Chapter 11 – Greedy For Life, Afraid Of Death
Book 16 Chapter 11 – Greedy For Life, Afraid Of Death
Xu Ziling followed behind Bu Chen, deep into the Temple complex, toward the rear courtyard.
From time to time along the way he saw some monks, but everybody acted as if they did not see him, as if they were deeply immersed in the ‘purified of defiling illusion’ and religious life of ‘letting things take their own course’ Buddhist doctrine.
After passing the Copper Hall, which glittered brilliantly under the sun, Bu Chen turned left toward a quaint flagstone path, lined with bamboo trees on both sides.
Hidden behind the bamboo trees on both sides of the path, he could see the buildings that were the monks’ residences; plain and simple. Compared to the magnificent temple halls, the buildings exuded a completely different impression. But behind the pinewood frame and white plaster, there was some kind of raw, unpolished natural beauty.
While Xu Ziling was enjoying the deep, serene and faraway, the peaceful and quiet atmosphere of the monastery, the scenery changed. Houses were getting sparse, replaced by evergreen pine and cypress, and rugged stratified rocks. Walking along the stone path, he could see a stonewall ahead, engraved with two characters, ‘Fo Dao’ [the way of the Buddha]. The stone cliffs on either side of the path grew higher and higher, while the path itself was getting narrower. There were images of Buddha carved on the stonewall on either side, which leaned against the low cliff, all with carefree demeanor, and were very vivid and lifelike.
While Xu Ziling was amazed at the scenery, the ‘Fo Dao’ suddenly ended, the path suddenly opened up to a wide panorama.
At the western extremity of this monastery, a large hall, which size comparable to the seven main halls, engraved with the characters ‘Fangzhang Yuan’ [abbot courtyard], was resting along the precipice, among the nine towering ridges of the mountain. It was strategically situated and easy to defend, the terrain was extremely dangerous.
Feeling something was amiss, Xu Ziling asked, “This ought to be the Zhuchi [person in charge/president/manager/director] of your honorable monastery Liao Kong Dashi’s residence, isn’t it?”
Bu Chen nonchalantly replied, “Shizhu wishes to see Miss Shi, naturally our Fangzhang ought to make the decision; why are you surprised?” [Translator’s note: this is the only time the word Fangzhang (abbot) is being used, the rest are Zhuchi (see above) but for simplicity sake, I am going to use ‘Abbot’ for both. (Besides, I feel weird calling Liaokong a ‘manager’ or ‘president’ of the Temple.]
Xu Ziling knew it would not be this easy to see Shi Feixuan. He could only sigh inwardly as he followed Bu Chen climbing the stairs to enter the courtyard.
The Abbot Courtyard was divided into three sections: front, center and rear. Entering the door, he was welcomed by a spacious but empty reception room. There was no furniture, only several portraits were hanging on two walls; apparently they were the portraits of the monastery’s abbots throughout generations.
Bu Chen asked Xu Ziling to wait here, while he proceeded into the inner room.
Having nothing to do, Xu Ziling browsed the portraits on the wall. Although the portraits were all different, some were fat, some were thin, but the painting was meticulous and very detailed; the expressions were solemn, with an aura around the head of Buddha illuminating everything, the faces were kind, showing the appearance of great compassion and great sorrow of those who helped people from suffering and calamity. Next to each portrait was the caption, listing the name, the dates of taking the oath as a monk and entering the silence, and other pertinent information.
The portraits were obviously arranged according to their date of service. When looking at the last portrait on the left wall, Xu Ziling’s heart was shaken; he walked closer to examine the portrait carefully. He saw an old monk whose beard and eyebrows were entirely white, with deep wrinkles crisscrossing his face. He appeared to be at least 70-something.
The reason Xu Ziling jumped in fright was because the portrait had at least 80, 90% resemblance to the current Abbot, Liao Kong; it would be the portrait of Liao Kong when he grew old.
While he was pondering whether the portrait was Liao Kong’s father, which meant Liao Kong was inheriting his father’s ‘cassock and alms bowl’ [usually passed on by a Buddhist master to his favorite disciple], he was shocked to find that the inscription next to the portrait only listed the date of taking the oath, without the date of death. He could not help sucking in a mouthful of cold air.
Could it be that the old Liao Kong turned back into a child? From the old man in the portrait back to a man that looked to be in his forties? This fact was really extremely shocking.
Bu Chen’s voice came from behind, “That is the portrait of our humble temple’s Abbot fifteen years ago; at that time he had just entered the gate of Dhyana cultivation, hence he had someone paint the portrait.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “It’s really hard to believe that there is indeed divine skill and secret method to recover one’s youthful vigor in the world.”
Bu Chen called one of the many names of Buddha with clasped palms and said, “Dharma has no boundary; turn around and reach the shore. Our humble temple’s Abbot is waiting respectfully for Xu Shizhu in the center courtyard. Please!”
Xu Ziling turned around and saw that Bu Chen did not show any intention to lead him in. Thereupon he had no choice but to cup his fist in salute to express his gratitude, and walk toward the center courtyard alone.
The wooden door closed behind him.
It was a ten-zhang deep and wide, three-zhang high empty room, with blank walls on all four sides.
Liao Kong was sitting cross-legged facing the wall, with his back against Xu Ziling.
There was a closed door on either side of this able-to-recover-his-youth, powerful-to-reverse-the-rotation-of-the-sky senior monk, exuding some kind of profound-mystery atmosphere.
With a wry smile on the corner of his lips, Xu Ziling spoke deferentially, “Dashi, please bestow your decree.”
※ ※ ※
From the side hall Kou Zhong returned to the front reception hall; he was about to enter the main hall when he bumped into the graceful, cool and elegant ‘Beautiful Barbarian Lady’ Linglong Jiao, who was always showing him dismissive attitude. Both sides did not expect to meet face to face on a narrow path like this. Having just received a bitter lesson from Dong Shuni, Kou Zhong struggled hard to control himself, and was only nodding as a courtesy to greet her.
Against his expectation, this barbarian beauty revealed a rarely seen smile toward him, and then walking side by side with him, she said, “Your battle at the Tianjin Bridge last night was really brilliant.”
Kou Zhong was stunned, “Miss Jiao is really formidable; unexpectedly you are able to fool so many people’s eyes and ears by hiding nearby.”
Linglong Jiao returned to her cool and detached expression and she spoke indifferently, “Without this little bit of ability, how could I gather intelligence for Shangshu Daren?”
This woman was willing to converse with him; it was indeed a radical change of attitude.
Kou Zhong was thinking about finding other topic when from the inner hall Xu Xingzhi was walking out in a hurry. Seeing Kou Zhong, he signaled him with his eyes not to say anything, and the he saluted and said, “Daren is waiting for Kou Ye in the study room.”
Finished speaking he turned around and left.
Halting her steps, Linglong Jiao said, “Shangshu Daren must have something to discuss with you alone. I’ll see you later.”
※ ※ ※
Half a day later Kou Zhong came to the study room. Wang Shichong waited until he closed the door and sat down in an imperial tutor chair by his left before saying, “Fortunately last night you did not get beaten by the enemy. I had wanted to send people to help you, but we would only fall into their hands, it will be hard to keep up with them. Finally I could only hold back my troops without moving.”
And then he went on with a cold humph, “Yang Dong and Dugu Feng are too despicable.”
Kou Zhong pretended to praise him, saying, “Shangshu Daren, that was a brilliant move. Right now we need to show the enemy our weakness, in keeping with the School of the Military’s main point of ‘sending up the troops, dispatching a scheme’. In term of strength, even with their tie to foreigner, the Dugu Clan still cannot do anything to us. Therefore, they can only rely on crafty plots and machinations to carry out their cold arrow stratagem. As long as we are a bit more careful, Dugu Feng can never prevail.”
Frowning, Wang Shichong said, “Because Qu Ao was routed, Tiele people may be disregarded. But supposing Yin Gui Pai, Tuli and Yang Gong join hands, do we want to maintain our passive situation? One thing goes wrong, we might lose the Eastern Capital.”
Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Kou Zhong said, “Tuli can also be disregarded, simply because my friend Ba Fenghan had just left Luoyang; no matter what, Tuli and Bixuan’s two disciples must pursue him to join the excitement. Yin Gui Pai, because they have to deal with Shi Feixuan, their number one enemy, will not dare to be overtly involved in this conflict. Besides, to some extent, they wish you could put Li Mi in order. At that time, after Du Fuwei acquire Jiangdu, he will go up north along the Canal.”
Astonished, Wang Shichong asked, “How do you know Du Fuwei is going to attack Jiangdu?”
Naturally Kou Zhong did not wish to expose Song Jingang; he said, “I have a bit of friendly relations with the Song Family, later on today I will meet with Song Lu at the House of Dong restaurant.”
Relieved, Wang Shichong said, “This matter definitely gives me headache. The relationship between Du Fuwei and Shen Faxing has never been good, and now suddenly they become allies; it can clearly be seen how anxious they are about going up north.”
Nodding, Kou Zhong said, “The current situation is obviously the struggle for Yellow River and the Canal; whoever can obtain Guanzhong and Luoyang, two big strategic cities at the same time, will be akin to half of the country falling into his bag. We must first take Hulao, Xingyang, and then move the troops straight to the west. At that time when you, Shengshang [Your Majesty], give command to the world, who will dare not to obey?”
Wang Shichong twirled his moustache and smiled, his eyes were gleaming full of hope and excitement. “If I, Wang Shichong, become the lord of the new dynasty, you, Kou Zhong, will be the new dynasty’s prime minister. Are you ready?” he said solemnly.
Kou Zhong mused inwardly that only a fool would believe you. But on the surface he put on a dreamy look as he said in delight, “Shangshu Daren holds this kid in such a high regard, I naturally am ten-thousand times grateful. But I want to set up a merit by defeating Li Mi first. At that time, when Shangshu Daren put me in important position, other people will have nothing to say.”
Wang Shichong chuckled loudly; and then putting on a mysterious expression he said, “Whether we can lure Li Mi into sending out his troops, it depends on tomorrow night’s arrangement. Let me have you meet my body double first.”
※ ※ ※
 School of the Military, one of the Hundred Schools of Thought of the Warring States Period (475-220 BC).
Liao Kong was wearing grey monk robe, with dark brown outer robe hanging on his shoulders. The empty spacious hall was quiet and noiseless.
Xu Ziling stood with his hands behind his back, as if he had turned into another revered stone statue, aloof and detached from the mundane world, without the slightest hint of impatience.
Quite a while later, Liao Kong’s gentle voice spoke softly, “Luoyang’s temple, monastery and grotto, three famous scenic destinations, I wonder if Xu Shizhu has visited them?”
Xu Ziling was astonished inwardly. If Liao Kong had been speaking about anything else, even Buddhist terms and Buddhist allegory, he would not have been surprised. But he was referring to Luoyang’s famous places, which has nothing to do with the current affair’s wind, horse or ox. It really stumped him that he did not know how to respond.
For lack of better option, he modestly asked, “Would Dashi bestow me comprehensive revelation, please?”
Liao Kong glibly said, “’Temple’ is the White Horse Temple, the first Buddhist temple in the Central Plains, built during the Eastern Han [25-220 AD] Yongping’s tenth year. In those days, when the two senior monks She Moteng and Zhu Falan were returning back from India, Buddhist scripture and Buddhist images were brought back on white horses, hence the name White Horse. This became the start of Buddhism in the Central Earth; therefore, the Temple has the reputation as the ‘root of Buddhism’ and the ‘ancestor hall’. For Buddha believer who does not visit this temple, it would be a matter of lifelong regret.”
“Thank you very much for Dashi’s enlightenment,” Xu Ziling said, “But I do not know where the White Horse Temple is located.”
Liao Kong replied indifferently, “If Xu Shizhu is a person with aspirations, you will find out.”
Without waiting for Xu Ziling to respond, he continued, “’Monastery’ is the Laojun Monastery [Laozi or Lao-tze (c. 500 BC), founder of Taoism], located on the apex of the Cui Yun [lit. bluish-green cloud] Peak on Mount Mang, several li north of the city. Legend has it that it is the sacred place where Laozi Li Er perfected his pellet [(?) not sure about this]. Unfortunately presently it is under the witches and demons’ control; the sacred place becomes demonic cave.”
Greatly surprised, Xu Ziling asked, “How did that happen?”
Liao Kong calmly replied, “There are a lot of things, which are inconvenient for Lao Na [lit. old cassock, a term used by old Buddhist monk to call himself] to tell you in details. It’s just that seeing that Xu Shizhu’s learning came from the Taoist School’s [one of the schools mentioned in footnote 1] founder Guangcheng Zi, I mentioned it in passing.”
Every word that he said was shrouded in profound theory, which was so deep that it was difficult to understand.
Liao Kong went on, “As for the ‘Grotto’, it is the Longmen Grottoes, located south of our Temple about ten li away by the shore of Yi River. Due to the two mountains standing opposite to each other, which overlook it like imperial city watchtower, it is also known as the ‘Yi Watchtower’. On the cliffs along the shores on both sides of the river there are shrines and rock caves, big and small, extending continuously for several li. The scenery is stunning.”
And then he spoke in astonishment, “Ah yes! What is the purpose of Xu Shizhu’s visit this time? Lao Na already forgot.”
Taken aback by his question, Xu Ziling said, “I have forgotten as well. Thank you Dashi for giving me directions.”
Finished speaking he floated away from the Hall.
※ ※ ※
A man, who, in terms of appearance and build, looked seventy, eighty-percent similar to Wang Shichong, entered the study room and prostrated himself to pay his respects, followed by Ouyang Xiyi, Linglong Jiao, Priest Ke Feng, Chen Changlin, the group of martial art masters, and then Wang Shichong’s two sons, Wang Xuanying and Wang Xuanshu, as well as the great generals Zhang Zhenzhou and Yang Gongqing.
Just by looking at this ensemble of people, Kou Zhong knew that they had something important to discuss.
After everybody was seated, with Kou Zhong occupying the head seat on the left, opposite to Ouyang Xiyi, who sat on the head seat on the right, and the lower seats started with Zhang Zhenzhou, and so on, Wang Shichong helped his body double standing up and proudly said to Kou Zhong, “What do you think?”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “Definitely can pass off fish eyes for pearls [idiom: pass off fake products as genuine]. But under tomorrow night’s circumstances, hey!”
Wang Shichong knew he wanted to speak his mind, hence he ordered his body double to leave first before speaking in delight, “Now everybody is our own people, whatever you want to say, you may speak freely!”
Wang Shichong’s eldest son, Wang Xuanying, whose appearance looked like he indulged too much in wine and women, proudly said, “This is called ‘train an army for a thousand days to use it for an hour [idiom; fig. extensive preparation eventually pays off]’. Year before last Xuanying looked for and found this man from Guanzhou, and I personally trained and coached him. I guarantee no one will be able to see through.”
Just by looking at his expression, which showed that he was afraid others might not know his merit, people knew that this son cannot become a very capable person.
Frowning, Ouyang Xiyi said, “This man does not know martial art. Any expert who observes his every movement or watching him taking a couple of steps would immediately know that he is not Shichong Xiong himself.”
Planned in advance, Wang Shichong said, “If anyone wanted to assassinate me, the best time would be on the way to the meeting, or perhaps on the way back. So having him sitting on the carriage will be enough.”
At this point everybody knew that Wang Shichong was definitely unwilling risk this danger.
Priest Ke Feng frowned and said, “This time we want the enemy’s assassination attempt to be successful, and that Shichong Xiong pretends to sustain injuries, only then will Li Mi be tempted to send his troops immediately. As soon as the so-called expert make his move, he would know the man has nothing in him. If he could be easily slaughtered, anybody would be suspicious instead; how could this scheme be successful?”
Wang Shichong happily said, “That the is key point; behind the fake hides the real. I am going to hide inside the carriage compartment. If the enemy is too powerful that he can break into the carriage to kill, I will make a sudden appearance. It would be best if the incoming is Huang Gongcuo or perhaps You Chuhong of someone their caliber, so that after I injure them, I could pretend to fight desperately and sustain injuries. This way we can convince the enemy even more. Naturally I will need all of you to work together with me.”
Turning to Kou Zhong, he said, “Kou Xiaoxiong, do you have anything else to say?”
Kou Zhong asked, “Why wouldn’t the enemy make their move during the banquet?”
Wang Xuanying replied on behalf of his father, “The reason is very simple. This time Rong Fengxiang invited all celebrities from all parts of the country, who are currently in Luoyang, to the feast. At that time martial art masters will be as numerous as the cloud, and among them there is no lack of masters who have good relationship with us. Under this kind of circumstance, issuing public challenge will not be a problem, but assassination attempt? There will be too many variables; maybe they would fall until their head and face filthy with grime, and would have to bag the food before they could finish it.”
Kou Zhong sighed inwardly. “I have nothing more to say,” he spoke dejectedly.
He originally had a lot of brilliant schemes, but seeing Wang Shichong obviously refused to risk himself to brave the danger, he had nothing to say.
※ ※ ※
Stepping out of the main entrance of the Abbot’s room, Xu Ziling took a deep breath of fresh and clear air.
A drizzle had just started falling from the sky, looking around, near and far, he did not see anybody.
Everywhere in Jing Nian Chanyuan, he could feel the hidden Buddhism subtleties and Buddhist spirit.
Take himself, for example, he was originally their enemy, but he did not sense the slightest degree of hostility.
As if nothing has ever happened between them.
He felt that his failure to meet Shi Feixuan was just proper and to be expected as a matter of course. If he was able to see Shi Feixuan, that would come as a surprise indeed.
But in order to find peace in his heart, he must still pursue this matter to the end!
What he wanted was to meet face to face with Shi Feixuan to resolve the problem of Jade Annulus of He Clan. Until this moment, he still believed that stealing the treasure was neither a bad thing nor a wrong thing. It was merely a strategy related to the power struggle to obtain the world.
For a divine object like the Jade Annulus of He Clan, it was merely fulfilling its destiny.
He slowly walked down the steps, and was just about to walk in the direction of the ‘Fo Dao’ when he sensed a premonition in his heart.
Just like something was waiting for him.
Scanning the area around with his eyes, he noticed a bamboo forest on the left end of the Abbot Courtyard. After thinking for a moment, Xu Ziling decided to walk toward the forest.
When he came near, he saw another stone path winding among the bamboo, which seemed to be snaking into a secluded distant place. Under the continuous drizzle, it looked particularly enchanting.
Xu Ziling followed the path, turned around a corner, and was greeted by a wide-open space in front of him. Turned out the end of the path was the edge of a cliff. Not only it overlooked the mountain and wilderness, as well as cultivated fields far and near, it also offered a panoramic view of the City of Luoyang at the end of the eastern plain.
Under the fine rain filling the sky, in this poetic and picturesque beautiful scenery, Shi Feixuan, wearing men’s scholar attire, was standing gracefully overlooking the cliff, which extended as far as the end of the earth, her thoughts wandering far away.
Xu Ziling respectfully saluted toward her jade back, and spoke sincerely, “Miss is willing to make an exception by seeing me, Xu Ziling can’t thank you enough.”
Shi Feixuan sighed gently. Stretching out her delicate and beautiful jade finger, she pointed at the City of Luoyang in the distance, and with a sadness of the country being wounded, she said, “Since the time of Wei, Jin, and North-South dynasties, Luoyang has repeatedly become the battleground of various military forces; many times it was destroyed and collapsed, implicating common people and forced them into exile. The Central Plains’ situation is bleak; there is no smoke for a thousand li, hunger and cold flowing to perish, only to fill bottomless gorge. Other than that, does Xu Xiong know what else we lost?”
Although Xu Ziling had enough intelligence and wisdom, this moment he could only stare blankly and shook his head.
As if she had eyes behind her head, Shi Feixuan seemed to see him shaking his head; she spoke indifferently, “Luoyang’s name came from a document from the Warring States period [475-221 BC], ‘Strategies of the Warring States’. Inside there is a reference of ‘Su Qin going over Luoyang’. Since then it was repeatedly chosen as the ruler’s city, and became our country’s cultural and economic center. During Northern Wei Dynasty, just Buddhist temples alone numbered 1367.”
Speechless, Xu Ziling asked, “There are that many?”
Shi Feixuan continued, “Luoyang tends to become our country’s cultural melting pot, just the library collection itself reaches seven thousand volumes. Moreover, it is a place derives reflected glory from an illustrious son [orig. illustrious hero, spirit of the place], renowned experts from successive generations come forth in large numbers. Cai Lun produced his prototype ‘Cai Hou Paper’ here; Zhang Heng created ‘Armillary Sphere’, ‘Wind Observatory Instrument’, and ‘Seismograph’; Ma Jun invented ‘Mechanical Compass’; Wang Chong wrote ‘Measurement Theory’; Ban Gu brother and sister wrote ‘History of the Former Han Dynasty’; Chen Shou compiled ‘History of the Three Kingdoms’. ‘Chronicles of Luoyang Galan’ and ‘Straddling Water Commentary’ were published here. Indeed the City of Luoyang’s contribution to our country, no other place can match.”
Listening to her, Xu Ziling felt deep veneration. If he had not browsed through the short sketches Lu Miaozi handed down to him, listening to her this time, his mind would have been at a loss. This moment, although he still could not completely comprehend what she said, but at least he knew that Shi Feixuan was definitely an educated celestial being, conversant with things past and present.
To him and Kou Zhong, no matter how many times they looked at Luoyang City, they would not have emotional stirring and make an associative connection like Shi Feixuan.
She was grieved over Luoyang’s more than a hundred years history.
Shi Feixuan’s thoughts wandering far away as she said, “Have Xu Xiong been to the Xin Tan [lit. new pool] at the northern market [or city]?”
Xu Ziling mused inwardly that coming and going, all he ever visited were the Luo River, the Heavenly Street, and Tianjin Bridge; perhaps for one thing or another he also went to the streets and lanes at the southern part of the city, but he had never been to the northern market area. Smiling wryly, he replied, “I haven’t!”
Shi Feixuan said, “In that case, Xu Xiong must see this place, which is known to be the largest collection of ships and boats in the world. At its peak, there were up to ten thousand ships and boats, large and small.”
And then she lowered her voice, “The rise and fall of everything then and now, we only need to look at Luoyang City.”
Listening to the tone of her voice, which sounded like nature itself, like heavenly sound, telling him about the rise and fall, flourish and decline of Luoyang, a picture of Luoyang appeared in Xu Ziling’s mind, as if Luoyang’s thousand-year history suddenly flashed through his mind. This feeling was both tragic and touching.
The gentle and soft raindrops were falling gracefully on them.
It was only the first time that Xu Ziling encounter this kind of person, who bemoaned the state of the universe and pity the fate of mankind like Shi Feixuan, an outstanding figure who had Bodhisattva’s great compassion and great sorrow.
All of a sudden he thoroughly understood Shi Feixuan looking for the Son of Heaven ordained by heaven, it was due to her great compassion to save mankind from the abyss of suffering [orig. deep water and scorching fire].
 Cai Lun (-121), inventor of the papermaking process. Zhang Heng (78-139), great Han dynasty astronomer and mathematician. Wang Chong (27-97), rationalist and critical philosopher. Ban Gu (32-92), Eastern Han dynasty historian. Chen Shou compiled ‘24 Dynastic Histories’ in 289 during Jin Dynasty, 65 scrolls.