Chapters 32->35: Tripitaka, a False Tiger

Episode 4: The Monsters of Level Top Mountain

Pain essential to become a man among men

Shortly after setting out for the West Tripitaka is once again beset by anxiety. Monkey assures him:

“Don’t you remember the words of the Heart Sutra
Given to you by the Crow’s Nest Priest:
‘No hindrances, and therefore no terror or fear;
He is far removed from error and delusion.’
Only you must sweep away the filth of your mind,
And wash off the dust by your ears.
Without tasting the most painful of pain,
You will never be a man among men.” JW V2 p98

But Tripitaka is not satisfied with this answer. He comments that he has scaled enormous mountains and gone through bitter travail. He wonders when he is ever going to get any leisure. Monkey responds:

“When you achieve your merit, then all the nidanas will cease and all forms will be emptiness. At that time, leisure will come to you most naturally.” JW V2 p99

Each of our Journeys is fraught with difficulties. Each of us grows impatient. We want results. We are tired of struggling. We don’t know how we can possibly go on one more step. We somehow think that the road to glory should be much easier. Monkey is saying that the pain of the Journey is essential if we are to become ‘a man among men’. This is a necessary ingredient, not an accidental consequence of flawed behavior. Further the peace of mind that we seek is not a result of understanding but is instead the result achieving our merit. No matter how much we meditate or practice austerities, if we don’t achieve merit, there is no real sense of leisure. Of course this is not what we want to hear. This means that we must head into the heart of the furnace rather than multiplying our wisdom by studying obscure texts.

Attention to detail essential for success

Soon after this exchange a woodcutter warns them to turn back because of fierce monsters ahead. Woodcutter: “They are here to catch the Tang monk when he passes through. They’ve heard that eating his flesh brings immortality. Then they won’t have to continue their practices anymore.” Tripitaka is petrified and almost falls off his horse. His will to go on is paralyzed. Monkey is irritated that the woodcutter has given them this alarming information, even wondering if he is in league with the monsters.

Woodcutter: “I’m just trying to help out. If you are the slightest bit negligent, you can’t get through this road to reach the Western Heaven.”

Again the emphasis on attention to detail. No mistakes if you are to succeed on your mission. Once the firing process is under way, no carelessness.

Because of the seriousness of the warning Monkey realizes that everyone must be engaged for the mission to succeed. He sends Piggy out to patrol the mountain. Afraid that Piggy’s laziness will jeopardize the Quest, Monkey disguises himself as a bug and follows Piggy. Sure enough Piggy neglects his duties. Monkey reveals himself and frightens Piggy. But this subterfuge also puts him on the alert, in that he realizes that someone is paying attention. Each of us must be diligent in our Quest, resisting laziness and sloth by constantly monitoring our intentions.

Consuming pure food, not enough

Piggy goes out on patrol again, but this time he is captured by the monsters. Expecting these T’ang travelers they have his picture on their wall. But Piggy is just the appetizer, they really want to eat the T’ang monk. One of them says:

“If eating his flesh can lengthen our age and prolong our lives, what need we to practice sedentary exercises, to cultivate the dragon and the tiger, or to achieve the union of male and female? We should just eat him.” JW V2 p112

This is direct spoof on those of us who think that proper diet alone will grant us a long life. Those who are constantly seeking the perfect mix of vitamins and organic food without cultivating their internal essences are doomed to disappointment. This is constant theme throughout the Journey.

Exploiting virtue or Mind and Spirit in discord

Afraid of Monkey’s renowned martial prowess one monster says to abandon their meal. The other says:

“The T’ang monk must be sought for with virtue and not taken by violence. … The only way we can move him is to feign virtue, so that his mind will be made to fuse with our minds, in the process of which e shall plot against him, exploiting the very virtue of his.” JW V2 p117

The monster appears as an old Taoist with a broken leg. Tripitaka’s compassion overwhelms him and he offers his horse. The monster insists on riding on Monkey’s back. Although Monkey sees through the ruse, he is afraid that Tripitaka will recite the spell or banish him after the last experience with the Cadaver Demon. Sensing that Monkey is about to kill him, the monster pins him beneath three mountains and seizes Tripitaka and Sha Monk. So although the monsters are real, Tripitaka’s out-of-balance virtue is what entraps him. As Monkey says:

“My master happens to be someone who is inclined to compassion and virtue, but also someone who prefers external appearance to internal excellence.” JW V2 p120

Frequently Tripitaka’s compassion leads his Disciples to right necessary wrongs and achieve merit. In this case it is a virtue. But when he exercises his compassion without restraint it threatens the Quest. It is good to help others with a generosity of spirit. But taking on all problems of the world at the expense of one’s own sanity is no good for anyone. Even the Buddha had a three month retreat every year to recharge his internal batteries. It is important to feel compassion but it is equally important to exercise restraint. Feel with your Heart and then focus your Mind on the problem to see if it is something that can be solved. Sometimes compassion can do more harm than good, by enabling an individual to become a victim.

In this case Tripitaka felt the sympathy but didn’t ask for Monkey’s advice. He probably subconsciously knew that Monkey would dissuade him as he did before. Mind and Spirit are not yet in harmony. And we see the consequences. Monkey is under 3 mountains and the rest are captured by the monsters. The Quest is in disarray.

“Fire [Tripitaka] and Metal [Monkey] in disaccord;

The Five Phases [The Quest], confused, lost their harmony.” JW V2 p158

Trapped by Identification with Ego

Monkey calls on the local mountain spirits. Because he is on this Divine Quest they free him. He attempts to fight the monsters head on. But they call out his name. When he answers he is sucked into a gourd, which is going to turn him into pus. This gourd is one of the 5 treasures that the monsters possess.

Identifying with the self allows one to be trapped. This is the source of conflict over pride, which turn into battles, and even revenge wars lasting lifetimes. As long as we are something we respond emotionally to personal attack. This sucks us into the gourd and turns us into pus, totally overwhelming our peace of mind and with it our ability to enjoy the magnificence of Just Being. The goal is minimize our Ego. Then we don’t present an obstruction and the winds of circumstance blow right by, not threatening our emotional stability. Realize that we are not our Person, but are instead his mother.

“A tall tree beckons the wind, the wind will rock the tree.

A man lives for his name, his name will wreck the man.” JW V2 p123

Employing his outstanding abilities of transformation Monkey escapes. He realizes he needs to use subterfuge to steal their treasures rather than fighting them head on. In one sequence Monkey is crying because he disguised himself as a servant and must bow down. He thinks to himself that he has never bowed before anyone prior to this.

“In the last analysis, Master is in sad straits and that’s why I have to bear such humiliation. … We have not yet acquired the scriptures, but I have to her slave at this moment.” JW V2 pp. 137&138

Monkey is able to swallow his Ego pride for the good of the Quest. As a reminder each of us has a similar quest that can be easily threatened if we are not able to humble ourselves in the appropriate circumstances.

Divine enemies

Through subterfuge Monkey eventually steals the demon’s treasures, including their gourd. Where did it come from?

“Since the division of the pure and the turbid, Heaven was incomplete in the northwest corner, and Earth was incomplete in the southeast corner. … After [Nu kua] had repaired the heavens, she journeyed to the base of K’un-lun Mountain, where there was a strand of immortal creeper where two gourds had formed.” JW V2 p150

This is no ordinary treasure, but one which grew on an immortal plant from between the impossible crack between Heaven and Earth. This gives an indication of the divine nature of Tripitaka’s enemies.

Monkey uses their own treasures, including the gourd to defeat them, and then saves Tripitaka et al. Then as they began their journey to the west anew, a blind man approached them, asking for his treasures back. Although Piggy and Tripitaka were alarmed, Monkey recognized Lao Tzu in disguise. Lao Tzu: “My disciples borrowed my gourd in which I store my magic elixir and I want it back.” Monkey immediately accused Lao Tzu of negligence in losing these treasures and in allowing his disciples to threaten the Quest. Lao Tzu responded:

“Don’t blame the wrong person. These youths were requested by the Bodhisattva from the sea three times; they were to be sent here, transformed into demons, to test all of you and see whether master and disciples are sincere in going to the West.” JW V2 p162

Monkey is furious that the one who is supposed to be helping is instead the one causing their problems. He curses Kuan-yin by hoping that she always remains a spinster.

This is another common theme of the Journey. Kuan-yin consciously sets up obstacles to test our pilgrims and give them an opportunity to achieve merit. Again this is akin to our daily lives. The Universe gives us a Mission and then places obstacles in our path to wear away our Ego. Our enemies are frequently our best teachers. Rather than being victimized we must use these difficulties as a springboard to success.

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