November 1, 2010 § Leave a comment
I had forgotten all about Monkey… Then a few days ago I chanced upon a book. ‘Ten thousand miles without a cloud’ by Sun Shuyun. I read a little introduction to the book and found it interesting. After a while I realized it talked about the same Monkey King from the book on my fathers book shelf. With a new curiosity I read the book and it was… well… such a surprise and an amazing read.
The Monkey King itself was a fable woven around a real life monk in the seventh century by the name Xuanzang who made an 18 year trek from China to India and back. He was a buddhist monk and with an urge to visit and learn the real Buddhist sutras from the land of birth of Buddha, he made the perilous journey through China and India. Many desserts, pirates, droughts, storms and kingdoms later he reached India and visited all the important monastries. And the most interesting part is- he documented it all in 600 chapters in the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions. In complete details, all the places he visited, all the kingdoms, from what food people ate, what clothes they wore, to the cultural practices they had… Of course this was all for the benefit of the king so that he would take interest in the records and effectively in Buddhism… So there he was, after eighteen years of travel and struggle to the holy land, he returned with elaborate documentation and of course, his beloved Sutras.
Now in present time our author Sun Shuyun, she was brought up in China. With the whole cultural revolution as the backdrop to her upbringings in the time of Mao, and the indomitable grandmother who practised Buddhism in secret. So when she went abroad she realized that that part of history of her country had never been revealed much to her. Except what she saw through her grandmas past. And she decided to see it for herself. So what she did was to retrace Xuanzang’s footsteps. Almost as exactly as he went about his travel. So the book is her account of this journey. It’s full of revelations for her and us too. Her simple and honest descriptions and the sense of discovery reaches us through the pages as she visits the stupas and monastries and cities that he saw. It is extremely interesting… from all points of view. Anthropological, spiritual, historical.
One of the most significant of all things that I found was when someone explains in the book how the Travelogue of the monk is invaluable to India as much as China. The chinese have been great record keepers. They have records dating back to hundreds of years. (we do have our Gaatha Saptashati…) Our religious and spiritual teachings have always directed us towards moksha and the ultimate enlightenment. So, as someone says in the book… they hardly bothered about chronicling the day to day lives or history in elaborate details. Thus, the lack of extensive records compared to the chinese. But the travelogue by the chinese monk provide great information on that time in history. So it is important to the Indians as well.
Before signing off I d like to share a verse from a budhhist scripture that tells about a monk’s self clarity-
“Self nature, complete and clear, Like the moon in the water.
The mind in meditation, like the sky, Ten thousand miles without a cloud.”
What an idea… a mind so clear like the sky… ten thousand miles without a cloud…!!
October 14, 2010 § Leave a comment
I read two very interesting books recently. One was The Confessions by Rousseau and the other The Words by Sartre. They both are autobiographical. Rousseau was in the eighteenth century and Sartre was recent of course. Both highly esteemed people in France. Rousseau tells us his ‘confessions’. I would hardly call them confessions. More like justifications, for leaving his friends in need, deserting others. But there’s more to it than meets the eye and its a wonderful read. The other is more honest I would say. Sartre seems amused at his own talent as well as shortcomings. He describes his childhood in two parts- Reading. And Writing. i.e, how reading and writing in those formative years affected him. Or made him. Slim volume but very interesting.
We always had a huge bookshelf at our place. My gran was a huge book reader. So is dad and so am I. My mom and bro are more into their music. So… we always had a big book section. After I went through all the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Enid Blyton at our neighbourhood library and school when I was eleven, I realized I know squat of marathi literature. So I turned to marathi suddenly. Then came the usual dose of Padas, Radheya, Swami and the likes. (I chanced upon a book by GA once and I gurantee you its heavy. Esp when you tend to be thirteen and without a fully formed brain. Or even with it.) So when I was once rummaging through my fathers side of the book pile. Now my father, generally lets me make up my mind about stuff on my own. So, he never told me not to read some books or not to see some film. He would just make a suggestion. But he saw me n said ‘you know, you can read it but you ll understand it much better when you are eighteen. So don’t bother.’ But then of course I bothered and picked out the very book he talked about. Turned out Fountainhead. Now I didn’t understand a word mind you. But I read the whole book start to end. (that was my principle then. never leave a book incomplete. still is. except- chetan bhagats’.) And then I decided I should probably read it after m at least fifteen. And I did of course. But that is not the point of discussion today.
I saw another book there. A really old one all yellowed and dog-eared. There was a monkey on top of it. And its name… was ‘Monkey’. I was surprised to find a book called simply ‘monkey’. Seemed was written by a chinese person and translated by one Arthur Waley. Out of utter curiosity for the yellow pages of the book, I began reading. It told the story of a monkey. A monkey who sprung out of a rock. He seemed like a brat really. But such a likeable brat. It seemed that he was appointed to defend one Tripitaka who was on his way to India from his homeland China. Tripitaka wanted to get some scriptures from The Holy Land of Budhha so that they could follow the true Buddha teachings. But the way was treacherous and with many dangers so Monkey was sent to him by his fav. bodhisattva Guanyin. So there he is, with monkey. And some others like Pigsy n Sandy.
Monkey is a wonderful… monkey! He talks, he fights, he can transform into 72 forms, he weighs a tonne and he has a great sense of mischief in him that’s just waiting to boil over. He is arrogant about his strength, but in a child like way! He challenges those around him and defeats them. Plays pranks on almost everyone who crosses his path. And he helps Tripitaka to complete his journey.
I was fascinated with him! It was like a long fairy tale. Never had I read about such beautiful scenes and magical creatures. Of course, all our mythologies but still! Creatures that fly on clouds, demons, trees, magical fruits. And monkey’s pranks! The closest to his character is our indomitable Hanuman. But monkey is just impossible. The book lasted me quite a while simply coz I didn’t want it to end. I read it to my heart’s content, marvelling at his antics and breathing a sigh of relief every time he got through it without a scratch. And then I grew up and forgot all about Monkey. Till a few days ago…