Story Idea - The Ape Immortals (Sun Wukong origin) Picture

I have been a devoted fan of the 16th-century Chinese classic Xiyouji (西游记), Journey to the West: hereafter “JTTW”) and the lead character Sun Wukong (孙悟空), the Monkey King, ever since I first discovered the work almost 15 years ago. As someone who studies primates and enjoys mythology, I've always wanted to create my own primate-based character similar to Monkey. I originally wanted him to be the son of Sun Wukong or the son of one of his advisers or allies during his days as a demon. Either way, I thought he could train under Monkey and gain similar powers. But then I decided that I wanted him to be a more civilized, yet more powerful version of Sun; someone who is held in high regard by all beings of the six realms (demons, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras, and devas) of Buddhist cosmology, as well as the Buddha himself. After reading about the ancient Chinese view of the gibbon, I thought the character could be an ape immortal (猿仙). It was only recently that I decided to pair him with a female since gibbons mate for life.

A rough sketch of the story is presented above. The tale is meant to be a standalone story, but it includes details that explain the origin of Monkey and how his life parallels his spiritual parentage. I’ve drawn upon traditional Chinese religious and vernacular texts for inspiration. The notes contain pertinent information on the texts I used and why the particular plot choices were made.

Notes

[1] This is based on chapter 42 of the Daodejing (道德经), the premiere holy text of Daoism. The original passage has been interpreted differently by different scholars. I’m using the interpretation presented in Laozi and William Scott Wilson, Tao Te Ching: An All-New Translation (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2012), 197 n. 82 and 83. The cited text, however, makes no mention of the Three Pure Ones. This is based on later Daoist texts and folk views on the supreme immortals (Keith Stevens, Chinese Gods: The Unseen World of Spirits and Demons (London: Collins & Brown, 1997), 68-70).

[2] The Chinese viewed the gibbon (猿) as symbolic of Confucian gentlemen and Daoist immortals. Their long arms were thought to be evidence of their expertise in soaking up qi (Jp: ki, 气); this resulted in long lives and occult powers (Thomas Geissmann, “Gibbon Paintings in China, Japan, and Korea: Historical Distribution, Production Rate and Context” Gibbon Journal no. 4 (May 2008): 1-3. Accessed December 4, 2013. www.gibbonconservation.org/07_… ).

[3] JTTW never explains where the magical cave came from. This is my attempt to give it an origin story.

[4] JTTW states the following about the stone: “Since the creation of the world, it had been nourished for a long period by the seeds of Heaven and Earth and by the essences of the sun and moon, until, quickened by divine inspiration it became pregnant with a divine embryo” (Wu Cheng'en and Anthony C. Yu, The Journey to the West (Vol. 1) (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 101). I realize the book is fiction, but I’ve never been satisfied with its explanation for Monkey’s birth. Why would the rock produce a simian character? This is why I wrote that the Ape Immortals make love on the stone. In Daoist sexual practices, earth and heaven are often euphemisms for the feminine and masculine sexual energies of yin and yang (阴阳) (Douglas Wile, Art of the Bedchamber: The Chinese Sexual Yoga Classics Including Women's Solo Meditation Texts (Albany: State University of New York Press, 19920, 11-12 and 28-29.). Therefore, what I have proposed is simply a difference in semantics.

[5] Gibbon duets have an ethereal quality. Those wishing to listen to some can do so here and here (make sure your volume is not too high). It's interesting to note that gibbons can naturally perform what takes professional opera singers years of dedicated practice to achieve (Kathryn Lougheed, "Helium reveals gibbon's soprano skill: Ape uses operatic technique to be heard across the forest," Nature.com, Nature Publishing Group, 23 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Jan. 2014. < www.nature.com/news/helium-rev… >).

[6] The original mythology has the pillar being fallen by a water demon. I guess an explanation could be included somewhere that the original reason for the disaster, the gibbon song, was forgotten to time and confused with a different incident.

[7] I wanted there to be a parallel between Monkey's imprisonment and their exile, both of which are connected to mountains.

[8] The Buddha’s training under them would probably happen in the distant past when he is still a Bodhisattva in the Tushita heaven. I listed Subodhi because I wanted there to be a further link between Monkey and the Ape Immortals. Therefore, the skills of his spiritual parents are transmitted to him by a former student of theirs.

[9] This is based on the events in the 16th-century Chinese classic Fengshen Yanyi (封神演义), Investiture of the Gods). In the story, chaos in heaven causes many gods to be reborn on earth as various heroes of the competing Shang and Zhou Dynasties. The King of Zhou wins the conflict and his strategist, an apprentice of the supreme immortal Yuanshi Tianzun (元始天尊), one of the Three Pure Ones (三清), uses a magic list to deify the souls of those who died in battle. Thus, heaven is repopulated once more (Stevens, Chinese Gods, 60).

[10] The strengths of each correspond to the skills passed on to the Buddha when he was still a Bodhisattva and the immortal Subodhi. Again, I wanted there to be a parallel between Monkey and his spiritual parents. They rebel like he did, but they do so because of injustice, not pride. However, I must say that such lofty immortals would have surely evolved passed such earthly “wants and needs” (e.g. lust and anger). Daoist literature and vernacular Chinese fiction often describes immortals as being celibate. But the immortal love of the couple may transcend what might be expected of human-based immortals. I could present them as the living embodiment of yin and yang. Douglas Wile states: “The early [Daoist] texts are marked by the existential loneliness of yin and yang for each other, and their union consummates a cosmic synergy” (Wile, Arts of the Bedchamber, 29).

[11] An example of trickery would be the way that the Buddha uses illusion to trick Monkey into thinking that he has left his hand in the seventh chapter of JTTW.

[12] A Mahakalpa (大劫) is the longest period of time in Buddhist Cosmology; it is believed to last 1,347,000,000 years (William Edward Soothill and Lewis Hodous, A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms: With Sanskrit and English Equivalents and a Sanskrit-Pali Index (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2005), 85 and 232-233). What I wrote about the cyclical destruction of the universe by fire, water, and wind is based on Buddhist doctrine (Randy Kloetzli, Buddhist Cosmology: From Single World System to Pure Land: Science and Theology in the Images of Motion and Light (Oxford: Motilal Books (U.K.), 1983), 73-76).

Bibliography

Geissmann, Thomas. “Gibbon Paintings in China, Japan, and Korea: Historical Distribution, Production Rate and Context.” Gibbon Journal no. 4 (May 2008): 1-38. Accessed December 4, 2013. www.gibbonconservation.org/07_… .

Kloetzli, Randy. Buddhist Cosmology: From Single World System to Pure Land: Science and Theology in the Images of Motion and Light. Oxford: Motilal Books (U.K.), 1983.

Lougheed, Kathryn. "Helium reveals gibbon's soprano skill: Ape uses operatic technique to be heard across the forest." Nature.com. Nature Publishing Group, 23 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Jan. 2014. www.nature.com/news/helium-rev… .

Soothill, William Edward, and Lewis Hodous. A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms: With Sanskrit and English Equivalents and a Sanskrit-Pali Index. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2005.

Stevens, Keith. Chinese Gods: The Unseen World of Spirits and Demons. London: Collins & Brown, 1997.

Wile, Douglas. Art of the Bedchamber: The Chinese Sexual Yoga Classics Including Women's Solo Meditation Texts. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.

Wu, Cheng'en, and Anthony C. Yu. The Journey to the West (Vol. 1). Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
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