The Monkey King is a mischievous trickster god in Chinese mythology loved by adults and children alike. Read on to see if he bears any resemblance to our own Hanuman…
The Monkey King was born of a stone in Mount Huaguao, the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit. He grew up among a clan of monkeys and became their chief as he discovered the Water Curtain cave. This was a cave sheltered by a waterfall in front, where all the monkeys took shelter. The monkeys revered him but he decided to travel further and learn from the great masters.
Thus it was that he found a Tao master and became his disciple. The Tao master did not want to take a monkey as his disciple but the young monkey proved that he was far more intelligent than an average human being. The master gave him the name Sun Wukong. Under the Tao master, he learnt many skills — shape shifting (he could undergo some 72 different transformations), cloud travelling and other magical tricks. But he was a naughty student and would play pranks on the other boys there. Exasperated, the Tao master decided he had enough of an education and sent him back to the forest. His fellow monkeys welcomed him and a feast was thrown in his honour.
The Monkey King had far too much to drink and fell fast asleep. The King of the Underworld came upon the sleeping Sun Wukong and kidnapped him. When he awoke, he found himself in Hell!
“Heard that you make too much trouble for everybody and I’ve been advised to keep you confined here,” the King of the Underworld told him grimly. The Monkey King only shrugged his shoulders and smiled. A short while later, he broke free and went wandering around the Underworld and came across the register of judgements. The register contained the destiny of every single living being. It would also tell you when exactly you would die. The monkey looked for his name and found that he would die at age 342. He quickly crossed out his name so that he could live forever, like the gods in the heavens.
When the King of the Heavens, the Jade Emperor himself, heard about the monkey’s impudence, he summoned him.
“You play tricks on others on earth. If we banish you to the Underworld, you turn your destiny to become one like us, the gods! Oh Sun Wukong, what do I do with you now?” asked the Jade Emperor.
The Monkey only smiled mischievously, his eyes twinkling. The Jade Emperor thought for a while. “I think I shall give you some responsibility. You shall look after the Peach Garden here in the Heavens.”
Now the Heavenly Peach Garden was an orchard where Peaches of Immortality grew. It was a beautiful place that held great power and belonged to Xi Wangmu, The Queen Mother of the West. The peaches were very precious because they were scarce and what’s more, the trees bore fruit only once in three thousand years.
When the tree finally bore fruit, all the gods gathered to celebrate and honour Xi Wangmu. Only they forgot to invite Mr Monkey King, who was quick to seek revenge. He stole all the peaches and ate them. That was not all. He went on to eat some Pills of Longevity that belonged to Lao Tse, the immortal philosopher, and drank some of the Jade Emperor’s royal wine.
The gods were furious and a giant army of a hundred thousand celestial warriors were sent to battle the trickster Monkey. A long battle followed and finally the Monkey King was captured and put into Lao Tse’s Cauldron. After 49 days, they opened the cauldron and out jumped the Monkey King, good as new!
The Jade Emperor knew that they had been outwitted again. “Who will teach this Monkey the lesson of his life?” he asked. None of the gods had an answer.
The Emperor thought for a while and smiled. “I know whom we should seek wisdom from… there is only One who is above all… The Buddha!’’
Now that is a story for another day.