Sunday, September 16, 2007

Monkey God Tree of Jurong West

During the middle of the week (14.9.07) there were a few newspaper reports on the discovery of monkey images appearing in a 16 yr old tree by the roadside along Jurong West St 42, near Blk 431. Some Chinese people believed that it was Qi Tian Da Sheng (Sun Wukong), the Monkey God manifesting in that tree and started spreading the word around. A certain uncle who first discovered the "miraculous tree" wrote a notice in red ink telling of the legend surrounding it. It says that: "Three yrs ago, a divine monkey had come searching for his father, the Monkey God, at this tree. But it was only until a recent accident which caused the bark of the tree to fall off that the Monkey God became freed. I (the uncle) discovered the image on the tree on Sep 9th at 9.52am when I drove past the tree, and was thus filled with a feeling of awe beyond words. May the Monkey God bless everyone." This notice now laid beside the foot of the tree, along with all the offerings of fruits, peanuts, flowers, candles & joss sticks as we could see in the top most picture. In a typical Singaporean fashion, many people also started to pray for 4-D numbers.

A closeup of the Monkey God image on the tree. Residents in the area also add to the legend saying that although a few accidents had happened at that spot, none had been fatal. One said he had seen a lorry crash into the tree in March, causing the front of the lorry to be completely smashed. This resident was driving past and stopped my car to see if the driver needed help, but he saw him climb out uninjured at all. Others said that in the last 13 years, the tree had been hit by vehicles 3 times; but in all those accidents, the drivers also escaped unscathed. So naturally people attributed these lucky escapes to the Monkey God's blessing & protection.

On the 14th, there were only dozens of people praying at the tree, mostly Chinese. Later Indian residents also started to come and pray. For them, they also believe that it is the Hindu Monkey God - Hanuman appearing in the tree.
But whether it is Sun Wukong or Hanuman, what matters most was that everyone believed they could get good luck by praying at this miraculous tree. Some smart Indian lady was also selling photos of the Monkey God image at $3 a piece.. she was already cashing in on the luck even as other people prayed for numbers.

In a space of 2 days (15.9.07), the curious crowds who came to see the Monkey God Tree swelled to hundreds, even thousands, causing traffic jams & making a lot of noise for residents in the area. Some of these people even claim that they can see Guanyin & Ganesha images in the nearby trees. SPI guys went down, and they tested strong EMF fields coming from the tree. A local Thai white-robe Ajarn also came to perform prayers, revealing that there was indeed a "monkey spirit" dwelling in the tree. What was most amusing was the middle-aged auntie who claimed to be a medium for Hu Ye, the Tiger deity. She crawled around the tree like a tiger, only to pray for 4-D numbers like the others. What a smart way to beat the crowds..

This whole episode taking place in modern Singapore shows a good example of how folk religion is formed. Strange images appear in trees, rocks or other nature objects, & people immediately think that it is some gods, deities or spirits manifesting themselves. They start to pray, they start to spread the word, & soon a shrine is formed. As more & more people come it develops into a temple, perhaps even forming a religious sect later!
The Dhammapada says:
"Wonderful indeed, it is to subdue the mind,
so difficult to subdue, ever swift,
and seizing whatever it desires.
A tamed mind brings happiness."
What people fail to see is that the real monkey is not in the tree, but in their minds, or we can call it the monkey mind. In the story of the "Journey to the West", although Sun Wukong had great powers, it could only be put to good use after being tamed & taught in the right way by Buddha & Guanyin. Likewise, our mind is very powerful, yet very wild, undisciplined, easily distracted & quickly agitated. It constantly grasps at sensual objects, lusting for what it finds attractive, hating what it finds unattractive. This untrained mind of love & hate is the cause of endless becoming & dissolving, the source of all our Dukkha (suffering).
Thus in order to seek lasting happiness we have to train it in the path of the Ariyas, the Noble Ones. We restrain the monkey mind with the chain of mental Sila (the precepts), training it to focus on doing useful work with mental Samadhi (meditation), & make it realize the immense benefits of its own labour with mental Panna (arising of insight). Finally this monkey mind becomes completely tamed, well-trained, awakened. It is now a Buddha. Just like at the end of the "Journey to the West", Sun Wukong is bestowed the title of "Victorious Buddha" by the Buddha for his merits in protecting Master Tang Sanzang all the way to India & taking the scriptures back to Tang Dynasty China. This is the true path of the Monkey God, who is none other than our own Monkey Mind. Do you see it?


Anonymous said...

Wow, those pictures of the tree are amazing! The monkey on the right is very distinct.

Piak said...

Sahtu on taming the "monkey mind"