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The Monkey Mind

An egg was turned into a monkey to complete the Great Way. -- Journey to the West, chapter 1
My birth was not like that of an ordinary being. My body was formed when sun and moon mated.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 86

Monkey was born from an egg, which is used as a symbol. It shows that it doesn`t refer to a normal birth. From an egg, a bird is born. Birds can fly and flying symbolizes a higher state of consciousness and the God within oneself.

Pan Gu, the Chinese God of creation in an egg

You must seek God slowly, without any break. A little stream which moves continually, does not become tainted or foul. From this effort is born felicity and joy; this effort is the egg; good fortune is the bird that comes forth. -- Rumi (13th c. Sufi mystic and poet)

The egg symbolizes efforts to reach the state of Divine Presence, while the bird coming from the egg, symbolizes a prolonged state of Presence.

May he achieve all the transformations which he desires to make, for the august god who is in his egg has commanded that he shall breathe the air on the day of the great deed.
-- Egyptian Coffin Texts
A human being must be born twice, once from his mother and again from his own body and his own experience. The body is like an egg; the essence of man must become a bird in that egg through the warmth of love, then he can escape his body and fly in the eternal world of the soul, beyond space. -- Sultan Walad (13th c. persian Sufi poet)

Monkey is Sanzang`s most powerful disciple and his role is to protect Sanzang on the way to Vulture Peak, which means that his role is to protect the desire to be present. In the beginning of the story, Monkey finds a teacher who gives him a new name.

We`ll give you the Dharma-name Sun Wukong, which means Monkey Awakened to Emptiness.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 1
What is the Buddha-Nature? It is simply your flawless present awareness, empty, naked and awake. -- Tibetan Lama

To be present one needs to empty oneself and suspend all judgmental thinking, letting words, ideas, emotions and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them. Monkeys learns spells and magic from his teacher. This symbolizes learning the knowledge and tools that are needed to control the lower self and reach divine presence.

Monkey with his teacher - by Chen Huiguan
True spells, revealing secrets and all powerful, Are the only sure way of protecting one's life. When you are successful you can become a Buddha or an Immortal.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 2

Protecting one`s life doesn`t refer to protecting the physical body but to protecting the state of Divine Presence, which is out of time and therefore immortal.

After Monkey masters the spells and magic his master taught him, Monkey feels so powerful that he becomes proud and vain, and begins to create trouble in heaven.

An egg learned to be a man, Cultivated his conduct, and achieved the Way. Heaven had been undisturbed for the thousand kalpas, Until one day the spirits and gods were scattered. The rebel against Heaven, wanting high position, Insulted Immortals, stole the pills, and destroyed morality. -- Journey to the West, chapter 7


He decides he wants to replace the Jade Emperor in heaven and calls himself The Great Sage Equalling Heaven. Heaven symbolizes the state of presence.

A spiritual heaven, with sun, moon and stars, is formed in the blessed heart of one who has reached a state of watchfulness. -- Philotheos of Sinai Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)

Monkey mistakenly begins to think he is prolonged presence.

I have practiced many a method for obtaining eternal life,
Infinite are the transformations I have learned.
That is why I found the mortal world too cramped,
And decided to live in the Jade Heaven.
None can reign forever in the Hall of Miraculous Mist;
Kings throughout history have had to pass on their power.
The strong should be honored—he should give way to me:
This is the only reason I wage my heroic fight. -- Journey to the West, chapter 7

This mistake is not unusual among aspirants on the way. After experiencing a taste of deeper states of presence it is not uncommon for one to become proud. One cannot be present when vanity is circulating within one. It means that the lower self has ascended.

Unless the mind is trained to selflessness and compassion, one is apt to lead to the error of seeking liberation for self alone. -- Gampopa (Founder of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, 12th c.)

The Jade Emperor asks Buddha for help, who has a wager with Monkey. If Monkey can jump out of Buddha`s hand, the Jade Emperor will abdicate his throne to Monkey, but if can`t, he will be punished.

I cannot be held with the hand, but I am he who can hold thee in his hand. -- Egyptian Texts, Going Forth by Day


Monkey thinks he escaped from Buddha`s hand and writes "The Great Sage Equaling Heaven was here"
by Chen Huiguan

With his magical somersault Monkey jumps to the end of the world and returns in seconds, only to realize that he didn`t leave the Buddha`s hand. Buddha turns his hand over and pushes the Monkey out through the Western Gate of Heaven. The reason that Monkey can`t jump out of Buddha`s hand is that Buddha`s hand and Buddha himself represents the universe. The universe is a symbol for the awakened mind.

With three steps, I cover the whole universe; I am the soul of the universe; I am omnipresent; I am infinite.
-- Mahabharata (Hindu text)

Buddha`s five fingers turn into a mountain belonging to the elements Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth, and he names it The Five Elements Mountain.

Mikkyo (Japanese Esoteric Buddhism) finds several levels of esoteric meaning in mudras. The fingers, for example, represent the symbolic elements of earth, water, fire, wind, and space. Together with consciousness, an element pervading them all, they comprise the universal body of the Six Great Elements.
-- Shingon, Japanese Esoteric Buddhism by Yamanshi
Mahavairocana Buddha by Unkei, 1176, Japan,
showing the mudra of the six elements



Mudras are hand gestures in Buddhist sculpture and painting which have an inner meaning. The five fingers also symbolize tools to control the lower self so that presence can occur.

The five fingers perform a single task.
-- Jalaluddin Rumi (13th c. Sufi mystic and poet)
Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight. -- The Bible, Psalms 144:1




As punishment for defying Heaven, Monkey has to wait for five hundred years for the priest Sanzang, who is going to India, to get the scriptures. If he helps Sanzang on his way to reach Vulture Peak he can become free again. When Sanzang discovers Monkey, trapped under The Five Elements Mountain, he frees Monkey and gives him another name, Xingzhe. Whenever this name is used in the Chinese version, it is translated in English as brother Monkey, Sun the Novice or Pilgrim. The Chinese term Xingzhe (行者) literally means walker or a person who acts and refers to a person who is doing spiritual cultivation, who is trying to be present. Walking (on the Way) is a symbol for engaging the state of Divine presence.

The Hanged Man, Tarot card
Colossal statue of Senusret I Egyptian Museum, Cairo


Accustom yourself to walk in the presence of God, and keep remembrance of Him.
-- Philokalia, Theophan the Recluse
Walk in the Dharma; walk in righteousness.
-- Buddha
You shall walk upon your feet, you shall not walk upside down. -- Egyptian Coffin Texts

The Hanged Man card of the Tarot deck symbolizes man in the state of psychological sleep.





The inner meaning of acting refers to actually engaging presence, after one has the impulse to do so.

Cross the sea of death through action and enter into immortality. -- Upanishads (Hindu text)
Let your heart sing of God with every breath you draw. Your good acts will save you from the cycle of birth and death. -- Guru Nanak (first Sikh guru, 16th c.)

Monkey is also called the mind-Ape.

To the ape's immortal body is matched a human mind: That the mind is an ape is deeply meaningful.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 7
Thoroughly understanding the mind-monkey, the machinations in the heart, by three thousand achievements one reaches heaven. -- Understanding Reality by Zhang Boduan (11th c. Taoist master)
When creating the Elixir, only fear that the mind — like an untamed monkey — will scamper around outside. If you can withdraw your gaze and turn back your hearing, and focus your attention for a short while....then a single drop of dew-like pearly fluid rapidly settles within the Elixial field. -- Yuyan (13th c. Taoist master, Commentary on the Cantong Qi — Triplex Unity)

When the mind is uncontrolled it is an obstacle to reaching the state of Divine presence, but when it is controlled, and has the tools and knowledge to reach Divine Presence, it is referred to as a ruler, the mind of Tao or steward.

A Pharaoh walking through the Narrow Gate with a Ka on his head, Egyptian museum, Cairo

Man is compared to a house in which there is a multitude of servants but no master and no steward. The house can be got ready for the arrival of the real steward who will, in his turn, prepare it for the arrival of the master.
-- Gurdjieff (20th c. Fourth Way spiritual teacher)
And the Lord said, "Who then is that faithful and wise steward, who his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?"
-- The Bible, Luke 12:42
The whole household was happy. My word! By uniting themselves with a single surname They are waiting to be transferred to the Register of Immortals.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 2
The human body is like a country, and the mind is like the army; the vitality, spirit, nature, feeling, and energy in the body are like the people; the benevolence, justice, courtesy, knowledge, and truthfulness in the nature are like the masses.
-- Liu Yiming, The Taoist I Ching, Hexagram 7, The Army

A household symbolizes the plurality of a man`s being, and Monkey or the steward is the part that can learn to control one`s internal household, the many I`s. The steward symbolizes school knowledge and understanding, coupled with the tools one needs to reach the state of presence. The head-band that monkey is tricked into wearing, symbolizes the control of the mind. The role of the mind is to serve the heart to reach divine presence.

The truly intelligent person is one whose mind submits to his heart.
-- Ibn Arabi (13th c. Andalusian Sufi mystic and philosopher )

Monkey needs to serve Sanzang. The heart can achieve presence if the desire is strong enough. But desire alone, cannot get one there either, it must be accompanied by knowledge and skill. Knowledge about the tricks of the lower self, which lure one again and again into listening to the many I`s. A deep understanding is needed of how the lower self interrupts the effort to be present (the demons interrupting the journey to Amida Buddha`s Western Paradise, the state of presence). One must also acquire the skill to actually engage presence when one makes an effort. This is all symbolized by monkey, who always sees through the demons’ disguise. He uses the magic and spells he learned from his teacher to fight the demons and free Sanzang.

The hidden and wonderful spell gives eternal life. -- Journey to the West, chapter 68

Another one of Monkey`s names is Monkey King .

If the kingdom of your being is to be ruled well, then protect your religion and be in it`s service.
-- Ibn Arabi (13th c. Andalusian Sufi mystic and philosopher )
The human body is like a country, and the mind is like a ruler.
-- Liu Yiming, The Taoist I Ching, Hexagram 7, The Army

Our being is compared to a country or kingdom and a kingdom is ruled by a king. This again symbolizes that Monkey is the part in us that can rule the kingdom of our being. It can recognize when the servants, our thoughts and emotions, pretend to be useful but in fact, try to take us away from our effort to be present.

Even though Monkey fights with the demons, he can almost never defeat them on his own, and needs to go to Heaven and ask for help from one of the Gods.


The Fourth Way and Esoteric Traditions⎟ Living Presence ⎟ The Secret of the Golden Flower ⎟


Japanese symbols of Presence⎟ The taoist I Ching ⎟ Being Presence First