Episode 6B – A Questing We Will Go

Episode 6B Show Notes

Source: Chinese Mythology

This week on MYTH, we’ll begin Monkey’s epic journey to the west to retrieve Indian magic.  This is the second episode on the epic tale of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King.  If you haven’t heard the first part, I’d recommend going back and listening.  It’s not strictly necessary to understand this week’s story, but it provides a lot of back story on the characters which will be helpful. In this episode, you’ll learn how to get a dragon horse, that monsters have some funny ideas about what buddhism means, and that the best way to complete a quest is to have a god do most of the work.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, we’ll find out how mistreating animals can create hellspawn.  This is the Myths Your Teacher Hated podcast, where I tell the stories of cultures around the world in all of their original, bloody, uncensored glory.  Modern tellings of these stories have become dry and dusty, but I’ll be trying to breathe new life into them.  This is Episode 6B, “A Questing We Will Go”.  As always, this episode is not safe for work.

  • During the Tang Dynasty, the goddess Kuan-Yin offered to release Monkey if he would promise to serve as a guide for the priest known as Sanding as he undertook the difficult journey to the Western Heaven 108,000 miles away.
  • Sanzang (based on the historical monk Xuanzang, who lived from 602 to 664 AD) is making the journey to retrieve sutras from the Buddha in order to release souls from the torments of Hell.  This is a common theme in mythology from the Greek story of Orpheus (which we’ll get to) to the Christian story of Jesus descending into Hell to rescue the souls of Abraham, Moses, etc.  He sets out along the Silk Road with two attendants.
  • Almost immediately, he falls into a pit trap set by an evil demon king.  I say evil, because Monkey is also technically a demon, as will be many of the characters in the story.  Not all demons are evil, just magical, powerful, and non-human.  The demon eats the two attendants, tying the priest up for later.  Fortunately, a deus ex machina appears in the form of an old man with a walking stick who happens by.  He breaks the ropes with a wave of his hand and leads him out of the pit back to the main road.  Sanding turns to thank his rescuer, but the old man is gone.  A piece of paper drifts down, and Sanding snatches it out of the air.  It says “No thanks necessary.  Venus.”  It turns out that the spirit of Venus came down and saved him because reasons.  This kind of things is going to happen a lot, so just accept it now.
  • Sanzang continues on, and again runs into trouble almost immediately.  A hungry tiger jumps out of the bushes.  The priest, not really know how to defend himself (which seems like a helpful thing to know before setting out on a dangerous quest) closes his eyes and kisses his ass goodbye.  Instead, a man runs down the mountain with a steel trident and scares the tiger off.  The man, Liu Boqin, says that he is warden of the mountain and insists that the priest come with him for dinner.  He agrees. 
  • That night, he finds out that Boqin’s father died and they fear for his soul, so the priest prays for him.  Sure enough, the drowned ghost shows up at the door and thanks them for saving his soul.  “I’m gonna be reincarnated now, instead of being damned for all eternity, so that’s cool.  Make sure you pay the man, son.”  And he vanishes.
  • The warden tries to pay Sanzang, but he refuses anything.  Then he thinks for a moment an realizes that he keeps nearly dying, so he asks Boqin to go with him for the next part of the journey.  Boqin, having just seen his dead dad tell him to pay up, can’t very well say no.
  • They travel together for a few days before Boqin asks to go back home to his family.  The priest begs him to go a little farther.  As they’re discussing, a loud noise rings out from the nearby mountain.  “Fuck,” says Boqin.  “That damned monkey is yelling again.”
  • “Wait, what monkey?”  asks the priest, thoroughly confused.  “Well, this used to be called the Five Elements Mountain.  There’s a monkey demon trapped under the mountain.  Totally normal.  Don’t worry about it.  I’m pretty sure he can’t get out.  If you want, we can go take a look.”
  • They travel two miles into the mountain and, sure enough, they find a monkey sitting in a stone cage yelling for someone to come let him out.  He chitters excitedly when he sees the two men.  Yup, it’s the Monkey King, naked as a jay bird (though still hairy).  “About fucking time, guys!  Kuan-Yin was here ages ago to tell me that you were coming, and that you could let me out if I agreed to go with you on whatever stupid quest you’re on.  So come on, chop chop.  I’ll help you if you let me out.  Deal?”
  • “Well, I’m pretty stoked that you want to become a monk (even if that’s not exactly what you thought you were agreeing to), but I don’t have the tools to get you out.  Tough luck.”  Monkey says “Hold on, guy.  You don’t need any tools.  Buddha put a seal on the top of the mountain.  You remove it, and I can get myself out.  Whaddaya say?”
  • The warden shrugs and says he can lead Sanzang there.  At the peak, they golden light streaming from a square rock with a piece of paper on it.  Sanzang rips off the seal and the whole mountain starts to shake.  Certain they are about to die because they trusted a strange monkey demon for no good reason, they are surprised when Monkey appears before him and says.  Alright, where to boss?”
  • The warden goes home and the two continue on.  Before long, they are jumped by six bandits.  Monkey cracks his knuckles and says “I got this.”  He then proceeds to rip the six men to shreds because they’re just fucking bandits and Monkey has fought off the armies of heaven.  The priest, while glad to be alive is horrified that the monkey just murdered a bunch of people for him.  Given his obvious power, that wasn’t necessary.  Monkey just enjoys killing because he’s an amoral demon. “Monkey, you can’t just fucking kill people.  I’m a priest!  Killing is sort of very against the rules!”  “You’re just jealous that I’m better than you, asshole!  No one puts Monkey in a corner!”  And he jumped off into the sky.
  • Fortunately, another deus ex machina happens along.   An old woman sees the priest, and asks where he is headed. “I’ve been sent by the King of the East to go visit Buddha in the west  and ask him for the magic sutras.”
  • “Good fucking luck, Mr. Priest.  He lives in the Great Thunder Monastery, 108,000 miles away in India.  You’ll never get there alone.”  India is obviously not that far away, because nothing on the planet is that far away, but whatever.  Geography is not mythology’s strong suit.
  • “I’m not alone, old woman.  I’ve got this troublesome monkey demon who won’t listen to me.  Now that I hear it out loud, that makes it worse, I think.” 
  • “Yeah, I think it does.  Sorry I can help.  I’ll tell you what though.  I’ve got this embroidered tunic and this beautiful golden headband.  It was my son’s, but he was only a monk for three days before he died.  His master gave them to me to remember him by after the funeral, but since you have a naked assistant, maybe he can use it instead.  Where is he?”
  • “Yeah, about that.  I told him he probably shouldn’t murder people and he got mad and left, so I guess I don’t need them.  Thanks anyway.”  The old woman didn’t budge.  “Where did he go?”  “How should I know?  Back east, probably.”
  • The old woman nodded.  “I bet he hasn’t gone far.  My home isn’t far east from here, so he probably stopped to raid my pantry.  I’ll go get him and send him back.”  The old woman shimmers and is revealed as the goddess Kuan-Yin.  The goddess, having read of Monkey’s previous shit stirring, hadn’t actually trusted him to keep his word.  “The headband is actually magic, Sanzang.  Just recite the phrase “True Words to Calm the Mind” and it will allow you to control Monkey.  Don’t tell anyone how to use it and make sure you keep the phrase a secret.  I’d whisper the spell if I were you.  With this, no more running away and no more murders.”  She vanishes before Sanzang can finish bowing in thanks.
  • Monkey, jumps out of the sky moments later, complaining about a feisty old woman.  He sees the robe and headband and,tired of being naked, grabs them.  “Are these for me?”  He doesn’t wait for an answer before putting it all on.  “Do I look sexy?  I bet I look sexy.”  Alright, see ya, ass wipe.
  • Sanzang whispers the phrase, and the headband starts squeezing Monkey’s head until his eyes felt like they were about to fucking burst.  He screamed angrily and tried to take it off, but being magic, he couldn’t do a damned thing about it.  After clawing at his head for a while, he gives up and decides that this is really what he wanted to be doing the whole time anyway.  “You’re tougher than I thought, priest.”
  • They continue on and eventually reach Eagle’s Sorrow Gorge in the Coiled Snake Mountain.  With no warning, a dragon bursts out of the river below and leaps up the mountain at Sanzang.  Monkey panics, drops the bags, grabs the priest and bolts leaving bags and Sanzang’s horse behind.  Monkey is too fast, so the dragon makes do with eating the horse.  Realizing that all of their food is in the bags, Sanzang sends Monkey back (who must have forgotten just how immortal he is), but the horse is gone.  They have the bags, but it’s going to take forever to get to India with the priest on foot. 
  • Monkey decides to fight the dragon.  Near as I can tell, his plan was to ride a fucking dragon the rest of the way.  He can’t seem to catch him, so Monkey goes to Kuan-Yin for help, and she turns the dragon into a horse.  So now he has a dragon horse for no real reason.
  • That night, they stay at the Chan Monastery of Kuan-Yin, since she’s been fucking active as hell in this.  The abbot offers them tea.  Sanzang is full of praise at the beautiful china tea set, but the abbot says “These old things?  They’re shit.  You’ve come from the big city on a heavenly quest.  You must have some real treasures.  Can I see them?”  Sanzang, realizing a trap when he hears one says he doesn’t have any treasures.  He just a humble monk.  Monkey, however, pipes up and says he saw a priest’s robes in the bag that was old and expensive looking.  Wouldn’t that be a treasure?  Gritting his teeth, sanzang agrees and pulls it out to show the abbot. 
  • The abbot squints at it and says “Well, this might be a treasure.  It’s getting dark, so my old eyes can’t really tell.  Can I keep it overnight to look at?  I’ll totally give it back in the morning.”  Again, Sanzang can tell this is a terrible idea, but Monkey agrees and promises that he’ll be responsible, just you watch.
  • That night, the abbot sets fire to the monastery to try and kill the demon and the priest.  Monkey figures out what’s happening and steals the robe back.  Then, he brings the horse and all of their bags into the room and uses his magic to protect it from the fire.  Because of how this story works, a monster from the mountain sees the fire and the glow of magic coming from within, so he sneaks up to investigate.  He sees the rare Buddhist treasure and steals it while Monkey is occupied keeping everyone from burning to death.  Once the fire is out, Monkey vows to get the robe back on his own.
  • Monkey has a weird idea of what “on his own” means.  He finds the Black Spirit easily enough, but can’t catch it to find out where it hid the treasure, so he goes to Kuan-Yin again.  “Hey, goddess lady.  You fixed the dragon problem.  Can you catch this guy too?”  She shakes her head but says “I guess it is a pretty powerful monster.  I suppose I can go with you, but you’re supposed to be his guardian, not me.”  Monkey blows a raspberry.
  • They head in the direction of the Black Spirit and soon meet a monk with a glass tray and two pills.  Monkey picks up his staff and knocks the man’s head clean off in a massive gout of blood.  “Are you fucking serious, you ape?  You’re supposed to be learning discipline here. That guy didn’t steal your robe, so what the fuck?”
  • “Tsk tsk, goddess lady.  I saw that guy talking to the Black Spirit yesterday.  It’s apparently the Black Spirit’s birthday tomorrow, and I bet this guy was bringing him a present for his Buddha robe party.  See, these pills are immortality pills.  I know all about them.  You want to get the robe back, I have a plan.”
  • The next day, Monkey eats one of the two pills (becoming quadruple immortal) and transforms into an identical, though slightly larger pill.  Kuan-Yin transforms herself into the evil monk, whose name they learns is Master Emptiness Achieved because it’s written on the bottom of the tray.  The large pill laughs and says “Are you a goddess disguised as an evil monk or a goddess who is actually an evil monk?” The evil monk says “Honestly, they’re pretty much the same.  They both belong to non-existence.”  Seriously, that’s the line.  The evil monk then takes the tray to the party.
  • Like any good party guest, she offers the her gift of the larger immortality pill to the birthday demon as soon as she arrives, and he, deciding not to wait for presents, swallows it.  As soon as he hit the stomach, he turn back into his normal form and begins doing acrobatics.  Understandably, the fiend drops to the ground clutching his now grossly distended stomach in agony.  “What the fuck did you feed me, Emptiness Achieved?” 
  • Kuan-Yin reveals herself and tells the demon to repent his evil ways and join her if he wants to live.  Under duress, he agrees.  She blesses him, and removes Monkey from his stomach with her magic.  She tells the now reformed demon to take up his spear and follow her, and for monkey to go back to the priest and quit fucking goofing off.   
  • The two travel in relative peace for a few days before coming to a small village.  Upon seeing the priest and the monkey warrior, and old man named Old Gao drops to his knees in the street and begs for help.  It seems that a monster stole the Old Gao’s youngest daughter to be his wife six months ago.  And by wife, he really means sex slave. 
  • The priest agrees to help, and Monkey sneaks into the cave while the monster is out and frees the girl.  Then, he transforms himself into the girl and waits.  The monster comes home a few hours later and immediately tries to kiss what he thinks is his bride.  He looks like a large, fat man, except that he has a half human half pig face.  Monkey adroitly trips the monster on the bed, pretending it’s an accident.  Before the monster can rise again, the girl says that her father has asked the world’s greatest warrior, the Grand Saint, Governor of Heaven, the Monkey King to free her.  You know, that guy who stormed the gates of heaven and hell five hundred years ago and single handedly won a war against both armies?  That guy.  The monster, deciding that a hot piece of ass isn’t worth it, says he’s gonna bug out.  Fuck this shit.
  • He then notices that the girl has a tail, so Monkey transforms back and challenges him to a fight.  Monster, thinking that Monkey probably made all of that shit up, agrees.  During the fight, Monkey starts bragging about how he is Kuan-Yin has made him the protector of this monk Sanzang on his journey to the Western Heaven to visit Buddha and ask for the magic sutras.
  • The monster immediately drops the rake he’s been fighting with and asks Monkey to take him to the priest.  Khan-Yin visited him some time ago and converted him.  He obeys the monastic rules and eats only vegetarian food now (I’m betting kidnapping and rape is against the rules, but hey, maybe he only kissed her for the last six months she’s been trapped here).  The goddess told him to wait until the pilgrim came by and then join as one of his disciples. 
  • Monkey, deciding this is totally believable, takes the monster, whose name is Piggy (really) to meet the priest.  Since the goddess had already pulled the same shit when she got the demon Monkey on his team, he decides to let Piggy come along.  Monkey’s tired of carrying the bags anyway.
  • The three continue on (the story doesn’t really say if the girl recovered from her six months of captivity, but for the sake of optimism, I’m going to pretend she does).  The meet a hermit in the mountains who teaches Sanzang a sutra to dispel evil influences, because with gods this involved, the probability of actually finding this one random hermit in the vast mountains means precisely dick.  They’re fated to meet, so meet they do.
  • They continue for another four or five hours after leaving the hermit when a wind starts to blow.  Monkey sniffs.  “That’s wind smells like trouble.  That’s either a monster wind or a tiger wind.”  Sure enough, a massive tiger leaps out of the bushes in front of them.  Piggy drops the bag and draws his rake.  “Where the fuck do you think you’re going, asshole?  Face the wrath of Piggy!”
  • The tiger stand up on his hind legs, slashes his own chest with his claws, peeling the skin off.  He carefully lays the skin over a nearby rock that is shaped like a crouching tiger.  Then, it’s body turns to smoke which grows to a hurricane.  It races down the path to Sanzang, who is reciting the magic sutra he just learned (because in quests, like in the Legend of Zelda, any new thing you get is clearly the next thing you need).  It does fuck all, and the priest is carried off on the wind. 
  • The monster takes him to Yellow Wind Cave on Yellow Wind Ridge where the Yellow Wind monster (I sense a theme here) lives.  The tiger offers up the bound priest as dinner for the Yellow Wind Monster, his boss.  Monkey quickly follows after and challenges the Yellow Wind Monster for possession of the priest.  They fight for thirty rounds with no clear winner (I don’t know who was officiating to decide that).  Monkey, tired of this bullshit, pulls out a hair, chews it into little bits, blows them all out and yells “Change!”  Each hair transforms into an exact copy of the Monkey King, complete with Iron Cudgel.
  • The Yellow Wind Monster, surprised, opens its mouth three times and blows, summoning a yellow hurricane.  The monkey copies are tossed around, helpless.  Monkey decides he needs help and goes to find the minor deity Lingji who lives nearby.  Lingji walks down the mountain and smashes his Flying Dragon Staff over the head of the Yellow Wind Monster, causing it to revert to its true form – a small brown bird.
  • The bird had apparently snuck into a god’s temple and stolen oil from the lamp crystal lamp there.  The lamp went out, and the bird was so scared of being caught by a the temple’s deity that he ran away and became a spirit monster, because apparently you can just decide to do that.
  • The monster defeated, the three continue on.  They eventually reach the three hundred mile wide Flowing Sand River.  The rush of the water grows to a roar like a collapsing mountain, and a hideous evil spirit emerges from the water.  Like we discussed in Episode 4, evil creatures are always ugly.  Monkey says he can’t fight in water, though I think that’s probably bullshit.  Most likely, Monkey just doesn’t like getting wet and isn’t above lying to avoid it.  Either way, Piggy takes up the challenge and fights the monster for a long time without making any headway. 
  • Monkey gets bored, and somersaults off to find Kuan-Yin (and yes, the original text specifies that he somersaults away).  She tells Monkey that the Sha Ho-shang, the Ogre of the Flowing Sand River, is another convert to their cause that Kuan-Yin has recruited.  I really don’t understand why these monsters, after being converted, keep attacking random passersby until the monk happens along, but it’s not explained.  Maybe they were just lying their ass off to the goddess to make her go away but then feel trapped when the fucking monk actually shows up. 
  • Kuan-Yin summons her disciple Huian and gives him a red bottle made from a gourd that she pulls from her sleeve like a fucking street magician.  She tells him to go with Monkey back to the Flowing Sands River to get the Ogre to join them.
  • Sha Ho-shang is an ogre exiled from heaven.  He wears a necklace of skulls, specifically the nine heads of Chinese deputies sent in former centuries to try and recover the sutras.  He was originally the Great Curtain-Lifting General for the Jade Emperor’s palace.  During an earlier banquet for the peach festival, he dropped a glass bowl, a favorite of the empress, and smashed it to pieces.  Naturally, the emperor gives him 800 lashes and has him exiled to earth forever.  He is unable to get any food other than what he can find, so he is cursed to devour passersby.  You would think he could try to figure something else out, but that’s the only solution he has (and the story paints is as really the only option), so we’re just gonna go with it.  As of this wasn’t enough, a flying sword appears overhead once a week and stab him in the chest and neck repeatedly.  Over dropping a fucking bowl because the empress liked it.  You can see why Monkey wanted to take over from the sky god.  Say it with me now: sky gods are assholes.
  • Sha Ho-Shang begs for death from Kuan-Yin as she passed through the region.  The goddess promised that he would be saved by the priest if he would serve Sanzang on his journey.  Ogre agrees and promises to lead a better life, so the goddess ordains him as a priest.
  • Huian holds up the bottle at the rivers edge and yells “Awakened to Purity”, which causes Ogre to stop fighting and walk docilely over to the shore.  Huian tells Ogre to thread the bottle in the middle of his skull necklace to create a magic boat to ferry the party across the river.  Ogre does as he is told, and the group, now four creatures, continues on.
  • Since the deus ex machina’s are getting pretty fucking ridiculous, it’s time for Gods and Monsters.  This is a segment where I get into a little more detail about the personalities and history of one of the gods or monsters from this week’s pantheon that was not discussed in the main story.   This week’s monsters are a pair of demons from the Chinese hell.  Their names are Niut’ou and Mamian, which means, colorfully, Ox-head and Horse-Face.  These aren’t insults, one really does have an ox head, and the other really does have a horse face, though both have the bodies of men.  They are the first being that a dead soul encounters after dying and entering the Land of the Dead, and they often escort dead souls directly to the underworld. 
  • They showed up briefly in the last episode, though they weren’t mentioned by name.  When Yen Wang had Monkey dragged down to hell to trap him there, Ox-head and Horse-face were the two sent to retrieve him.  It’s a sign of their formidable power that they actually succeed.  As we’ve already seen, Monkey has made a mockery of far more important gods than them.
  • In the Chinese mythology, not unlike in the Greek, the afterlife is full of creatures and beings that have specific tasks, and many used to be living creatures.  There are judges sitting trial over the vast hordes of the dead, there are demons who lead those who have died to their judgment or to their final resting places, and there are ghouls that punish the wicked.  Ox-head and Horserace are soldier of the Lord of the Dead.  Their job is to bring dead souls to the underworld for judgment. 
  • According to the myth, Ox-head and Horse-face used to be an actual ox and an actual horse.  Both were worked to death by their masters, and as part of their judgment, they were raised up to soldiers and given human bodies to help them carry out their tasks, but kept their animal heads as a reminder of who they once were.  Ox-head represents sickness.  Like a stubborn ox, and illness can slowly but steadily drag your soul into death.  Horse-face represents aging.  Like a one-track race horse, age carries every person swiftly towards the final destination without swerving or altering course.   
  • Stories about the pair are still told and believed today.  There is a tale about a 70 year old man named Huang who didn’t believe they were real until he met them.  Huang and his wife were waiting for the elevator along with a small group of people.  He felt eyes upon him, and turned to see two large men with pale faces standing nearby.  Huang and his wife made to enter, but the two men cut them off, and the rest of the crowd entered first, so there was no room.  The elevator doors closed and it descended without the pair. 
  • A few seconds later, Huang heard a loud snap followed shortly by an earth-shaking crash.  The elevator cable had snapped, and the safety system hadn’t engaged.  Everyone in the elevator car died in the fall.  Strangely, Huang learned that there were only five bodies recovered from the wreckage.  He was certain that there were 7 when the doors closed, and believes that the two large men were Ox-head and Horse-face, come to claim the souls that were about to need guidance.
  • So if a pair of large, pale men who may or may not have animal heads want to cut in front of you in line, let them.

That’s it for this episode of Myth Your Teacher Hated.  Keep up with new episodes on our Facebook page, on iTunes, on Stitcher or on TuneIn, or you can follow us on Twitter as @HardcoreMyth.  You can also find news and episodes on our website at myths your teacher hated dot com.  If you like what you’ve heard, I’d appreciate a review on iTunes, since it helps increase the show’s standing and let more people know it exists.  If you have any questions, any gods or monsters you’d want to learn about, or any ideas for future stories that you’d like to hear, feel free to drop me a line.  I’m trying to pull as much material from as many different cultures as possible, but there are all sorts of stories I’ve never heard, so suggestions are appreciated.  The theme music is by Tiny Cheese Puff, whom you can find on fiverr.com.

Next time, we’ll be continuing the story of the Monkey King.  Although it hardly seems possible, the story keeps getting weirder.  Buddha is going to keep throwing obstacles in the path of our little party while simultaneously providing the way out, which hardly seems like much of a trial compared to some other myths.  We’ll also take a brief detour to have some lonely women court the priest and the monsters, because why not?  The entire quest takes 14 years, so there’s plenty of time for a little comedy of manners, right?  That’s all for now.  Thanks for listening.