The monkey steps back

A Zen story

According to the Denkoroku, when Huike and Bodhidharma were climbing up Few Houses Peak, Bodhidharma asked, “Where are we going?”
Huike replied, “Please go right ahead—that’s it.”
Bodhidharma retorted, “If you go right ahead, you cannot move a step.”
Upon hearing these words, Huike was enlightened.


Dialogue from the movie The Grandmaster (2013) by Wong Kar Wai

Ma San: “Gong Yutian spoke to me about his last move: Old Monkey Hangs Up His Badge. He said the secret of that move was to turn back. I didn’t understand his meaning at the time, I thought he was unable to keep up with changing times…”

Some thoughts…

These 2 texts have strike a cord in my being the moment I came across them. The first one through reading a Zen story and the latter whilst watching the movie in the theatre, even though I didn’t understand (and perhaps never will) the deeper meaning of the texts.

But here we go; this is how I interpret it:

  1. If a child’s mind is regarded as a Buddha’s mind, and we try to retrieve it back (which, the idea itself is illusionary, as we have never lost it in the first place… rather forgotten somewhere down the line) as adults, through the practise of the beginner’s mind, (where the mind is in the state without the need to name everyday’s animated or inanimated object). Then the texts revers to taking a step back before one gets more lost.
  2. Even, without diving into a deeper spiritual meaning; It could be about not going too fast in life, and be led by impulse or fear of not belonging, the need to catch up with time and the expectation society puts on us. The neverending chase of the illusionary newer and better (and thus getting lost of one’s trueself). Think about the selfie-culture and the addiction with social media…
  3. Or is it just… redemption, the idea to be able to start anew, free of guilt and regret that makes these 2 texts so compelling?


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