Episode 122: Journey To The West 4 – Awoke To The Truth

Click here to listen

Today we will keep talking about stories from the book Journey to the West 西游记. Last time in Episode 120, we talked about the Monkey King didn’t want to learn anything that his master Patriarch Subodhi suggested and the reason he came all the way here was to learn the way to immortality. His master Subodhi seemed to get annoyed by him and struck the monkey over the head three times. Then he left the room dismissing the whole room of audience and lock the door behind him.

What would you do now if you are the monkey king? Keep trying to persuade the master to teach the way to immortality that you wishful or leave the place you traveled for and stayed for years and figure out other ways. Or…

The other pupils turned upon the monkey king after the master slapped the door, “do you think that is the way to behave? The master offered to teach you and you were arguing with him instead of being thankful. ” They all got angry and scolded him. But the monkey was not upset at all. The reason is that he was smart enough to understand the secret signs from the master.

What are the signs? The master struck his head for three times meaning the monkey king was given an appointment at the third time 三更. In ancient China, the time system is different from today using hours and minutes. The three time was between the 11: 00 pm to 1:00 am. By leaving the room with his hands folded back meaning he was wanted in the inner apartments. By locking the door meant he was to come round by the back door. I know these sound a little confusing to you. Actually you can find many similar scenarios in ancient Chinese literature about subtle signs. It is part of the Chinese culture and even today people believe in sometimes it is the best way not to express too obvious in many aspects and that’s the beauty of the communication.


The monkey waited and waited for the rest of the day. As the dusk came, he went to his sleeping place and pretended to be sleeping. There was no watchman and the monkey counted his breaths to estimate the time. When it was about the time, he got up quietly and went around the back door. It was half open and the monkey said to himself, “the master certainly will give me instructions. ”

So he crept into his master’s room and went straight to his bed and bowed without making any sound until the master Subodhi woke up and stretched his legs saying, “Hard, very hard! The Way is most secret. Never handle the golden elixir like a toy. He who to unworthy ears entrusts the dark truths. To no purpose works his jaws and talks his tongue try. ”

“Master I have been keeling here for a while. ” The master heard the sound in the darkness and shouted, “you wretched monkey! What are you doing here? Go back to sleep in your quarter. ” The monkey replied, “at the lecture today, you promised me to give me instructions .That’s why I am here.” The Patriarch was really glad to hear that and thought, “this creature is no doubt born by the pure essences of Heaven and Earth. Otherwise he would never understand my secret signs.” The monkey kept saying, “we are alone here and nobody could here us. Take pity upon me and teach me the way of immortality. I shall never forget your kindness. ” The Patriarch said, “come here and listen carefully.

To spare and tend the vital powers,this and nothing else

Is sum and total of all magic, secret and profane.

All is comprised in these three, spirit, breath and soul

Guard them closely, screen them well, let there be no leak.

Store them within the frame.

That is all that can be learnt, and all that can be taught

I would have you mark the tortoise and snake, locked in tight embrace.

Locked in tight embrace, the vital powers are strong;

Even in the midst of fierce flames the golden lotus may be planted

The Five Elements compounded and transposed, and put to new use.

When that is done, be which you please, Buddha or Immortal.”

The monkey carefully committed them to memory and humbly thanked the Patriarch and left the back door. A pale light was just coming into the sky. He returned quietly to his sleeping place.



西游记 Journey to the West

Episode 121: Yakshini

Click here to listen

Today we will talk about Yakshini in Chinese mythology and you may learn a vulgar curse word for a female in Chinese.

Yakshini is not a Chinese word and is not originated from China. In sanskrit it is the female counterpart of the male Yaksha in Hindu, Buddhist mythology. Yasha are a class of nature spirits usually benevolent but sometimes mischievous related to water, forests and wilderness.


Yakshinis the female version of Yaksha are often depicted as beautiful and voluptuous. Like Yaksha, they are usually benevolent and there are also yakshinis with malevolent characteristics.


Influenced by Buddhism, in Chinese, Yasha is known as YeCha 夜叉 and Yakshini is known as MuYeCha 母夜叉. Mu means female in Chinese. But MuYeCha in Chinese is a vulgar word to describe a female with strong personalities.


The word was first used in the book Water Margin or Outlaws of the Marsh 水浒传, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature from the Ming dynasty 明朝, around the 13th century. The story itself is set in the Song dynasty 宋朝, from the year 960 ~ 1279. It tells how a group of 108 outlaws gather at Mount Liang 梁山 to form a rebel army but eventually granted amnesty by the government.

The 108 outlaws all have a nickname. Among these 108 outlaws , there are only four females. One of them is called Sun ErNiang 孙二娘 and her nickname is Yakshini. You can tell how fierce she is by the nickname. She has a vicious look on her face and strong arms and legs although she dresses fairly revealing and wears heavy makeup.


Before joining the rebel army, Sun ErNiang and her husband ZhangQing 张青 owns a tavern at a place called Cross Slope 十字坡 where they target travelers and serve them steam buns made of human meat and poisonous wine. The victims would get robbed, killed and be used as fillings for more steamed buns. The tavern is mostly run by Sun ErNiang. We mentioned a little about his story in our Episode 18 Delicatessen. We will talk more story from the book Water Margin in the future.



水浒传 Water Margin/ Outlaws of the Marsh

Episode 107: The Mad Monk

Click here to listen

Today we will talk about one of my favorite people in the Chinese folklore, a crazy monk, who always got drunk and ate meat that violate Buddhist monastic rules in Chinese Buddhism. It seems like he was even hardly qualified as a Buddhist monk, however, he was a real master. In folklore, people call him Ji Gong 济公, and also known as “Zen Master DaoJi 道济 禅师”.


His stories in folklore started getting popular since the end of the Southern Song dynasty and have been retold and developed especially during the Ming dynasty 明朝 and Qing dynasty 清朝. There were a few books about his stories from the Qing dynasty 清朝. He is mentioned in many Buddhist koans 公案. Koan is a story, dialogue, question, or statement used in Zen practice to provoke the “great doubt” and test a principle’s progress in Zen practice. They are really interesting and we will definitely talk about them in the future.


Ji Gong lived from the year 1130 ~ 1209 during the Southern Song dynasty 南宋 and was born in the province of ZheJiang 浙江. His original name was Li XiuYuan 李修缘. His grandfather married the daughter of the Emperor TaiZhong of Song 宋太宗 and had a high position in the government. His father Li MaoChun 李茂春 was a military adviser. So he was born with a silver spoon. But the image of Ji Gong looks like a homeless person wearing shabby monastic clothes and shoes.


His family believed in Buddhism for generations and he was greatly influenced by Buddhism and Taoism when growing up. After the death of his parents, he went to the Temple GuoQing 国清寺 and was mentored by the famous Zen Master HuiYuan 慧远禅师. Later in his life, he stayed at the Temple LinYin 灵隐 寺 in the place HangZhou, where you can still visit today. Beautiful place.


When I mentioned earlier about the monastic rules that consuming alcohol and meat is forbidden in Buddhism, I was only talking about the Chinese Buddhism. Because like Christianity, Buddhism has different branches as well. For example, in Japanese Buddhism, monks can drink and get married which are against the rules in Chinese Buddhism.


Ji Gong unlike other Buddhist monks, he ate meat and drank wine. He seemed never paying attention to what he was wearing since his robes were worn out and dirty. Sometimes he talked nonsense. He seldom meditate like other monks. When other monks were studying, he would hang outside probably watching cricket fighting or drinking alcohol. Some monks caught him and told Master HuiYuan, Ji Gong’s mentor, who never criticized him but said, “considering how massive the ways towards Buddhism, how can it not tolerant a mad monk”. So people sometimes call Ji Gong the “mad monk”.


According to some myths and folklore, Ji Gong had supernatural powers and was believed as the incarnate of the Taming Dragon Arhat 降龙罗汉, one of the Eighteen Arhats in Buddhism. Because it says the moment he was born, the statue of the Taming Dragon Arhat fell down in the Temple GuoQing and he was the incarnate of the Arhat. He traveled from place to place to help the poor and treat the sick since he knew Chinese medicine. He also fought against injustice. He is knowledgeable and a great poet even though most people don’t really know about.


Ji Gong wrote a lot of marvelous poems about his understanding of the world and Buddhism. There is a famous poem well-known from a book about Ji Gong although I don’t think it was really said by Ji Gong. It says, “ 酒肉穿肠过 , 佛祖心中留” meaning alcohol and meat only goes through my intestine while the Buddha stays in my heart. People sometimes use it as an excuse when they are not following the rules. However, most people don’t know the whole poem. The next sentence after that one is “世人若学我,如同 进 魔道”, meaning if normal people follow what I do, they can easily fall into the dark side.


The Zen Master YinGuang 印光法师from the 19th century explained this poem and said, Ji Gong was truly a master that he did a lot of unbelievable things. He tried to hide his virtues by consuming alcohol and meat to make stupid people think he was crazy and violate the rules. Otherwise, he might hardly live in this world. When the real Buddha shows up in the world, supernatural power can never be used but principles and morals to act as a normal person. If supernatural power is used, the Buddha can never show up in the world. Only acting like a crazy person in this world, supernatural power can be used. Although consuming the meat, the Buddha can spit out the alive. If normal people like us eat meat, we can’t even spit out the same meat. Why are we learning from Ji Gong to eat meat? The Buddha drinks alcohol and can deliver woods from the well. If normal people like us drink alcohol, we can’t even deliver water from the well. Why are we learning from Ji Gong to drink alcohol?


These two cases are both stories about Ji Gong. We will talk about in our future episodes.


Episode 62: Madame White Snake — part 4

Click here to listen

Xu Xuan thought about the last words from Madame White Snake, “you got suspicious, I will let the whole city be flooded and everyone would suffer.” and couldn’t find a way. He was standing on the bridge and planned to committee suicide. When he heard somebody calling him. It was FaHai, the abbot. He gave Xu Xuan a bowl and asked him to cover on his wife’s head with a hard push. Xu Xuan arrived home and saw Madame White Snake sitting in the room murmuring, “I don’t know who are provoking the distrust between me and my husband.” Xu Xuan walked behind her slowly and boom! with all his strength. FaHai arrived at the same time and wailed incantations. Afterwards, he opened the bowl, Madame White Snake was as small as around 20 cm and crawled on the ground.

FaHai asked, “who are you exactly?” Madame White Snake said, “I was a serpent. I came to the West Lake on a rainy day and encountered Xu Xuan. I fell in love and got married with him. I know this is forbidden but I never harm anyone. Please forgive me.” I don’t know the full explanation, but in Chinese mythology, the love between a human and a spirit is a sin. I guess it is against the Confucianism that it is not the “right” match. It is one of the reasons that why homosexual marriages is still forbidden in China. FaHai asked, “who is Qing Qing?” “Qing Qing is the green fish in West Lake after thousands of years of practice. We met and became accompanies. ”

FaHai sealed the bowl with a piece of cloth teared from his clothes and imprisoned Madame White Snake and Qing Qing under Leifeng Pagoda 雷峰塔 by the West Lake forever. FaHai left with a poem to warn people in the world not to be bewitched by lust.


Hangzhou, Suzhou where the story took place and West Lake and Leifeng Pagoda all really exist until today. There are statues of Madame White Snake, Qing Qing and Xu Xuan along the West Lake if you visit there today.

This is the end of this story. However, there are a lot of variations.

One version adds a sequel that Madame White Snake gave birth to a baby before she was imprisoned by FaHai named Xu Rulin 许儒林. Years later, he got a high ranking in the imperial examinations. Returning home to visit his mother at Leifeng Pagoda, Madame White Snake was freed and reunited with her family. The childbirth part tried to depict Madame White Snake more like a human instead of a spirit and about the imperial examinations part I would say at ancient time people still thought only a honor could save the whole family.

Some versions have an epic fight between Madame White Snake and the abbot FaHai in the end before Madame White Snake was lost and imprisoned. It is another classical and dramatic plot in today’s version.

Now I am going to answer the question why do we need to talk about this story during DuanWu Festival or Dragon Boat Festival 端午节. One variation of this story has a plot that Xu Xuan didn’t believe his wife was a snake spirit until he was told by FaHai to let her drink a kind of liquor called XiongHuangJiu 雄黄酒 , a kind of alcohol traditionally consumed on the Dragon Boat Festival to prevent diseases and evil spirits. Of course, Madame White Snake transformed into a huge white serpent after drinking. The scene of Madame White Snake got drunk and transformed into a snake was a classic plot in the story. Xu Xuan scared to death, literally died. Madame White Snake tried to save him by risking her own life to steal a magic herb and brought Xu Xuan back to life. It is the turning point when the couple really were honest to each other and bounded together. That’s the main difference probably between the original story and the variation that Xu Xuan really fell in love and trusted his wife instead of being suspicious the whole time and was with his wife out of lust and money.

However, today’s Chinese people, more affected by the TV shows and movies based on the this story, have a different understanding of the story. Firstly name wise, Xu Xian 许仙 instead of Xu Xian 许宣 is the name widely known today. Qing Qing , the green clothes maid is known as Xiao Qing 小青. Secondly, Qing Qing is known as a green colored snake spirit today instead of a fish spirit in the original story. Thirdly, in the original story, FaHai the abbot was a good guy who helped Xu Xuan to escape from Madame White Snake. Today people regard FaHai as an obstacle who tried to separate the loving couple.


I do like the modern variations in TV series and movies better because Madame White Snake is more brave for love instead of just being an attractive woman who tried to seduce a man. And the character of Xu Xuan is also more complicated instead of just being a suspicious coward. Although I still like Madame White Snake far more better than Xu Xuan.

If you like this story, definitely check those videos and I would put some links in our website and social media. Just a reminder you probably would cry.


Movie :

青蛇 Green Snake  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBjycaw5ulk

白蛇传说 The Sorcerer and the White Snake


TV show:

新白娘子传奇 New Legend of Madame White Snake 


Episode 61: Madame White Snake – part 3

Click here to listen

Today we will continue our story of Madame White Snake.

Xu Xuan used Madame White Snake’s money opened his business – a pharmacy as he used to do. Since he was a honest man, he had a lot of customers. One day he was working in the store, a monk stopped by for alms. I don’t know if you know about this kind of behaviors in Buddhism. The giving and receiving of alms is not the same as charity, it creates a spiritual connection between the monastic and lay communities. Monks periodically do alms with eating bowls in some places. Anyway, this monk was requesting money to buy incense for a Buddhism ceremony on the 7th day of the 7th month in the Temple Jin Shan 金山寺 where he was from. Xu Xuan gave him a piece of high quality incense he owned. Madame White Snake saw it and complained, “you wasted such a great piece of incense for that bald guy. He is probably going to exchange it with some meat and liquor.” You know monks are forbidden to eat meat or drink alcohol. From the words of Madame White Snake, she definitely didn’t like monks or didn’t care about Buddha. Xu Xuan said, “I gave him with my sincere heart. It would be his sin if he did some disgraceful.”

On the 7th of the 7th month, the day the monk said when the ceremony held in Temple Jin Shan, there were more people on the streets than usual. Xu Xuan’s assistant said, “remember you gave the alms for the temple? Why don’t we visit there today?” Madame White Snake said, “why are you going to the temple?” Xu Xuan said, “I have never been there and also I recently gave the alms there.” Madame White Snake replied, “fine. But please promise me three things. First, don’t visit the abbot. Abbot is the head of an abbey of monks. Second, don’t talk to monks. Third. Don’t stay there too long. Otherwise, I would go to find you.” Xu Xuan agreed and dressed up.

Xu Xuan and his assistant left for the Buddhism ceremony in the Temple JinShan. They burned incense as an offering to the Buddha and walked around in the temple. Along with the crowd, they came to the door of the abbot FaHai 法海, the head of the abbey of monks. Xu Xuan released his wife made him to promise not to see the abbot and stopped. However, persuaded by his assistant he still went in the room with the crowd.

The abbot named FaHai looks like a monk with years of practice. Compared to the previous monk Xu Xuan met, FaHai is much more powerful. The moment he saw Xu Xuan, he asked his helper to bring him. However, the helper lost Xu Xuan in the crowd. The abbot left the room to find Xu Xuan. At that moment a lot of people were all waiting for boats outside the temple to leave including Xu Xuan and his assistant. A boat was coming at a full speed. When Xu Xuan was wondering how can a boat be so fast, he saw Madame White Snake and Qing Qing on the boat and shouted to him to get on board. Xu Xuan heard somebody’s harsh voice from his back, “what are you doing here you beast” It was the FaHai the abbot. “How dare you to harm the living creatures in this world.” Madame White Snake and Qing Qing tipped over the boat and disappeared. You might wonder why Madame White Snake didn’t confront FaHai like last time with a monk. Because FaHai is more powerful. She knew she wasn’t a match for him. Xu Xuan knelt down and thanked FaHai for saving his life.


Xu Xuan arrived home and didn’t see Madame White Snake and Qing Qing. This time he was sure that they are bad spirits. He decided to pack everything and go back to HangZhou 杭州, his home town and visited his sister and brother in law. His brother in law complained that, “why didn’t you tell us you got married? A couple of days ago, a lady with her maid came here and addressed herself as your wife and they are waiting for you here.” Xu Xuan was shocked to see Madame White Snake and Qing Qing again. He knelt down and begged Madame White Snake, “I don’t know who are you are what are you. But please bear my life.” Madame White Snake said, “what are you talking about? We have been married couple for a while. I never did anything to hurt you and don’t own you. I am treating you with my whole heart while you are suspicious and trust other people. To be honest, I will make my final words today: if you trust me everything will be fine. If, however, you got suspicious, I will let the whole city be flooded and everyone would suffer.” Xu Xuan was trembling and couldn’t make a sound. Qing Qing tried to make him feel less worried, “Madame loves you very much. Because you are not only good looking but also have a good heart. You don’t have to worry about anything as long as you two get along.”

Xu Xuan’s sister and brother in law heard the sound of the couple’s argument and after Madame White Snake fell asleep talked with him. He eventually told them everything happened since he met the Madame White Snake. They looked through the window, on the bed, a huge huge white serpent was sleeping on the bed.

What will happen? You will find out in our next episode, which is finally the end of this story.