Once again Tripitaka’s compassion is used to trap him. Once again Tripitaka neutralizes Monkey’s insight, which could be used to protect him. He obviously didn’t learn his lesson from the monsters of Level-Top Mountain.
A monster had been waiting for Tripitaka’s arrival so that he could eat his pure flesh and thereby prolong his life - external alchemy or modern vitamins. When the pilgrims approached the monster investigated. Seeing him Monkey pulled Tripitaka from the horse and surrounded him with protection. This scared the monster away. Undeterred the monster planned a strategy.
“If I try to overpower them, I may not even get near them, but if I try to use the good to deceive them, I may succeed. As long as I am able to beguile their minds, I can trick them even with the good. Then I’ll catch them for sure.” JW V2 p234
So the monster disguises himself as a naked little boy hanging from a tree and begins wailing for help. Of course this stirs the heart of our T’ang monk. But Pilgrim warns him that this is just a common trick of monsters.
“A person can get by if he does not answer him, but if he does answer, the spirit can snatch away his primal soul, or he can follow that person and take his life at night. Let’s get away.” JW V2 p235
The point is don’t even begin to engage in deceptive emotions. It will only zap vitality. This is akin to getting involved in the endless cycle of a drama queen or king. The individual has no real desire to be helped. They just want to draw you into the drama, which gives meaning to their empty life. The best strategy is to remain aloof and not get involved in these eddies off to the side of the main stream. They are a waste of time and energy.
This would also apply to those who are overly involved in political action at the expense of partnership and family. Although the desire to save the world is a worthy one, it must be kept in balance or it does no one any good. The imbalance is propagated and eventually backfires. Harmonize this urge to help out with quietude.
Although this time Tripitaka reluctantly takes Monkey’s advice to stay uninvolved, the monster doesn’t give up. He investigates as to why his plan didn’t succeed. Monkey pulls Tripitaka off the horse again to guard him. Tripitaka berates Monkey saying that there is more falsehood than truth in his words. He then threatens to chant the Tight-Fillet Spell if this happens again. Monkey assures that he only pulled him off the Horse to protect him, but Tripitaka is skeptical.
Seeing that Monkey has the ability to distinguish the true from the false the monster realizes that he must neutralize Monkey’s power if he is to succeed in his quest for Tripitaka’s flesh. Although he just called out before, this time the monster appears on the trail so that Tripitaka can both see and hear him. Of course the T’ang monk immediately wants to help him with his difficulties. Afraid of Tripitaka’s painful chant Monkey just objects verbally, but doesn’t act. Hearing that the monster’s supposed family has lots of land and thereby food, Piggy chides Monkey on his fears. Tripitaka joins in.
“The fundamental principle of life for those who have left the family is compassion. How could you be so hardhearted?” JW V2 p211
Tripitaka is still overly attached to what he considers the ultimate virtue. Emboldened by this turn of events the boy monster asks to ride on Monkey’s back. We have a very interesting poem at this point.
“Though virtue’s lofty, demonic blocks are high.
Zen’s cause is stillness, but stillness breeds fiends.
The Lord of the Mind’s upright, he takes the middle way;
Wood Mother’s mischievous, he walks another path.
The Horse of the Will’s silent, holding want and greed;
Yellow Hag’s wordless, nursing his own unease.” JW 2 p240
The first two lines refer to Tripitaka and why he has problems. Instead of moving on he gets caught in stillness, which breeds fiends. This seemingly contradicts the constant advice to seek quietude through the stillness of meditation. However, all dogma, including that of meditation, can be taken too literally and taken to extremes. Indeed the 6th patriarch of Zen was aware of this problem, as was the nameless author of The Secret of the Golden Flower, another Chinese text written about the same time as Journey.
“Once you have gone into quietude and all sorts of loose ends come to you for no apparent reason, you find you can not turn them away if you want to, and you even feel comfortable going along with them. This is called the master becoming the servant. If this goes on long, you fall into the various roads of the realms of form and desire.” Golden Flower p32
Obviously Tripitaka is quite comfortable going along with his compassion rather sticking to his Journey. He becomes the servant of these distractions rather than their master. And it is to have dire consequences.
The last four lines of the poem cited above refer to the disciples. While the Monkey Mind takes the middle path between action and inaction, the Wood-Mother [Piggy] takes another path, which makes the Yellow Hag [Sandy] uneasy. Although Tripitaka and Piggy enjoy indulging themselves in their emotions and desires without Monkey’s discipline and insight to pop their bubbles - to rectify their moods, events soon turn chaotic, when they bear the consequences of their indulgent behavior.
On Monkey’s back the child fiend sets up an enormous wind. Distracted Piggy and Sha Monk cover their heads. And the monster seizes Tripitaka. On a metaphorical level the monster is merely an embodiment of a side path, which takes our travelers off the main road. In this sense he and his thought wind symbolizes any distraction, which sweeps one away from the Source.
Having indulged his emotions, which he holds as a virtue, Tripitaka has deliberately cut himself off from Monkey’s insight, which could have shielded him from harm. However now that the imbalance has occurred Monkey realizes that he must once again use his powers to salvage a difficult situation. Unfortunately he is discouraged and recommends disbanding. Piggy immediately agrees. Sandy, the stable earth of our mixture, who protects Tripitaka’s fire as well as the fire of the Journey, persuades them to continue. Monkey responds:
“Because Master so frequently refused to listen to my words, I became terribly discouraged and that was why I said we should disband.” [Then Piggy says]: “We have no choice really … but to try to find the monster and save Master.” JW 2 p242
Any of us that offer advice must to through this trial. It is discouraging to offer good advice that is continually ignored. But rather than giving up and hoping for the worst, it is better to persist - hoping that the recipient will eventually listen. The problem is attaching to the advice and then getting mad when it is not followed. Instead emulate the mother who persistently corrects without attachment - knowing that someday her child will follow her advice - even if it is after they have left home.
So who is this monster? From local spirits Monkey finds out that he is called the Red Boy or Great King Holy Child and that he is the son of the Bull Demon King, one of Monkey’s old buddies, who we shall see again. Because Monkey formed a fraternal alliance with the Bull Demon King becoming bond-brothers - he considers himself related as an uncle to the Red Boy.
Knowing the nature of their enemy, the disciples approach his cave and demand the return of Tripitaka. Instead the Red Boy immediately comes out to fight. Although he is losing he creates an enormous fire with five carts aligned with the five phases. Piggy disperses and Monkey is blinded by the smoke.
What is the nature of this fire that is able to burn Piggy and blind Monkey? What is its power based upon?
“After [the Red Boy] had practiced self-cultivation at the Blazing Flame Mountain for three hundred years, he perfected the true fire of Samadhi.” JW 2 p244
So Monkey is related to the Red Boy in the sense that both practiced self-cultivation and developed incredible powers that they both used irresponsibly. The message is that self- cultivation in and of itself is not enough. It must be balanced with wisdom, in this case that of Buddhism. This akin to the martial artist who becomes a bully without spiritual understanding; or perhaps the artist, musician, actor, athlete or writer who, while incredibly talented, has no emotional maturity and gets involved in hard drugs or a destructive life style. Cultivating bodily talents must be balanced with proper understanding, which is what the Red Boy eventually gets in this episode.
Here is a testimonial poem, which sheds some light on the underlying meaning of this sequence of events.
“Good and evil, the false thoughts of a moment;
Shame and honor, neither should concern you.
Failure, success, leisure, or work - let it come and go;
Live in accord with your needs and your lot.
Composed, you have peace deep and lasting;
Muddled, you’ll be besieged by demons.
The Five Phases blocked will break the spell of meditation,
As certainly as chill comes when the wind rises” JW 2 p246
Because Tripitaka is obsessed with his notions of ‘good and evil, the false thoughts of a moment’ he becomes ‘muddled’ and ‘besieged by demons’. Then the internal harmony of the Quest is disturbed - the Five Phases blocked - which breaks the spell of meditation. So Tripitaka’s false thoughts about good and evil have gotten him [Fire] captured by a demon, Monkey [Metal] blinded, and Piggy [Wood] in retreat. The Five Phases of our quest are in disarray.
The fire of samadhi are the flames that enveloped the Buddha as he reached enlightenment. But the Red Boy’s fire is unrefined. So in some ways the Red Boy’s unrefined fire of Samadhi symbolizes Tripitaka’s misunderstanding of spiritual truth. Attaching heavily to compassion at the expense of perceptive insight he endangers the quest. Instead of residing on edge of Chaos, the brink of existence and nonexistence, he thinks he possesses a firm grasp on a solid Truth of the notions of good and evil. Instead of existing in the process of the five phases, he has located his Mind somewhere. And when the Mind is somewhere it is vulnerable to attack, which Tripitaka, at this point in the Journey, is acutely aware of.
At one point Sha Monk suggests that they quench the fire with water rather than fighting it head on. This is known as ‘taking a bath’.
“When water and fire come to supplement each other, the confusion of thoughts will automatically cease. This is exactly what Po Yu-ch’an has said: “Cleansing the mind and removing one’s worries from it is what is meant by ‘taking a bath’.”’ says Liu Ts’un-Yan.
Unfortunately they initially use normal water from rain to quench this spiritual fire, which does more harm than good. This is akin to mistaking metaphor for reality. Overwhelmed by smoke Monkey quenches himself in a cold mountain stream and goes into shock.
“The aberrant fire of the volatile nature, which erupts upon confrontation and is indifferent to life, is like a conflagration burning up a mountain, which nothing can stop. If you do not exert effort to quell it, refining it into something without smoke or flame, it can easily obscure reality.” Inner Teachings Liu I-Ming p9
As we’ve already seen in the relationship between Monkey and Tripitaka, the discriminating mind is helpless before this unrefined blaze of spirituality, because the smoke obscures reality.
Piggy joins in to save Monkey’s life. Then because of Monkey’s weakened state Piggy travels to beg Kuan yin for assistance in controlling this wild fire. The Red Boy disguises himself as Kuan-yin and captures Piggy.
“[Piggy] could not, of course, distinguish the true from the false; like foolish men of the world he regarded all images as real Buddhas!” JW 2 p260
Although enthusiastic when engaged Piggy doesn’t have Monkey’s powers of perception. Without this vision he and the rest constantly mistake the false for the real. This is akin to those who abandon or restrain their logical mind for pure intuition and then get into big trouble. All aspects of our mind are necessary to deal with the many monsters that attempt to steal our peace.
The Red Boy then sends an invitation to dine on Tripitaka’s flesh to his father, the Bull Demon King, who has consumed humans for thousands of years. Monkey, using his powers of transformation, disguises himself as the Bull Demon to gain entrance to the Red Boy’s cave. Although he is unable to save Tripitaka he wreaks havoc, which revives his spirit. Revived he calls upon the real Kuan-yin, who immediately brings her vase filled with the sweet dew to extinguish the Red Boy’s fire.
“The sweet dew in my vase is not like the unauthorized rain [that you used before] it can extinguish the samadhi fire of the monster spirit.” JW 2 p272
They journey back with Kuan-yin’s spiritual water, which she dumps on the Red Boy’s mountain - extinguishing his fire. The quenching nature of the sweet dew is likened to the Dharmakaya of Zen, which is the quiescent or tranquil nature of the Buddha that transcends false ideas. Although real water is inadequate for the job, the water of meditation has the power to quench this spiritual fire. This is the true spiritual bath.
Kuan-yin then writes the word ‘Delusion’ on Monkey’s palm with her sweet dew. She tells Monkey to engage the Red Boy in battle but that he must lose, show his fist to the monster, and then draw him out to see Kuan-yin, who can subdue him with her power. The Monkey Mind has no power over this mental fire. He just fans the blaze. Disturbing thoughts can’t be quelled by other thoughts. The state of no-thought, derived from quietude, is the only way.
Monkey taunts the Red Boy, who comes out to battle. Monkey retreats, showing him his palm. The Red Boy goes into a frenzy, attacking first Monkey and then Kuan-yin. She retreats, allowing him to sit on her lotus throne. Arrogantly he settles in, but the throne turns into swords, which pierce the Red Boy’s body. Kuan-yin demands submission. In desperation the Red Boy agrees. But when the swards are removed, he again rebels. This time Kuan-yin throws a diamond fillet on him – similar to the one Monkey wears. This binds the Red Boy to her. He is converted to one of her permanent attendants - the Boy of Goodly Wealth. His fire has been refined.
Frequently all the wise words of good advice go unheeded. The best teacher is pain and mistakes. The Red Boy submits because of his pain. Despite all his wisdom Tripitaka is forced to learn from his mistakes, which bring him much suffering. Similarly with most of us, including our children, we learn best from bitter experience. In fact the Universe has set up this little Drama of Life to subject us to frequent ego-grinding experiences to force us to submit to the greater plan or suffer.
The Red Boy is also the red-faced crying baby who disturbs the parent’s peace by continually wailing for his many needs. The baby tames the parents in the sense that they must release their pre-conceptions of domination and control if they are to succeed. Simultaneously the parents work to tame the baby’s unrefined vitality - hopefully not killing it. Each acts to refine the other - the baby to rouse the parents from their emotional slumber and the parents to subdue the wild energy of the infant. Water and Fire interact harmoniously.