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by Wu Cheng En

Translated by Arthur Waley

A couple of years ago when I went to TamAlanSee Buddhist monastery near the river Kwai, 4 hours west from Bangkok I took 3 books with me. Monkey, The I Ching and Pogacnik's book on Nature Spirits. I felt that during my 6 weeks in a Thai rice paddy village I would needed some material to help me come to grips with what I was to experience. Village Buddhism is about Devas and elementals. My Su Fu (master) was from a Chinese background. Monkey seemed approbate.

Monkey is the Chinese classic which combines the divine and human and is an allegory of own personal journey to spiritual development.

Arthur Waley has managed to put together from a huge supply of Chinese folk tales a collection of pieces that have a beginning, a middle and an end and so can be read as a novel. Infact it's very readable - Waley's translation is superb.

But to have a proper understanding of the material it is helpful to know about the "month of the hungry ghost;" that period of 28 days when the gates of hell are opened. One's ancestors come visiting and so do all manner of oddities. Robber Kings who have been clubbed to death, evil advisers - who being less than human are disembowelled, boiled in oil or have their heads cut off. The pragmatic Chinese found over the centuries that it was wise to entertain hungry ghosts so that they don't amuse themselves by playing about in the affairs of the living.

How do you entertain a ghost deformed by the tortures of hell, a ghost out to seeking revenge amongst the distant progeny of his executioner? You put on a noisy play, a Wahy Yanng, a play that lasts for days and days and contains humour, satire, poetry and gives 'information' about to ghosts (and the living) about why they are in hell and what they need to do to get out of it! Drums beat and sharp male voices call all the neighbouring ghosts to watch the play.

Just like I experienced at TamAlanSee when villagers died and enchanting Pied Piper music was played. Music so enchanting the my Chinese wife needed to restrain me.

The Wahy Yanng runs its long winding path from episode to episode, entertaining the living and the dead. Visualise the characters as you read and you will add to your enjoyment. Imagine Piggsey and Monkey moving around a stage dressed in gaudy clothes using the words Waley has put into their mouths.

But you will be more than entertained. You, like the hungry ghosts will also be taught via the language of myth. During the days you spend reading Monkey understandings will drift into your 'monkey mind' (your body's mind) and you will learn - like the characters in the story - to control its passions and seek the harmony that comes from travelling the long and difficult road that leads to the sutras and the Buddha.

And, along the way, you will learn useful bits of wisdom. Monkey is full of Ecognosis - knowledge about how the world is constructed. From it you will learn about the feats of Monks, Devas, Gods and magicians. About the credit system of good works that operates between the worlds of the living and the dead. How to visit in your 'monkey mind' the worlds of dragons and devas, Bodhisattvas and the Buddha, how to talk to them and how to negotiate deals.

How does one visit? By cloud flying. Su Fu, my master taught me how. Just like Monkey's master showed him. ... "Imagine your skeleton standing infront of you - it comes out of your solar plexus - extend it up - reach up to the cloud - pull yourself up - look to where you want to go."

Frankly it's all about visualisation.

So, you want to cloud fly? Imagine the stage sets in Monkey, visualise what the storey says, read and reread and you will grow in wisdom with every page. And all without memorising a single word.

Canberra 3.12.01

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