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

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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 120: Journey To The West 3 – Searching For The Truth

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Today we will keep talking about stories from the book Journey to the West 西游记. Last time in Episode 91, we talked about the monkey King left his home – Mountain of Flowers and Fruits 花果山 and traveled over the seas and continents for years to learn to be immortal to escape the doom of death. He met the Patriarch Subodhi who became his master and gave him the name Sun WuKong 孙悟空. WuKong means aware of vacuity.

The monkey king was so satisfied with his new name. The Subodhi ordered this pupils to take the monkey to the outer room and teach him how to sprinkle and dust, the rules to come in and out and the proper way to talk. In the morning, they studied together that they practiced speech and discussed doctrine, writing, burning incense. In the leisure times, they cleaned the house and garden, plant flowers and trim the trees. Getting wood and lighting the fire. So he lived in the cave like this for 6 ~ 7 years.

西游记3 -1

One day, the Patriarch summoned all his pupils and began a lecture on the great Way. The monkey was excited and delighted by what he heard and started to tweak his ears and rub his cheeks like a monkey. He couldn’t help himself from dancing. The Patriarch caught the sight of him and asked, “what are you doing? You jump and dance instead of listening carefully?” The monkey said, “I am listening with all my heart. Your wonderful words are so enlightened that I couldn’t contain myself for joy. Please forgive me.” The Patriarch asked, “so you understand the profundity of my words. How long have you been here?” “I am silly enough to notice the seasons. All I remember is when I got firewood in the back mountain, I found a whole slope covered by peach trees. I have eaten my fill of eating the peaches for 7 times.” “If you have eaten 7 times of peaches, I suppose you have been here for 7 years. What sort of wisdom are you expecting to learn from me?” said the Patriarch. “Any sort. It depends on you master.” answered the monkey.

“There are 360 schools of wisdom” said the Patriarch, “and all of them lead to the self-attainment. What about Shu 术? ” “What sort of wisdom is that?” asked the monkey. “You would be able to summon fairies and ride the phoenix. By shuffling the yarrow stalks and know how to avoid disaster and pursue good fortunes.” The monkey asked , “Will I live forever?” “Certainly not.” “No.No. I wouldn’t learnt that ” answered the monkey.

“How about the wisdom of Liu 流. It means the natural philosophy like the teaching of Confucius, of Buddha, of Taoism, of MoZi. Read scriptures and learn how to have sages at your beck and call.” explained the Partriarch. “But would I live forever?” asked the monkey. “I am afraid philosophy is no better than a prop in the wall. “ “I am a plain, simple man. What do you mean by a prop in the wall?” “When men are building a house, they put a pillar to prop up the wall. But one day when the house falls, the pillar rots.” “That doesn’t sound like being immortal. No. No. I wouldn’t learn that” answered the monkey.


“How about the wisdom of Jing 静? Quietism requires inactivity, meditation, restraint of words and deeds,yoga practiced prostrate or standing. ” “But would I live forever?” asked the monkey. “The results of Quietism is no better than unbaked clay in the kiln. ” “I am a plain, simple man. What do you mean by unbaked clay in the kiln?” “The bricks and tiles may look shaped and ready. But if they have not yet baked in the fire, there will be a day when heavy rain falls and they would collapse.” “No. No. I wouldn’t learn that” answered the monkey.

“How about the wisdom of Dong 动. Movement requires various forms of activity like gathering the Yin and Yang, drawing the bow and treading the catapult. There are chemical practices such as the magical explosion, burning the reeds, strike the tripod, promote red lead and melt and autumn stone.” “Would I live forever?” asked the monkey. “This way is no better than trying the catch the moon out of the water.” “Not again!” said the monkey, “please explain what do you mean by that.” “The moon in the water is the reflection of the moon in the sky. It looks like the real thing but is is only an illusion.” “No. No. I wouldn’t learn that” answered the monkey.

The Patriarch jumped down from the platform and pointed at the monkey with a knuckle-rapper, saying”you wretched simian! You wouldn’t learn this or that. What do you want to do?”as he 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.




西游记 Journey to the West

Episode 91: Journey to the west 2– becoming Aware of Vacuity

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Today we will keep talking about stories from Journey to the West 西游记.

The next day, the monkeys gathered fruits, flowers, drinks. They had a great feast. The monkey king ordered them to make gather some pine wood to make a raft and a tall bamboo for pole. He also packed some fruits and left his kingdom on the raft to the sea.

Fate indeed had favored him, ever since he started the journey, a strong southeast wind blew and carried him to the north western bank after days , which is the frontier of the Southern World.

He left the raft and climbed to the shore. On the beach, there were people fishing, hunting, draining salt. He jumped in front to them for fun and the people were so frightened and ran away. He caught one of the people, ripped off his clothes and figured out how to wear them. So he could dress up like a human. In the city, he tried to learn how to behave and talk like a human. For eight or nine years, he wondered around and couldn’t find any immortals but men of the world all engrossed in the quest of profit or fame.

One day he walked to the Western Ocean. He floated on a raft over the ocean till he reached the Western continent. After walking a little while, he saw a high and beautiful mountain. He had no fear and climbed to the top. He had great view when he suddenly heard someone’s singing,

“I hatch no plot, I scheme no scheme,

fame and shame are one to me

a simple life prolongs my days

those I meet upon my way

are immortals, one and all

who from their quiet seats expound

the scriptures of the Yellow court”

The monkey king listened the lyrics and pleased, “there must be the immortal.” He jumped into the woods and found out the singer was a woodman, who was cutting wood. “Reverend Immortal”, said the monkey, “”your disciple raises his hands”

The woodman dropped his axe and said, “you must be wrong. I am a shabby hungry man. Why do you think I am an immortal?” “From the song you were singing.” “That song was taught to me by an immortal who lives not far from my hut. ” The monkey asked, “why don’t you learn from the immortal if you live next to him.” “I have a hard life. I lost my father when I was eight or nine and have no siblings. I need to take care of my old mom by working hard early and late. ”

“I can tell that you are a devoted son”.The monkey king said, “all I ask of you is that you ill show me where the immortal lives and I will never forget your help.” The woodman refused said, “I need to finish word first to make money. Go ahead yourself” he showed the monkey the way.

The monkey left the wood, following the path he saw a cave-dwelling. But the door was closed. He turned around and saw a stone slab around 30 feet high and eight feet wide saying, “Cave of the Slanting Moon and Three Stars on the Mountain of the Holy Terrace.” He didn’t venture to knock the door but jumped up to a pine tree and began eating pine seeds and playing among the branches.

After a white, a fairy boy came out shouted, “who is there making a disturbance?” The monkey king jumped from the tree with a bow, “fairy boy, I am a pupil who come to study immortality.” The boy laughed, “It it you that my master was asking me open the door said there is someone asking for instructions. Come with me.”

The monkey tidied himself and followed up into the cave. Huge chambers opened out before him till they came to a platform where seated the Patriarch Subodhi, when thirty lesser immortals assembled before him.


The monkey prostrated himself and bumped his head non-stop, “master! Master! ” “Where are you from?” asked the Patriarch. “I am from the Water Curtain Cave on the Mountain Flowers and Fruits.” “Go away! You are not telling the truth. There are two oceans and the whole Southern continent between here and there. How can you get here?” The monkey said, “I floated over the oceans and wandered over the lands for more than ten years till I am here. ”


“What’s your name then?” “I have no parents.” “Perhaps you grew on a tree.””I was born from a rock. ” “We shall give you a name. Sun孙 is your last name. The character is part of the character 狲 meaning monkey. Also the character is made of the two parts meaning male and new born. Your first name is Wu Kong 悟空 meaning aware of vacuity. ” The monkey laughed, “splendid! From today on, my name is Sun WuKong.”


西游记 Journey to the West

菩提祖师 Patriarch Subodhi

Episode 90: Journey To The West 1- The Birth Of The Monkey King

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We will the start talking about the stories from the book Journey to the West 西游记.We already talked about one of the main characters in the book the monkey king in episode 75. The book started with the monkey king. Today we will talk about the birth of the monkey king.

There is mountain called Mountain of Flowers and Fruits 花果山 in the sea next to the Kingdom AoLai 傲来国. On the mountain, there was a rock that since the creation of the world had been worked upon “by the pure essences of Heaven and Earth ,the vigor of sunshine and the grace of moonlight”, till one day it split open. A monkey jumped out of the rock egg. The light darted from this monkey’s eyes flashed as far as the palace in the heaven and astonished the Jade Emperor 玉皇大帝. He ordered his two generals Thousand-league Eye 千里眼 and Down-the-wind Ears to open the gate of the Southern Heaven 南天门 to check what was going on and was not surprised to find out the magical monkey.


The monkey walked, jumped in the mountain, and was fed on grass, he drank from streams and springs, gathered flowers and fruits. He had wolfs and bugs as his partners and joined tigers and leopards. He was friends with deer and civet and baboons and apes were his families. At nigh he lodged under the cliffs and during the day he wandered among the caves and peaks.

One day, a group of monkeys took a shower in the streams after hanging out together for a while. The monkeys, “none of us knows where the water is from. Since we have nothing to do today, how about we follow it up to the source and have fun! ” Dragging boys and girls, calling the elder and younger brothers, the whole troupe rushed along the stream and climbed up to the source of the stream. In front of them was the curtain of a waterfall.


All the monkeys clapped hands and cried, “lovely water! Lovely water!” If any of us were capable to pierce that curtain to get to source and return unharmed, we would make him our king!” After three calls, the stone monkey jumped from the crowd and answered, “I will go! I will go!” He screws up his eyes and crouches, then jumped straight into the waterfall. When he opened his eyes, he found there was no water where he was but a bridge in front of him. He looked closely, the bridge was made of iron and the water under it flowed through a hole in the rock. He walked through the bridge and looked around, it seems liked a village and there were people living here. There were stone seats, stone beds, stone cups and stone bowls.


On the cliff, there was a in inscription in large square writing saying “The Cave of the Water Curtain 水帘洞 in the blessed land of the Mountain of Flowers and Fruits 花果山 leads to the Heaven.” The stone monkey delighted and jumped out of the waterfall.

“A great stroke of luck! A great stroke of luck!” He could’n wait to share everything with all the monkeys. “A heaven place for all of us to live.” “Bring us in! In!” All the monkeys got excited after hearing this. Soon after the monkeys jumped through the waterfall, they started to fight for possessions and shifting things around. The stone monkey sat on the top and said, “everyone! Nothing can be done with one whose word cannot be trusted. We agreed on earlier that whoever jumped in first and returned unharmed would be the king. Now I accomplished it and found this heaven place for everyone, why do you not bow down to me as your king?”


All the monkeys got together and bowed humbly “Great king, a thousand years!” After that, the stone monkey had the title “Handsome Monkey King 美猴王”.

The Handsome Monkey King lived in the heavenly Cave of the Water curtain for several hundreds of years. One day, at a feast with other monkeys, the king suddenly felt melancholy and burst into tears. Other moneys bowed down, “what makes your Majesty so sad?” The monkey king said, “At present I have no cause for unhappiness. But I have a misgiving about the future.” “Your Majesty is hard to please. We have fun in this blessed place every day. We are not subject to the unicorn or phoenix or any human kings. Such freedom is an enormous blessing. What can it e that causes you this sad misgiving? ” The king said, “It is true. However, the time will come when I grow old and weak. King YanLuo 阎罗王 , king of the death is waiting. ” When the monkeys heard this, they all covered their faces and cry thinking about the destiny.

A monkey cried, “If that is what worries your Majesty, there are three kinds of creatures that are not subject to King YanLuo. Buddhas, Immortals and Sages are eternal as Heaven and Earth, mountains and streams.” The monkey king asked, “where can they be found?” “Here on the common earth in ancient caves among the enchanted hills.”

The Monkey King was delighted “tomorrow, I shall say goodbye to you and go down the mountain, wander around to the end of the world to visit these three kinds and learn to be immortal to escape the doom of death.”


西游记 Journey to the West

玉皇大帝 Jade Emperor

阎罗王 King YanLuo

Episode 75: Monkey King

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Today we will talk about the favorite of most Chinese people especially kids. I am not exaggerating – the monkey King Sun WuKong 孙悟空. If you never heard about him, you might know Goku from the cartoon Dragon Ball who is based on the monkey king.

Sun WuKong is a figure from a Chinese novel from the Ming Dynasty 明朝 from 16th century called Journey to the West 西游记, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. It is one of my favorite novels of all time for sure. The novel is about a legendary journey from China to the west which is India of a Buddhist monk XuanZang 玄奘 and his three disciples to obtain Buddhist sacred sutra in the Tang dynasty 唐朝. Sun WuKong , monkey king is one of the three disciples and the most powerful one. Journey to the West has roots in Chinese mythology, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, which we already mentioned a lot of times in our podcast. We will talk about more stories from the book in the future. In the English translated books, Monkey by Arthur Waley is the most well-known abridged version. If you are interested in reading the book, I would recommend that one.


Sun WuKong, Sun is his last name, WuKong is a very Buddhists name given by his teacher. Wu means awakened or enlightenment which is in the name of all the three disciples. Kong means emptiness. In Buddhism, everything in the world is an illusion and emptiness in the end. In the Waley version, it is translated as aware of vacuity.


He isn’t called Monkey King because of he was born in a royal family or something. He was born from a stone egg created by the heaven and earth. He lives on HuaGuoShan 花果山, Flower Fruit Mountain. He was entitled as the Handsome Monkey King 美猴王 by his monkey tribe.


He can lift 13500 jin 斤, which is around 8000 kilograms. He can travel 108000 li 里, which is around 21600 kilometers in one somersault. Sun WuKong knows 72 transformations into animals and objects. He is a skillful fighter and each of his hairs possesses magics including being transformed into objects and clones of the Monkey King himself. He knows all kinds of spells. His eyes are called golden gaze fiery eyes 火眼金睛 that are able to recognize evil. He is basically the super hero of all the super heroes. He wasn’t born like this but became more powerful step by step. We will talk about all the stories in our future episodes.

His main weapon is called JingGu Bang , a long stick he robbed from the dragon king of the Eastern Seas. It can change its size, multiply and fight accordingly. It weighs 13500 jin around 8 tons. Sun WuKong shrinks it to the size of a needle and tucks it behind his ear. Along with the JingGu Bang, he also obtained chain mail shirt 锁子黄金甲, a phoenix feather cap 凤翅紫金冠 and cloud walking boots 藕丝 步云履.


He is not perfect especially in terms of his personalities. He is a rebel, never good at following the principles, impatient and naughty like a kid or a monkey. That’s why we like him cause he is not perfect and a very interesting character. His behavior is somewhat limited by a band placed on his head by GuanYin, Goddess of Mercy in Buddhism. His master monk Tang SanZang can tighten the band by chanting the Ring Tightening Mantra when he needs to chastise him.


I can’t wait to share the stories in the Journey to the West in the future.


西游记Journey to the West