“Sweep frequently the grounds of the mind:
Wipe out the dust of affections.
Don’t let the pit ensnare the Buddha-body true.
When the essential self is pure,
You may speak of the primal source.
Nature’s candle you must trim
And breathe freely at Ts’ao-ch’i.
Keep the horse and ape from sounding harsh.
Work ceaselessly night and day
Then your technique’s revealed.” JW 2 p403
The author states that this testimonial poem, which begins this episode, refers to how Tripitaka escaped the travails of the icy river in the previous episode, but it also applies to this sequence of events as well. To avoid being ensnared by the pit it is necessary to frequently sweep the mind of the dust of affections. Then after the essential self is clean, it is possible to talk of enlightenment, reaching the Buddha, or obtaining the scriptures - all of which are essentially the same thing. Tripitaka’s mind is hardly free of his craving for enlightenment, yet he is constantly hoping to see the Buddha. This is why his path is regularly blocked or he gets trapped. A clean mind is a mandatory precondition for attaining enlightenment. Tripitaka hasn’t trimmed nature’s candle - i.e. he hasn’t reigned in Piggy’s irresponsibility, which is to prove troublesome in this chapter. Further Tripitaka hasn’t been able to keep the horse and ape from sounding harsh - i.e. his will and mind are entirely too active - not at all quiet. He is moving too fast to avoid trouble. Although Tripitaka’s body is steadily moving forward, his internal elements are racing into traps. Let’s see what comes next.
After traveling for days our merry band reaches an imposing mountain. Shortly after they begin their ascent Tripitaka complains that he is cold and hungry. Almost immediately they see a structure with smoke coming out of the chimney. Although the T’ang monk wants to seek food and shelter there, Monkey can see ominous signs and warns against it, saying that a giant clam appears as shelter in a storm to trap the passing fish. He says that he will search for food elsewhere, and then draws a circle on the ground, instructing the travelers to stay inside while he is gone and that they will be protected. Monkey then leaves to procure some food.
Because it takes him a longer duration of time than expected Tripitaka grows impatient and bored. His essential self is hardly pure. Piggy voices the monk’s internal state by saying that Monkey is just playing with them by putting them in this jail of a circle. He suggests that they move forward and that Monkey can catch up when he returns.
“It was the evil fortune of Tripitaka to have heard these words! He agreed with Idiot [Piggy] and all of them walked out of the circle.” JW 2 p408
Of course whenever earth-intent [Tripitaka] follows mercury-desires [Piggy] troubles follow. They immediately walked over to the house that Monkey had warned against. Piggy decided to investigate the dwelling to make sure it was safe. Tripitaka warned him not to do anything inappropriate. Piggy confidently assured Tripitaka that he had everything under control now that he had adopted Zen. He immediately walks in without knocking. Discovering a skeleton Piggy makes a Hamlet speech.
“I wonder if you are the form of a marshal of what nation,
Or a great general of which country or state.
Once you were a hero striving to win;
Today how piteously you show your bones.
Your children and wife aren’t here to serve you;
No soldiers burn incense to honor you.
You are truly most lamentable a sight;
You, who used to seek rule by might or right.” JW 2 p409
Piggy then saw three vests glowing with silk brocade. Without regard for the potential inhabitants of the house Piggy took the vests. Alarmed by this transgression Tripitaka told him to put them back that those who’ve left the home shouldn’t ‘grow covetous of small things’. But Piggy assured him that no harm would come from this trivial incident. But after he and Sand put on the vests they immediately turned into strait jackets and a monster seized Tripitaka and the Horse. Although Tripitaka had told them to return the vests he had agreed with Piggy to leave the circle. Sometimes just a small step down the wrong path can lead to disaster. As to be suspected the monster had heard of Tripitaka’s pure flesh and wanted to eat him.
Returning and finding no one there Monkey knew what had happened. After confronting the monster they began battling, as always. After fighting to a draw Monkey noted: “Truly a demon capable of stealing elixir.” JW 2 p417 He is equating Tripitaka’s pure body with the alchemical elixir and as such he’s is equating the entire Journey with the alchemical process of forging the elixir to create the pill, which brings internal and external salvation. Of course this monster is able to steal the elixir because of one misstep. In the ten thousand steps it is important to be constantly vigilant for one misstep can be fatal.
“The hen embraces the egg, always mentally listening.” Golden Flower p25
As they battle the monster draws out a sack, yells ‘Hit!’, and Monkey’s rod is sucked inside. In victory the monster returned to his cave and Monkey sat there perplexed. These two short poems, one at the beginning and one at the end, summarize the events.
“Feelings grow chaotic and nature falls prey to desires;
Spirit’s confused and the affected mind meets demons.” JW 2 p403
“The Tao is one foot, but demons are ten feet tall.
Nature lost, feelings confused, you seek the wrong home.
Pity the dharma-body who has no proper seat:
He made the wrong decision for his act that time.” JW 2 p417
Because Tripitaka’s mind is not clean his feelings are chaotic and confused and he seeks the wrong home, because an uncontrolled Piggy - nature fell prey to desires. If he had stuck by Monkey’s purified reason none of this would have happened. But because he was internally confused he instead listened to Piggy’s ignorant advice and made the wrong decision. Stay in the circle of the Tao, because there are dangerous monsters ready to consume your peace of mind and steal your elixir just inches outside.
Monkey is uncharacteristically disturbed. Both his master and weapon are gone, which undermines his will. But ‘using the mind to question the mind, [he] regained control of himself.’ JW 3 p1 Realizing he can’t possibly conquer the monster without rod or friends he begins investigating the nature of the monster to find out how he can defeat him. He first goes to Heaven to see if there are any wayward stars who had a longing for earth, like occurred in the Precious Kingdom episode.
As he petitions the Jade Emperor he comments that ‘our journey has encountered more misfortune than good luck. But that goes without saying, I suppose.’ This is just an affirmation that being on the right path doesn’t mean that there won’t be any problems. No matter how pure your motives obstacles are to be expected.
Monkey is quite humble this time because he doesn’t have his rod to play with. And despite his suspicions, all the stars and constellations are accounted for. But his mission is not in vain; the Jade Emperor in sympathy for his divine mission offers some divine warriors to help arrest the buffalo monster. Despite their powers the monster yells ‘Hit’ and all the weapons of these divine warriors are sucked up into his bag. Monkey begins giggling. When challenged about his immaturity he says:
“I have neither plan nor alternative at the moment. I can’t cry and that’s why I’m giggling.” JW 3 p7
Life is certainly a tragic affair. We can both moan at the constant injustice and laugh at the absurdity.
One of the divine warriors suggests that Monkey use fire or water to tame this monster due to their incredible power. Monkey immediately goes to Heaven to beseech the assistance of first Star Fiery Virtue and then Star Watery Virtue. Each in turn employed all their tricks but the Buffalo monster just held up his pouch and yelled ‘Hit’ and their arsenals were sucked up. So even water and fire are ineffective against the fiend.
Monkey then travels to see Tathataga Buddha at Spirit Mountain to find the nature of the beast. Note that while Monkey is able to reach Buddha’s residence in a relative instant, it takes Tripitaka years to reach this same place. While Tripitaka’s mission is to acquire the scriptures at Spirit Mountain, Monkey’s mission is to earn merit by protecting this Mission Quest. Although they are on the same journey their respective missions are entirely different. Such it is with most of us. To avoid confusion it is important to identify intent, recognizing that despite the similarity of actions that the goals can easily be unique to the participant rather than common to the group. For instance in our Tai Chi group some are seeking peace of mind, others mastery of forms, a select few crave martial proficiency, and then a final group pursues emptiness. No goal is superior to the others. They are all specific to the individual. However the variety of intents dovetail around the class harmony, just as the intent of our pilgrims centers on helping Tripitaka reach the Buddha.
The Buddha immediately sees the nature and source of the monster, but doesn’t want to reveal it publicly for fear of the knowledge inadvertently getting out and then being subject to retaliation. So even the Buddha respects this monster’s powers. The Buddha does send some of his arhats, monks who’ve achieved enlightenment, along with grains of golden cinnabar sand. But the monster just opens up his fillet, yells ‘Hit’ and these are also sucked into the bag. Two of the arhats then tell Monkey to go to Lao Tzu if he wants to defeat the monster.
Monkey then travels to Lao Tzu and finds out that his water buffalo has escaped with his diamond snare. This was the same snare that was used to trap Monkey when he made such a disturbance in Heaven before he submitted to the Quest. It came into existence as Lao Tzu was preparing his elixir and is impervious to fire and water. He used this instrument to convert the barbarians after he left the Pass. Recall that Lao Tzu with his diamond snare joined forces with Kuan-yin and her jade vase to subdue Monkey at that time. Taoism and Buddhism join forces to tame the Mind - not destroy it. This episode and others merely reaffirm that the author of Journey is attempting to merge the Three Doctrines, not proclaim the superiority of one over the rest. Simultaneously he attempts to expose the destructive Side Paths of each Doctrine.
Lao Tzu immediately leaves with a plantain fan to subdue the monster. He comments that if the monster had also stolen this fan that there would have been no hope. Monkey confronts the monster again. When he emerges from his cave Lao Tzu calls to the fiend, who laments ‘How did you find my master?’ Then Lao Tzu fans the monster turning him into his original shape - the green buffalo. He places the diamond snare through his nose and leads him back to Taoist Heaven where he belongs. Once again Monkey first discovers the nature and source of the problem so that the right instrument can be used to overcome the obstacle. Note that the Taoist Master, Sage Equal to Earth was able to use a simple yak’s tail to defend himself from Monkey’s rod, Piggy’s rake, and Sand’s staff. Now Lao Tzu uses a fan to defeat a formidable opponent. In both cases yin is used to defeat yang. The soft overwhelms the hard. Similarly in the internal marital arts, yielding transforms and guides force, rather than being overwhelmed it.
A testimonial poem at the end of their ordeal reveals one of the underlying meanings of this episode.
Virtuous acts you must perform eight hundred;
Secret merit you must amass three thousand.
Let thing and self, kin and foe, be treated equally -
Only that suits the primal vow of Western Heaven.
Weapons can’t threaten the bull demonic;
In vain faultless water and fire have toiled.
Lao Tzu brings submission, it faces Heaven.
Laughing, he the green buffalo turns and leads.” JW 3 p35
The first two lines reiterate the importance of merit to the Quest. The second two lines emphasize the essential identity of kin and foe in reference to the primal vow of the Bodhisattva, which is:
“You must will the liberation of all beings.” Golden Flower p33
In other words we all sink or swim together because we are all the same. Although the buffalo was the enemy attempting to eat Tripitaka, he immediately became friend once he submitted to the Way. No grudges remained. No revenge. No blood feud lasting for centuries.
But why can’t weapons threaten the bull demonic? A discussion reveals the nature of this monster bull. One of the mountain spirits states:
“Because all of you did not listen to sound advice, you fell by mistake into the hands of a demon. The Great Sage [Monkey] had to toil and struggle most pitifully before he managed to rescue you today.” … [Monkey continues:] “Because you did not believe in my circle, you had to be placed in someone else’s circle.” … [Piggy:] “What do you mean by someone else’s circle?” … [Monkey:] “Coolie, it was the doing of your cursed mouth and cursed tongue that landed this great ordeal on Master. What old Monkey dug up in Heaven and on Earth - the fire, the water, the celestial soldiers, and the cinnabar sand of the Buddha, - they were all sucked away by a ghostly fillet of his.” JW V3 p35
So Monkey had to exert a tremendous effort to rescue Tripitaka, because of his bull headedness, which manifested appropriately as the buffalo demon. Tripitaka could be likened to the alcoholic who refuses to listen to any advice - no matter how sound [Monkey] - no matter how it is presented [fiery hot or watery soft] - no matter what the source [Buddha] - until he gets himself into deep trouble. The tools, which are all sucked away in the fever of the frenzy, only become useful once the alcoholic acknowledges he has a problem. After he is saved Tripitaka immediately apologizes and says he will always listen to Monkey’s advice in the future. Unfortunately Tripitaka is akin to the alcoholic who is repentant after the ordeal, but who reverts to bad habits once he has forgotten about the troubles they caused. But each ordeal acts to reinforce the lesson. Once anyone is infected with bullheadedness nothing helps to break the fever except extreme adversity. However the bullheadedness can be quite useful once it is tamed, by turning it around and focusing it on the appropriate goal. Lao Tzu brings submission, it faces Heaven. Laughing, he the green buffalo turns and leads. This stubbornness of intent provides the power to bull through obstacles and not be intimidated by ordeals. Tame the energy of the bull rather than destroy it.
This, of course, applies to all of us at one time or another. Adversity serves to tame our stubborn side, humbling our excessive pride, so that we can listen to the Signs the Universe provides - no matter what the source.