Site Logo  Monkey Magic
One of the most popular TV programmes in the late 70s and early 80s (and possibly of all time) was a Japanese series which the BBC broadcast to entertain the nation long before even the most basic computer games hit the market.
Monkey, known more commonly as Monkey Magic, was an immediate hit across much of the world mainly because it was such an exciting blend of colour, magic, action and fun. But there was far more to it than met most eyes.
The plot was based on the ancient Chinese Buddhist classic, Monkey - Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng Yen, a lengthy classic which rightfully ranks among the most influential books ever written. Its thousand plus pages tell the story of a sacred pilgrimage from China to India to collect scriptures containing wisdom from the Buddha himself.
Yet this tale is but an allegory for a far more pertinent reality, as the journey, along with the many trials faced by those who tread it, is in fact a very elaborate metaphor for an indvididual's own journey through life and quest for nirvana.
Each character is but an aspect of the essence of what a human being is, and each in their own way depicts what stands in the way of us becoming enlightened.
The monkey is the wayward human spirit which must be tamed in order to find inner peace, that part of us which denies us the capacity for this peace with its very passion for fun, for adventure, and its reckless indiscipline. It also reminds us of the potential we have within us when we come to harness and channel our energy responsibly.
Sandy is the philosopher, our tendency to analyse things and take ourselves too seriously, the way we overthink and let our thoughts dominate our feelings. He also reminds us of our ostensible over-confidence and brashness with which we hide our fears instead of facing them.
The pig represents the glutton in us all, the constant craving for immediate gratification of our basic sensory desires that leads us to consume in excess and reject the moderation necessary for enlightenment. The character of Pigsy was often to be seen lamenting his empty stomach, but at times also cleverly illustrating how in fact we get more lasting pleasure from not giving into temptation.
Even the horse, with its dependability and steadfastness is part of what we are, a reminder of our deep inner resolve, and how we are stronger than we think.
Monkey and these others had been expelled from heaven and sent to Earth to earn their places in the heavenly realms once again - perhaps in much the same way that Buddhists believe that we are reincarnated until we achieve nirvana.
And the priest, Tripitaka (played in fact by a girl - and a stunningly attractive one at that) is both our innocence and naivety - quite why we get so much wrong in life, but also the openness and peacefulness inside that will allow us to learn from doing so, and emerge more complete. She (although I should say 'he') is ultimately in control of her disciples just the same as any person is really in control of themself, when they find the strength or reach a state of higher consciousness.
As the series progresses, the bond between the characters develops and the early squabbles subside - quite the same as happens within each of us as we gain mastery of our desires, as the Buddha taught. The many adventures were once again powerful allegories for the trials and tribulations of life, with demons overcome not in fact by the aggression of the fierce monkey warrior spirit, but through attempting to understand who and what they are, and want. Isn't this what's wrong with the world today? Anger versus anger, aggression versus aggression, simply feeding each other?
Millions across Britain, mostly kids, watched this programme every week. And while it's unlikely to have bred a new generation of Buddhists, those who did connect with its deeper significance won't have failed to see that Monkey was far more than just a way to boost audience ratings.