Sun Wu Kung: The Master

As you will see in this episode, the monkey-king is not the most obedient pupil, driving his teacher to utter frustration. You might know the Buddhist term "monkey mind," which the monkey-king personifies. You can read more about the "monkey mind" at Wikipedia.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the The Monkey King unit. Story source: "The Ape Sun Wu Kung" in The Chinese Fairy Book, ed. by R. Wilhelm and translated by Frederick H. Martens (1921).

The Master

Sun Wu Kung bowed and answered: “I was listening attentively to you when the meaning of your words was disclosed to my heart, and without thinking I began to dance for joy. I was not giving way to my wild nature.”

Said the master: “If your spirit has really awakened, then I will announce the great truth to you. But there are three hundred and sixty ways by means of which one may reach this truth. Which way shall I teach you?”

Said Sun Wu Kung: “Whichever you will, O Master!”

Then the Master asked: “Shall I teach you the way of magic?”

Said Sun Wu Kung: “What does magic teach one?”

The Master replied: “It teaches one to raise up spirits, to question oracles, and to foretell fortune and misfortune.”

“Can one secure eternal life by means of it?” inquired Sun Wu Kung.

“No,” was the answer.

“Then I will not learn it.”

“Shall I teach you the sciences?”

“What are the sciences?”

“They are the nine schools of the three faiths. You learn how to read the holy books, pronounce incantations, commune with the gods, and call the saints to you.”

“Can one gain eternal life by means of them?”


“Then I will not learn them.”

“The way of repose is a very good way.”

“What is the way of repose?”

“It teaches how to live without nourishment, how to remain quiescent in silent purity, and sit lost in meditation.”

“Can one gain eternal life in this way?”


“Then I will not learn it.”

“The way of deeds is also a good way.”

“What does that teach?”

“It teaches one to equalize the vital powers, to practise bodily exercise, to prepare the elixir of life and to hold one’s breath.”

“Will it give one eternal life?”

“Not so.”

“Then I will not learn it! I will not learn it!”

Thereupon the Master pretended to be angry, leaped down from his stand, took his cane and scolded: “What an ape! This he will not learn, and that he will not learn! What are you waiting to learn, then?” With that he gave him three blows across the head, retired to his inner chamber, and closed the great door after him.

The disciples were greatly excited and overwhelmed Sun Wu Kung with reproaches. Yet the latter paid no attention to them, but smiled quietly to himself for he had understood the riddle which the Master had given him to solve. And in his heart he thought: “His striking me over the head three times meant that I was to be ready at the third watch of the night. His withdrawing to his inner chamber and closing the great door after him, meant that I was to go in to him by the back door, and that he would make clear the great truth to me in secret.”

Accordingly he waited until evening, and made a pretense of lying down to sleep with the other disciples. But when the third watch of the night had come, he rose softly and crept to the back door. Sure enough it stood ajar.

He slipped in and stepped before the Master’s bed. The Master was sleeping with his face turned toward the wall, and the ape did not venture to wake him, but knelt down in front of the bed.

After a time the Master turned around and hummed a stanza to himself:

“A hard, hard grind,
Truth’s lesson to expound.
One talks oneself deaf, dumb and blind,
Unless the right man’s found.”

Then Sun Wu Kung replied: “I am waiting here reverentially!”

(600 words)

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