The Monkey Powers

13 November 2018

Throughout history and different cultures, monkeys maintained an intrinsic relationship with human and they continued to enjoy extra attention particularly in Indian and Chinese traditions.  The monkey-god Hanuman in India is one of the most popular images in the Hindu pantheon.  Believed to be an incarnation of Shiva, Hanuman is worshipped for the bestowal of physical strength, dedicated perseverance and unfolding of devotion.  The Sun-Wu-Kung in China is the all powerful, magical and immortal monkey hero from the folk mythology Journey to the West, considered a great Chinese classical literature.    

In this story, Sun-Wu-Kung is the monkey who was born mysteriously out of a rock in a mountain.  With his inborn mischief and cleverness to outwit any challengers, he initially created much chaos and havoc in Heaven with the magical powers he acquired under a Taoist master’s tutelage. His rowdy behavior was punished by the Buddha whereby he was pinned under a mountain for 500 years.  Later he was freed by the monk Xuan-zang with the condition to help him in his mission to gather Buddhist sutras from India to China, together with the three other travelling companions, namely Zhu Ba-jie (pig), Sha Wu-jing (Sandy) and a dragon prince who acted as the monk’s mount, a white horse - all partaking the journey as an atonement for their past sins. The journey was full of obstacles, loads of monsters and evils in which Sun Wu Kong’s numerous talents, incredible skills were put to great use throughout the journey. By the time he completed his journey, his life challenges and cultivation has made him into a bodhisattva. Until today, the monkey Sun-Wu-Kong is one of most beloved deities in the Chinese folk religion. 

As many people might not be aware, enduring and popular cultural mythologies often hide striking parallels in the development of human life. Universal life principles are embedded in stories. Somehow life lessons in retained more deeply in our awareness through stories. Both Hanuman and Sun Wu Kong depict of our everyday busy human mind. However, when you tamed and trained it, the mind becomes a very powerful ally. When Hanuman (mind) encountered Ram (God) and devoted his life to Ram, Hanuman became strong and mightier than a mountain, swift and fast like the wind. But when the mind’s power is not properly harnessed, like the small child Hanuman, or Sun-Wu-Kong prior to meeting Buddha, it can create such a living hell. Why? It’s because the unguided mind is always restless, overzealous and caught up in its own grandeur. Restlessness makes the mind jump and skip around; overzealousness always lead life in a hurry at the expense of peace and harmony; a mind caught up in its own grandeur cannot see things and events as it is and thus prone to self-deception.

In order to harness the mind’s power to journey through our life safe and sound, we need to enforce the mind with some kind of special mechanism like Sun Wu Kong’s case.  His uncontrollable temper was constantly put under check with a spellbinding head-band. When he misbehaved, the headband tightens. He also needed to learn how to work together in a team with other members, who more often acted as hindrances than aids throughout their journey. Likewise our health, partner, work and family circumstances can often present unexpected drawbacks despite our perfect plan for a perfect life.  These life events should be welcomed as part of a team in our journey. Our task is not to wish for a problem-free life, but more importantly, is to wish for wisdom to untangled life’s knots, and upon untangling them, to gain greater wisdom and become a better person. For both Hanuman and SunWu-Kong, at the end of the journey, they became someone beyond their limited self.