildren - a classic Chinese stance.
Bowing Before Simplicity
After only finding humans who pursued the normal life finally Monkey stumbles on a woodsman, who is chanting a powerful verse. Monkey immediately submits to him as his master. The woodsman says that his neighbor, a Taoist, taught him this verse to relieve him of his anxiety. Monkey asks why that he doesn’t study with him. The woodsman responds that he doesn’t have time because of his responsibility to his aging mother. Monkey responds that it is important to fulfill his filial obligations and that he will be rewarded in the future.
This passage indicates two things. First those who cultivate the inner life might come in a simple package. Second it is an affirmation of traditional Chinese values, which value the family. Although Monkey is seeking Immortality he doesn’t look down on the woodcutter’s life, but instead says he is doing the right thing. This is in opposition to those misguided souls who feel that they are superior spiritually because they are pursuing enlightenment and look down on those who choose to fulfill familial obligations rather than leave the home to study with a Master. They immediately enter the dreaded Duality once they sit in judgment. This passage also suggests that the path of cultivation is only available to those who are not living at subsistence level. As always the quest for spirituality is a privilege of the upper classes, not the working classes who are struggling to make ends meet.
JW Chapter 2: Monkey finds a Master
After their encounter the woodsman directs Monkey to the abode of the Taoist Master, who already has many disciples practicing to attain the Way. The Master interviews Monkey and then gives him the name Sun Wu-k’ung, which means the baby boy awakens to emptiness. After 6 or 7 years of practicing the simple life of a monk, the Master gives a talk.
“For awhile he lectured on Tao.
For awhile he lectured on Zen.
To harmonize the Three Schools was a natural thing.
One word’s elucidation in conformity with truth
Would lead to a life birthless and knowledge most profound.” (JW I, p83)
Although Monkey’s Master is a Taoist adept, he is comfortable with the Three Doctrines. Truth is not the exclusive domain of any philosophy. Indeed elucidating even one word according to the truth yields a profound knowledge.
Monkey is so excited by this talk that he jumps up and down, displaying outrageous behavior. The Master rebukes him and the other students are dismayed at his disrespect for the situation. Monkey assures everyone that the truth was so inspiring that he couldn’t help himself. The Master then says something to the effect, “If you are so inspired by the truth, what would you like me to teach you? There are many different branches of Taoism and I know them all.” Monkey responds that he would like to learn what the Master wishes to teach. The Master then offers a series of choices. These include 1) the study of divination through the I Ching - attempting to determine right from wrong behavior, 2) the study of Schools, which include the Three Doctrines as well as many more, 3) the study of Silence which includes yoga and meditative practices, and 4) the study of Action, which include the external practices of Alchemy.
To each of these suggestions Monkey asks if it will bring Immortality, The Master responds that it would be like ‘scooping the moon from the water’ - seeing the reflection of the moon in the water and thinking that it is there. Because none of these studies leads to Immortality Monkey rejects each one in turn. Publicly the Master expresses displeasure, and his students again rebuke Monkey for being so picky. The Master then hits Monkey on the head three times with a stick. The other pupils laugh. But Monkey understands that this is a secret sign to come to the Master’s abode at the sacred time of Hai-mo Tzu-ch’u mentioned in the essay on Taoism, Part D. This is the perfect time to refine the drug. Having understood secret message Monkey arrives at the appointed time. In effect the Master says that because the Monkey has understood the riddle that he deserves to receive the hidden transmission.
This is a Chinese teaching technique, which is enunciated by Confucius. “Give the student one corner. If he can figure out the other corners on his own, then and only then will the instruction continue.” One time Master Ni showed a subtler version of a beginning Tai Chi move. Some of his advanced students responded that they couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Rather than going on Master Ni responded simply that there was no difference. If his students couldn’t perceive the subtlety they weren’t ready for it. Monkey, however, was ready.
The Master stresses the importance of guarding and cultivating the internal energies of jing, chi, and shźn - sperm, breath and spirit - to prevent leaks. If this is achieved then all else follows. This is classic Chinese. Master Ni says that many martial arts schools cultivate jing and chi, but neglect shźn - the spirit. Mistakenly they think that chi is the leader and most important when actually shźn or spirit is the leader. Without shźn the practitioner is able to beat people up, but has no spiritual cultivation or maturity - a bully, not a protector. Jing, chi, and shźn are similar to mercury, lead and earth. The same rules apply to both. As such Monkey is connected with chi as well as lead = the discriminating powers of the intellect. As we shall see his supreme manifestation of chi allows him to become a supreme marital artist. However because of his neglect of shźn = spirit, he just causes trouble, which leads nowhere.
More years pass and Monkey’s powers improve. The Master teaches him the techniques of 72 transformations, which allow him to disguise himself in many forms, and cloud somersaults, which allows Monkey to travel rapidly anywhere on the globe. The students catch wind of Monkey’s powers and ask him to give them a demonstration. Proud to display his powers Monkey does a few tricks, which cause such a commotion that the Master is aroused. Irritated the Master admonishes Monkey for displaying his powers saying that this will only cause jealousy and endanger all involved. He then tells Monkey to leave immediately for his own protection. Possibly even having a premonition of the trouble Monkey is about to get into, he extracts a promise that Monkey will never reveal who taught him what he knows.
[i] This whole cosmology with kalpas and such is much more Hindu than Chinese, who are not so interested in beginnings. As such this mountain axis is probably referencing Mount Meru of the Hindus, which also joins Heaven and Earth.
[ii] Although the Chinese translator denies it, as ruler of a monkey kingdom, Monkey has many similarities with Hanuman of the classic Hindu novel, Ramayana, which is of Biblical importance because of its widespread influence throughout India, Southeast Asia, and subsequently China. Due to their story form the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, both written or compiled a full millennium before Journey, were used to decimate Hinduism throughout Asia in the first millennium of the Common Era. The well traveled Chinese of this time with their propensity for adopting foreign religions had to be well aware of these metaphorical novels. Indeed Journey is used in the same way to spread Chinese alchemy. Stories are always more accessible to the masses than is philosophy. However while the exploits of Monkey and his friends are well known through Eastern Asia, the underlying alchemical messages are known by few.
[iii] Note the nod to the rebirth theme of Hinduism, which has been incorporated into Chinese thought.