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Desire A cartoon of a monkey gathering fruit is the symbol of the 9th nidana (link) in the chain of causality depicted as a series of images making up the outer ring of the Wheel of Rebirth.  The monkey's actions exemplify attraction as it operates via our senses leading us to desire and acquire.  This is our wanting "to have and to hold," to possess: Upadana.

Generosity In direct contrast to the monkey on the Wheel of Existence, an account of the Buddha's Awakening relates that a monkey brings a bowl of wild honey to Shakyamuni. (< no need for password to see north gate of Great Stupa at Sanchi,  ca. 50 BCE)  In  the Jataka, a  story of a previous life of Buddha that follows here below, the monkey embodies the Perfection, or Buddhist virtue, of Generosity. 

The Monkey King  Once a tribe of forest monkeys had a chief who was not only splendid in appearance and wise as well, but he had the ability to know the future.  When he noticed a grove of mango trees upstream of the local king's residence, he ordered his troop to remove all the fruit from the trees saying that if they did not do so, disaster would surely follow. 

The monkeys could not perceive what was in store, but they did as they were told. All the mangos, still unripe, were picked save one that was hidden by a bird's nest. 

One day, when finally that mango ripened it fell into the river.  It was transported downstream where the human king was bathing, and he noticed it and asked his minister what it was.  When told it was called mango and that it was the queen of fruit, the king ordered the mango cut into small pieces and distributed among the people there. 

Satisfied that the fruit was not poisonous, he also enjoyed some of it and naturally, he craved more. 

The next day, the king and his men went upstream to search for the source of the mangos.  Where there were lots of mango trees, there were also lots of monkeys.  Not willing to share the fruit with the animals, he ordered that they be exterminated.  

When news of the massacre reached the Monkey King, he knew the time had come for him to do his duty.  The thousands of monkeys were chased to the very edge of the forest where there was a deep gorge.   The Monkey King saw that if his subjects could cross over to the bamboo grove on the far side, they would be safe from the hunters. 

He managed to extend his majestically large body over the gap to form a bridge, so that the troop could escape.  

Thousands of monkeys trampled over him to reach the safety of the bamboo forest, and he held on enduring all the pain.   One monkey who harbored some ill feeling against the King took this opportunity to get even.  As he clambered across, he stabbed the King's through the heart.  The Monkey King screamed, but managed to endure until all his subjects were safely across.  Only then could he collapse. 

The human king witnessed the selfless act, and was so touched that he ordered the life of the Monkey King be saved.   When the Monkey King finally regained consciousness, the man asked him, "You are their king; why would you sacrifice your own life for them?".  The Monkey King replied, "Precisely because I am their king". With those words, he died. 

The king gave orders that the monkey king should be given a royal funeral. He ordered his wives to carry torches to the cemetery with their hair disheveled. The ministers sent a hundred wagon loads of wood for the funeral pyre.

When the regal ceremony was over, the ministers took the skull to the king. The king built a shrine at the monkey’s burial place, and made offerings of incense and flowers. He had the skull inlaid with gold, raised on a spear, and carried in front of the procession returning to Baranasi. There he put it at the royal gate and paid homage to it with incense and flowers. The whole city was decorated, and the skull was honoured for seven days. For the rest of his life the king revered the skull as a relic, offering incense and garlands.     Source:

The lesson in duty and sacrifice was not lost on the human ruler.  He made the vow to do whatever he could to help his own people no matter the cost.   He also gave the order that the monkeys of the bamboo forest be protected forever after.

Since this is a Jataka, the monkey king was none other than the Buddha.  

In Association With Great Bodhisattvas  At Swayambhu, the Great Stupa  in Nepal, hundreds of langur monkeys are completely at home.  Legend has it that these monkeys are the form taken by the lice in bodhisattva Manjushri's hair. Another bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, embodiment of compassion, descended to earth in the form of a monkey to mate with Senma, a lonely nature spirit, to produce the Tibetan people.

Year of the Monkey  Monkey is one of the 12 animals in the Asian cycle of years.  A Monkey Year is considered especially auspicious, for it was in one of these that Guru Padmasambhava appeared on this earth to teach Vajrayana Buddhism with an emphasis on Mantrayana and Dzogchen (the attitude of Great Perfection.)  A number of lineages, especially the Nyingma (or, the Old Tradition) observe this anniversary by offering important teachings more widely than usual. 

Sacred Monkey

Apes and monkeys are sacred in India just as they once were in ancient Egypt.  The sacred or temple monkey, designated the Hanuman langur by scientists, is named for the devoted companion of Lord Rama.  (Hanu means jaw or chin. Anjaneya is another name for Hanuman, cf. Anjuna Beach in Goa.)  The names Bali and Sugreev also refer to monkeys.  

Many Hindu temples encourage their residence, as they are seen as signs of divine favour. The famous Durga Temple in Varanasi is a monkey temple.  Monkeys also serve as guardians, for a langur has long, sharp canine teeth.  Not only can it travel as fast as 20 miles an hour but it can also throw things with excellent aim; it is not an animal to be teased or trifled with. 

Buddhist temples protect them, too and following the example of the king's actions (see the Jataka ending, above) the skull may be preserved after a monkey's natural death.


Watering the Trees The gardener had to leave the grove on matters of urgency.  He asked if the monkeys could make sure the roots of the trees got lots of water while he was gone.  "We can certainly take care of that," they said.

When the gardener returned, the trees were all dead.  "What happened here?  Didn't you water the roots?"

"Oh, yes.  Faithfully.  We dug them up so that we could be sure to see that they got enough water, but they still died!"

 Journey to the West

Monkey Goes West is a Chinese folktale [<link is to Chinese w. English summary and illustrations] telling how Monkey journeys to the heavenly realm of Buddha Amitabha.

::Whalen's Evolution of the character, Monkey.

:: More monkeyshines?


< Monkey visiting Froggie.



Friend and envoy of Rama, whose adventures appear in the Indian epic, Ramayana, Hanuman is a manifestation of the Hindu great god, Shiva, and is hardly to be considered an animal.  


< Hanuman  



There are variations regarding his origins.  Although one version is reminiscent of the legend of the origin of Tibetans, the most common is: 

Once, Rahu complained to Indra, king of gods, that the monkey-child of Anjuna was mistaking the sun for a fruit, and even trying to eat it.  Indra put a stop to certain cosmic disaster by wielding his Vajrayudha [vajr-Ayudha: bolt of divine knowledge.]  It struck Anjaneya [scion of Anjana] on the chin (hanu,) which is why  he received the epithet, Hanuman.  

  • Hanuman (Fougea, 1998) is also the title of a French film recommended for children.  Shot on location, it is about a troop of monkeys living near a South Indian temple.
 The Three Wise Monkeys 

The likely model for the well-known depiction of three sitting monkeys who "see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil" is the carving on the front of the 17th-century Toshogu shrine in Nikko, Japan that is the mausoleum of Tokugawa shogun Ieyasu. 

The Japanese word for monkey is pronounced saru, a homophone for the negative verb-ending zaru.  Hence, the trio of monkeys is a play on the words mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru.  This visual pun is especially apt, since it is thought that monkeys once actually were employed to guard the stables.  As such, we assume they did not perform very well.

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