Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Copyright © 2010 – Jeff Loh. All rights reserved
But the marvelous way Peach Blossom breaks them.
Stronger within the strong will always exist,
Pointing to a maze’s exit, Pang Jian’s life is saved.
Let’s not talk about how Lord Chou divined Pang Jian’s fortunes but on the divination result. Lord Chou was dumbfounded for a long while and his face darkened abruptly. He stared straight at Pang Jian with no gesture of any sort except for a great sigh of pity. Pang Jian was greatly alarmed at his grave looking countenance and asked,
“Milord! Is the harbinger of things to come that disastrous? If you remain silent, how would Pang Jian understand his plight and avert this impending disaster?”
At this point, Lord Chou gave another long sigh and explained,
“Ever since I started giving predictions, nothing was held back; always a straightforward answer from me. As I had divined for you, how could I withhold the truth from you? This divination augurs great calamity. I’m afraid your life will be forfeited as well. This is fate and the will of Heaven. In three days’ time, on the night of the hour of Chou, at the fifth period and three minutes, it is time for you to depart for the nether world! Pain will first fill your head and you will die from vomiting blood. Alas what a pity – you had long served me with such loyalty and I feel like a hapless bystander!”
Subconsciously, Lord Chou teared up. Ah… since time immemorial even ants and crickets crave for life. When Pang Jian heard his master’s words, so shocked was he that his upper soul1 flew beyond the sky and his lower soul dispersed throughout the Nine Heavens2. With a word of ‘Aiyah”, Pang Jian plopped down in a stupor. After a long time, he began wailing,
“Milord! Is this divination for real?”
“Why would I lie to you? You had waited on me all your life and I had never given anything great to you. Here are ten taels of silver to go have a good time feasting and drinking heartily before your time is up! Worry not about your funeral arrangements! I shall take care of them.”
Lord Chou then summoned ten taels of silver to be brought to him. Pang Jian always knew his master’s predictions were never wrong and on seeing his seriousness that day, he was convinced that the prediction was true. He knelt down begging,
“My master! Such a flagitious result, please, please! Can you save this Pang Jian?”
“A man’s life is fated. How can I save you? Take the silver quickly. Have a good time and drive away the blues!”
Pang Jian long knew how steadfast Lord Chou could be. It was futile to plead for mercy from him. Taking the silver and putting them in his waist sash, Pang Jian walked crestfallen out of the main gate. He soon found a grand wine shop and sat down. He ordered two good jugs of wine and fine food and began to feast alone. As he drank, he thought to himself,
“Today a man I’m still but in three days’ time a ghost I will become. How exceedingly annoying!”
With this thought, tears welled up in his eyes. Those at the wine shop who knew Pang Jian saw his current state and approached him, asking,
“Old Lord Pang, we’ve not seen you in a long time come in for a drink. Why such sorrowful tears today? Could it be that your master closed his divination business for a few days and you had no money to spend?”
Pang Jian merely answered,
“It’s not that. Just some private matters.”
Moodily, Pang Jian drank a few cups of wine in succession. As the adage goes: Wine entering sorrowful intestines will get one drunk easily. Lo and behold Pang Jian was drunk before the two jugs were emptied. After paying his bill, Pang Jian staggered home. As he entered his room, he plopped down on his bed fully clothed and slept through the night.
Upon wakening the next day, he thought of his soon-to-be rendezvous with Death himself and started to weep again. Slowly he rose from his bed and muttered to himself as he sat down on a chair,
“Lord Chou’s prediction is indeed never wrong. When one knows of one’s date with death, how can one escape from it? Well, entertainment?? here I come! Only wish he had told me earlier so that I can have a few more days of merriment.”
He changed his attire and instead of going into the study to serve his master as usual, he locked his room and headed out. For two days, Pang Jian walked downcast and in a sullen mood. Other servants did not know the reason and were too embarrassed to ask. In no time they were gossiping among themselves behind his back.
Meanwhile as he left the main door he walked absent-mindedly to another wine shop and thought to himself,
“Shi Tsung Fu. Lord Chou predicted that you’ll die and yet you are still alive. Now he had predicted my death, have I really to die? Would a fake one suffice? Maybe I can learn to fake death like Shi Tsung Fu. I must find out how.”
He also remembered,
“His death was to occur in the cave dwelling. Had he not run out suddenly to relieve himself, he would surely have been crushed to death by the wall. He avoided death by running away. I am to die by vomiting blood, how can I escape like him?”
Again tears welled up as he continued walking, thinking of his impending death. Just then there was a sudden tap on his shoulder. The gods of death must be upon him! No small fright that was! He yelped and screamed,
“So you have come for me?”
A person it was as he turned his head around. After a moment’s concentration, he recognized that it was Shi Tsung Fu!
This Shi Tsung Fu was walking behind old Pang and saw him sighing and muttering to himself in a beaten manner as if in deep thought. Strange it was to see Pang Jian raising his head now and then looking around absent-mindedly. So Shi Tsung Fu stepped up his pace to catch up with Pang Jian. Upon reaching him, Shi Tsung Fu gave him a friendly slap on the shoulders and asked,
“Old lord Pang, why so absent mindedly in deep thought?”
On seeing his tears, Shi Tsung Fu continued,
“Why, you are in tears too!”
Still tearing, Pang Jian replied to his questioning,
“Hard to explain in a word, it’s a long story. By the way, where is my good brother heading?”
“Great, we are on the same way then.”
There was chatter and laughter as the two men journeyed together. “Maybe it is fate,” Pang Jian suddenly thought to himself,
“When he didn’t die as predicted, my lord was damn sure there was a reason for it. Maybe he knew of a way out. After all, drinking alone is no fun, why don’t I buy some food and wine, have a feast in his place and plead for a solution? If indeed there’s one, this calamity of mine may turn into a lucky day for me!”
Upon reaching the market, Pang Jian quickly suggested,
“Brother, since you came back from a long trip, I haven’t treated you to wine nor had a good chat with you. Today we have nothing to do so why don’t I bring some food and wine to your place? I shall inconvenience old sister-in-law to do to some cooking. We brothers can sit down and have some idle chat. How about it?”
As he spoke, Pang Jian took out some silver to buy food and wine. Shi Tsung Fu could not stop him in time and had no choice but to let Pang Jian do whatever he wanted.
Happily, the two men carried the food and wine back to the Shi family and Shi Tsung Fu called his mother to let them in. When Mrs. Shi opened the door and saw it was old Pang, she smiled and asked,
“Old man Pang, how are you? Why such delicacies?”
“Old sister-in-law, as you know, we have known each other for so long. Just a few cups of wine with my good brother to discuss some private matter.”
Old Mrs. Shi then took the food stuff into the kitchen to prepare them.
The two men sat in the main hall chatting idly and soon Shi Tsung Fu realized that Pang Jian was just babbling away, one word to the east, another from the west, a sentence with a head but no conclusion. As the unrelated talk prolonged, Shi Tsung Fu became suspicious,
“Hmmm… I wonder if he’s sent here by Lord Chou to fish for information. Need to watch out for him”.
Not long afterwards, Mrs. Shi beckoned her son to bring the food into the hall. Pang Jian invited the mother to sit and eat with them3. After some pushing and declining she finally relented and sat down. Pang Jian repeatedly filled his cup and drained them right away before the food was touched. Then all of a sudden he burst into tears. Mrs. Shi was puzzled and inquired,
“Old master Pang, what’s the matter with you? Some personal problems bothering you? If not, why such tears soon after your drink?”
Pang Jian shook his head in silence. Shi Tsung Fu gave a laugh and commented,
“Old master Pang! Brothers in drink should be a joyous affair, why such sorrow? There must be a good reason for this! Did older brother suffer some grievance from others?”
“My brother does not know. My heart is burdened with some grave matter, hence these tears.”
Old Mrs. Shi chimed in,
“Old master Pang, what really is the matter? Whether true or not that you were bullied, you need not be in such a sorrowful state! Why don’t you tell us?”
Pang Jian replied,
“Old sister-in-law, please don’t even mention it! Today I’m a man yet tomorrow at the fourth watch, a ghost I shall become. No longer will I see you both mother and son!”
Tears flew like a weaving shuttle and streamed down his face.
Both mother and son promptly asked,
“Why such words?”
Pang Jian began recounting what a vicious omen Lord Chou had predicted: that tomorrow night at the fourth hour; he would meet his end by vomiting blood. He continued,
“Venerable sister-in-law, I know that Lord Chou’s divinations are never wrong. I’m afraid that I can no longer protect my life. Today I met brother Shi, remembering how the other day he was able to escape from his death. Surely there must be a way out. I beg both of you to instruct a way out for me. If so, you two will be my saviours!”
“Lord Chou’s predictions are indeed accurate. That night if I didn’t hear my mother call me, I’d not have gone out of the broken shelter. I’d have definitely been crushed to death in that spot by the wall. What he said about his death at the fourth hour of tomorrow night, I’m afraid his predictions will ring true again.”
“Brother when you were at the broken shelter, how could you hear your mother calling you?”
Shi Tsung Fu was stunned into silence on hearing those words. His two eyes stared unflinchingly at Pang Jian. This fact did not escape Pang Jian. As he observed Shi Tsung Fu’s demeanor he realized the reason. How can Pang Jian miss such a presented opportunity? He quickly stood up and made a bow with clasped hands and pleaded,
“Venerable sister-in-law, please have pity on me, teach me a way to save my life. Never in this life will I forget your greatness!”
Old Mrs. Shi replied,
“How could there be a way to save one’s life?”
Seeing her excuses Pang Jian quickly knelt down and pleaded once more,
“Venerable sister-in-law, an adage says, ‘saving a life surpasses in building a seven-storied stupa.”
More tears rained from Pang Jian’s face as if from peeling onions. Old Mrs. Shi quickly ordered his son to help Pang Jian up and continued,
“How could this old body have the ability to save any life? Someone had indeed come to my son’s aid by instructing me a way to avoid his fate at the broken shelter. Many times I had been warned about disclosing that person’s identity for fear of retribution if Lord Chou ever found out!”
Pang Jian heard the explanation and he suddenly realized and asked,
“Venerable sister-in-law, would this person be a lady who taught you the way out?”
Old Mrs. Shih was greatly taken aback and her face immediately ashen.
Would mother and son spill the beans on Miss Ren? How would Pang Jian be saved? Please read the next chapter.
1. “… the commonest view among the Chinese is that man has two souls: the Hun (魂) or the superior soul, which has much in common with the Shen (神), or good spirits, and is often designated by the latter name; and the P’o (魄), or inferior soul, which is greatly feared for its powers of mischief, and partakes of the nature of the Kuei (鬼) or evil spirits. A third ‘soul’ is vaguely believed, in some districts to dwell in the mortuary table set up in the memory of the deceased, and is the source of sundry weird tales.”
Chinese Ghouls & Goblins, G. Willoughby-Meade, 1928, pg 1, “Chinese Idea Of The Soul”
Different sources have different theories on the soul and may be in conflict with each other.
Superior soul has 3 parts; again different sources have different names,
Heaven 天 (魑) Yang
Earth 地 (魁) Ying
Life 命 (魍) Yang
Inferior soul has 7 parts,
Heaven Dashing 天沖 Ying Heaven
Efficacious Intelligence 靈慧 Ying Heaven
For Vital Breath 為氣 Yang Life
For Energy 為力 Yang Life
Central Backbone 中樞 Yang Life
For Vitality 為精 Yang Earth
For Gallantry 為英 Yang Earth
Other names for the inferior soul parts are Harmony (和), Righteousness (義), Wisdom (智), Virtue (德), Strength (力), Vital Breath (氣) and Evil (惡). Heaven and Earth superior souls may reside outside the body while the Life part alone resides in the body. The superior souls need not always come together in the head. The inferior souls reside in the seven vital meridian points of the body. When a person dies, the 7 inferior souls leave first before the 3 superior souls. When one is ill, the Harmony soul disperses, thus the need to use medicine to stop it from leaving. When the Harmony and Strength parts leave, the body is easily possessed by demons or ghosts.
2. 九霄 – Different sources cite different names for the 9 levels of Heaven. Beyond these 9 levels is the invisible heaven called Darkness天以不見為玄。 From the lowest to the highest,
a. Divine Heaven 神霄
b. Blue Heaven 青霄
c. Green Heaven 碧霄
d. Red Heaven 丹霄
e. Bright Heaven 景霄
f. Jade Heaven 玉霄
g. Quaking Heaven 振霄
h. Purple Heaven 紫霄
i. Supreme Heaven 太霄
3. In the old days, women are expected to eat in another room when entertaining male guests to avoid impropriety. However this is not the case when male guests are relatives even though in this case they are not truly related. This is a gesture to endear themselves as a part of the family to honour the host.
石氏母子二人連忙問道：“這話從何處說起？”彭剪便把周公替他起卦，說知大凶，今夜四更時分要吐血而死云云，說了一遍，又言： “老嫂，我想周公的卦乃萬不失一的，只怕我的大命真個難保了。因此在路上遇了石兄弟，想起他前日是死裡逃生，必有個方法，要求你母子教會我，得脫此災厄，真是我彭剪的活命恩人矣！” 石宗輔起初只道彭剪受了周乾之命，前來打聽桃花女之事因，今聽他言卜卦，又言明日準死，直哭得流淚千行，也引動起他流淚，他的母親也陪著流些眼淚，想想自己，看看他人，由不得也傷心起來，道：“周公爺的占卜實在靈應，那一晚我在破窯中，若不聽見我母呼喚，我若不走出外來，便準準的壓死在裡頭。他今說你明日四更要死，只怕又應驗也！”彭剪道：“兄弟，你在這破窯中，如何聽得見老嫂呼喚？”他這句說話，說得石宗輔啞口無言，兩眼直視老彭。彭剪見此光景，知有因緣故。他怎肯錯過機關？急忙立起來，向著石婆子一揖道：“老嫂，可憐恤憫，教教我個法兒，救我性命，沒世不忘！”石婆子道：“那有方法救得人性命？ ”彭剪見他推卻，即忙脆下道：“老嫂，自古道：救人一命，勝造七級浮圖。”便叩頭如摘蒜—般。石婆子連忙喚兒子扶攙起，道：“你想老身如何能教人之命？我孩兒是有個人救他，給個方法，我兒才得不死在破窯中。他再三再四叫我不要說出他的名姓，恐怕你公爺知道了，要與他鬥氣！”彭剪聽罷，猛然想起道：“老嫂，可是個陰人教你個法兒麼？”石婆子聽了大驚，不覺失色。