What’s Up With The Monkey?

Mr Reid likes the monkey:

The story of the monkey enthralled with the reflection of the moon in the water is an old tale, found throughout Asia. The Japanese poet Hakuin wrote the following poem about it, and painted the image at left.

The Monkey

Mikô suigetsu o saguri,
Shi ni itaru made kyûketsu sezu.
Hôshu shinsen ni mossureba,
Jippô hikari kôketsu.

The monkey is reaching for the moon in the water
Until death overtakes him he’ll never give up.
If he’d let go the branch and disappear in the deep pool,
The whole world would shine with dazzling pureness.

What Does It Mean?

Why does this image appear on the Toronto Kenjutsu site? The story of monkey is a useful reminder to us all about the dangers of becoming fixated on the “shiny” things in life. Glory and prestige and self-importance. Not only is the monkey reaching for a reflection, he’s reaching for a reflection of something he could never grasp.

Even if the monkey turns around and reaches up into the sky, what will he take hold of? He is trying to grasp a reflection of a dream.

Silly monkey.

The tsuba, or guard, of my katana has this image on it, to remind me every time I draw my sword, that I am most likely a monkey, reaching for the false image of an unattainable dream. Through practice, I hope to cut through these illusions that distract me, and let them fall away so that I can see what is truly before me.

But that sounds pretty pretentious, so I prefer to tell myself it’s a reminder that monkeys are just supposed to play in trees and enjoy life, and not try and reach for the moon.