Chapter 8 Continued

When he had learned to talk and acquired a bit of sense his appetite for learning suddenly grew by leaps and bounds , and he never shrank from study and prayer. The days flew by like arrows and before they knew it this Bonze Dan had grown to fifteen years of age. As for his manner and appearance, here's a Xijiangyue poem:

With eyes so bright and brows so thick and nose so very high
Fat bellied and near eight feet tall he seemed to touch the sky!

His face and outward bearing matched his origins so well
While his voice resounded loudly with the timbre of a bell.

The vegetarian regime he held in disregard
While in valor he surpassed the Buddha's bodyguard.

Heaven sent him down to Earth, this king born from an egg
And next to ordinary monks comparisons all beg!

Moreover, this young man was nothing if not brilliant. Even though he wasn't willing to devote all his time to memorizing the classics, you need only to have read a selection to him once and he could recite it fluently. And some people set themselves up for a fall by taking him for a fool; indeed, he won many a night's free entertainment by meeting wagers about his knowledge. It goes without saying that the Abbot came to love him dearly. In fact the old bonze couldn't resist doting over him with all his heart. Now, dear reader, what do you make of this? Well, for one the boy was clever, and for another reason he pitied the lad for having no blood relations outside of the monastery. But there was also a third reason.

This Bonze Dan hadn't respected the dietary laws since his childhood; what he loved was using the lance and cudgel. Although he didn't spend much time at prayer, he usually drilled at his martial arts using the giant crossbar of the main gates. And when the Abbot told him to do the hoeing he could do more than twice the work of his peers. The only problem with him was that his temper was awful; anybody going against him could expect a bawling out or even a punch in the nose. But, fortunately, he obeyed his elders and would come running if the old Rector or Abbot should call his name.

Through all of this he managed to win the heart of Abbot Ci, who redoubled his efforts at caring and providing for him. This caused the other disciples, young and old alike, to become upset, and when they met they often discussed throwing him out. It was just that there hadn't yet been any pretext. Every time the young bonze became unruly his father the Daoist Rector or the Abbot himself would take his side. And Abbot Ci had asked the novices for forebearance toward Bonze Dan, who, he confided in them, was a supernatural being in soul and body. So the young monks simply had to grin and bear it.

Now, when Bonze Dan heard folks saying that he'd come out of an egg and with even his own family agreeing he was a supernatural being, certainly no ordinary mortal, he then wanted to find some truly great work to do while on earth. The other young monks called him a beast behind his back as well as "the wild monk- "hatched by a hen and raised by a dog". It was truly an ugly experience and he often thought of leaving the Yinghui Temple to roam the world. But because of old Liu's kindness he couldn't just yet cast himself adrift.

Suddenly one day his father, the old Daoist Liu, took gravely ill and became bedridden. Bonze Dan took care of him with all his heart and soul but despite his soups, medicines and attention the old incense tender's condition failed to improve. Finally, amidst cries of grief he died. Bonze Dan cried his heart out and, of course, provided his stepfather with a coffin and a proper laying-in. Then he and Abbot Ci selected an unused spot by the edge of the garden plot for a grave. The Abbot had given his permission but the monks had their objections.

"Teacher is being sentimental," they whispered, "giving an entire burial plot to a lowly incense tender, a Daoist at that. If one of us monks were to die you'd have to build him a burial mound by that precedent and after two or three generations there wouldn't be half a parcel of land left of our garden. In the end all the Temple's land would be given to graves."

Abbot Ci closed his ears to their comments and said nothing. It was a while before an auspicious day came up for the funeral. Among the monks were those pretending to have colds and bellyaches; they clearly didn't care to help mourn. Only one old bonze played a dirge on the cymbals. And in the evening, when it was all over, Abbot Ci took Bonze Dan to his own room to rest.

Three days later Bonze Dan was about to cook some rice and broth to be given as a sacrifice to the departed old Daoist. He'd especially procured a piece of beancurd which he put in a small bowl in the kitchen. Then he went out on a short errand to buy some sacrificial money. When he returned to finish the preparations he found to his horror that the beancurd had been moved to a stool and eaten by the dogs. He clearly realized that this had been done by the other bonzes and was brokenhearted. Facing the stove he cried and cried, and was still pouring out his grief when the monks came in to present their objections.

"This kitchen," began one of them, "is not a sacrificial altar or ancestral temple for Old Liu, so what's there to cry over? Your sacrifice has been eaten by the dogs and no doubt there were some Doggie Zhangs and Lis among them, and who knows, maybe even a Doggy Liu?" The monks then took it in turn to scold Bonze Dan but despite their insults he kept silent. Then, casting aside the paper money he walked out in front of the hall and sat himself down angrily on a laundry stone by the pond.

"Those baldheaded mules," he thought. "They're bullying me openly now that my father's dead and I'm all alone in the world. The old Abbot's been fine all these years, just like a candle burning in the strongest wind, but he too could go at any time. There's really no way out of this. I'd really love to wait til midnight and set a fire. I'd sure feel great seeing those jackass monks burnt to death." Then he reconsidered: "Of course there's the Abbot; he's got to live. How could I ever warn him to leave the Temple in time?" After long reflection he realized that he could never bring himself to commit the murderous act of arson no matter what, and he raised his fist in frustration, striking the laundry stone and pulverizing its edge.

Shortly before this time, neighbor Zhu Dabo had also passed away leaving a son named Zhu Chouhan. About Ci, remembering that argument of long before and fearing for his own afterlife, took the five bushels of buckwheat he'd once intended to repay over to help the Zhus in their mourning. And he also ordered Bonze Dan to kowtow before the bier of Zhu Dabo. He and Zhu Chouhan came to get acquainted and had frequent dealings from that point on.

One day Chouhan was bent over the water's edge washing vegetables when he heard the sound of a crumbling rock. When he turned and looked he recognized Bonze Dan.

"Why is Teacher Dan testing his strength here?" he asked.

Bonze Dan sat silently.

"Who've you been haggling with?" continued Chouhan. "You know that wine, sex and riches are forbidden to church folks. Now, for you drink has been no problem for you and there have been women of all ages coming around for you to dally with, and cash has been thrown your way, too; you've been able to handle these temptations. But anger is the one thing that you've got to learn to control before it destroys you."

"That's for sure, brother," answered Bonze Dan; "that's my most important weakness. This time it's just that I've been picked on by that gang of baldheaded monks, that's all."

"When my father was alive," said Chouhan, "he always said you were a good man, destined for salvation. How'd you ever get mixed up with that sort? Monks are notorious for bullying and backbiting, sometimes even over one day's seniority! You're still single and you've got your whole life ahead of you. You've got to get out of there, that's for sure, cause if you don't and old Abbot Ci passes away you'll be at their mercy! So think it over and don't just keep on taking it so patiently!" Having finished giving this advice, he picked up his vegetables and walked away.

Upon hearing Chouhan's advice Bonze Dan once and for all cast aside his dark thoughts of burning down the Temple and decided instead to leave it for a wandering existance. Of course he took Abbot Ci's kindness into account and thought of explaining the reason to him, but reconsidered. "If I tell him," he realized, "he won't release me! I'd rather be tough and leave once and for all." Now, the sacrificial money was still on the kitchen counter so he burned it in the stove. Then he went into the Abbot's room, quietly took up some suitable clothes and bundled them into a neat little package, just right for the carrying pole. After waiting for nightfall he slipped out of the Temple gate. Then taking advantage of the moonlight he made off at his best stride and was gone. And here's a poem:

He didn't care which way he went, he only wanted out
Running like the wind itself upon its trackless route.

Of course he wasn't happy to embark on such a course
But to stay in those conditions would have brought him more remorse.

Now let's turn our attention to Abbot Ci. Come nightfall he noticed Bonze Dan's failure to return to his quarters, and when he asked the monks about it they of course claimed to know nothing. Next morning he noticed that his clothes and carrying pole were gone and became suspicious.

"One of you," he told the monks, "must have argued with our junior bonze, for he's taken my clothes and carrying pole and left without a sound. He must have been furious."

The assembled bonzes wouldn't take responsibility. "We had no dispute with him," one said, "he made up his mind some time ago to wander off. Yesterday he burned spirit money in honor of Doggie Liu and that signaled his intentions, it seems."

The Abbot didn't believe it and them in parting to get out and search for him, on all fours if they had to, and bring him back. Now, the bonzes nodded aggreement and each ostensibly went out to look, but actually they just loitered and drifted back and forth outside the Temple walls, killing time. After an hour they returned.

"There's no use; he's nowhere to be found," they reported; "he's probably far off by now." After breakfast Abbot Ci again pleaded with the monks to find him, and then himself took a bamboo cane and walked around town for a look. Upon his fruitless return to the Temple he saw the coterie of bonzes sitting, banded together by the water's edge, and let fly with a stone.

"Shame on you youngsters," he shouted angrily, "leaving an old man to walk around like this while you loaf here for hours! You're all coldhearted, that's for sure; why, you haven't budged to look for him!"

Now, the bonzes all knew that the jig was up so they tried yet another trick.

"There's no use searching," said one, "he loves and honors you, Teacher, so he'll be back to see you in a few days." And another chimed in: "Teacher, you sure honored him but did he reciprocate? We'll see soon his return. If he doesn't come back I guess he didn't revere you as much as you thought. Anyway, if he really were a good person he wouldn't have left without a word." Then another: "Why, Bonze Dan is a future Abbot while we're all useless. Oh excuse me, how dare I be so disrespectful to Teacher?" Finally one more had his say. "He didn't have any kin and he just drifted in on us. Teacher, you'd do well to search out his roots instead of his present whereabouts! And it isn't that we just quit looking and came back, either; who knows what district or county he could be in by now? It's like finding a needle in a haystack! You've got to first have some clue where he might be, then write out a public notice begging him to return for us to carry and post there."

Abbot Ci was thus roundly scolded by the group and, too angry to speak, went back to his room and sobbed. He never again told the monks to search. Everyday he'd lock his room and go out to ask around; upon his return from these rounds the monks would make rude hand gestures and mocking faces behind his back. After more than a month there was still no news. Now, Abbot Ci knelt before the statue of Guanyin for guidance several times, and on each occasion the slip he received was inauspicious. He thought of the words written on that slip number fifteen he'd first pulled out, years ago: "...the drifting of the cradle will soon enough be through" and "Where the babe was launched and how he floats among the reeds," but they weren't to be found this time. He concluded that the real importance of that slip was its number, signifying the fifteen years allotted him by Heaven to have the child, as had indeed just passed before his disappearance. How unbearable a fate! He could only sigh in resignation and despair. For among all of the kinds of grief and bitterness in the world perhaps there is nothing worse than parting unto death, never to meet again. Alas, every party must come to an end sometime. And on those words we take leave of this sad affair.

Getting back to our Bonze Dan, we now find him on his own, determined to wander to every famous place and legendary mountain, to visit Daoist Immortals and learn of their mighty, earthshaking magic. And so he continued, begging for alms as he went, stopping at the Temple of Glorious Filial Piety at Xiangshan, Quanzhou District, where he worshipped the true body of the ageless Buddha. Then he wandered to Hengzhou where he witnessed sunrise from the Holy Peak of the South, Hengshan, and roamed all of its seventy-two peaks, ten caves, fifteen sheer cliffs, thirty-six springs and twenty-five brooks. He climbed the mountains and took joy in the streams and lakes as he found them, and upon meeting some wandering monk or wizard would keep their company as long as it suited him, again casting off on his own. And so it went on until suddenly one day, together with a group of monks, he passed by the foot of Mt Dream-of-the-Clouds in Mianyang. They'd come to a place where there wasn't a trace of civilization; the mountains were jagged and threatening, strewn with boulders and fallen trees. As they desired such a serene spot they continued carefully, but a sea of white fog descended upon them and made the path undiscernable. Naturally, they became afraid.

"Let's turn around and get out" cried the monk bringing up the rear, "we've taken the wrong road." Now, Bonze Dan was following the group out when he had a thought. "What sort of place could this be?" "I've heard," said one of the monks as they walked on, "that there's a White Cloud Cave here, and the White Ape God lives there. Because secret charms from Heaven's books are written there, this fog is produced to obscure them and prevent their theft by mankind. Every year at noon on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the day of the Dragon Boat Festival, the Ape God ascends to Heaven for an hour and the fog lifts temporarily. Then he returns and the fog with him. In the cave is a white jade incense burner; the smoke from it is proof that the monkey is on the job guarding the charms. Now, if some Daoist were to seize that hour and find the cave entrance, he'd find a threatening stone bridge over an abyss too threatening to cross. And once the fog returns who knows how many li it covers; if one made a mistake it would be curtains. Without any way out and with only fog to breath for hours, why, if you didn't die you'd be sickened for sure. For this Mt Dream-of-the-Clouds is nine hundred square li, and who knows how many caverns there are worthy of the name 'White Cloud Cave'?

Bonze Dan quietly took all this in. "So, there really have been some secrets of sorcery here," he thought. "Why, if I'm not fated to learn, who is?"

After a few days he casted aside his companions and returned alone along the old road to Mt Dream of the Clouds. At the edge of the fog he stopped. Breaking off some dry wood and gathering pine branches he built a small hut. During the day he went out to gather provisions while by night he rested in the shelter, only waiting for the fifth day of the fifth month, hoping to enter White Cloud Cave and steal the White Ape God's forbidden Daoist charms from the secret books of Heaven. And if he could get them once he'd surely succeed again.

Anyway, if he didn't give it a try and at least walk off with them once, he'd never know the profound mysteries of Heaven's books. It's like this:

Seeking only bitterness amidst a bitter life
He's nothing but a phoney monk who joins in mortal strife.

Now as for where he wanders and about the charms he takes
Read on in further chapters and see what all it makes.

Conclusion of Chapter 8, Ping Yao Zhuan. Click to continue to Chapt 9 Table of Contents Back to homepage