On the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, in the Heavenly Cave of the Water Curtain, the island monkeys were feasting to celebrate the birthday of their king. But the Monkey King himself sat there gloomily.
“What’s wrong, Your Majesty?” asked an old gibbon.
“Here I am, only four hundred years old,” said the Monkey King, “and I’ve already reached the heights of greatness. What is left to hope and strive for? What can be higher than a king?”
“Your Majesty,” said the gibbon carefully, “we have ever been grateful for that time four centuries ago when you hatched from the stone, wandered into our midst, and found for us this hidden cave behind the waterfall. We made you our king as the greatest honor we could bestow. Still, I must tell you that kings are not the highest of beings.”
“They’re not?” said the Monkey King.
“No, Your Majesty. Above them are gods, who dwell in Heaven and govern Earth. Then there are Immortals, who have gained great powers and live forever. And finally there are Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, who have conquered illusion and escaped rebirth.”
“Wonderful!” cried the Monkey King. “Maybe I can become all three!” He considered a moment, then said, “I think I’ll start with the Immortals. I’ll search the earth till I’ve found one, then learn to become one myself!”
The very next morning, the Monkey King ordered a pine raft to be built and loaded with fruit for the journey. Then he took leave of his cheering subjects, floated downstream to the island’s edge, and started across the great sea.
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