At long last, we make it to the Qi Character of the Year—Monkey. It has been a Monkey of a year, for sure. I feel like I don’t even need to explain the Fire Monkey, for the year has been such a great lesson. Of course, everyone experienced the buffet of the year differently based on their own Character, but the public image via the shitshow that is internet media suggests that the Year has been difficult for many.
The Fire Monkey is a bit like Heath Ledger’s Joker from Batman. It came to show us the futility of all our plans. This kind of disruption must be available in the cycle of time, or else we may think time is linear, heading towards some perfect future. Fire Monkey set fire to all that.
There is no perfect future; any peak experience progressing toward a better future can only turn into its opposite. Period. Repeat—things only get better temporarily; they only get worse temporarily. Wisdom is relaxation, riding the cyclical waves of Yin-Yang, not working productively towards a greater future (this is lunacy). Monkey reminds us of this. The more we resist natural chaos, the more dramatic our fall.
Many are bashing 2016, and I don’t want to associate all this negativity with the Monkey. The Fire Monkey offers a profound wisdom that has been poking you in the plans all year—have you noticed? I hope I can share with you the Wisdom of the Monkey and change your perspective on the last year.
As a Tiger, Monkey Qi is my opposite. Many misunderstand the diametric relationship in Chinese Astrology. On the cheesy folk level, what you find in most books on the Twelve Animals, they say—Tiger-Monkey, Pig-Snake, Dragon-Dog—oh, very bad! But this level of Astrology assumes that ordinary people have little to no capacity for self-reflection, which may be true—I don’t know.
The diametric is a mirror relationship. Spiritually, they are complementary opposites, which tend to polarize and attract, creating a fascination with each other’s differences. The relationship of opposites can be explosive and prone to volatility, but this explosive quality has tremendous potential for transformation if met with self-reflection.
I have many close Monkey friends, and I love all of them, for they mirror myself back to me. When presented with the Monkey perspective, I scratch my head and go—wow, I would not have thought of that! There is a great YouTube video of a monkey messing with tigers, jumping off the tree, pulling the tiger’s tail and then jumping out of reach—such is the Monkey-Tiger dance.
This year, too, has been a fantastic mirror—tough, one of the most difficult of my life, an internal struggle mostly, but good lord, I’ve learned a lot. As a Tiger, I have a difficult time understanding the Monkey, so hopefully this will make sense. I encourage you to study your opposite, as I have, and let it reveal to you your own Character. The opposites are—Rat-Horse, Ox-Goat, Tiger-Monkey, Rabbit-Rooster, Dragon-Dog, and Snake-Pig.
As I delve into Monkey Qi, I encourage you to reflect on your experience of this year. I will not review the events of this year considering the Monkey, so let these symbols speak to you through your own experience. The Twelve Characters are best learned in your day to day lived experience.
Every 60 years, every 60 months, every 60 days, every 60 hours, we pass through everyone we will ever meet, energetically speaking. Every day, I look at the Character of the Day and then simply feel, reflect, and observe as I go about my life. Today is a Water Dragon day, for example. What does this feel like? How does my experience reflect this Qi? Find out the Character of your friends and family and simply observe the way they interact given their Character relationships—this is the best way to learn Chinese Astrology.
Asia adores the Monkey. It is a very rich symbol in Chinese Cosmology. Monkeys are common all over Asia, particularly, the gibbon and macaque, and many cultural myths surround them. Both China and Tibet share stories of ancient Monkey Ancestors; perhaps, they had a natural understanding of “evolution.” Chinese folk religion regards monkeys as supernatural beings, and many myths about monkey spirits, monkey demons, and half-monkey/human hybrids abound throughout China’s history. In general, Monkeys are depicted much like humans, both foolish and wise. In the Chinese Zodiac, Monkey represents the fated human flaw so heavily debated throughout the history of religion—desire.
We find Monkey in the transmission of Buddhism to China, which began around the 2nd century B.C.E, most famously depicted in the 16th century Ming Dynasty novel, Journey to the West, which was later abridged by English author Arthur Waley in the widely read novel titled Monkey.
In this story, the Buddha seeks a Chinese pilgrim to journey West to India and retrieve the Buddhist Scriptures so that Chinese people could be enlightened (typical Buddhist evangelism, as if the Chinese Tradition was not rich enough). Based on the legendary Tang Dynasty Monk Xuánzàng, the main character Tripitika, volunteers, goes, and returns successful after many trials and tribulations.
Gautama Buddha and the Bodhisattva Guanyin, enlist three protectors to help him along the way, including the famous Sūn Wùkōng —the Monkey King, who was imprisoned under a mountain by the Buddha for rebelling against Heaven. Sūn Wùkōng is a trickster, able to shapeshift and transform his appearance. In the journey, the Monkey King becomes a disciple of Xuánzàng and undergoes transformation from trickster rebel to enlightened sage.
Early Buddhism used many monkey similes. We have all heard of the famous “Monkey Mind.” The Samyutta Nikaya says, "Just as a monkey roaming through a forest grabs hold of one branch, lets that go and grabs another, then lets that go and grabs still another, so too that which is called 'mind' and 'mentality' and 'consciousness' arises as one thing and ceases as another by day and by night." As Monkeys helped to transmit the Buddhist Scriptures, they became allegories for the transformation of Monkey to Enlightened Mind.
The Monkey King was initially a Daoist Immortal before being worked into Buddhism. Daoism, too, tells many tales of the Monkey. Zhuangzi’s famous tales goes, “Once upon a time, there was a monkey keeper who was feeding little chestnuts to his charges. ‘I'll give you three in the morning and four in the evening,’ he told them. All the monkeys were angry. ‘All right, then,’ said the keeper, ‘I'll give you four in the morning and three in the evening.’ All the monkeys were happy with this arrangement. Without adversely affecting either the name or the reality of the amount that he fed them, the keeper acted in accordance with the feelings of the monkeys. He too recognized the mutual dependence of "this" and " that." Consequently, the sage harmonizes the right and wrong of things and rests at the center of the celestial potter's wheel.” Here the Monkey and Sage dichotomy depicts the transformation from delusion to enlightenment, implying that nothing happens other than a shift in perspective.
Liu Ming played with this famous tale in his book Dragon’s Play. Here, Ming used the image of Monkey and Sage to represent our dual nature of energy and awareness. The delicate balancing act between these two, between freedom and control, is the dance of duality that every human must integrate to follow the Way.
At its core, Monkey Qi represents this perilous balancing act, like the monkey swinging through the trees, balancing from branch to branch. Monkeys are poised between the sacred and the profane, fluctuating between materialism and austerity, selfish fantasy and visionary wisdom. Every Human has this dance inside them. Though depicted as Godlike, Monkey Qi symbolizes the weakness commonly associated with humans—desire, which keeps them dancing between the poles.
This may sound dramatic, but Monkey Qi is fundamentally playful. The Chinese never thought to demonize desire like the West. Even Buddhism could not make judgmental moralists of the Chinese (to the Chinese morality is Astrological). Monkey’s balancing act is not a battle between good and evil where order wins over chaos. Both are natural aspects of our being—Yin-Yang. We must make friends with both, and Monkey Qi forever plays with this dynamic.
Ultimately, to tell a Monkey (or anyone) to sit still and control Monkey Mind is stupid. Monkeys must play. They are the Wisdom of Playfulness and Survival. The playfulness of Monkey Qi is a sleight of hand poking fun at the seriousness of “good and evil,” revealing duality as a game, a playful situation rather than the cause of “suffering.” If you put your Monkey Mind in a cage called meditation—how will this lead to freedom?
The myth that the mind must be trained is stupid; concentration (when excessive) is madness, especially to the Monkey. Training the monkey/ox/horse, or whatever metaphor you want to use for the mind, implies that your Nature and Duality are problematic—they’re not; your Nature is perfectly free as it is. Meditation is an expression of your Nature, not an exercise in making it behave.
I lived with Monkeys on an island in Thailand for a period and learned a lot watching them. I found them to be very social creatures. They roamed about the island in packs and would march down the beach in big monkey processions. Momma monkeys carried babies on their backs, and they had groups with leaders and sidekicks.
They were unbelievably curious, and everything they did was playful. They would wrestle around, jump on everything, and investigate all they came across. A monkey once jumped on my table while I was eating breakfast, snatched the coffee mug out of my hand along with a handful of sugar packets, ran off into the trees, and then preceded to throw the sugar packets at me. They would also lunge at me bearing their teeth—perhaps they knew I was a Tiger.
We find the impulse of Monkey Qi in its Native Element—Yang Metal. Yang Metal examines, refines, distills, transforms; it is precision, ingenuity, and imagination, the active conceptual mind used for problem solving; it is our capacity for vision which internalizes, draws in, and goes towards Water, which is full blown mysticism. This active conceptual quality of Yang Metal is the so-called Monkey Mind, but the virtue of this is imagination, self-reflection, wit, and intellect, which are obviously important qualities.
Like the Five Tigers, the Five Elemental Monkeys are very different. This year has been a Fire Monkey year, and “Fire melts Metal.” This is not conflict, but it can generate conflict! The kè or controlling relationship between the elements is necessary for Qi to keep moving, and each controlling relationship is different. When Fire melts Metal, inspiration and vitality soften our rigid thinking, releasing boundaries and hardness, and turn Metal to Water. When this becomes overactive, or “insulting,” the passionate, aggressive, and consuming qualities of Fire lead to hyperactivity, erratic behavior, and excessive disordered thinking. This Year, then, offered the possibility of tremendous inspiration, to push beyond the limits of imagination, but if met with too much Fire/aggression, then the Year also offered the possibility of profound delusion and irrational behavior.
In the beginning of the Year, I told many people—anything can happen in a Fire Monkey year, depending on how we negotiate the Fire-Metal conundrum. This is the kind of year we could have ran with inspiration, softened the boarders of what was possible, and for example—elected Bernie Sanders. Or, this was the kind of year in which people’s fear and paranoia could consume them, generating aggression and eclipsing the rational mind, and for example—we could elect Donald Trump. No further comment. All of this is available in the cycles of Time based on how we negotiate these Elemental Qi Character Cycles.
The Wood Monkey is the most playful, the least serious, and the most resilient of Monkeys. The Fire Monkey we know. Earth Monkeys are more grounded but a bit at odds with being on the ground, since their Monkey impulse tells them to swing. Metal Monkeys are the most natural and at home in their Monkeyness. And Water Monkeys push the mischievous boundaries of Monkey Qi into unknown, possibly dark, mystical territories—not even Heaven can perceive what they’re up to.
The impulse of Monkey Qi, which may shed some light on the past year—the impulse of Yang Metal, tests limits and pushes boundaries, seeking the release of Water; Monkeys define life by taking risks. Life without risk—why bother? Where is the fun in that? Monkeys like to poke, play, push, and test possibilities. They seek adventure, excitement, to keep on moving. Stagnation is death to the Monkey. They seek to go as far out as they can into extreme situations, places, experiences, and so on, just so they can bounce back and say “wow, that was cool!”
Yang Metal generates what I call “scanning Qi.” Monkeys in their natural environment always scan for danger—where are the Tigers? Monkey Qi provides a broad pervasive awareness of the environment and all the details within. Monkey feels the precise movement and activity of the jungle and is at home in the chaos. Silence, stillness, serenity—this spells doom for the Monkey; what’s coming to kill me? Monkey keeps moving, staying forever on its toes/tail.
Monkeys (this category includes apes) and Human Beings share many similarities, and these similarities highlight many of the Key Terms we will discuss. Humans, arguably, became dominant because of our ability to use tools and problem solve, which is mostly due to having thumbs.
Monkey Hour is from 3-5pm. Monkey Qi is associated with planning, strategizing, projecting, adapting, and imagining, so Monkey Hour is the time to look forward to the next day or week and plan. It is the time to cease productivity and to shift into imagination. During Monkey Hour, our Qi naturally anticipates the end of the day and the transition into night. It is a time of adaptation; soon we must head home, but before we do, we must digest the experience of the day, adapt accordingly, and anticipate what may come. Since Monkey Qi is playful, this is the time to end the seriousness of work, “quitting time,” when you should joke and have fun with co-workers before heading home. If you were born between 3-5 pm, you are also part Monkey.
If the Goat teaches us about social responsibility, justice, order, harmony, fairness, and interconnection, then Monkey teaches us that none of this is serious. When Goat gets on a high horse and its rhetoric starts working people up—here come the Monkeys.
The First Key term, then, is curious. Think Curious George. Like the Monkey stealing my sugar packets, Monkey people have an intense desire to investigate, to understand, to peak behind the curtain, to get to the bottom of things, and to pull the rug out from under people. They often seek professions, lifestyles, and hobbies that express this curiosity, and they tend to be spiritual seekers who rebel against committing to a single path, for there is always another branch, another tree with more fruit. Monkeys are in danger of what Chogyam Trungpa called spiritual Materialism—getting into the spiritual path because it offers fun and exciting experiences, which Monkey is very curious about. This curiosity goes hand and hand with the Monkey’s naturally playful disposition.
On the flipside, curiosity turns to erratic and frantic behavior—yes, Monkey Mind. By nature, Monkeys have a profound capacity for distraction. When depleted their minds scatter, race, and push them into a thousand places at once. This erratic behavior can cause them to quit jobs, abandon projects, change their minds, and waffle back and forth unable to make decisions. Monkey Qi defines compulsive (rather than impulsive) behavior, and they can easily spin out into addiction and self-destructive tendencies.
Monkeys are playful, funny; they joke and like to mess with people. In their hearts, Monkeys do not take life seriously. They are not grave or morbid. They view life as a playful act. Alan Watts once said—life is musical in nature, and we are supposed to dance while the music is being played. When other people are morbid, Monkeys want to tickle them. Monkeys want to pull the rug out from under peoples plans. When confronted with hard decisions, the Monkey response is usually—play! This can confound other people who want them to commit and be responsible. Tiger, Monkey’s opposite, hates to be messed with and we can tend towards toxic moodiness, hence the Monkey pulling the Tiger’s tail.
This playfulness is also imitative in nature. Monkey see, Monkey do. Monkey, like Snake, learns by imitating. They can watch someone do something, and then do it better than them. While Snakes do this by becoming the teacher, Monkeys do so by adaptation and cleverness, which is part of the shapeshifting trickster image. If you show off in front of a Monkey, they may just make a fool of you, and they are not afraid to make fools of themselves.
Monkeys have powerful imaginations and are extremely intelligent and innovative people. The Monkey imagination is beyond visionary. Monkeys can climb high in the trees and see far out beyond the branches. This imagination, being Yang, is creative, and Monkey ranks as one of the “artistic” types. If Monkeys can sit still, they are capable of being great artists. If not, Monkey Qi expresses profound intelligence, the ability to learn and change the way things are done.
Monkey Qi scans, schemes, plans, and looks for solutions. When confronted with a problem or danger, the Monkey will look for options, ways around; they want to sneak past danger and with sleight of hand fool the Tiger. I was once sitting in traffic with my Godmother, a Wood Monkey, and we hit a traffic jam. Her immediate response was to google alternate routes and look up traffic reports. My response was to sit there; it never even occurred to me that there was another option, for the Tiger response to danger is to pounce forward like a freight train, while the Monkey is the acrobat, nimbly escaping obstacles.
Monkey Qi is resourceful. Monkeys can find, utilize, and manipulate resources to their advantage unlike any other sign. They can be amazingly productive when put to these kinds of tasks, and they demonstrate the Human capacity to create and make tools for survival. This is an immense social and professional skill that I envy, for it is completely beyond me. Monkeys are incredibly capable beings, able to learn and master many skills. They tend, however, to be Jacks of all Trades and Masters of None.
When depleted, this capacity for imagination and innovation turns to fantasy and delusion. Monkeys are masters of creating and living in fantasy worlds, what we can call “storylandia.” Their scheming can generate many versions of reality, and at their worst, Monkeys buy into them and can spin out in alternate realities, which they find fascinating, entertaining. Monkey Qi tends to indulge fantasy because it is fun. Again, this is a playful act, so Monkeys can test the limits of sanity and bounce back.
Monkeys demonstrate the fact that nothing is real or solid in the way you think it is. There is no true relative reality; everything relative is empty of inherent meaning. Insanity comes from taking the relative world too serious; when we see the transparent nature of everything, we are likely to go crazy, but Monkeys think it’s funny. Push this too far and you get Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Monkey defines adaptation, resilience, and responsiveness. Physically, they are one of the most resilient signs and can bounce back quickly from the most serious illness. They are likely to flirt with death and danger and then make fun of everyone for getting morbid. They heal fast, and respond quickly to their environment. Monkeys can perceive the energetics of an environment with incredible precision, although they are not very intuitive and tend to make lots of stories about what they perceive, which may or may not be accurate.
Monkeys can be very nervous, anxious, and paranoid. They constantly perceive themselves in a situation of danger or threat, and their tendency towards fantasy can produce panic, worry, and fear. The active nature of Monkey Qi will create danger and threat where there is none, which is an unconscious result of the Monkey playfulness. They may create stories and danger just to have something to do, something to overcome, so that they can have cool stories to tell their friends.
The Monkey resourcefulness can turn cunning, crafty, manipulative. When depleted, they may use their intelligence to mess with social situations, turn friends against each other, gossip, tell stories, make drama. Monkeys can be very deceptive, and pretend/act in mischievous ways for fun. They can use their abilities to dominate others intellectually and their wit can turn ruthless. If Monkey perceives the game of the world as cruel, then Monkey Qi can even turn criminal like the Joker.
Finally, Monkeys can be very avoidant. Rather than deal with things head on, like the Tiger, they will dance around issues for a long time and never confront the tough decisions. Of course, I’m a Tiger, so that’s my bias. Confronting things head on can be disastrous, and the Tiger impulse can leap over their actual situation. Monkey Qi responsiveness, when not avoidant, knows when to duck, when to avoid confrontation, for it senses when the danger is coming.
Monkeys often lead incredibly interesting and exciting lives. Their impulse for fun and adventure often takes them to wild places. They always have interesting stories to tell and love to regale you about that time they almost died when there were in the place doing the thing.
Because of this impulse, Monkeys often dance between this world and the next. They have powerful desires that propel them towards materialism, and at the same time, their instinct tells them the world is a game. Monkeys fluctuate between materialism and austerity. If they can reconcile this dance, they are capable of profound wisdom. They reveal the cosmic joke, the Play of Consciousness.
Reconciling the Monkey dance, again, has nothing to do with putting Monkey in a cage. Monkeys need not punish themselves with harsh discipline because they are erratic. Monkey needs only to climb high into the tallest tree and see beyond to the enormous context of Space. Our Nature is something like Space, which hosts all duality equally. Harsh order and discipline is exalting one side over the other, which only creates more Chaos, which is what Monkey comes to show us.
This year has shown us many of these qualities, demonstrated at large in our culture, politics, and environment, which the media has blown out of proportion. Sometimes it appears Monkey paranoia and delusion has gotten the better of people. This tends to happen in Fire Years, especially in the case of the Fire-Metal conundrum, which continues with the Fire Rooster.
The Wisdom of the Year has been telling us all along that our plans for a stable, happy, bright, productive future are foolish. Everything we build is a castle in the sand. We need not fear the tide.
The world seems to be going in a dark direction and that’s because it is. This darkness however is not morbid. All kinds of unnatural structures are decaying and falling apart, and the more we cling to them and make stories of how we will keep building the tower higher and higher towards perfection, the more painful it feels when Fire Monkey comes along to kick over your sandcastle and laugh at you.
Rather than get angry and thrown gasoline on the Fire Rooster, which is another delicate transition which I will explore in the next blog, try relaxing. Open to the what the Fire Monkey has shown you. The Wisdom of the Monkey is not a threat and the sky is not falling. Destruction must occur for there to be new growth.
I was hoping that we would, “feel the Bern,” for the symbol of Bernie Sanders represented so much needed pruning, healthy destruction. But such is Time; our Freedom creates the auspice of what potential is available, and Trump was available. Trump represents destruction, which while necessary, will probably be unhealthy. In my next blog, I hope to offer some insight on how to make use of the next year, so that this destruction can offer us the transformation we need.
I hope you enjoyed this exploration of the Monkey, and I hope it has shed some light on the past year. Stay tuned for my New Year’s exploration of the Rooster!
Tiger's Play--the View Teachings of Chinese Astrology
This page is your source for short, pithy articles on the view teachings of Chinese Astrology. Here, I will share everything I have learned about how to follow Astrology as a spiritual path.