The Adventures of Monkey King


Illustrated by Marcelo Zissu


Book I

Being the story of Monkey King’s birth
And of his search for the path of enlightenment

I sing of Monkey King
Who from a rock outcropping
Standing forth for
Ten thousand kalpas before
The beginning of time
In a place near
The Dragon Gods’ home
Was given shape
Through unceasing attack
Of wind and rain
And twenty four times
By lightening bolts ripped and blasted
Until finally primed
For giving birth via
That certain stone egg
Which cracked open
And first presented
On the world stage
The most storied Stone Ape

Who from birth with gift
Of five senses complete
Able to run and leap and
Upon making due obeisance
In lingering hours of night
Towards all Four Corners
Bowed four times again
Sparks shooting forth from
His stone cold eyes
Emitting a well-nigh
Miraculous light
That shimmered all the way
To the Distant Pole Star Palace

Where the Jade Emperor
Who ruled over Heaven
And all realms below
Duly took note of that wondrous glow
And commanded the Spirit of Shadows
To bring forth a telescope
And make immediate report on
What strange occurrence
Could bring divine light so long
In advance of Dawn

Soon The Spirit of Shadows
Delivered his report
Of that light’s emittance
From deep within the mountains
Of Ao Lai kingdom
In a region profuse
With fruits and flowers
Where stood a Magic Rock
Which only lately had assumed
An eggish shape from which
Emerged a Stone Ape
Whose shifty eyes
From very first
Burned brightly
Although now dimmed slightly
As first breakfast
The Ape eagerly tasted

The Jade Emperor spoke thus
Subjects on whom I have
Lavished doting care
There appearing nothing
Of importance in
My minister’s report
I hereby decree the world below
Is and always shall remain
The inevitable product
Of my heavenly wisdom
Nor is there any cause for
Further alarm or concern

Well might others look
Upon this eerie light
As less than auspicious and
Press further query but
The Eldest Son of Heaven
Was not thus inclined
In the Cloud Palace he sat
On his Cloud Throne
Over the universe entire
As sovereign he reigned
But his Majesty’s minions
Only paid slightest heed
To his words and deeds
For reasons best explained
As Monkey’s story
Further progresses

Meanwhile Monkey
Took up residence
In the sunny valley of Ao Lai
Scampering up the hillsides
Becoming hairy and lithe
At play with his simian others
Mixed with lynx and panthers
As well as deer and rabbit
As common companions
Feasting on melons and
Berries and nuts
Growing there in abundance
By day frolicking under influence
Of tall peaks and fleecy clouds
At night sleeping peacefully
Under the tent of stars
Over the vast mountainsides
They ranged far and wide
Until one day the band of monkeys
Followed a stream to its headwaters
Where a cataract poured
Forth from the clouds
Falling in a torrent
That obscured its origin
In a watery shroud
The monkeys paused
In wonder and fear
At the sight and sound
Of water crashing down
From the Heavens

A murmur passed among
The troop to see if any among them
Dared to leap into the roiling waters
To discover the source
The cry went up
Any monkey bold enough
To leap head first
And emerge unharmed
Shall be our King

Three times the call went out
Without reply when suddenly
The Stone Ape jumped up
And loudly cried
Make way
Make way for me

What a noble creature
Today is the day
He begins to achieve
His singular fate
No longer a mere stone monkey
But on the verge of things
Much greater

Whereupon he furrowed his brow
Crouched deeply and
On the count of three
He leaped into the misty void

Where to his surprise
He landed on solid ground
And found himself standing
Atop a mighty iron bridge
That spanned the waters
Leading to a pavilion built
In the recesses of a cave
In whose vaulted interior Monkey spied
An array of tables spread with
Stoneware and pottery fine
With food and drink overflowing
As if awaiting his arrival

And on the cave’s wall
High overhead Monkey read
An inscription proclaiming
He had entered into
The Cave of the Watery Veil
On the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers
In the Kingdom of Ao Lai
And there come upon
A Celestial Gateway

Thrilled by these signs
Of incipient blessing
Monkey raced back
At breakneck pace
Across the iron bridge
Vaulting head first
Through water and air
Bursting into sunshine
To face the assembled apes
Who clamored for word
Of what lay beyond

Brothers and sisters he cried
Follow me and you shall find
Great natural bounty
Lying directly next to
A celestial gateway
And we shall feast on
Many tasty wonders
Assembled for us there

You mean a home
And food for us

The clamoring monkeys cried

I mean all of our wants
Will be fully satisfied
And even better this cave
Provides a complete answer
To every instance of foul weather

Show us
Show us now

The monkeys yelled
In mind if not in voice unified

Just follow me
Stone Monkey replied
For the last time
Before his coronation scene
With the transformation of stone
Via self-proclamation
Into Monkey King’s being

When the last monkey had leaped
Through the watery veil
And the crowd assembled
In the Grand Banquet Hall
With numerous stragglers
Filling up the rear
And heaping platters
Passed around for all those
Lucky enough to find seating
Stone Monkey took his place
At the head table
And with steely glint
And an arm jaunty akimbo
He stood tall and spoke loudly

With those whose words
Cannot be trusted
Nothing ever
Can be done
I hereby proclaim
Myself Monkey King
Devoted to the preservation
Of simian honor
From henceforth
My fellow apes
Let us think and act as one

Following this
The assembled host
In homage humbly bowed
Swearing fealty
Before rising
In raucous celebration of
The Stone Monkey’s ascendance
To the throne

Great Monkey King
For a thousand years
Shall he reign
Handsome and high spirited
He leaped through the watery veil
Now behold how he rules
His most eminent domain

As first official act he appointed
To the ranks a number
Of trusted monkey ministers
Officer gibbons and baboons
Who by day and night
Patrolled the bowers
Up and down the side
Of the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers
They lived in perfect peace
Independent of spirit and means
Inclined to adhere
To a system of absolute rule
Without dissension
So Monkey King as leader thrived
The same way a Queen Bee
Rules her hive

After enjoying this existence for
Several hundred years
One day at a banquet feast
Monkey King admitted to his ministers
That he harbored melancholic feelings
And no longer could this funk
Be easily deterred
By his deputy’s cajoling
As with increasing frequency
He found himself pondering
The likely ascendance of Death
Over his fruit filled domain
And he detected
A pervading sense of rot

Is there no way
To avoid the next
Turn of the wheel

He lamented
How much better
If I could live on high forever
As one with the Gods

The assembly hall fell silent
As Monkey King thus moped
But then proving unable
To contain their despair
His subjects commenced to wail
Wringing their hands
And covering their faces in shame
And dread of their shared mortal lot

On this scene of gloom
A wise baboon stepped out
In soothing tones
He sought to comfort
His Majesty’s mind

Troubling yourself this way Sire
Only proves you’re ready
To achieve greater things
Through such awareness
As may only be found
Among three kinds of beings
Meaning all those who stand removed
From Yama’s dread curse

And what are the three kinds of beings
About whom you speak

Monkey King asked with a sigh

Well Buddhas and Immortals
Are the two best known
Since they are born
Beyond Yama’s domain
But there is also a third sort
Often called Sages who are
Born subject to Yama’s rule
Yet they learn to escape
By attaining wisdom and mastery
Which leads to freedom
From the Turning Wheel

Well we must prepare at once
For my journey

The Monkey King
Instructed his ministers
Tomorrow at dawn
At the very latest
I begin my quest
To become a Great Sage

Such a feast they prepared
For their sovereign’s
Departing meal
Of delicacies without
At one end of the banquet table
His minions
Rejoiced at the certain success
Of Monkey King’s quest
But at the other end they
Drank and wailed
With dread of his imminent

Rising well before dawn
Monkey King cut bamboo
From the Ao Lai forest
Lashed together a raft
With mast and fresh sewn sail
Down river he set off
Alone journeying through
A thousand gorges
Into an enormous gulf
With towering waves
Favored by prevailing
Winds he traveled south
To the very borders of the
Known world where
He dragged his raft aground
And found himself
Standing in the company
Of fishermen and others
Who gathered salt
From the rocks for living

Running up in haste
He eagerly pressed his case
To learn where the
Greatest sages could be found
But the fisherman merely
Laughed at this monkey
With his wild antics and
Screechy halting speech

Keening to be heard
Monkey King screeched louder still
Until the fishermen took alarm
And then took flight
Save for one curious man
Who stood his ground
Towards whom Monkey King
Swiftly advanced and
Showed his special thanks
By knocking him on the head
With rock ready at hand
And stripped him bare
Of all his clothes front to back

Thus bundled up
In fisherman’s garb
Monkey King took to the road
For nine long years
He made his way
Through the great cities
Of the south following the coast
From Nanning towards Hang Zhou
Playing with organ grinders
For amusement and trade
Until mastering human speech
He pursued other callings
Such as peddler and petty thief
At times discouraged by the ways
Of man chasing after riches and fame
Without regard for immortal wisdom
Yet all the same Monkey pressed on
True to his quest
To meet the wisest sages

Coming upon another sea
He fashioned himself
A second raft and braved
Once more towering waves
Alighting at last
On a far western shore
Drawn by the sight of
Of a majestic Jade Mountain

Fearing neither tooth nor claw
Of wild beast Monkey King
Made his way through
Dense forest and soldiered on
Day and night until
Approaching the edge of
A clearing he heard
A tuneful voice up ahead

I sleep all day
Then wake and pray
Next to the roots
Of the Tree of Life
The Tree keeps growing
Continuously showing
The circular pattern of Life

When chess I play
The board displays
The struggle of left and right
Through clouds I climb
And sip my wine
Towards the palace
Of the Yellow Court
I continuously mount

Hearing these words
Monkey King rushed forward
Thinking at last he stood
In the presence of
An Immortal Being

Oh great Immortal
Monkey King bowed
And pressed his head
Towards the ground
Your humble disciple
Longs for your blessing

Hearing no immediate
Reply Monkey King glanced
Up to see no Immortal
But an old woodsman
Mopping the sweat
From his brow

I need no disciple
For I’m merely
A woodsman

The old man said
And I’m far from
Immortal as my
Callused hands clearly show
The heavy toll of
Swinging this axe
Every day

But that song you sang
Had the rhythm and vision
Of Immortal things

Monkey King said
As he rose and wiped
The dirt from his britches

Next door to my cottage
An Immortal makes his home

The woodsman explained
To his would-be disciple
Fragrance Fills the Hall
Is the song you heard
He taught me the words
To help me overcome
My daily woe

But if you live
Near this Immortal
Why not cultivate
Your spirit
And follow the route
To Eternal Truth

Monkey King asked

From childhood I’ve toiled
Without giving
Thought to religion

The woodsman replied
Who has time for
The Tao when there’s food
To be put on the table
For my old widowed mother
And my other dependents
Various and sundry

Well being a good sort
A thousand blessings on you

Monkey King said as he
Pressed together his palms
Now would you be so kind
As to show me the road
To this Immortal’s dwelling
So that I may enter
The inner halls of
The Yellow Court

Then Monkey King
Made his way as the
Woodsman directed
Heading south and
Crossing a broad plain
And after a brief steep climb
He arrived at the mouth
Of an embowered cave

Heart and mind racing
He looked around
In awe at the mist filled
Groves of bamboo and cypress
That covered the hillside
Flowers profusely blooming
Amidst the crags of rocks
And overhead the cries
Of wheeling cranes and
The dazzling display
As a Phoenix flashed its plumage

It was truly a sacred grove
That resembled Paradise
With no sign of man about
The cave door shut
But Monkey King saw
On a cliff high above
The words inscribed in stone
Heart and Mind Mountain
The Cave of Three Stars
And the Slanting Moon

The object of long quest
At last near at hand
But he dared not disturb
The tranquility of this
Secluded spot
Instead Monkey King
Took a perch in a nearby pine
And proceeded to wait
Munching on pine seeds
He pondered his fate
Though after a while
Feeling quite bored
A few pinecones he plucked
And then casually tossed
Into the mouth of the cave
In a playful sort of way

Until from the cave
A young disciple emerged
In the full glory
Of Immortal youth
Graceful in his long robe
With wind blown sleeves
Seeming a stranger
To earthly ways
He looked to be a pure spirit
Ageless and filled with joy
Tarnished by nary
A speck of dust
Into bright daylight
The lad stumbled
And spoke thus
Who comes to disturb us
While we’re so deep in prayer

From a limb high above
Monkey King leaped
To the ground and replied
In truth it’s a long way
I have come but
To learn not disturb as
I am a true seeker and
It’s Immortal wisdom
For which I yearn

But you’re an ape
The young boy laughed

And who says an ape
Can’t pursue the Path

Monkey King said
On his own behalf

Master says any and all
Are welcome who come
To practice the austerities

Said the Immortal lad

Well here I am
Monkey King replied
Most assuredly
Ready for the austerities
Now that I have finally arrived

Then follow me
The boy said with a smile
So Monkey King
Straightened his clothes
And the boy led him inside
Passing row upon row
Of passages and crannies
Into the depths of the cave

Until they came upon
A high vaulted chamber
In the midst of which stood
A large jade platform
Where upon the Master
Sat as if enthroned
On a cloud of awareness
His twenty-nine disciples
Facing him enthralled
Cross-legged on their bamboo mats

This Master named Zu
Looked serene as a Buddha
Without a speck of dust
On his entire being
Oh great wonder
Of enlightenment
And inner vision
Unborn and undying
Through the double rows
Of double threes he is
In full possession
Of the inner realm
By kindness and grace
Utterly blessed
And in his essential nature
Filled with silence and emptiness
While his spirit forever progresses
Through endless changes

In his grace filled presence
In this spirit filled lair
Monkey pressed his head
Low to the ground

……………My Master

He said a number of times
Your disciple has
Finally arrived

And from where do you come?
Master Zu inquired
Raising one eyebrow high
In critical appraisal
Of this newest arrival

From the Water Curtain Cave
In the Kingdom of Ao Lai

Monkey King uttered with
Eyes still fixed on the floor

Throw him out at once
The great Master cried
There’s no hope of
Enlightenment for those who
Stray so far from the truth

But your willing disciple
Only speaks the truth
Far have I wandered
From East of Purvavide
Crossing two great oceans
And one continent entire
For more than ten years
I traveled in search
Of a place such as here

Well Master Zu replied
Secretly pleased by
His hairy new disciple
Let’s hear you clearly
State your family name

My name is unknown
Neither father nor mother
Birthed me as their own

Monkey King said
Without the least bit of shame

What then would you
Have me believe

The Master further
Pressed his inquiry
If not from father and mother
Were you spawned from a tree

Not from a tree
But from a rock outcropping I came
On the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers
Which is the place I call home
An ageless rock cracked open
And thus I was born

Master Zu looked
Long at his disciple
And savored his story
Before speaking again
As natural born son
Of Heaven and Earth
You must receive
A proper name
This being a first
Step forward
Towards your
Let’s see you get up
And move about

As Monkey King
Paraded himself
Forward and back
Master Zu gave an
Appreciative chuckle

Well your features
Are not so great
And you move around just
Like an ape who has eaten
A few too many pine cones
Which makes me think
I should call you Hu
But in truth that’s too sterile
For a strapping fellow like you
I’m much more inclined
To a name less overdone
Perhaps along the lines of Sun
Which I think would much better do
Further considering the aspect of sound
No doubt the surname Sun
Would be better all around

O thank you
Thank you Master

Monkey King exclaimed
Jumping up and down
And what about a new first name
One that can be shouted out
When I am fortunate enough
To be formally ordained
As your disciple

Well within my circle
Of disciples
the Master explained
I deploy twelve first names
Each one denoting a specific
Character trait
And you clearly fall
In the tenth branch
Which is designated
By the character Wu
Representing awareness

And since you come by
Such awareness naturally
As it were it is only natural
That some day you very well may
Rise to the highest grade thereof
In the entire Buddhist faith
By becoming Aware of Vacuity
Which means henceforth you
Shall be called by the full name
Of Sun Wu Kong

And while at first that may
Sound like a mouthful
Said a few times
It simply rolls off the tongue
Yet as with all given names
It remains to be seen
In the fullness of time
Just how well it would be earned
As from moment of creation
Monkey King pursues every chance
To take command of his fate

Yet if you want to hear more
Of his progress on Enlightenment’s
Difficult path then into
The next Book of this story
Your attention must pass


Wu Cheng En

Wu Cheng En, a poet who published during his lifetime under the pen name "She Yang Hermit," is generally credited as the author of Journey to the West. Wu was something of a dropout from China's official examination system. He only attended an Imperial university in his later years, attained low-level bureaucratic appointment, and shortly thereafter quit in order to dedicate his life to writing poetry. Although he became friends with several prominent Ming writers, Wu lived and worked in poverty and relative obscurity. He is also credited as the author of another novel, but Journey to the West is considered to be his masterpiece.

Lan Hua

Lan Hua is the pen name for a New York-based poet and translator. The name "Lan Hua" (蓝花) means "Blue Flower." Lan Hua may be reached at [email protected].

English translation copyright (c) Lan Hua, 2012.