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Sun Wu-Kung

by Darrell E. Hayhurst III
Sun Wu-Kung is the given name of the Monkey King. Sun, his family name, is based on the Chinese word for monkey. He is also known as the Handsome Monkey King, Xing Zhe (Traveling Monk), and Pi Ma-Wen, though the latter he considers quite an insult, and its use enrages him. Sun Wu-Kung is the one of the major characters in the classic tale "Journey to the West", about the Tang Monk Tripitaka and his journey to the Western Heaven to gain holy scriptures from Buddha and bring them back to China.

Sun Wu-Kung was born of primal chaos, hatching from a stone egg impregnated by the sky. He ruled over a kingdom of monkeys on a remote island, naming himself Handsome Monkey King. One day an elderly monkey passed away, and the Handsome Monkey King decided to leave the island to learn how to become immortal.

He traveled through the lands of humans, and finally he found a mountain where a Taoist priest took him on as a student. Monkey proved a very adept student at martial arts, magical transformations, and cloud dancing, an art that enabled him to leap thousands of miles with one jump. But Handsome Monkey King was mischievous, and was finally expelled for showing off.

He returned back to his island, destroyed monsters that had taken up residence there, and soon turned his eyes towards heaven, believing himself as powerful as the gods. He named himself The Great Sage, Equal to Heaven, and demanded that the Jade Emperor recognize him as such. Realizing his power, Jade Emperor granted the request, and appointed Monkey a position as Pi Ma-Wen...which means 'stable boy'. Monkey was pleased by the title, and happily performed his role until he found out it was a menial job, and that all the other gods were laughing at him. Enraged, he disrupted heaven, stealing and eating immortality granting peaches meant for a festival, and consuming immortality pills prepared by Lao Tsu.

Monkey fled back to his island, and established defenses as the gods pursued him. Embattled, he and his army of monkeys held off the heavenly host, who several times had to flee for reinforcements. Finally, Lao Tsu, the Boddhisattva Kuan Shi-Yin, and the Deveraja family were able to subdue him. Jade Emperor tried to have him executed, but Monkey's magic was too strong. He was placed in Lao Tsu's cauldron to be exterminated, but it only refined him, and he leapt out to cause havoc in heaven once more. Finally, Jade Emperor petitioned Buddha himself to aid them. Buddha responded, and waged a contest with Monkey. Monkey lost, and was trapped under a mountain and tormented for 500 years.

Kuan Shi-Yin organized his release, appointing the repentant monkey to be the bodyguard for a holy monk traveling from China to the Western Heaven to receive scriptures from Buddha himself. This was to be harder than it sounded, as Tripitaka, the monk sent on the mission, had practiced a virtuous life of cultivation for his last ten incarnations. This meant that eating his flesh could grant immortality to monsters, making the monk a constant target for demonic attacks.

But by then, Monkey had acquired and developed vast powers, making him a formidable bodyguard. He knew the ways of 72 transformations, and so he could change his body into anything from the size of a flea up to a massive giant. In addition, each of his hairs could be transformed as well, so by pulling a few hairs, and chewing them up, he could produce an army of copies of himself. He could disguise himself as any creature he had met, and only gods with very keen vision could see through the false form. He himself had keen vision, and he could spot disguised monsters up to 10,000 miles away during the day. He was an extremely skilled martial artist, and he knew cloud dancing, which would enable him to cover massive distances in a very short time. He also possessed a magic weapon, which he won from the Dragon Kings of the ocean. He called it his Compliant Rod, a shape-shifting stave of metal which was reported to weigh more than 13,000 pounds. He usually wore it behind his ear, the shape and size of a toothpick, but when called to battle the rod could become thicker than a battle staff, and even produce multiples of itself at his command.

In his primal form, Monkey was a smallish creature, with grim simian features and strong, wiry limbs. As he traveled among humans, his form and posture became more humanoid, but he retained his monkey face, furry body, and his tail. At the height of his power, he wore a suit of golden armor that he bullied out of the Dragon Kings. After his imprisonment he wore silk garments given to him by Kuan Shi-Yin, and a tiger pelt tied around his waist. After being cooked in Lao Tsu's cauldron his eyes were diamond hard, and had flaming red pupils.

He had very few weaknesses. He was afraid of smoke after being cooked in the cauldron, and smoke of any kind makes his hard eyes water. He is a poor fighter underwater, so his opponents would often flee into lakes or rivers to escape his wrath. He is also very poor at meditation, being completely unable to sit still. His greatest weakness was the iron crown on his head, imposed upon him by Kuan Shi-Yin. Whenever a spell was recited, it would constrict and crush his skull.

He kept watch over the monk for nearly the entire journey, becoming his disciple, along with Chu Pa-Chieh, The Sha Monk, and the Dragon Horse. He had to face many monsters, some of which were former allies from his own monstrous past. Finally the scriptures were recovered, and Sun Wu-Kung was made the Buddha of Victory Through Strife.

Sun Wu-Kung is often associated with the Hindu god Hanuman. See also Hanuman, Monkey, Monkey King, Sun Hou-Zi.


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