Monkey King

Color Monkey CC


I rarely consult, but I used to work on occasion with a now-defunct group known asColor Monkey. While I was but an occasionalemployee of Color Monkey, they honored me with the title "Monkey King". The interpretation of the Chinese folktale below (from Pacific University's Asian Studies Resources) helps explain the appropriateness of the title. Enjoy and don't forgetthe importance in zen of playfulness.

The Monkey Spirit

A monkey was born from a stone egg that had been fertilized by the wind as it lay on the peak of a mountain. For having found a heavenly grotto in which other monkeys would reside safely, the stone monkey became the Monkey King of the monkey tribe. He soon became very adept at magic arts and learned skills from a Taoist immortal who among other things gave him the personal name of Discoverer of Secrets, and taught him to change his shape at will and to fly through the air. The Monkey King organized all the monkeys and slew a monster who was persecuting them.He obtained a magic weapon from the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea with which he began to make himself a master of the four quarters.

After a great feast given in his honor, Monkey fell asleep in the shade of a pine tree. In this sleep he saw two men approach. They tied him with rope and dragged him to the King of Death, who had him chained in the Region of Darkness.

However, he broke his bonds and stole the register of deaths from which he deleted his own name and that of all monkeys making them immortal. As a result of all the trouble which he caused he was summoned to Heaven Stables to keep him quiet.

All was peaceful until the Monkey King learned from the other ministers that his new position was one with no rank. He started angrily breaking everything up in heaven and then withdrew to a mountain. The Lord of Heaven called for a siege of the mountain, but was repulsed by the Monkey King. Seeing that the only way to keep him from doing more harm was to keep him in heaven under their watchful eyes, the Lord of Heaven and his followers agreed that the Monkey King would be accorded a new title, The Great Sage, Equal to Heaven. When the Monkey King heard of his new position, he agreed once again to behave himself. Unbeknownst to the Monkey King, his residence was built next to the Garden of Immortal Peaches, a source of immortality. But because he had no duties, he idled away his time becoming chummy with various stars and heavenly constellations. Other immortals were afraid that his idleness would lead to more roguery. They asked the Lord of Heaven to give him a duty to perform. Thus, the Monkey King was made Superintendant of the Garden of Immortal Peaches.

Unfortunately he was not invited to come to the Peach Festival (held every 3000 years), and to revenge himself he not only ate all the food and wine prepared for the feast but also stole the Pills of Immortality. As the Monkey King had already eaten the peaches, he was therefore made immortal.

He retired to his mountain kingdom, but his irresponsible behavior had now infuriated all the gods and goddesses. After a long siege in which the Monkey King employed all his magic skills to avoid defeat, he was finally captured and brought before the Jade Emperor, who condemned him to death as a criminal in revolt agains the Heavenly Throne. The sentence could not, however, be carried out because the Monkey King was protected both by the peaches and the pills. He was handed over to Lao Tzu(the father of Taoism) to be distilled in the alchemists' furnace.

The furnace was heated to white heat for forty-nine days, but at the end of this time the Monkey King lifted the lid and threatened to destroy Heaven. In despair, the Jade Emperor sent for the Buddha, who asked Monkey King why he wished to possess Heaven. The Monkey King's reply was that he knew with certainty that he was sufficiently powerful to rule Heaven. When the Buddha demanded proof for his claim, the Monkey King explained that he was immortal, invulnerable, able to change his shape in 72 different ways, to fly through the air and to leap a distance of 108,000 li (1li = 1/3 of a mile).

The Buddha doubted whether the Monkey King could even jump out of the Buddha's palm, but agreed that if the Monkey King was successful, then he was surely entitled to rule the Heaven. So the Monkey King leaped into the air and sprang across Heaven to the furthest corners of the earth, where he came to rest at the base of a great mountain, where he urinated as animals do when they wish to make out territory of their own. Then he returned in a single bound and confronted the Buddah.

But the Buddah laughed at his claim of having traversed the whole universe at a single bound and showed him that the mountain where he had unrinated was but the base of one of the Buddha's fingers and that he had not even escaped from the palm of the Buddha's hand. Then the Buddha created a magic mountain and shut the Monkey King up within it.

Here he would have remained but the Goddess of Mercy obtained his release so that the Monkey King might accompany a monk on a great pilgrimage to the Western Paradise (India) to get authentic versions of the Buddha's teachings. The Monkey King swore faithfully to obey his new master and to protect him from perils. He did this despite many temptations and dangerous situations on the way.

On their return, the turtle who was carrying them across a flooded river left them to sink, because the Monkey King's companion had not fulfilled the promise he made to turtle on the way to the destination. But they swam safely to shore and were greeted with great honors by the Emperor of China and the people.

Their final honors came from a heavenly committee of welcome presided over by the Buddha Yet To Come. The Monkey King was made God of Victorious Strife. At the beginning of the pilgrimage a helmet had been fitted on the Monkey King's head which contracted upon his skull when he was wayward or wanton. The agony of the contractions had caused him to refrain from wickedness. When, therefore, he was given his new title, the Monkey King begged to have his helmet removed since he had now become an enlightened one. The answer that was given was that if the Monkey King was indeed enlightened, the helmet would have gone of its own accord. The Monkey King reached up to feel his head and found that the helmet had disappeared.