The Irrepressible Monkey and the Gorillaz!

Wednesday March 8, 2006


Nobody who was at a British primary school in the late 1970s and early 1980s would have missed Monkey, the anarchic Japanese TV serial badly dubbed into English. We spent much of our time in the playground leaping around and crying “Monkey” in faux-Japanese accents. Now, some years later, I’ve had the chance to revisit the series; and it is every bit as wonderful (and creaky) as I remember it.

Monkey was based upon the late 16 th century Chinese novel, The Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng’en, which was in turn based upon the legends that entwined themselves around the life of Hsuan-tsang, the 7 th century monk who travelled from China to India in search of Buddhist scriptures.

At Christmas my girlfriend gave me a boxed set of the first 13 episodes of the series, and we have been spending happy evenings travelling in the company with Tripitaka, Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy from China to India as they go in search of Buddhist scriptures, defeating all kinds of demons and evil spirits on the way. It is strange how evocative the opening credits still seem – with the great cosmic stone egg being born from the primal substances of the universe and then the stone Monkey himself bursting out as the voice-over proclaims, “The nature of Monkey was irrepressible!”

Now I come to think about it, probably Monkey, along with Tintin in Tibet, was the first time I became aware, however vaguely, of the traditions of Buddhism: that pesky Monkey may be responsible for more than I suspect. Much later, when I was studying up in Newcastle, I came across Arthur Waley’s “Monkey”, an abridged translation of Wu Cheng’en’s text, and the pleasure of reading it was like the pleasure of meeting an old friend after a long absence. Waley’s translation remains one of my favourite books – although I haven’t read the full unabridged version by Anthony C. Yu yet.

But now, as a demonstration of Monkey’s continuing irrepressibility, the equally irrepressible Damon Albarn and his Gorillaz are planning an operatic version of the legend, complete with the Peking Opera and a bunch of Shaolin monks, to be shown at the Manchester International Festival in 2007. Wonderful! All together now for the closing credits:

In Gandhara, Gandhara
They say it was in India
Gandhara, Gandhara
The country of love, Gandhara…

# · justin

The number one threat to the world today is extremist thought. Whether it is Christian extremism, Hindu or Muslim it is a cause of death and deadly suffering. Similarly our world’s security is threatened by political extremism such as nazi-ism or communism, dictatorships and so on.

The common person such as myself, wishes to do my part to help my world end this suffering, and the causes of it. I believe most rational persons have a similar wish. But what can we do about this? Many times as a monk and through the years as a meditation teacher I am asked “how can the Dharma help?

In countries such as Thailand or Sri Lanka there are many wondrous meditation teachers. I could grow to have ½ the wisdom and skill they do in my life I would consider my life well lived. There wisdom and the general teachings of the dharma is a cure to extremism. The obstacle of spreading this creative message to the world is there lack of English skills. No matter how wise a Thai monk/nun becomes if they can only speak Thai there is a limit to there influence. It is also hard for these people, even if they did speak English to travel and obtain visas.

There is something each one of us as Buddhist can do, no matter what tradition, to spread this Dharma medicine around the world. Many persons who are able can become monks/ nuns themselves for a short time in monasteries of Asia. Thailand is an official ally of the United States, and quite safe. Many European countries have a state department that can inform you of the safety of what ever country you wish to go to. If we as English speakers spend even 3 weeks as a monk/nun we can teach English to the monastic populous.

We can inspire creativity, new thought, and wonderful ideas. Most importantly each person will have the chance to deepen there practice, and have there life touched forever in a very special way.

If the person reading this is an in an Asian country they can use the internet, and other resources to advertise monasteries capable of servicing such persons not native to the country. If this idea works, and others are agreeable, the more English is taught the easier it will be to receive such guests in the future.

By giving the Dharma masters of tomorrow English skills they can spread there wisdom across the globe. Also by training an English speaker in the Dharma you create a potential Dharma master as well. I believe if Buddhism is going to shine as a light to the world this is the best strategy.

# · Will

Perhaps so, Justin… But there is Buddhist extremism too, and it would be a mistake to believe that just because something is called “Buddhist” it is free of extremism.

Not sure what this has to do with Monkey or Gorillaz – did you mean to post the comment on another article? – but thanks for visiting…

All the best,


# · Amit

Great post! I was only a wee toddler when monkey was on but I still remember it clearly! I never understood that, that was the plot of the story. Fascinating though and I may just have to grab myself a copy too!! ;)


# · Dave

I’d say Waley’s abridged version is the better bet. I read the full translation years ago, but i must say it did get awfully tiresome and repetitive after awhile. This television series sounds great, though! I never heard of it.

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