Chapter 12

The Old Fox Ghost Reads Law by Lanternlight
While a Wild Daoist Goes Mad by Moonlight

To what extent a soul will go depends upon its thirst
That we be so hard-hearted wasn't fated from the first.

Having sown a shady grove of willows quite by chance
In shadow they can nourish neither flowers nor romance.

It is said that Bonze Dan and Holy Auntie recognized each other as siblings from a previous existance; now isn't that ridiculous! Nevertheless old Mumma and the hostess both fell for it and returned to inform Yang Chun and his wife, who along with other folks did indeed say that it sounded strange, never suspecting at all that it was a barefaced lie. Now as for Holy Auntie she had been living alone over in the chapel, but at the outset of the open meeting Granny Yang sent some slave girls and maids over to keep her company and look after her. When Bonze Dan first spoke to her he was afraid to go into too much detail, as the others were present.

"What sort of characters is that Golden Sutra written in?" he asked. "How do you manage to read them?"

The old woman then boasted of her meeting with that supernatural figure and receiving the Sixteen Heavenly Writings. And she explained that nobody could read the elaborate script because it was a book from holiest India, the very gateway to the faith. She told of how the genuine sutras of the Tripitaka had all been written in Sanskrit, and of how Chen Xuan commissioned the monk Jiumaluoshen and others to translate them into Chinese according to the Tang pronounciation, bringing the existing editions into being, although on holy mountains and in ancient monasteries the original Sanskrit writings had been passed down and still survived.

"I've met a person with special powers, too," answered Bonze Dan, "who passed on to me twenty-four pages of mysterious writings that nobody can understand. I've got a page here in fact. Can I trouble you to have a look at it and tell me what it says?"

"I'll have a peek."

"Bonze Dan then reached into one of his bundles, removing and opening a cloth wrapper and spreading one page of the writings onto the table. The old woman looked at it and gasped. "Why, this is a script from a far off land over the sea, and even I don't know it." She then cautiously gazed up at him, watching his reaction. Disappointed, Bonze Dan nodded and wrapped the page with the others in the cloth as before.

After supper the groundskeeper could be seen leading in a servant, who removed a fresh cassock and lined quilt from a felt bag he was carrying.

"Our master has heard that Holy Auntie's met her brother from a former life," he announced, "a marvelous twist of fate. He wishes to present these unworthy gifts to you, Reverend, as an expression of his feelings. He'll come see you early tomorrow."

The old woman and our monk thanked him as one. The servant then relayed orders to the groundskeeper to clean up and prepare a small side room off of the main chapel, to be used as Bonze Dan's quarters. Our monk then reached down with one hand to gather up his bundle and newly received quilt and cassock, picking up his staff with the other. He then followed the servant into the side room, where he at last rested quietly.

"The way that old woman looked at me," he thought darkly, "it had to have some meant something profound. You know, I could wait a bit and barge in on her in her meditation room to ask her directly, but if a servant spots me it might be misunderstood." Turning it over and over in his mind his curiosity just wouldn't subside.

After sunset, hearing the third stroke of a distant temple bell and knowing the the meditation room to be closed by regulations, Bonze Dan stepped out of the his room and stealthily went directly into the worship hall. He could see only a glass lantern, its flame flickering weakly; to the rear was the meditation room, its doors tightly closed. Eavedropping for a moment and hearing nothing he remained on his guard, just remaining still for a half minute or so, before turning to go forth once more. But what did he then see by the flicking shadows of the lamp but the form of Holy Auntie walking about in the hall!

"Where did you get them, brother?" she asked.

Now, Bonze Dan was frightened and awed, and knew at once that Holy Auntie indeed had special powers. "I've just come to seek knowledge from you!" he pleaded, hands clasped up in front of him.

"You know, those twenty-four pages we were just talking about. Let me have a look at all of them."

At this point Bonze Dan knew he'd best come clean with everything. "That's really all there are."

"They're the profoundly secret codes of Heaven, written in thunderscript," said the old woman; "where did you get them from?"

Grasping the significance of her words, Bonze Dan told her all about the three times he sought the Way at White Cloud Cave, including the story of the godly voice he heard in the dream. And the old woman then related the entire episode of her own dream meeting with the Empress Wu Zetian. "Thank Heaven and Earth!" she proclaimed, hands clasped prayerfully. "Today at last I understand the meaning of "enlightened at egg Dan! Why, if you hadn't got that book, I wouldn't ever be able to know it! We help each other, hiding nothing, and we mutually find the ultimate path to the mysteries of mysteries!"

She then took down the lamp and placed it on the floor. Bonze Dan returned to his room and removed the cloth roll from his bundle. He then opened it up upon a prayermat and handed all twenty-four pages over to the old woman.

And so they sat on a couple of prayermats while she lifted a page and read it from top to bottom. "The name of this work is the 'Treasure Book of Heaven's Blessings', and it consists of seventy-two changes utilizing the cool damp power of Earth. But there are another thirty-six changes using the dry hot wind of Heaven; how come you didn't snatch them up as well?"

"They're on the thirteen pages from the left wall, and I couldn't get but about half of them."

"It was fated, destined to be this way!" mumbled the old woman.

"How is the energy of Heaven different from that of Earth?" asked Bonze Dan.

"Heaven is Yang: emptiness, high and immense, while earth is Yin: substance, low and intense. The laws of Earth's power can take spirits lacking form and create worldly manifestations for them, but their lives are limited by Heaven's preordination. On the other hand the laws of Heaven's wind act through dieties floating in the precincts of the sky and famous fairies to accomplish what even the Lord of Heaven cannot do!"

"Can they both drive away evil spirits?"

"Why not?" said Holy Auntie; "Ghosts are sentient beings, after all."

"I can see how the wind of Heaven can do that much. But how can you be sure it dominates the forces of Earth without your actually witnessing this?"

"Heaven embraces and covers earth and not the other way round. According to this line of code here, number sixteen entitled 'The Properties of a Teapot', what is inside the boiling pot is Heaven although it isn't on high. Why, that means it can pass through walls and transcend distance. And according to line number seventy-two, called 'Properties of Earth Dieties', these appear less brilliant than the light of Heaven's high winds. This means Heaven simply must have divine power over earth. It is truly a blessing that you and I have met today!"

Bonze Dan continued with his questions. "Are these twenty four pages on the laws of Earth's forces complete?"

"They're all here."

"There's some writing on the backs that I didn't rub onto them...can't you say what it's about?"

"We don't need to concern ourselves with anything apart from the original text."

There are a lot of awfully strange big Chinese characters on the fronts of the pages, aren't there?

The seventy-two lines that make up these charms aren't written in Chinese."

"But before they begin there are scores of lines of our characters; if they don't belong to the Seventy-Two Charms just what do they say?"

"'Whosoever practices alchemy by these laws must first set up an altar and take a solemn oath of loyalty'...that's the gist of it."

It was as if Bonze Dan had all along only been dreaming of Dao and had just awakened to its fearsome reality. He feel to his knees at once and kowtowed. "If I hadn't received your teaching, Holy Aunt, I would have suffered those three times all in vain. My work would be like jade that has never known the carver or a pearl that has never met the harvester's knife. By all means take me down the path to the practice of alchemy with you, starting today!"

"It's all a matter of natural principles, and once you've mastered them you won't need such explanations of everything that comes up. Problem is, it's one thing to talk a bit about alchemy but quite another to really do it! First of all, there's the selection of a site. The place has got to be spacious, quiet and remote, out of earshot of dogs or roosters, and rarely if ever visited by people, so that the formulas can be kept secret. In addition, this will create less of a hindrance to visits by dieties and spirits. The next condition is wealth. With something that goes on for for years and months on end like alchemy, financial backing must be secured. There are lots of little things needed like the five basic metals and general supplies, special products and medicine and all different sorts of apparatus and furniture that you've got to keep around for use at any time. You've got to have really deep pockets to cover all the expenditures that came along! And then the third thing you need is to know your own heart and mind. If two folks study Dao together and one of them has a disordered mind and falls by the wayside, nothing will ever be accomplished."

Bonze Dan listened intently. "I've gone through so many trials and tribulations to get those writings of Heaven into my hands, and now I'm so fortunate!" he sobbed gratefully. "Having met Holy Aunt, why, even if I can't dream of soaring as a god in Heaven I'll die satisfied just having been an earth fairy for one day! As for the third condition Holy Aunt has spoken of, getting the mind in order, well, that's no problem. And the first problem of finding a site, we just go deep into the mountains and find a vast and deep ravine and there we are. But the second need, financing, well, not being government officals or thieves how can we raise all that money? And even lots of officials only dream of eating and drinking their full!"

"Don't worry," said the old woman. "As folks say, 'beggars can't be choosers', but we really are in luck. Once the grand revival's been wrapped up successfully, I'm sure Deputy Yang will bear our next undertaking on his own shoulders!"

"I leave it all up to you, Holy Aunt," said Bonze Dan, hands clasped formally and bowing deeply. But by the time he straightened up the old woman had already vanished. Rubbing his eyes in disbelief he gazed at the lavish furnishings all around. "Wasn't it a dream?" he wondered. And looking in once more at the doors to the meditation room he saw that all was as peaceful and quiet as before. He thought of what she had said in its every detail, its laws and principles, reflecting on her own considerable knowledge of the Daoist craft.

Then suddenly he felt possessive and jealous about the twenty-four pages of Heaven's writings, what with the way she'd muscled in as if to take credit herself for them. He would so very much have liked to keep them somewhere for himself, but he also knew that Holy Auntie was truly extraordinary and that he just couldn't do without her.

Then picking up his scrolls he wrapped them as before and put them back into his cloth sack. Then he lifted the lamp back to its hook, picked up his bundle and returned to his quarters in the sideroom, where he slaked his thirst and went to sleep. And here is a poem:

Without an end the brightness in the lantern waxed and waned
While on the mat the secrets of the gods were all explained.

The patron as before will pay the thousand coins of gold
Although he can't control the things that finally unfold.

Next morning Deputy Yang came over and asked to see Bonze Dan. Upon meeting he asked about his guest's background and voiced some praises of him. Then together they went to the meditation hall and met Holy Auntie, thanking her for those seven days spent hard at work preaching the faith and reciting sutras. And having heard that fewer than four thousand transient monks had so far been assisted he naturally wondered how many more days it would take.

"Put your worries aside, sir," she answered. "Your work is already done. You cheerfully agreed to undertake the sustenance of ten thousand monks and their monasteries and that is enough. Tomorrow is an auspicious day for practicing charity, as good a time as any for us to conduct the great closing rally for goodness and virtue."

"That's so good to hear!" answered Deputy Yang, delighted. After I do the orders for tomorrow's alms I'll have the Temple of Guanyin prepared as well. Young Reverend, I'm sure your Daoist skills are highly refined. To get right to the point I'd like to trouble you to take charge."

"I'm too young for that sort of responsibility. I'm still a follower, not a leader."

Holy Auntie then spoke. "What with our enjoying your district's hospitality and all we can't but try to do our best! Tomorrow we'll make sure that that the Teacher Guanyin herself is there to receive your Excellency and Madam's worship."

Deputy Yang thought back to when he had first met Holy Auntie, recalling how Granny had told him of seeing Guanyin seated in a cloud; he too wanted to get a worshipful look at her. He had since spoken to Holy Auntie many times and she had done all the talking; it had not been very satisfying. Now at last he was walking on the clouds in delight with the prospect of a visit from Guanyin.

"If I as much as get a glimpse of her precious holiness I'll be happy for the rest of the my days!" So having said he rushed over to the Temple of Guanyin outside the west gate, followed by some servants to proclaim the coming day's events and invite a delegation of six leading monks. By evening he had taken care of the sacred slips, musical instruments and furnishings and had everything sent out to the leaders concerned. As for the one in the garden, he didn't disturb her. Holy Auntie had insisted on meditating alone in her chamber, all the better to receive the Bodhisattva there, and she sent back the few slave girls who had been looking after her.

Next day at dawn's first light Bonze Dan was presented to the delegation of six monks over in the Temple of Guanyin; that made seven altogether to represent the worshipping mass. Together they went forth to the beating of drums and ringing of handbells, the chanting of sutras and shouting of holy charms, all according to the agenda for the grand moral revival; need I say more? Deputy Yang also arrived early, dressed for worship. Granny Yang, recovered afresh from her illness and all excited by the prospect of a visit from Guanyin also wanted to worship her. Riding out in a small palanquin she burned incense upon her arrival in the garden. But finding the meditation room locked up she knew at once that Holy Auntie was in retreat; she didn't wish to bother her.

Deputy Yang sent old Mumma over to escort Granny to a peaceful seat in the study, and he then joined her there; anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Puxian Bodhisattva Guanyin he implored Granny to worship this miracle together with him. But as the day wore on there was no sign of the promised visitation; after the priests led three worship services and two almsgivings the sky was alreaady low in the western sky and there wasn't as much as a trace of news. The gates of Holy Auntie's quarters were still shut and there was no sign of any activity inside. Granny Yang became impatient; though she normally loved these rituals she was now weary in body and quite tense from the day's wait and only longed to return home. Yang Chun then ordered a new round of joss and candles to be put up, donned a fresh cap and gown and thrice bowed to the statue of Guanyin, begging pitifully. Seeing their patron set such an example the priests redoubled their efforts as well. They all carried on wildly until the third watch of the night until even Deputy Yang couldn't bear it any longer and ordered the sacrifical money and holy slips to be burned in preparation for sending the worshippers home.

It was just then, as they fed the paper cash and slips to the hungry flames that everyone witnessed the onset of a sudden whirlwind, carrying the sparks and blazing paper up into it. Then as Deputy Yang and the others all raised their heads in awe they saw first the broad light of a fire, and before their eyes it changed into a five-colored auspicious cloud. And upon that cloud appeared Guanyin, bedecked in pearls and gold, looking ever so precious yet correct and severe riding atop a white elephant.

Deputy Yang was stunned. Unable to utter a word he fell to the ground in silent worship. Bonze Dan also took it for real and dropped to kowtow in awe with the other monks. And of the participants at large, milling about and chanting, there were none who dared not worship her. Now, the bodhisattva said nothing but just proceeded slowly to the locked meditation hall where she landed on earth and went right in. As it was the nineteenth of the eighth lunar month (about Halloween, trans) there was a splendid full moon and all could be clearly seen.

"Stand back," shouted Deputy Yang, "the goddess must have something to discuss with Holy Auntie and we mortals mustn't barge in begging to meet her! We should all rejoice just in having seen her seated in the clouds."

"The world's revered one came on account of our host's record of good deeds!" shouted a priest. "For us lowly monks to have been brought here, fed and treated to even this one sighting of her is blessing enough for three lifetimes!"

Deputy Yang nodded humbly, then again knocked his head on the ground in front of the idol while the masses in attendance mounted their horses and otherwise departed. The clergy then retreated to the main hall for their meal, then scattered the incense ashes, gathered up their gifts of furniture and set off for their home temples. Bonze Dan returned to the anteroom as before and rested.

As the next day dawned Bonze Dan called reverently upon Deputy Yang, who was sitting with his morning tea. The host thanked him for the previous day's labors and brought up the public vision of Guanyin. "When I got home and spoke to my wife," he related, "she said she hated herself for her bad luck, for having been too weak and tired to stay."

"Early this morning," said Bonze Dan, "Holy Auntie told me wanted Granny to come over to the garden. She's got something to discuss with her." Continue to Conclusion of Chapter 12 Table of Contents Homepage