STORY SO FAR: The Monkey King, in pursuit of a sage who can teach him the secrets of life, wanders into a dark forest, where he comes upon the cave of Master Subhodi.
The child looked around again and shouted, «Is there anybody here who was born from a stone?»
Monkey was so startled, he tumbled out of the tree and fell at the child’s feet. He peeked up at her. «Little one, I was born from a stone.» The tiny child looked down. «You naughty monkey! Hiding in a tree. Hurry. Master is waiting for you.»
«Are you sure he’s waiting for me?» Monkey asked, truly astonished. «Did you come from a faraway mountain?» the child asked. «Are you here to study how to live forever?» «That’s me,» Monkey said with delight. «Truly, your master must be wise if he already knows who I am.» «Master Subhodi knows everything. Now come along,» the child replied.
Monkey followed the child into the cave, which was filled with a soft blue light. Where the light came from he could not tell. After walking along for about a hundred paces, the tiny child suddenly vanished. «Child!» Monkey called. «Where did you go?» No answer. She was gone. Monkey never saw her again.
«Silly trick! Nothing s-scares me,» Monkey told himself, and walked on.
Momentarily he came to a room that held a large platform made of rare woods, woods which gave off a delicate perfume. Around the platform, on mats, sat thirty students. On the platform, sitting still as a statue, with his legs crossed, was Master Subhodi.
Master Subhodi’s long beard and eyebrows were snowy white. His round face was kind; his eyes gleamed with knowledge and wisdom. Everything about him was solemn and dignified. «Master!» shouted Monkey, shattering the silence of the cave and startling several students as he made a clumsy bow before the sage. «I offer you my most humble respects!»
«Where are you from?» the master asked, unruffled. His voice was soft and deep. «I am from the great Mountain of Flowers and Fruits in the glorious province of Ao-lai,» Monkey said. «I was born from a huge stone atop that mountain. I am also the Magnificent King of the Monkey Clan.»&
The trace of a smile appeared on Master Subhodi’s face. A great sage, he already knew about Monkey. In fact, Master Subhodi had been waiting for him. But all he said now was, «Tell me what you wish to learn.» «To live forever!» Monkey wanted to say, but he decided it was better to sound modest. Instead, he said, «I wish to learn any kind of wisdom you can teach me.»
Master Subhodi laughed gently. Here is a naughty one, he thought. I shall test him first. So he said, «Monkey, there are three hundred and sixty schools of wisdom. We start with «Quietism.» It teaches you how to be thoughtful, and restrained in word and deed.»
Monkey frowned. «Will . . . will it teach me how to live forever?» «Certainly not.» «I don’t think I desire that kind of wisdom.» «Very well,» said Master Subhodi. «What about natural philosophy? You’ll learn to read a lot of sacred texts.» «Will that teach me how to live forever?» «Absolutely not.»
«I’m afraid reading would be too boring for me. I’m a monkey, after all. I can’t sit still.» «I see,» said Master Subhodi. «Then what about the wisdom of exercises? You will learn to balance your Yin and Yang and develop your breathing powers.» «Will that teach me how to live forever?» asked Monkey. «Not at all.»
«Master,» said Monkey, «I’m not good at things which are difficult. Teach me something quick and easy.» Master Subhodi seemed to lose his patience. «You won’t learn this!» he cried. «You won’t learn that! How dare you call yourself a student!» He stood up and strode over to Monkey. The students gasped.
Master Subhodi stared hard into Monkey’s eyes. Suddenly he lifted his right hand and struck Monkey on the head, slap! slap! slap!, three times. Then he folded his hands behind his back and walked away. The students were stupefied. Never before had they seen the master lose his temper. «Master!» Monkey cried out. Master Subhodi turned, gave Monkey a very strange look, and walked off into an inner room. The students glared at Monkey.&
«Go back to your mountain, Monkey!» one of them shouted. «I don’t think Master wants to teach you anything.» Monkey, ignoring the taunts, was truly puzzled. He felt that the master had been trying to tell him something. A secret, perhaps? But what? Monkey touched his head where Master had struck him. Suddenly a broad grin appeared on Monkey’s face. He was quite certain he knew the answer.
(To be continued.)
| Text copyright © 2001 Ji-li Jiang|
Illustrations copyright © 2001 Hui Hui Su-Kennedy
Reprinted by permission of Breakfast Serials, Inc