Monkey is taught a secret spell by his teacher that is symbolized by the five elements. This spell is the only sure way of protecting one`s life. Here one`s life means one`s conscious life, the state of presence. The five elements symbolize either obstacles or help to reach a state of Divine Presence.

In the primal state, the five elements foster one another in harmonious union and are manifested in action as the five virtues of benevolence, justice, courtesy, wisdom and truthfulness. In the conditioned state, the five elements are imbalanced and damage each other; this manifests in action as the five rebels of joy, anger, sadness, happiness and desire. -- Liu Yiming (18th c. Taoist master)
The exoteric five elements are as commonly explained. The esoteric five symbolic elements are the five syllables, the five Buddhas. -- Kukai (9th c. Founder of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism)

Below is a diagram showing the five (meditation) Buddhas that Kukai mentions. These Buddhas are symbols, not real persons, and are used when meditating, when making efforts to be present.

To the body of the five elements, there is the fivefold Dharana (concentration of the mind).
-- The Yoga-Tattva Upanishad (Hindu text)

Each of them is associated with an element and a syllable. The five syllables are part of the six-syllable mantra Om Mani Padme Hum.

The five Meditation Buddhas, detail of the Diamond Mandala, Japan. 9th C. Link

A diagram of the five meditation Buddhas and some of there aspects

In the Journey to the West, this mantra was written on a paper seal that was placed on the mountain that Monkey was put under as a punishment for creating havoc in Heaven, before he joined Sanzang on the journey.

The Buddha produced from his sleeve a strip of paper on which were written the golden words Om Mani Padme Hum. He gave this piece of paper to Ananda and told him to stick it on the summit of the Five Elements Mountain.
-- Journey to the West

Knowing how to use a spell or a mantra is something that must be learned, it`s not a matter of just saying the words.

The secret of a mantra is not something that is hidden intentionally, but something that has to be acquired by self-discipline, concentration, inner experience, insight, and constant practice, under the guidance of a competent Guru. -- Govinda, The Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism
All changes of spiritual consciousness depend upon the heart. There is a secret charm which, although it works very accurately, is yet so fluid that it needs extreme intelligence and clarity, and the most complete absorption and tranquility. People without this highest degree of intelligence and understanding do not find the way to apply the charm; people without this utmost capacity for absorption and tranquility cannot keep fast hold of it.
-- The Secret of the Golden Flower (Taoist text)
Return to Chapter 2