This episode begins with our merry bandÕs arrival at an exquisite region. Tripitaka immediately reveals his continuing impatience when he says:
ÒDisciples, since I began this journey to the West, I have passed through many regions, all rather treacherous and dangerous to traverse. None of the other places has scenery like this mountain, which is extraordinarily beautiful. Perhaps we are not far from Thunderclap. And, if so, we should prepare in a dignified and solemn manner to meet the WorldÕs Honored One.Ó JW V2 p 163
Monkey immediately responds that it is far too early and that instead they have 108,000 miles to go. Discouraged Tripitaka asks when they will arrive. Monkey responds:
ÒYou can walk from the time of your youth till the time you grow old, and after that till you become youthful again and even after going through such a cycle a thousand times, you may still find it difficult to reach the place you want to go. But when your perceive, by the resoluteness of your will, the Buddha nature in all things, and when every one of your thoughts goes back to its very source in your memory, that will be the time you arrive at Spirit Mountain.Ó JW V2 p 464
This passage summarizes the quest for enlightenment. Tripitaka just wants to be there. He doesnÕt want to go through any more trials. But he can walk forever, study forever, meditate forever, eat vegetarian food and practice austerities, but will never achieve enlightenment until 2 conditions are met. First he must perceive É the Buddha nature in all things. And second his thoughts must continually return to their source.
Interestingly enough Master Ni, my Tai Chi teacher, while very silent and mostly non-verbal, once presented me with a handwritten note in English and Chinese. The English said: ÒTo enlighten the mind and realize the Buddha-nature immanent in all things.Ó Because of the scarcity of his communications this little missive immediately attained an almost sacred nature to me.
There are few aspects to the directive. First it neutralizes judgment because everything contains the Buddha-nature. And second it is call to discover and magnify its essence, refining it from the false. The only way to differentiate the true from the false is by enlightening the mind through a combination of meditation and physical practices - thereby purifying mind and body of hindrances to perception. And according to our Monkey book, we must also embrace lifeÕs trials and tribulations to integrate the insights of personal cultivation. Without the Game it is just Practice. Not enough heat from the Battle to purify the metal from the ore.
But this is not TripitakaÕs problem. He has practiced cultivation for many lifetimes and although he is impatient to get to his destination, he never gives up - no matter what he is subjected to. While his craving for enlightenment frequently gets him into trouble, in this episode TripitakaÕs disciples are the cause of his difficulties.
Awakening to the Buddha-nature inherent in all things doesnÕt lead to bliss and around-the-clock happiness. On the contrary the divine seed exists in unpleasant emotions as well. For instance my wife and I visited our daughter at college for a week over spring break. When we returned home we both experienced the emptiness associated with death and dying. Neither of us had done anything wrong – unless loving your children is an excess that leads to a deficit. But even then the point is to recognize the Buddha-nature in the pain - to embrace this sense of emptiness and futility - be aware of the feeling of meaninglessness and lack of purpose. To feel the agony of lost vitality and everything that goes with it, including depression and pain. To interrupt these myriad emotional states - our internal roller coaster of moods - with psycho-motive drugs, whether they be legal, illegal or alcohol, would be a denial of this God essence within the grief. Instead it is necessary to be aware when the feeling of death and despair comes and to be aware that it is not free floating but is in response to the excruciating love that we felt - To realize that it too will pass - just as does the joy that precede it. Reemphasizing: recognizing the Buddha nature does not bring around-the-clock ecstasy - but is instead an acceptance of the God-like nature of each and every emotional state from joy to despair that we might be feeling. Awareness extends to the negative as well as the positive.
This little passage also points to the instant enlightenment of Zen Buddhism. All the struggle, study, and austerities might never result in anything unless they are connected to this deeper understanding. Further this breakthrough in understanding can come immediately - resulting from the tiniest glance, a butterfly flapping her wings, or even a kiss on the third eye of the forehead by the right person. The truth of instant enlightenment is that it can happen suddenly. However the falsehood is that it can happen to anyone without any preparation. The fruit doesnÕt fall gradually from the tree, but instead falls all of a sudden. However the fruit has ripened gradually, nourished by the root of the tree as well the sunlight. Similarly we humans might instantly awaken to the divine nature of existence, but that the ripening of our souls occurred over a long period of time. Further the ripening of our souls is based on a combination of personal practices combined with the ordeals that the Universe throws at us with the intent of wearing away the Ego obstructions which block awareness. So although Tripitaka had studied and meditated for 10 lifetimes to reach his level of refinement, at this point in the Journey his Ego attachments to his Person had not yet been worn away by trial and tribulation - so wasnÕt yet ripe for the instant enlightenment of Zen.
Our travelers arrive at a Taoist temple in the middle of the forest. TripitakaÕs intuitions are correct. It is an auspicious place. A Taoist Master, whose nickname is Lord Equal to Earth, is in charge. Although his disciples discount these Buddhists the Master says: ÒThey must be treated with great respect because Tripitaka is a friend of mine from a past life, although he might not remember it in this incarnation. Unfortunately I wonÕt be here to greet him, because IÕm going to a conference. IÕm leaving you two Taoist boys, my youngest disciples, to tend the compound and meet the travelers. When they arrive give Tripitaka a taste of the ginseng fruit that grows here. But do this in private and donÕt show it to the others because they are too unruly.Ó
This ginseng fruit is one of the treasures of the compound. Its tree, which is only found here, grew from Ôa spiritual root, which was formed just after chaos had parted and the nebula had been established before the separation of Heaven and Earth.Õ It took 9,000 years for the tree to grow, flower, and bear fruit, and another 1000 years for the fruit to ripen. Eating the fruit confers physical immortality - obviously a very special treasure.
When offered the fruit Tripitaka turns it down because he thinks itÕs a baby due to its appearance. The Taoist boys decide to eat the fruit themselves. Piggy overhears their enjoyment and begins salivating. He convinces Monkey to steal some of this delectable fruit. This is false lead following false mercury – mind serving desires. PiggyÕs desires led to the problems, while MonkeyÕs pride exacerbated them. LetÕs see all the trouble it causes.
Monkey steals 3 of the ginseng fruit, which take 1000 years to grow and ripen. The 2 Taoist boys discover the theft and berate the pilgrims. Irritated Monkey uproots the entire ginseng tree. The Taoist boys lock the group inside the compound. Monkey uses his powers to escape with the group. The Taoist Master returns and discovers MonkeyÕs wanton destruction. He immediately pursues and catches up with them. He fights TripitakaÕs mighty disciples with a yakÕs tail and then easily scoops them into his sleeve. He gives instructions to have them whipped for their violations of his compound - the destruction of his ginseng tree. Monkey turns some trees into duplicates of their group to avoid punishment and then escapes again. The Taoist Master easily recaptures them. The Taoist master than decides to cook them. Monkey performs some more transformations and another escape.
Realizing he canÕt punish them because Monkey is too tricky the Taoist Master, Lord Equal to Earth says he will detain the group unless Monkey can revive his tree. Tripitaka, of course, is at his witÕs end. Not only have his disciples gotten him whipped and cooked, but now his Quest for Enlightenment is threatened as well. This is the problem when Desires, i.e. Piggy, leads.
Monkey journeys everywhere but canÕt find anyone who can revive the tree. Finally he goes to Kuan-yin who restores the plant with her sweet dew. Master and Monkey become bond brothers/friends. Note that MonkeyÕs title is Sage Equal to Heaven as contrasted with the Taoist MasterÕs nickname Lord Equal to Earth. We mentioned previously that Heaven and Earth, when mentioned together are the equivalent of yin and yang. This is why neither could get the upper hand. While opposite, they are equals. With great difficulty the TaoistÕs cultivated Earth-Yin harmonized MonkeyÕs unrefined Heaven-Yang. The ginseng tree was also born before Heaven and Earth separated and thus connected them. Not even the 5 elements could hold the fruit. The ginseng fruit disappeared into the earth rather than being held by it. So the quest needed to balance these opposites to be successful. Tripitaka couldnÕt continue without this connection. The harmonization of yin and yang is called Tai chi and is of the greatest importance in Chinese thought. Balancing opposites is a major part of the Tao of the Middle Kingdom. No either-or dogmatism here.