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Chinese Tale : The Legend of The Monkey King (Sun Wu Kong)

Part 8: The Buddha’s Bet

In the alchemy laboratory of the Cinnabar Palace, Lord Lao Tzu, Supreme Patriarch of the Way, dumped Monkey into the Crucible of the Eight Trigrams, clamped down the lid, and lifted the crucible onto the hearth.

“Stoke up the fire as high as you can,” he told his assistant. “We’ll need the greatest heat possible to refine this villain.”

Meanwhile, Monkey was starting to come to. “What hit me?” he wondered, rubbing his sore head. “And where in Heaven have they taken me?”

He groped around in the dark. “It’s some kind of porcelain pot, and it’s getting warm! Are they trying to bake me? Or burn me to ashes? Well, I won’t let them do it!”

Monkey pushed and kicked at the lid, but it wouldn’t give. Then he took the miniature staff from his ear, held it pointing up, and said, “Grow!”

In a flash the staff enlarged to five feet, pushing against the bottom of the crucible and shattering the top. As Monkey jumped out, he knocked over the astonished Supreme Patriarch, sending him head over heels.

Monkey ran in a blind rage all the way from the Cinnabar Palace to the Cloud Palace of the Golden Doors, brandishing his staff at every heavenly official along the way. At the palace steps he found the Heavenly General of Mighty Miracle and the twelve Thunder Generals, who all grew pale at the sight of him.

“So you thought you could do away with the Monkey King!” shouted Monkey. “Well, here’s a message for the Jade Emperor: I’m no longer the Protector of Horses. I’m now the Great Sage Equal to Heaven. And he’s no longer the Jade Emperor, because I’m taking over! If he doesn’t step down from the Celestial Throne, I’ll come and pull him off it!”

* * *

In the Hall of Divine Mist, the Jade Emperor could hardly believe the message he had heard from the Heavenly General.

“The audacity of this wretched monkey knows no bounds!” he declared. “Gather as many soldiers as you need and wipe him out!”

“Your Majesty,” said the Heavenly General uneasily, “I fear we are unable to do so. The creature is too powerful a fighter for any single warrior to defeat. And if we send great numbers against him, he can easily outdo us with an army made from the hairs of his body. Even if we capture him again, we have no way to destroy or imprison him.”

“Just what are you telling me?” asked the Jade Emperor in amazement. “That I must give up my throne to this stinking monkey?”

“Your Majesty,” said Kwan Yin, “I don’t think it need come to that. There is still one who could defeat the rebellious Immortal and preserve your rule. Why not send to the Western Paradise and ask the assistance of the Buddha?”

The Jade Emperor said, “If the resources of Heaven are not enough to defeat this monster, I suppose I have no choice!”

Moments later, the Spirit of the Great White Planet Venus was speeding on a magic cloud out the West Gate of Heaven. It was not long before he reached the Western Paradise, where he landed on the Mountain of Miracles and entered the Temple of the Thunderclap.

The Buddha listened closely to the message of the Great White Planet. Then he turned to his disciples. “Remain steadfast in your practice of meditation until my return.”

* * *

Outside the Cloud Palace of the Golden Doors, Monkey marched up and down, swinging his staff, till his patience ran out.

“Time’s up!” he yelled at the quaking Thunder Generals. “I’m coming in!”

But just as he stepped forward, a magic cloud landed in front of him. Off it stepped a huge man in the robe of a monk.

“What’s this?” said Monkey. “Who are you, old monk, and why are you standing in my way?”

The man laughed. “I am Siddhartha, often called the Buddha. I am told you call yourself the Great Sage Equal to Heaven and even demand the Jade Emperor’s place on the Celestial Throne.”

“That’s right,” said Monkey. “He’s been there long enough. Someone else should get a turn.”

“The Jade Emperor,” said the Buddha, “has been perfecting himself through four million lifetimes, for over two hundred million years. And you’re not yet even fully human! What makes you think you’re suited to rule Heaven and Earth?”

“I have great powers,” said Monkey. “I’ve mastered the Seventy-Two Changes. And I can travel for hundreds of miles with a single somersault!”

“Indeed!” said the Buddha. “Then could you stand on the palm of my hand and somersault clear out of it?”

Monkey stared at the Buddha. “Enlightenment must have addled your brain! I just said I can somersault hundreds of miles. How could I not jump out of your palm?”

“Then wager with me,” said the Buddha. “If you get off my palm with a single somersault, the Celestial Throne will be yours. I’ll just tell the Jade Emperor to come live with me in the Western Paradise. But if you don’t make it off my palm, you’ll return to Earth and leave Heaven alone.”

“You can make good on your promise?” asked Monkey.

“Certainly,” said the Buddha.

“Then you’re on!”

Monkey put away his staff and jumped onto the Buddha’s palm, which was the size of a lotus leaf. Then he gave the mightiest leap of his life.

Head over heels Monkey tumbled through the air, spinning like a windmill for hundreds, thousands of miles. At last he came to five olive-colored pillars reaching high into the sky.

“This must be the end of Heaven,” he told himself, and he landed at the base of the middle pillar. “That bet wasn’t hard to win. But I’d better leave behind some proof.”

He plucked a hair from his tail and said, “Change!” The hair turned to a writing brush filled with ink, and Monkey wrote on the pillar,


He returned the hair to his tail, gave another mighty leap, and moments later landed back in the Buddha’s palm.

“All right, old monk,” said Monkey. “Now keep your part of the bargain and tell the Jade Emperor to clear out.”

“You impudent ape!” said the Buddha. “You’ve been on my palm the whole time!”

“What are you talking about?” said Monkey. “I somersaulted clear to the end of Heaven! If you don’t believe me, come see the proof for yourself.”

“There’s no need to go anywhere,” said the Buddha. “Just look down.”

Monkey looked down, and there at the base of the Buddha’s middle finger were the characters,


“It can’t be!” declared Monkey. “It’s some kind of trick! I’m going back to look for myself.”

But before Monkey could leap again, the Buddha turned his hand over, thrust Monkey out the West Gate of Heaven, and pushed him down to Earth. The hand turned into a five-peaked mountain which pinned Monkey between stone walls. His head and arms were out, but the rest of him was hopelessly trapped.

“You can’t do this to me!” cried Monkey. “I’m the Monkey King! I’m an Immortal! I’m the Great Sage Equal to Heaven! Let me out!”

He stopped to consider. Then he added, “Please?”

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