The spirit of Monkey God descending onto a spirit medium
The Monkey God is one of the mot popular characters in Chinese culture and is worshiped as a Taoist Deity. The Monkey God was born from a rock left behind from goddess Nuwa’s creation of the universe. After being conditioned by natural forces, the Monkey God emerged from this piece of rock.
The Ming dynasty novel “Journey to the West”, 西游记, has the most detailed information about him.
Early life of Monkey God
Initially, he was the leader of a group of monkeys and respectfully known as the Handsome Monkey King, 美猴王. He and his monkey followers lived in a cave behind a waterfall, 水帘洞, in the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, 花果山.
The curious and playful Monkey God soon got tired of his mountain and went in search of a teacher who imparted him with magic and super natural skills. He is famous for the 72 transformations and being able to leap 108 000 li or 54 000 km in a single flip.
With his new found ability, he rewarded himself with a staff that was under safe keeping of the Dragon Kings of the Ocean. This staff was used by the ancient Chinese Emperor Da Yu to control flood waters, 大禹治水.
After obtaining his formidable weapon, the playful monkey created more havoc when he deleted his name and other monkey’s name from the book of hell so that their lives would never end.
The Jade Emperor adopted a pacifist attitude towards the Monkey God by bestowing him celestial title thinking that it would encourage good behavior.
However, it was a lowly title effectively making him a stable attendant in heaven. The Monkey God rebelled by giving himself a smarter title "Great Sage, Equal of Heaven", 齐天大圣, and returned to the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit.
Havoc in Heaven 大闹天宫
One of the most exciting events in the celestial court was the longevity peach party, 蟠桃宴, hosted by the Queen Mother of the West, 西王母. The peaches ripen only once several thousand years and immortals were invited to enjoy the peaches that confer longevity to whoever ate it.
The Monkey God was extremely annoyed when he realized he was not invited. Not to be insulted, the Monkey God invited himself there and consumed all the peaches while creating more havoc.
His behavior attracted retaliation from the Jade Emperor who sent celestial warriors to capture him. Although the Monkey God defeated them initially, he was finally caught and thrown into a cauldron that produces elixirs but he survived.
Seeing no effective way of controlling the Monkey god, the Jade Emperor asked the Buddha for help and finally managed to subdue the Monkey God. He was imprisoned in the Mount of Five Fingers, 五指山 and had to wait for five hundred years before being released by the Tang pilgrim monk Xuan Zang, 玄奘. The Monkey God was then assigned to escort Xuan Zang to India to collect Buddhist scriptures.
Journey to the West 西游记
Xuan Zang became the Monkey God’s teacher and gave him the name Sun Wu Kong, 孙悟空. But knowing how playful and willful the Monkey God can be, Guan Yin (观音) became his mentor and gave Xuan Zang powers to control the monkey if necessary.
Sun Wu Kong along with his fellow disciples, Pigsy (猪八戒) and Sandy (沙悟浄) successfully escorted Xuan Zang to India and returned to China with important Buddhist scriptures.
The Monkey God
The Monkey God is frequently depicted in sculptures, paintings and performed as a character in Chinese operas. He is also worshipped as a Taoist Deity in temples and shrines. In some places, the Monkey God communicates with devotees via a spirit medium.
The Monkey God is popular with children and adults as evident from his long list of titles. Children are of course attracted by his playfulness and curiosity.
To adults, the Monkey God can be said to represent the creative, playful and rebellious side of every human and even the dominant character of some others. These are not necessarily negative attributes as they also have a natural affinity to right injustice and a desire for equality. When they are given the space for expression and with the help of a mentor, they can achieve a lot.