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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Chinese twist to the Monkey tale (5)

Final part. Continued from here 

Folklore additions

The Crow Demon – part of Chinese myth [Source*]
The inclusion of magic, spirits and demons does not necessarily mean, as the critics of Mahayana state, that this form of Buddhism violates the spirit of Buddhism by including exotica of these types. It can be argued that many of Mahayana Buddhism's adherents over the centuries have not advanced far enough spiritually to see beyond the manifestations of magic and continue to be trapped in illusion, but Mahayana, like Hinduism, is reasonably tolerant towards the limitations of human insight. After the appropriate series of rebirths and a proper lifestyle in these incarnations, the person eventually will be reborn capable of coping with a more sophisticated view of human existence.

Mahayana and Theravada differences

The Buddhists who follow the "purer" Theravadin path say that this is the long way to salvation, and that failing to attempt to correct imperfect interpretations of the human condition is a dereliction of duty.

    The Mahayana response is to point out that in attempting to correct those views, confusion is also bound to arise if the Buddhist devotee is not intellectually or spiritually ready to accept the more sophisticated approach. Consequently, gods and demons exist for as long as people need to believe in them.


In Buddhism, the boundaries between life and death, so stark in the Western tradition, are not so absolute. Death is no more than a transition to a new state of being. In destruction, something new is inevitably created. 

Yulan demon [Source*]
    It is this fact which brings into focus the violent aspect of Monkey so vividly portrayed on the television screen. When demons are killed one after another, what is it that is actually destroyed? What dies is only the belief in the reality of that demon. When we see something in the dark that we take to be a ghost, what dies is our perception of it as something it is not once we find it to be only a sheet on the clothesline. The ghost existed for as long as we believed in it, and then it vanished from the face of the earth. Who needs to feel remorse for killing a false idea?

    So it is with Monkey, and perhaps this is a partial resolution at least of the contradiction apparent in the violent scenes so fascinating to many of the children. Why then, does Tripitaka denounce Monkey's killing of demons?

The Ultimate Message

Calling up the Cloud Chariot [Source*]
That is not fully resolved, but it may well lie in the fact that the basic Buddhist teaching is one of peace. The transition to peaceful awareness should not arise out of conflict if it can be avoided. It is too easy to move on to the killing of human beings after justifying the killing of demons, however grotesque they may appear to be.

    As Tripitaka would say, let them disappear by themselves, at the appropriate time, merely by correcting our perception of the nature of this world. The taking of life in any form is a violation of the laws of karma, a crime against the universe. There is no justification in Buddhism strong enough for that, and no encouragement should be given to any tendencies which promote slaughter.

Tripitaka as we know him best [Source*]
    At the most fundamental level, Tripitaka represents the self. He is not immune from error, and admits to serious mistakes at times. But he stands for all that is good and noble in the individual. As such, he is latent in every human soul – indeed, in all life, since everything has consciousness even if it is at a very low level, which explains even more clearly why killing is to be avoided. To kill the organism is to disorientate its latent power for advancement. Through the apparent violence of Monkey Magic, this fundamental Buddhist precept shines.

    Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy are the latent strengths and weaknesses within that same self; pride, greed, wantonness, and yearning to be something other than what it is. The voyage is the journey through life, its danger as real as ignorance of the true nature of things allows them to be.

    It will be a long and difficult pilgrimage, with experience doing most of the teaching, and the wise words of the better self contributing the remainder. Viewed this way, Monkey gives its admirers no more and no less than they are capable of comprehending, but from the youngest to the oldest, they must surely learn some of the essential truths of this very sophisticated religion.

*Modified. Unmodified illustration source:



  1. Listening to my son this past Xmas I realise that his journey is his. I always kinda knew this, but now as he strains toward 36 I realise I am rather released from 'his' journey. I have been to counselling. They have 'advised' stop 'parenting' at 12 year of age. Your work is actually done. From then on it is support, and being there ; picking up when all falls apart. That sounds simple but is in fact exhausting and stressful as you get older.

    I like the way you explain the Buddhist principals..however I feel that if being aware it is enough to live long enough to 'understand' that really, all in all, tis enough you have made it 'thus far'.

    Your writings are mind shimmering.

    1. I like the idea of parenting ending at 12, though every age of one's children brings its own challenges for the parent or guardian.

      Too many parents beat themselves up when they feel they haven't been 'right' 100% of the time. But no-one knows what's right or wrong and very often 'wrong' decisions by children [or parents] lead to positive results.

      The only reason we can stand and walk is that we know what falling over feels like.

      PS I don't even like the buzz-word 'parenting'.

  2. I have read your series with interest and confusion as I had never even heard of "monkey magic" or there's interesting characters. On searching for a reason I find it was screened just when I was returning to full time work from part time work when I had four small children, possibly too young for the content of the show? If I ever get the chance to see the show I will feel a bit daunted that I may not understand the deeper meanings after your wonderful descriptions and analogies. Anne

    PS I entirely agree with your comments above on parenting. We can only at best be good enough and that usually is enough

    1. Yes, the kids may not have been old enough, but who knows? They'd have enjoyed the colour and the spectacle, but maybe your daily TV habits just weren't attuned.

      There are episodes in our Town Library's DVD collection. Maybe there are in yours. There would be no problem for you with the metaphors – just enjoy it for the story line and the symbolism will emerge when it's ready. If you do get to see it, be prepared for the possibility that you may hate it!

  3. It just came into my head that killing your demons is not any different to killing your darlings (which writing workshops often advise doing). These 'Monkey' blogs are wonderful. I feel I want to print it all out so I can read it in my preferred way:) and savour it.

    Julie M

    1. My old Ph D supervisor/guru used to say to me, "One of the arts to being a good historian is to be able to throw away material." He was right. This is, I think, tantamount to 'killing your darlings' which you surely have to be prepared to do if you want to keep an open mind about anything.

      Thanks, Julie – I hope we see you before you head off to the Big Smoke. [That won't be a popular name for the big city right now with all the bushfires around....]


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