“Monkey of the Mind” (xinyuan, 心猿) is a title often associated with Sun Wukong. It is one half of the common phrase “Monkey of the Mind, Horse of the Will” (xinyuan yima, 心猿意馬), which refers to the disquieted mind and uncontrollable wants that plague humankind. Allusions to the monkey of the mind appeared in Indian Buddhist sutras as far back as circa 30 BCE. The double metaphor of the monkey and horse appeared in religious and lay Chinese Buddhist writings by the sixth-century CE (Dudbridge, 1970, pp. 168-169).
But did you know that by the 16th-century, when JTTW was written, that the phrase had become a popular euphemism for sexual desire? Dudbridge (1970) provides an example from the famous novel Investiture of the Gods (Fengshen Yanyi, 封神演義):
In the lamplight [Zhou Wang] saw Ximei two or three times part her red lips—a little dot of cherry—and breathe a lovely cloud of sweet air; she turned her liquid eyes—two pools of moving water—and gave him all kinds of wanton glances, till Zhou Wang could not suppress the Monkey of the Mind, and the Horse of the Will strained at the leash… (p. 175).
Given Monkey’s connection to the phrase, Liu (1994) suggests the primate and his staff have a sexual dimension:
In the novel both Sun Wukong and his ‘Compliant Golden-Hooped Rod’ represent the human mind and desires, especially sexual desires, which must be under control, as indicated by the tightening fillet on Monkey King’s head and the two hoops on the magic weapon. Specifically, the rod is a symbol of the male sex organ… (pp. 142-143).
I’m not sure if I accept this agument given that Monkey doesn’t show any interest in sex even before attaining immortality. It is Zhu Bajie who suffers from sexual addiction in the novel. Nonetheless, I find Liu’s comparison hilarious, especially if you think about the growing of Monkey’s magic pole! Pardon me while I giggle like a teenage boy.
Dudbridge, G. (1970). The Hsi-yu chi: A study of antecedents to the sixteenth-century Chinese novel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Liu, X. (1994). The odyssey of the Buddhist mind: The allegory of the Later journey to the west. Lanham, Md: University Press of America.