Sun Wu-K'Ung (The Monkey King)

Sun Wu-K'Ung fighting a Wind Demon
Sun Wu-K'Ung fighting a Wind Demon

Sun Wukong was born from a mythical stone formed from the primal forces of chaos, located on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit. After joining a clan of monkeys, he earned their respect by discovering the Water Curtain Cave (shui lian dong) behind a large waterfall; the clan made it their new home. The other monkeys honored him as their king, and he called himself Měi Hóuwáng. He soon realized that despite his power over the monkeys, he was still only mortal. Determined to find immortality, he traveled on a raft to civilized lands, where he found and became the disciple of a Taoist immortal Bodhi. He was able to acquire human speech and manners through his travels.Bodhi was initially reluctant to take him because he was not human; but the monkey's pertinacity impressed him. It was from him that the monkey received his official name Sun Wukong (Monkey aware of emptiness) Soon, his eagerness and intelligence made him one of the favorite disciples of the patriarch, whose guidance and training taught the monkey a number of magic arts. He acquired the powers of shapeshifting, supposedly the more versatile and difficult set of skills that allows him to transform into every possible form of existence, including people and objects. He also learned about cloud-traveling, including a technique called the Jīndǒuyún (cloud-somersault), which covers 108,000 li (54,000 km or 33,554 mi) in a single flip. Finally, he could transform each of the 84,000 hairs on his body into inanimate objects and living beings, or even clones of himself. Sun Wukong became proud of his abilities, and began boasting to the other disciples. Bodhi was not happy with this, and cast him out of his temple. Before they parted, Bodhi ordered that Sun Wukong promise never to tell anyone how he acquired his powers.

At the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, Sun Wukong established himself as one of the most powerful and influential demons in the world. In search of a weapon worthy of himself, Sun Wukong traveled into the oceans, where he acquired the Golden-banded staff Ruyi Jingu Bang, which could change its size, multiply itself, and fight according to the whim of its master.

Hoping that a promotion and a rank amongst the gods would make him more manageable, the Jade Emperor invited Sun Wukong to Heaven, where the monkey believed he would receive an honorable place as one of the gods. Instead, he was made the Protector of the Horses to watch over the stables, which was the lowest job in heaven. When he discovered this, Sun Wukong rebelled and proclaimed himself the "Great Sage, Equal of Heaven", and allied with some of the most powerful demons on earth. Then he got revenge by setting the Cloud Horses free. The Heavens' initial attempt at subduing the Monkey King was unsuccessful, and they were forced to recognize his title; however, they tried again to put him off as the guardian of Heavenly Garden. When he found that he was excluded from a royal banquet that included every other important god and goddess, Sun Wukong's indignation again turned to open defiance. After stealing Xi Wangmu's "peaches of immortality", Lao Tzu's "pills of longevity", and the Jade Emperor's royal wine, he escaped back to his kingdom in preparation for his rebellion.
Sun Wukong later single-handedly defeated the Army of Heaven's 100,000 celestial warriors - each fight an equivalent of a cosmic embodiment, including all 28 constellations, four heavenly kings, and Nezha, the son of Li Jiang Jun who proved himself worthy - and proved himself equal to the best of Heaven's generals, Erlang Shen. Eventually, through the teamwork of Taoist and Buddhist forces, including the efforts from some of the greatest deities, Sun Wukong was captured. After several failed attempts at execution, Sun Wukong was locked into Lao Tzu's eight-way trigram cauldron to be distilled into an elixir by the most sacred and the most severe samadhi fires. After 49 days, the cauldron was opened and Sun Wukong jumped out, stronger than ever. He now had the ability to recognize evil in any form through his huǒyǎn-jīnjīng (火眼金睛) (lit. "fiery-eyes golden-gaze"), an eye condition that also gave him a weakness to smoke and proceeds to decimate Heaven's remaining forces.

With all of their options exhausted, the Jade Emperor and the authorities of Heaven appealed to the Buddha, who arrived from his temple in the West. The Buddha made a bet with Sun Wukong that he (Sun Wukong) could not escape from his (Buddha's) palm. Sun Wukong, knowing that he could cover 108,000 li in one leap, smugly agreed. He took a great leap and then flew to the end of the world in seconds. Nothing was visible except for five pillars, and Wukong surmised that he had reached the ends of Heaven. To prove his trail, he marked the pillars with a phrase declaring himself "the great sage equal to heaven" Afterward, he leaped back and landed in the Buddha's palm. There, he was surprised to find that the five "pillars" he had found were in fact the five fingers of the Buddha's hand. When Wukong tried to escape, the Buddha turned his hand into a mountain. Before Wukong could shrug it off, the Buddha sealed him there using a paper talisman on which was written the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum in gold letters, wherein Sun Wukong remained imprisoned for five centuries.

Five centuries later, the Bodhisattva Guanyin went out in search for disciples that could protect a pilgrim from the East to journey to India to retrieve the Buddhist sutras. In hearing this, Sun Wukong offered to serve this pilgrim, Xuanzang, a monk of the Tang Dynasty, in exchange for his freedom. Guanyin understood that the monkey would be hard to control, and therefore gave Xuanzang a gift from the Buddha: a magical headband which, once Sun Wukong was tricked into putting it on, could never be removed. With a special chant, the band would tighten and cause unbearable pain to the monkey's head. To be fair, she also gave Sun Wukong three special hairs, which could be used in dire emergencies. Under Xuanzang's supervision, Sun Wukong was allowed to journey to the West.
Throughout the epic Journey to the West, Sun Wukong faithfully helped Xuanzang on his journey to India. They were joined by "Pigsy" (猪八戒 Zhu Bajie) and "Sandy" (沙悟浄 Sha Wujing), both of whom offered to accompany the priest in order to atone for their previous crimes. It was later revealed that the priest's horse was in fact a dragon prince. Xuanzang's safety was constantly under threat from demons and other supernatural beings who believed that his flesh, once consumed, would bring them longevity, as well as bandits, wherefore Sun Wukong often acted as his bodyguard and given free access to the powers of Heaven to combat these threats. The group encountered a series of eighty-one tribulations before accomplishing their mission and returning safely to China. There, Sun Wukong was granted Buddhahood for his service and strength.

In my opinion, Im not surprised that the Monkey King became too full of himself when he acheived great power, but I think it's good that he experienced a change of heart.

In a modern-day problem, I think Sun Wu-K'Ung would try to escape it, rather than deal with it. Just as instead of fighting from the Buddha, he made a useless wager that he could escape his palm.

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Sun Wu-K'Ung in his epic struggle with the Buddha.