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Friday, January 4, 2013

Chinese twist to the Monkey tale (4)

Continued from here


Fierce Pigsy [Source*]
Pigsy is also a delightful character in the mold of Shakespeare's Falstaff, although he is not so witty as his English counterpart. He is the buffoon, the greedy pig, addicted to food, lust and laziness. If a steam-roller's unexpected acquisition of a capacity for romantic yearnings might be imagined, the similarity between its courting techniques and those of Pigsy would be startling. 

Don't ask.... [Source*]
    His only problem is that when he feels the stirrings of desire, which is at least once or twice in any episode, his nose turns red and he starts snuffling. Combined with his overpowering bodily aroma, these characteristics are usually more than a little disconcerting for the lady upon whom he is attempting to bestow his affections.

    Perhaps this is yet another Buddhist message that comes out in many other legends; that lust is an unworthy emotion and a dangerous one, along with greed and sloth, and no-one who is slave to these vices has reached the first rung on the ladder to humanity.

Pigsy's pin-up girl; love (lust, really) sadly unrequited. [Source*]
Very flirty Dragon Princess tells Monkey to make his magic staff bigger. [Source*]

The Spirit Craving

One of the lessons of Monkey certainly is that Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy are spirits only, and they can therefore claim no independent existence. Like gods and demons, they only exist because we believe in them, and their great longing is to become real.

    All three of them want to become human, so that they can advance along the path to fulfilment. In one episode, they are allowed to view themselves in a magic mirror in the forms they eventually will have as humans, and their handsome images appear with all the outward manifestations of their vices obliterated.

    The ultimate optimism of Buddhism shines through this incident like a beacon, for its universal message is that all life will finally achieve the blissful state of nirvana. But for the three spirits who accompany Tripitaka, there is a very long road ahead of them before that goal is attained, and many lessons to be learnt on the way.


Sandy, the Water Spirit [Source*]
Sandy, the water spirit, is the most enigmatic character in the plot. He does not have the fighting prowess of Monkey or the brazen vices of Pigsy, but he is trapped in a meaningless and brutal world until the Buddha forces him to throw in his lot with Tripitaka. Sandy is a victim of his emotions and spiritual imperfections, floundering in the self-inflicted sufferings of undisciplined existence until Tripitaka gives him the guidance and hope of solace which is at the heart of the Buddhist teachings.

    In many ways, Sandy represents the widespread human failing of attempting to cling to fixed forms in a world that is in reality fluid and transitory. It is Sandy who yearns for mundane contentment, and yet is forced to confront the fact that earthly love and pleasures have their price – their finitude. They are as transitory as all else in this world of illusion, and no amount of philosophising can disguise the truth that the search for ultimate happiness is a loftier ambition than mere emotional and sensual gratification.

Monkey and Sandy [Source*]
    In his heart he knows this, but cannot bring himself to acknowledge it. Consequently, he gives the impression of one who feels that he is on the right path as he plods along in Tripitaka's footsteps, but is not at all sure what lies at the pathway's end. Morose and preoccupied for most of the time, he also has a dry and whimsical sense of humour, so his bantering and bickering with the other two spirits make very amusing dialogue.

    Bearing in mind the overwhelmingly allegorical nature of the story, Monkey can teach us how to view Mahayana Buddhism in a new light. It may be full of magic and demons, but its symbolic qualities are a constant reminder that the realities of existence are beyond the illusions we have come to believe in.

*Modified. Unmodified illustration source:



  1. Just a short note, Denis. We too loved the Monkey series during its day. Your explanation of the Buddhist message behind it is really good - wish I had been able to refer to this 30 years ago. We have looked out for it since, but have never seen it repeated on television. Your last paragraph in No.4 is what intrigues me ... personally, I have absolutely no comprehension of the nature of reality - and I don't think anyone else does either (despite the temptations of faith).

    Homo sapiens: 100,000 years of dreaming about it; for me, 70 years exploring it and, today, what can I say? Just that I don't know; I came out by the same door that in I went. Anything is possible and, whatever the nature of reality may be, I feel sure that it is way outside anything we have dreamed of in our philosophy.

    In the meantime, if I think of anything, I will let you know. Watch this space!

    1. All advice welcome, Bob. The nature of reality is a topic I attempted to grapple with many times on this blog, but I don't think I get far, because like everyone else what I have is no more than one window on what it may be – mine – and it must be partial at best.

      I really think my attempt at an explanation of how I see it is here.

      But even there I didn't emphasise enough that even though we only have a partial interpretation, it doesn't change the fact that the whole must still be there. This isn't Schrödinger's Cat or the falling tree in the Zen forest, this is for real, man! :)

  2. "the realities of existence are beyond the illusions we have come to believe in." Yes, and probably the realities of existence are beyond even our illusions about the realities of existence, for those who bother with that! Much as Bob said. Though I do have some belief in the experiences of some of the great masters of wisdom.

    I will be heading for the library to borrow some "Monkey" dvds. I remember the series delighted me, but I'll probably understand more of it, these days. Bob, perhaps your local library also has the dvds of 'Monkey', or if not you could ask them to order some in for you from another library (we can do that here).

    Julie M xx

    1. Let's know how that goes, Julie. Remember my comments are drawn from the scattered experience of many different episodes.

  3. Denis you have explained perfectly why, I connected to 'Sandy' more than any of the others as I sat watching with my 12 year old son all those years ago.
    I remember being asked as a young girl; 'What is your wish". I said" To love and be love". I think that says everything about me...however there were parts of "Pigsy" that spoke to me.
    Being a monogamous and singular person, being married and loving one man for so long ( nearly 40 years) I can recognnise the passion, the lust, the joy, the philosophy and the thoughtfulness of both characters.
    I disagree that 'lust' is 'bad'. I think lust is necessary along with other 'stuff' for the betterment/continuation of humanity.

    I am not arrogant enough to believe that my personal journal is more important than the continuation of human kind.

    After all, I had three babies.

    I, too, like Sandy, can be 'morose and preoccupied' but it all has to do with 'how can I do better for my family' rather than ME reaching 'nirvana'.

    I love all this.

    Thank you again.

    1. I would only say, Alison, that putting others first is often the right path. Maybe always, depending on motive.

      There's nothing wrong with lust as long as it's not harmful to the parties concerned. It's that connotation of harm that the Buddhist teachings warn against. On its own it is seen as dangerous, just as anything purely selfish is. It doesn't have to be.


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