Journey to the West – Chapter One

Millions of years ago, in the Eastern Sea there was an island called the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit. On top of the mountain, there was a stone that was thirty-six feet five inches high and twenty-four feet around. There were no trees to give it shade, but magic fungus and orchids clung to it’s sides. Ever since creation began, that stone had been receiving the truth of Heaven, the beauty of the Earth, the essence of the Sun, and the splendor of the Moon. Over many eons the stone was  gradually infused with magical powers, until one day it broke open, and out came a small stone the size of a ball. When the wind blew on the small stone, it turned into a little stone monkey, complete with five senses and four limbs. After the monkey learned to crawl and walk, some lights shone out from its eyes. He tilted his head to shine the powerful lights up at the Pole Star, where lived the great Jade Emperor. When the Emperor saw the light he sent down two officers to find where it came from. The officers returned and explained that there was a stone monkey. The Emperor said that anything born from Heaven and Earth was natural, and so there was no cause for concern.

The monkey played with tigers and leopards, deer and other monkeys on the island. On hot mornings he and the monkeys would play under the shade of pine trees to avoid the heat. One day the monkeys found a stream, and wanted to discover it’s source, so they followed it up the mountain. Eventually they came to a great waterfall that was like a curtain splashing moisture on the mountainside. A wise old monkey made a suggestion: “If anyone is clever enough to go through the waterfall, and come back in one piece, then let’s make him our king.”. All the monkeys agreed. When he heard this, the stone monkey leapt out from the crowd and answered at the top of his voice “I’ll go, I’ll go!” Then he shut his eyes, crouched, and sprang right through the waterfall. When he opened his eyes, he found there was an iron bridge that led to a stone house, where there were some stone rooms, and things made of stone, like a stone stove, bowls, plates, beds, and some benches. A sign in the house said “HAPPY LAND OF THE MOUNTAIN OF FLOWERS AND FRUIT, CAVE HEAVEN OF THE WATER CURTAIN” The stone monkey was delighted, and jumped back out to tell his friends what he discovered.

At first the other monkeys were afraid to join him, but eventually he brought them all to see the house behind the waterfall. Then all the monkeys fell to their knees to prostrate before him, since this confirmed he was their king. Taking one of the stone chairs as his throne, he called himself Handsome Monkey King, and the others called him Great King of a Thousand Years. Then he divided up his tribe into various classes of officers and servants. For the rest of the morning they roamed the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, and in the evening they settled down in the Water Curtain Cave. There they made a pact to unite as monkeys, and never mix with the birds or other beasts that run.

For three or four hundred years they lived happily in their kingdom. But during a banquet one day, the king suddenly felt depressed and began weeping. The monkeys gathered around bowing, and asked “What is the matter your Majesty?” Their king replied “Now we are all happy and free, but someday we will become old and weak.  I am worried that eventually we shall arrive in the underworld which is controlled by the King of Hell. When it is time for us to die, then our lives will come to nothing”. All the monkeys covered their faces and wept as they thought about death and hell. As they were all sobbing, an old gibbon stepped out from the crowd, and said “there are three kinds of creatures that never go to hell. They are the Buddhas, the Immortals and the Sages. They are not born, and they do not die. They are as eternal as the Heavens and the Earth, as the mountains and the rivers.”

Where do they live?” asked the Monkey King. “They only live in the human world,” replied the gibbon, “in ancient caves on magic mountains”. The king thought about this, and then said with resolve “I shall leave you all tomorrow, and go down the mountain. I will search everywhere under heaven to discover the secret of eternal youth. That is the only way we can escape from the fate of death.” Hearing this, all the monkeys cheered with approval, and began preparing a banquet to send off their king. At the banquet, the Handsome Monkey King sat in the Seat of Honor, and all the other monkeys sat below him according to their age. Each of them took turns bringing him wine, flowers and fruit, and they continued feasting for a whole day. After the feast, the king ordered them to tear down some old pine trees to make him a raft, load it with fruit, and find him a bamboo pole to punt with.

When it was ready, The king got into his raft, and sailed off down the river towards the waves of the ocean. The wind was strong at his back, and he reached the Southern Jambu Continent in a few days.  He observed humans along the coast gathering clams, fishing, hunting geese, and mining salt. He went up to some fishermen and jumped around making wild monkey sounds and faces, and they were so afraid they dropped their baskets and ran. Then he grabbed one of the slower runners, stole his clothes, and put them on himself. Dressed as a fisherman, he travelled for eight or nine years through the many countries of Southern Jambu, learning human behavior and speech in the markets. Everywhere he went he inquired about Immortals, but found humans were too concerned with fame and fortune to be interested in their fates.

Eventually he made his way to the Western Ocean, where he built another raft from pine trees, and sailed across to the Western Continent of Cattle-Gift. Soon after making landfall, he climbed to the summit of a high mountain to enjoy the lovely scenery. Up there he heard a voice singing from down in the depths of the forest: “The people I meet are Daoists and Immortals..” The king was overjoyed to hear of Immortals, and followed the singing until he reached a strangely dressed woodcutter. He asked if the woodcutter really knew any immortals, and the man replied that he sang of an immortal named Patriarch Sabuthi, who lived about two or three miles to the south, in the Cave of the Setting Moon and the Three Stars.

Later that afternoon the wayfaring monkey arrived at the cave, but he dared not knock on the door, and instead climbed onto a pine branch to eat pine seeds. Soon the door opened a crack, and an immortal boy came out. The purity of his features was quite unlike any ordinary boy. The monkey climbed down the tree and said “Immortal child, I am a student who comes to inquire about the Way, and aspires to study under an immortal.” The boy replied “Yes, the master sent me out welcome you.” So, the monkey straightened his clothes, and followed the boy into the depths of the cave. Inside, he beheld towers of red jade and pearl palaces, and countless rooms of silence and secluded cells. After marvelling at the décor, he arrived in a hall where Patriarch Subuthi sat elevated on his dias with thirty-six immortals standing below. The monkey bowed his head to the ground, and said “Master, your disciple pays his deepest respects.”

Where have you come from?” asked the Master. “I have come from the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit” replied the monkey. “Send him away!” cried the master “He is a liar. No mortal ever travelled that far.” Then the monkey explained how he traversed the seas in a wooden raft searching for an immortal. The master found his explanation reasonable, and proceeded to question about his family name, to which the monkey replied “I never had any parents”. The master laughed, “Then did you grow on a tree?”, to which the monkey said “I did not grow on a tree, but in a stone. One day the stone split, and I was born”. “I see,” said the master, “in other words you were born of Heaven and Earth. Very interesting. Now walk around for a moment and let me have a look at you.” After his examination, the Master said he would accept the monkey king as his disciple, and give him the name Sun Wukong, which means Monkey Awakened to the Emptiness. The monkey bowed low to express his deep gratitude.

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