Encountering a white bone demon is one of the 81 trials Buddhist monk Xuanzang, of the Tang Dynasty, and his disciples would have to face before arriving in the land of enlightenment.
Of course, the enlightened land in the west is not India. It is a state of consciousness. After all, a thousand years ago, there was no such a country called India, but hundreds of small tribe states to China’s west, including Buddha Shakyamuni’s birth state known as Nepal today.
One day, the pack of four ascended a tall mountain and the monk felt quite hungry. Monkey jumped onto a cloud and found a peach orchard nearby, so he decided to pick some fruits for their lunch.
As the old Chinese saying goes, there are always demons in tall mountains. The demon in this mountain was a monster grown from a pile of white bones.
Seeing Monkey left, Dem Bones swiftly approached the monk but only bumped into an invisible wall of light.
Soon a pretty young woman emerged on the mountain trail, one hand carrying a blue ceramic pot and the other holding a green porcelain bottle.
The staved Pig was very excited and immediately lept outside of the invisible wall.
“Hello young lady,” he greeted her with a deep bow, “what are you carrying with you?”
“There is steamed rice in the blue pot and stir fry firm tofu in the green bottle,” the young woman replied cheerfully. “It’s the lunch I made for my husband and our hired labours working in the field. However, if you are hungry, I’m happy to offer it to you guys.”
Pig couldn’t be happier but the monk declined to eat her husband’s lunch.
Just at that time, Monkey returned with a handful of peaches. He put the peaches down, drew out his golden cudgel and hit hard at the young woman. She fell and died.
“What are you doing Monkey?!” the monk was furious.
Monkey directed the monk’s eyes to the food scattered around on the ground.
There was no rice but worms and no dry tofus but toads. “You were fooled, master. If you ate them and got sick, the demon would accuse you of eating wildlife and spreading the disease to their village, and demand you to pay for their ordeal.”
The monk was just about to believe Monkey, an angry old woman walked towards them.
“Master,” she yelled at the monk, “I want you to punish this nasty monkey for killing my daughter.”
Pig was curious, “I beg your pardon, madam, how do you know he killed your daughter? You were at home right? Who told you so?”
The old woman wept, bitterly. “I keep a diary of her activities. She should be at home by now but she isn’t so she must be killed by you. Don’t even think you can cover up your crime.”
“I did hit the demon,” Monkey admitted. “However, she’s not your daughter but yourself. Her evil spirit escaped and now assumed an old woman’s appearance.”
The old woman stomped her feet, screamed and shrieked at the monk. “I’ll record his words in my diary and let everyone in the village know. He must apologize to me if he has any conscience left. I don’t know what achievements he has accomplished and what he is capable of but I vow he will be ashamed of himself forever.”
“I’ll let you know what I’m capable of right now, you demonic shrew!” Monkey lifted his golden cudgel and stroke hard at the old woman. She fell and died.
“Now what!” the monk was outraged.
But before the monk was barely able to say further, an old man arrived at the scene and dashed straight towards the monk.
“The young and the old women your disciple killed were not demons but my daughter and my wife, now I want to make you pay for the lives destroyed,” he grabbed the monk by his robe front and demanded sternly.
“Hold down, hi, hold down,” Pig wedged in, “I say, old man, how do you know they were not demons?”
The old man scowled at Pig. “Because nobody knows about demons better than me.”
“You’re absolutely right because you are both the young and the old women and you are the demon yourself!” Monkey roared and banged the golden cudgel down with force, once again. The old man fell and died.
“You’ve persistently behaved aggressively like a wolf warrior, which is in conflict with my principle of offering your left cheek after being slapped in your right chek in order to achieve peace and harmony with all beings, nice or nasty,” the monk said to Monkey. “Now hear me, you’re fired.”
Monkey knelt and plead, “If you sack me, who will be here to protect you from demons? Please let me stay!”
The monk was not moved. “Just leave, right now. I don’t need your protection.”
As soon as Monkey left, Dem Bones returned and captured the monk and his two remaining disciples.
Pig was both petrified and baffled. “Hi demon, how on earth you are still alive after being bashed to death three times?”
Dem Bones beamed smugly. “Have you heard about the wonder drug called hydrobombom? I’m taking it for about a life and a half now so I’m still here, I’m still here!” It cackled with glee.
Pig was alarmed. “I learned this drug can cause serious heart rhythm problems in animals and demons.”
Dem Bones shrugged at the Pig’s suggestion. “I get a lot of tremendously positive news on the hydrobombom. You’d be surprised at how many beings are taking it, many, many are taking it, I happen to be taking it. All I can tell you is, so far I seem to be OK and still alive.”
Pig became amazed. “Is this an immortal pill or something?”
The demon burst out laughing. “What can I say about you? You obviously eat too much but think too little. The immortal pill is your master, you idiot!”
“No, please don’t eat him!” Pig cried in distress. “There is no evidence he can make any being immortal.”
Dem Bones winked at Pig. “Here’s my evidence: I get a lot of positive calls about it.” The demon laid back in its chair comfortably and continued, “Now we can make a deal. If you help me to cook him into a nice dish, I’ll offer you a small bowl of his flesh. Whether you believe his meat can turn you into an immortal or not, what do you have to lose?”
Pig stepped back swiftly. “No, thanks, I’m all right, I’m fine…” He turned his body around and ran away from the demon’s cave with his life.
Pig ran all the way to Mount Flowers and Fruits, the territory of the monkey kingdom.
“Take hydrobombom hie, well, it is quite reckless,” responded monkey king, relaxing in his regal chair. “But who knows if it’s true. Maybe it’s not really taking it because it lies about things characteristically like.”
“Maybe it just wants to boost the stock of the hydrobombom drug company it has invested in,” Pig speculated.
“Let’s not worry about hydrobombom,” Monkey cut Pig short and bounced on his feet. “We need to save our master first.”
When a demon captain hurried its way to Skeleton Empire’s headquarters cave reporting a crisis at the front gate, Dem Bones was enjoying a cup of disinfectant drink while monitoring the little graveyard monsters to heat a wok for barbecuing the monk.
“Don’t be an alarmist, I say, don’t be an alarmist,” the demon responded, half-drunken. “They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They’d been doing it since they came to this mountain. It’s all turning. They lost. It’s all turning. If anything, it’s all this monk’s fault. Why he makes himself so valuable, think of it. Think of it…”
But it didn’t have time to think long. Monkey and Pig broke in.
Dem Bones immediately woke up to the chili reality and picked up its swords to defend itself.
On its way to escape from the monkey king, it saw the dead bodies of its monstrous troops in every cave.
Seeing there was no way out, it turned to address Monkey. “Hello, Mr Monkey, why can’t we have a talk? I always prepare to have a nice talk with you but you never gave me a chance.”
“Bullshit, what a man-eating monster would have anything nice to say!” ridiculed Pig.
Monkey frowned and held tight to his golden cudgel.
“You don’t know me, Mr Pig.” Dem Bones start to explain. “Before I died and rotted away to a skeleton, I was a woman and a man, a famous fiction writer Fang and a finance review editor Hu, a storyteller in history Yi and a culture minister Long in a bogus provincial government … By any standards, I was a public intellectual.”
Monkey got crossed and began to shake his cudgel.
The demon continued and surveyed around, “I wrote a diary about my life with a kung fu man which has been translated into many dialects, a novel about the soft bury of ten thousand dead human bodies on an island which received many awards, a book on the great river and great mountains in 1949 which won wide acclaims from all bitter losers, a finance review magazine that persistently predicted the collapse of the Middle Kingdom …”
“Enough of your bullshit!” Monkey was fed up and bashed hard at the self-claimed formal public intellectual until it turned into a pile of white bones.
The monk observed it in shock.
Pig commented, “At least it was honest this time.”
Sandi agreed, “It was not one man or one woman but a bunch of vicious losers.”
Monkey rejoined the team and the four began their new journey to the land of enlightenment.
“Master, there is one thing I don’t quite understand,” Sandi inquired the monk while lifting and carrying bulky luggage on his shoulder with a bamboo pole. “Why those dead women and men didn’t reborn as humans but become man-eating monsters?”
“Even to be reincarnated as a pig or a monkey would be much better than a monster, don’t you all agree with me?” Pig added, helping the monk to mount the white horse.
The monk sighed, “When they were humans they hated their own people.”
“We must not allow them to ruin people’s lives. Unprincipled compassion could be dangerous and harmful,” Monkey commented, eyeing the monk.
The monk was silent. He learned a hard lesson.
Illustration artists: Zhao Hongben (赵宏本), Qian Xiaodai (钱笑呆)