Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Monkey God & Pilgrimage to the West

Just some personal notes on Wu Cheng En's classical story "Pilgrimage to the West", featuring a Tang dynasty monk who journey to Buddha's Pure Land to obtain Buddhist scriptures. Along the way, he was protected and accompanied by 3 disciples, namely Sun Wu Kong (a.k.a. The Monkey King or Monkey God), Zhu Ba Jie (Pigsy) and Sha Wu Jing (Sandy).

Lately there was this TV series and even though I have watched quite a few versions before in the past, now I try to capture my understanding of various incidences in the story in relation to the dharma. I shall edit this blog as the series go along.

1. Monkey represents anger. Pigsy represents desires/greed and Sandy represents Ignorance.

2. When Monkey was trapped under the mountain, the Buddha said that the mountain represents our 4 (sometimes 5) elements and 5 aggregates.

3. With Monkey's spiritual powers, he could have easily brought the Monk striaght to the Buddha to receive the scriptures but the monk insisted they walk step by step and meet the challenges along the way. I think this is a very significant message in our spiritual cultivation.

4. There was a part that showed the Monk teaching the dharma to other monks. He said that sometiems it is not because there is no dharma, but rather because of our own prejudices and obstacles, we do not hear the dharma at all. Or we hear it but misunderstands or misinterpretes it.

5. The importance of having a Guru/Teacher to guide us. Monkey complained that he didnot have a Teacher to guide/teach him properly. So, the Buddha gave him a chance to serve and be taught by the Monk.

6. Sometimes we need to subject ourselves to other people's control. This is due to our unstable character and emotions. Monkey was subjected to wear the ring over his head and everytime the Tripitaka Monk recited a certain mantra, his head would be extremely painful. In one of the episodes, the demon boy who could spew out fire, was tamed by Kuan Yin Bodhisattva and was made to wear a ring not only around his neck but also his hands. Hence, for us our "ring" comes in the form of moral precepts, commitments and our worldly bosses/colleagues. And sometimes even our spouses. I leave it to each individual to think what/who are their "rings" that control us. These worldly "rings of control" need not always be good, but they need not always be bad either.

7. When you are a heavenly god/goddess, the slightest wrong action can cause you to rebirth in the lower realms. Take General Tian Peng, the previous life of Zhu Ba Jie, for example. Because of flirting with another goddess, he was send down, but somehow he said that he went into the wrong "womb" and end up as a pig. But due to his practising some esoteric pactices, he became a demon. This is also one of the sufferings of the upper realms. The same fate befalls Wu Jing.

8. There was a case when a fish in Kuan Yin's pond become a demon after listening to the dharma teachings there. As a demon, he was obssessed with eating the Tripitaka monk's flesh in the hope of becoming a real god, instead of a fish in heaven. It's the first time I hear of such things. But I suppose to become a demon after listening to the dharma is better than not listening to it at all. In the end, Kuan Yin caught the fish in her basket and returned it to her pond.

9. There was a case of Tai Sun Lao Jun's (Taoism's god of medicine) cow named Qing Niu who escaped to the human world and became a cow spirit. He captured the Tripitaka monk in the hope of eating it so that he become a god/immortal faster. He said he was bored and could not wait anymore. He thought that eating his teacher's golden pill daily was too slow a process to become an immortal. The lesson here is: donot take the easy way out. Sometimes you may end up committing some negative actions and end up even worse and slower than before. So the Tripitaka monk advises that we should walk one step at a time and learn from every step of the way in our practice. I think this advice should well be heeded by Buddhists so obssessed with fast ways to enlightenment without developing the necessary foundations.

10. There was the bull-headed King of the Underworld (i.e. Hell) Yama who was once friends with Sun Wu Kong and they fought the gods together. However, Sun Wu Kong managed to turn his enormous energy and anger towards the dharma whereas Yama craves for more spiritual powers and found himself becoming a "bad guy" and indulges in infidelity. The two former "heng tai" or adopted brothers, are now enermies. Hence, from here we learn that how and where we direct our energy and efforts in life is important. If we direct it into the wrong path, there goes all our future!

11. There were the spider ladies and one male. The male one tries to meditate and turn himself into a god and good person so that he does not have to kill anyone for food anymore. He was almost sucessful when the bad spider ladies captured the Tripitaka monk and hopes to eat his flesh to gain spiritual powers and immortality. They managed to influence and black mail the male spider spirit by getting into him to capture the Monk and his 3 followers. He still has latent desires and attachments. The monk advised them that killing and eating him will not only not make them immortal but they also will end up suffering long periods in hell. As I missed an episode in this part, I donot completedly understand why the lesson to be learned here is that we should not suppress our desires inside us for too long. We must deal with it or else, in the words of the monk, "only suffering and hell awaits us". 

12. There was the demon who wanted to take over Tripitaka monk's job in going to the Buddha to obtain the scriptures and he asked the monk to let him do it instead of him. He asked the monk to stay behind. However, Tripitaka monk replied that if the demon is sincere in wanted to get the scriptures, he can go but he himself will not stay behind and give up his resolve to obtain the scriptures. I see this as a test of his resolve/ determination. This is an very powerful demon and in the end he had to be tamed by his master. The demon turned out to be another "creature" that has escaped from his master in heaven. 

13. There were many demons who were actually animals from their masters. For example, the lion and elephand spirit-demon were actually Manjusri's and Samantabhadra's vehicles that had "escaped". And there was the Jade Rabbit (the moon goddess' rabbit) who had escaped and caused some problems on Earth. Maybe they were purposedly let loose on a mission to test the Monk and the 3 students. So, in our effort and practice along the path, we are bound to face many tests of obstacles. We must not easily give up. This seems to be the lesson because at many times even Sun Wu Kong were at wits' end on how to defeat these demons.        

14. Last Friday, Sun Wu Kong actually turned into King Kong to frighten off a group of villagers who had swarmed around his Master. Refer to my other blog post on my comment on someone who had made a remark or joke that Buddhism is a King Kong religion. And I had interpeted that one of the meaning of King Kong is actually Sun Wu Kong. It was ironic therefore, that there is the episode where Sun Wu Kong actually turned himself into a giant ape. Heheheh!

The drama series is coming to an end and I will update this post later.    

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