Chapters 19+>21: Monkey & Piggy team up; not enough

Cooking lead and mercury

This episode begins in the middle of Chapter 19 with a testimonial poem that refers to Tripitaka.

“Hold fast at the breast the Horse of the Will!

The Mind-Monkey is sly - let him not wail!

Nature is one with feelings, causes in accord.

The moon full of golden light is the hair shorn.” JW I p392

This sums up the state of our alchemical process. It’s very important for Tripitaka to stick to his Horse for this supplies with him Will or motive force. He must also watch out for sly Monkey, who has not yet been refined of all mischief. On the positive side nature, i.e. Piggy, is one with feelings, Monkey. They are all in accord behind Tripitaka’s Buddhist quest as his disciples. The full moon looks like a Buddhist monk, with his hair shorn.

The Heart Sutra

As the travelers proceed on they meet the Crow’s Nest Zen Master, who is fairly accomplished in the Way. Revealing his continuing impatience Tripitaka immediately asks how far it is until they reach their destination. The Zen Master replies that it is very far with many dangerous obstacles. He then gives Tripitaka the Heart Sutra to dispel the mara hindrances, which will plague his path. Mara hindrances are based in personal anxiety.

The Heart Sutra is wisdom that in effect says “Don’t worry. Your fears are all based in illusion, created by your own thoughts.” The Zen Master had met Piggy before, i.e. Piggy is also plagued by fears, but did not know Monkey, who is never afraid.

This sutra is very important in the history of Buddhism. The author of Journey to the West says in this chapter that Tripitaka brought it back with him to China. “It [The Heart Sutra] is the comprehensive classic for the cultivation of Truth, the very gateway to becoming a Buddha.” (JW I p 394) Throughout the Quest, Monkey chides Tripitaka for not understanding or remembering this sutra. Notice that it is called ‘the gateway’.

Thoughts are a common obstacle for most of us mortals. We fear the future because of the negative scenarios that our mind projects. We connect a few random dots into a line. Thinking that this projection indicates the true direction of events we have an anxiety attack, which thwarts all of the best-laid plans. Will is undermined and the personal quest is aborted. The Initiate returns to the safety of home - the grand quest unfulfilled - quivering beneath his covers - afraid of the bogey man under the bed - building up a false security to protect from the intellect’s false visions - nervously shriveling into a shell of security to protect oneself from imaginary harms.

The root of the anxiety has to do with the feeling of substantiality. The Heart Sutra counters this with the concept of emptiness.

“When [Kuan-yin] was moving in the deep course of the Perfection of Wisdom, she saw that the five heaps were but emptiness and she transcended all sufferings.” Heart Sutra

The sutra elaborates on this statement, but this is the essence of the message. The concept of emptiness is most difficult to grasp and even more difficult to put into practice. Simply speaking it has to do with the transitory nature of existence, including self. Despite the fact that we are continually changing from birth onwards, we attribute permanence to our Person due to our collective memory, which strings experiences together and calls them real. It is like seeing the leaves of a tree and thinking that it is one solid mass. Or viewing massive thunderclouds and thinking they are huge islands. Seeing dust clouds on the horizon, and assuming the Mongolian hordes are attacking.

Having surmised a permanent Self, the Mind begins assigning attributes, again permanent, to this Being. Then when these non-existent attributes are threatened in any way the Person feels anxiety and simultaneously loses the will to proceed, making the wrong decisions based upon fear of the imaginary. If instead of attaching to the substantiality of our Form we realize it’s inherent insubstantiality, fears disappear as shadows before sunlight. Indeed Heaven, the Universe, or God, whichever you like to call it, actively attempts to erode this sense of substantiality, which causes so much suffering. But instead of letting go of our misconceptions, we cling to them like a security blanket, defending them with our arsenal of mental excuses- learned from an early age. Anyway like most humans Tripitaka was dealing with his fears of the illusory nature of existence based upon his feelings of substantiality. Most of his ordeals were meant to wear away his resistance.

Lightness balances substantiality

At the conclusion of this episode the Crow’s Nest Zen Master embodies the idea of emptiness. Tripitaka after receiving the Heart Sutra once again asks how far away their destination is. The Zen Master laughs and says that the road is long, but warns him not to be fooled by appearances. He ends by saying:

“An old stone ape of many years

Nurses his anger over there!

Just ask that acquaintance of yours

Well he knows the way to the west.” JW I p395

Feeling insulted Monkey is infuriated and begins poking his iron rod at the Nest of the Zen Master. However even “though Pilgrim might have strength to overturn rivers and seas, he could not catch hold of even one strand of the crow’s nest.” (JW I p396) The Zen Master was so light, so insubstantial, that there was nothing for Monkey to attack. Similarly in free form sparring attacks never reach their target if there is no target to reach. Consequently the goal for combatants is to reduce their target to infinitesimal size. Neither yin, nor yang, but tai chi, in the exact middle between the two. Nor wu chi, the chaos that precedes tai chi. Instead reside in the balance point – everywhere, but nowhere.

Then in everyday life slights or insults cause no emotional arousal if the individual is not fused to his Person. Conversely if Being and Person are artificially fused, as with most, pride is aroused by empty words followed by anger, then a need for revenge, and finally war breaks out lasting for centuries. Even millennia long blood feuds are not unheard of. Anyway lightness based in insubstantiality is the antidote to that destructive foolishness.

Enlightened to the Truth

Of course the first step towards curing a disease is to realize that there is a problem. This is true whether the individual is an alcoholic, food-oholic, spend-oholic or work-oholic. In Tripitaka’s case, like most of us, he believed that he was his Person, rather than realizing he was just the Being, who loved and supported his Person so dearly. After constantly chanting the Heart Sutra Tripitaka awakened to the false identification with Form, which was at the heart of the Disease, which caused so much fear and anxiety.

“Hsüan-tsang, master of the law, [the real historical Tripitaka] after he had thoroughly mastered the Heart Sutra, which had in fact broken through the gate of his understanding. He recited it frequently and the beam of spiritual light penetrated by itself to his innermost being.” JW I p.397

Thus Tripitaka is opening his gateway of understanding through his chanting of the Heart Sutra. Unfortunately he mistook his illumination to the truth for enlightenment. A common misunderstanding. Once the alcoholic admits he has a problem this is just the beginning, not the solution. Now we’ll see how effective Tripitaka’s understanding is.

The Yellow Wind Ridge of 800 miles

The travelers proceed on, meeting an old man, who warns them to go back to find truth in the East because there are great dangers ahead.

“There’s no safe way which leads to the Western Realm;

There’ll be great disasters brought by demons vile.” JW I p403

This throws Tripitaka into a paralyzed doubt. Where is the Heart Sutra, now? But the group ‘urges on the horse’. -“Hold fast at the breast the Horse of the Will.”

No Safe Way

The Western Realm is where the Truth is. Experiencing the Truth is the Quest. The Journey is never easy. There are many obstacle along the Way. If it is easy, it is not the path. You’re not close enough to the Edge of Chaos to move on through to the other side. You’ve never even left the Home.

The great disasters arise immediately. First an evil wind arises, alarming Tripitaka. Then a fierce striped tiger attacks them. ‘Tripitaka was so horrified that he could no longer sit on the saddle.; he fell head over heels from the white horse and lay beside the road, half out if his wits.’ A classic anxiety attack disables Tripitaka’s will to go on.

Biologically Tripitaka’s Amygdala has been activated by fearful images. This sets off the adrenal system with its fight-flight syndrome, which short-circuits the reasoning capacity of the intellect. Understanding is of no use in this circumstance. Repeated direct experience is the only way to neutralize this adrenal response by reconditioning the memory to fear. Since Monkey is Mind, let’s see how he fares in the battles to come.

No one there to protect the Base

Monkey and Piggy immediately defend Tripitaka and then return the attack. Overwhelmed the tiger flees, using the trick of ‘golden cicada casting its shell’, i.e. shedding his body to escape. Tripitaka is referred to as both a tiger and a golden cicada. He could have shed his sense of self to escape these mara hindrances; but he hasn’t let go of his Person yet.

“Suddenly noticing the master of the law sitting by the road and reciting the Heart Sutra, he [the tiger] caught hold of him and hauled him away by mounting the wind.” JW I p 407

The Heart Sutra says that we create evil with our minds; the mind is sometimes represented as a windstorm. Tripitaka has just had a really bad meditation because the tiger has captured Tripitaka to present to his Master, the Yellow Wind Monster, for his culinary pleasure. They decide to wait to eat Tripitaka until they have dealt with his disciples.

How does Tripitaka deal with this setback? At the very beginning of his journey he realized that he had to submit to the Will of Heaven. Further he had been assured by Kuan-yin to trust in his Mission because he is protected by Celestial Guardians. To top it off he had been reciting the Heart Sutra, which talks about the emptiness of things. Did any of these things help assuage his anxiety. Hardly.

“As [Tripitaka] lamented and sighed, his tears fell like rain.” Although the Heart Sutra had broken through the gate of his understanding it seems that Tripitaka is still plagued by a few fears. He has not yet given up his sense of self. Indeed the Universe arranges many more ordeals to erode this misguided attachment to Person.

Wood & Metal work together, but fail to protect the Fire. Where’s Earth?

After planning together, Monkey fights the tiger and then Piggy kills it. Pilgrim says, ‘It’s a good thing you are here, or else he would have escaped again.’ (JW I p. 411) This points out the medicinal value of Piggy and Monkey working together. ‘Nature and feeling in harmony wild demons subdued.’ (JW I p. 412) They are protecting the spark of yang that has given meaning to their lives, Tripitaka. Without the Mission, the elements would disband with nothing to hold them together. Piggy says, “You should find out whether Master is dead or alive; if he’s dead, each one of us can tend to our own business; if he’s not, we can do our best to discharge our responsibility.” (JW I p. 422)

True earth binds true lead, which controls true mercury. Our three elements have aligned themselves behind true earth, Tripitaka’s divine intent. The base has been consolidated; all elements are in their proper place. While the three elements are joined, one of the five phases is still missing.

Piggy and Monkey working together have easily defeated the tiger, but have failed to protect Tripitaka. What went wrong? Alchemically earth is needed to hold the mixture together. Wood Piggy and Metal Monkey are working together, moving outward to defeat monsters. But there is no one at home to protect Tripitaka, Fire, and the White Horse, Water. This episode illustrates that the base has not been completely consolidated yet. We have Earth[i] and Heaven producing the Medicines, but we don’t have anything to hold them in yet. We don’t know what will contain them. You will have to keep reading to find out. But first let’s see how Tripitaka gets out of his difficulties.

Thought Hurricanes

It turns out that the slain tiger had been the faithful servant of the Yellow Wind Monster, who is now furious because of his death. He emerges from his cave to seek revenge. After fighting to a draw with the Great Sage, the Monster ‘opened his mouth three times to blow out some air. Suddenly a mighty yellow wind arose in the sky. Uh! Oh! ‘This wind was so powerful that it disturbed the whole cosmos from the heavens, to the earth, to the underworld. The universe did almost split apart!’ (JW I p 416) Undaunted Monkey kept attacking and received the evil wind right in the face, losing his sight temporarily. Disabled he left the fight.

Piggy had to remain behind to protect the horse and so was not able to help. Pilgrim wishes for an eye doctor because his eyes are watering so profusely that he can’t see clearly. They go to a household for shelter. The old man of the house tells him that the wind of the monster ‘is called the Divine Wind of Samadhi.’ He then gives Monkey an ointment for his eyes. Piggy takes care of him like a blind man. Next day the house has disappeared. It seemed that it had been set up by Tripitaka’s Guardians of the Law to heal Monkey because he was on the right path.

Next Monkey disguises himself as a mosquito and finds out that the Yellow Wind Monster only fears the Bodhisattva Ling-chi, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. But where does he live? More divine assistance. The Planet Venus, disguised as an old man, reveals to our pilgrims that Ling-chi lives on Little Sumeru Mountain, which has a plot of Truth. The Great Sage/ Monkey immediately goes there and pleads his case. The Bodhisattva Ling-chi says:

“I did receive the command of Tathagata to keep the Yellow Wind Monster here in submission. Tathagata also gave me a Wind-Stopping Pearl and a Flying-Dragon Precious Staff. At the time when I captured him, I spared the monster his life only on condition that he would retire in the mountain and abstain from the sin of taking life. I did not know that he would want to harm your esteemed teacher and transgress the Law. That is my fault.” JW I p426

Because Ling-chi is at fault, he returns with Monkey to the scene of the crime. Monkey taunts the monster to come out. Ling-chi throws down the Flying-Dragon Precious Staff. This pins down the monster. ‘The monster changed back into his original form and became a mink with yellow fur.’ (JW I p427) Monkey threatens to kill it but the Bodhisattva tells him to spare it. He says, ‘Originally he was a rodent at the foot of the Spirit Mountain who had acquired the Way. Because he stole some of the pure oil in the crystal chalice, he fled ….” He says that he must return the mink to Tathagata. Now that the monster has been subdued they go and rescue Tripitaka.

The Divine Wind of Samadhi or a little knowledge is dangerous

A few noteworthy points: First Samadhi is a rapturous state of bliss associated with meditation. This seemingly positive state becomes a ‘divine wind’, which threatens the Quest. The wind even overwhelms Monkey. Only because he has submitted to the Law do the Guardians of the Law cure him. Why is the blissful state of Samadhi so destructive? The joy can easily distract one from the task at hand, the journey – like getting high from the rush of drugs or experience. The bliss is not bad except that the Disciple tends to supplant his real Mission with Samadhi because it feels so good. (A parallel warning comes from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. After death one is counseled to avoid the beautiful images that arise, because they will always turn ugly as they are just one side of the polarity.)

This episode is further evidence that the Journey is more important than achieving peace of mind or even the ecstasy of enlightenment. In terms of the Goddess, accomplishing the Great Work transcends psychological well-being. In terms of the Alchemists the success of the Casting Process trumps the mental state of the individual performing the action.

This is a case of incomplete understanding being destructive. Living at the foot of Spirit Mountain the rodent had attained the Way. Ling-chi was supposed to keep an eye on the rodent, but he slipped away. This is a theme that is repeated throughout. The ideas of the Great Masters are all good and well when associated with the Great Masters, but when they are removed from the source they can become evil and consuming monsters. Ling-chi brought him back to the Buddha to be assimilated.

Animal nature of deception

After the Yellow Wind King was defeated by the Dragon Staff treasure of the Bodhisattva, “The monster changed back into his original form and became a mink with yellow fur.” (JW I, p 427) To understand this image we must look at the beliefs of popular Taoism. The Taoist Master-Who-Embraces-Simplicity says:

“Know that all things, as they age become capable of taking on human forms and manage thereby to deceive the human eye. In this guise they are continually taking people in. It is only in mirrors that they reveal their true form. … If they are Immortals or true mountain gods, they will keep their human aspect even in the mirror; but if they are perverse animals or ghosts of old things, then the mirror will reflect their true appearance.” Shiffer, p. 171

Hence in popular mythology, ‘perverse animals’ and ‘ghosts of old things’ take people in by assuming human form. This is referring to the perception that some beings are malevolent, while others are beneficial. The evil beings, ala Dracula, are exposed by mirrors, which reveal their true inhuman selves.

This reflects an attempt to separate truth from falsehood. In this context true is human and false is animal in human form. Animals in human form are a common reference world wide to the shamanistic cults that existed prior to the patriarchy. The beliefs associated with these ‘ghosts of old things’ are felt to be negative and need to be eradicated. This type of patriarchal mentality is reflected even unto the present 20th century. ‘He was such an animal, pawing at me all night.’

Hence after defeating the monster Piggy/Idiot and Monkey, “smashed their way into the cave and with their rake and rod slaughtered all the wily hares, the vixen, the musk deer, and the horned deer.” (JW I, p 428) The evil must be rooted out at the base, the cave. Hence the idea and warning is that these ancient animal beliefs are to be utterly destroyed to be replaced by the modern religions. Ironically Taoist temples were destroyed in China in the 19th and 20th century with the same arguments. Intolerance is so sad.

The divine guidance of the I Ching; an antidote to mental confusion

The Dragon Staff

The Wisdom of the Bodhisattva and his Dragon Staff is reminiscent of the I Ching. It transforms itself into “a golden dragon with eight claws, two of which caught hold of the monster’s head and threw him two or three times against the boulders beside the mountain cliff.” The eight claws are the 8 trigrams; the two that held him are a hexagram. Throwing him two or three times is reminiscent of throwing the yarrow sticks to divine a meaning. Perhaps a meaning could be that the cycles of the I Ching give a meaning to life, which transcend the illusion of Samadhi. Nevertheless in Tripitaka’s waking dream, he is caught in the Wind of illusion, trapped and about to be swallowed up. But Mind/ Monkey although tripped up is able to solve the problem by asking for help. The help against the wind illusion of the phenomenal world is the balance of yin and yang, which is represented by the I Ching.

Divination with the I Ching presupposes a Divine Order and a Meaning revealed by the order. This evidence flies in the face of or, at least, leads one through the apparent illusory quality of sensory perception, the wind of Samadhi. This Wind is so intense that it threatens to blow the universe down. The illusions are so intense that they threaten to consume the Quest. Finding the one point of meaning is crucial in the midst of the Turbulence, the thought tornadoes.

Note that this is the second thought wind that nearly aborted the Journey. While this one came from external sources, the first was self-generated, i.e. Monkey fanning the flames at the Zen monastery. There will be another wind of a different nature later on. Take note of the similarities and the differences. (A preview: the same Bodhisattva is called upon to help the next time using Buddha’s other treasure, the Wind-Stopping Pearl. However this Wind is not an enemy but is a tool that needs to be used to surmount an obstacle of fire.)

Transcendent Philosophy

This episode seamlessly mixes many schools of thought. We started with an alchemical perspective, then met a Zen Master, followed by the Wind of Samadhi, part of the Yogic tradition, and then a Buddhist Bodhisattva is called in to subdue the monster. Which tradition is the dominant one? The Buddhists, Taoists and Confucians, all claim precedence, each with justifiable reasons. Certainly elements of each of the Three Doctrines are contained here. However Journey, as a Great Work, transcends all boundaries.

One of the themes of this episode, in particular, is that insight and understanding alone aren’t enough to achieve the mystic quest, whether it be Buddhahood, Immortality, Sagehood, the Great Work, or one’s Destiny. The events of these chapters illustrate that enlightenment to truth is just a step on the Path. Although Tripitaka memorizes and understands the meaning of the Heart Sutra, he can only assimilate its wisdom through bitter experience.

However transformation can’t be achieved without enlightenment either. The only way to reach the goal is through experience combined with enlightenment. Neither by themselves is enough.

As we’ll see achieving the Way, is also not enough. In the next episode our travelers consolidate their base, attaining the Tao. This is just reaching the trailhead. However, this is just the beginning. Keeping to the One, the Way, once it has been achieved, is a massive task fraught with peril and temptation. Attaining the Tao, and achieving enlightenments are only steps.

[i] To avoid confusion, note that earth can be used in three very different Chinese configurations. First, when Earth is connected with Heaven, she is the flexible feminine yin, the Dragon Horse, while Heaven is the firm yang, the Tiger Tripitaka. Their union produces the marrow, the medicines, the occult opening, or tai chi, the balance point. In this metaphor, Earth is part of a polarity with Heaven. Second, when used in connection with lead and mercury earth represents the concept of true intent. In this tripartite structure, true earth is the proper focal point, representing a concept, not a pole. In this metaphor Tripitaka is earth, Monkey is lead, and Piggy is mercury. Finally when earth is used in connection with water, fire, metal, and wood, she is part of the 5-phase theory. In this context, earth holds and contains. In this metaphor Tripitaka is fire, the White Horse is water, Piggy is wood, and Monkey is metal. We haven’t met earth yet. So depending on the context Tripitaka could be Heaven, the Tiger, earth, or Fire. Thus the context of the usage indicates its allegorical meaning. When used with Heaven, Earth is yin, the polarity of the flexible feminine, the trigram of triple yin. When used with mercury, earth represents the concept of intent. And when used with wood, earth represents the phase of holding, stability, and containing. Of course, there is always mixture and pun, but these follow the context of the discussion.


Home   Chinese Alchemy   1. Journey Episodes   Previous   Next