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 and leads us to desire and acquire. This is our wanting "to have and to hold," to possess: Upadana.
In direct contrast to the monkey on the Wheel, an account of the Buddha's Awakening relates that a monkey brings a bowl of wild honey to Shakyamuni. (< see north gate of Great Stupa at Sanchi, ca. 50 BCE)
Also, probably due to the Jataka 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
Satisfied that the fruit was not poisonous, he also enjoyed some of it and
naturally, he craved more.
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.
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 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.
Associated With Great Bodhisattvas
At the Great Stupa, Swayambhu, 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. The Year of the Monkey 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 in the Nyingma (old tradition,) observe this anniversary by offering important teachings more widely than usual.
Apes and monkeys are sacred in India just as they once were in ancient Egypt.
The sacred or temple monkey is designated the Hanuman langur by scientists, after 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.
A langur has long, sharp canine teeth and it can travel as fast as 20 miles an hour, so is not an animal to be teased or trifled with. It also has an excellent aim.
Many Hindu temples encourage their residence as they are seen as signs of divine favor and also act as guardians. The famous Durga Temple in Varanasi is a monkey temple.
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.
There are variations regarding his origins. Although one version is reminiscent of the legend of Tibetan origins, the most common is:
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,) so he received the epithet, Hanuman.
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.