Thursday, September 16, 2010
Copyright © 2010 – Jeff Loh. All rights reserved
Old Mrs. Shi Leaks the Source Of Rescue,
Peach Blossom Divulges A Divine Incantation.
Old Mrs. Shi was a bit moved by Pang Jian’s most pitiful pleading but turned ashen on hearing his comment that Shi Tsung Fu’s saviour was a woman. She asked excitedly,
“Venerable Sir, how did you know that my son’s saviour was a woman?”
Pang Jian replied,
“How did I know? It’s because my lord and master made a divination. He discovered it was a woman who had invalidated his prediction but could not find out her identity. If old sister-in-law knows of this capable person, there’s no harm in letting me seek her help. Let this remnant of an old root, an ancient patch of residual grass get a second revival. Your augustness shall earn hidden merits1 and I’ll never disclose this secret to anyone.”
Once more he knelt down before Old Mrs. Shi pleading with her. Mrs. Shi remembered her previous plight while trying to save her son. History repeating itself in exactness so her heart grew soft, saying to herself,
“I shall advise him to seek help from Miss Ren. She can decide. I’ll just be vague in my words.”
After forming her thoughts, she said conveniently,
“Venerable Pang, you asked for the person’s identity, this I cannot do. However here’s a hint. Let your good luck find this person and your five elements2 will be saved!”
Overcame with joy, Pang Jian exclaimed,
“Old sister-in-law, please tell me quickly!”
“My next door neighbour is the Ren family of Tai Kung and his wife. Do you know them?”
“Why, of course, our families had been close friends for two generations. When my father was alive, he was a very close friend to Ren Tai Kung. I used to visit them quite often, usually once a month or so and each time they would bid us stay and dine with them. We know every male and female, adult and child in that family.”
Nodding her head old, Mrs. Shi continued,
“Since you are a family friend, this is really wonderful! Don’t go there today but wait till tomorrow early morning. See Ren Tai Kung and tell him of your plight. It is then up to your fate in meeting the one who has the power to save you. Don’t let them know that it was me who told you about seeing him.”
As he listened, Pang Jian lowered his head and thought to himself for a while before asking again,
“Old sister-in-law, the words from your old personage are confusing. So many people in that gentry’s family, how am I to know who is the one who can save me?”
Shi Tsung Fu chimed in from the side,
“Old father Pang, you really nag too much! Since you know it’s a female, then you should go and ask the ladies. Let’s have a few more cups of wine!”
Pang Jian’s cup was quickly refilled by Shi Tsung Fu when he finished talking and urged Pang Jian to eat more. Pang Jian began to relax now that he had hoped to wiggle out of his impending doom. After drinking a few more cups of wine, he bid his farewell. Mother and son both let out a sigh of relief and warned him again not to reveal their advice to pay the Ren family a visit. Pang Jian hurried home, while nodding his head in promise.
Talking in the day is easy but when night came, Pang Jian was tossing and turning in his bed. May be it was that he did not have enough to drink that he could not fall asleep readily. Once the sun rose high in redness did Pan Jian rouse himself from bed. After he washed his face and wore his best clothes he headed to the Ren family. Arriving at their door, he announced himself to the servants and was then led in the household. Ren Tai Kung personally came out to greet him with a smiling face,
“My worthy nephew! You have not come to my cold hut for such a long time. What a joyous occasion to see you so early in the morning. No need for such formal ceremony to be announced indirectly. Everyone here is eager to see you. Please come in!”
Pang Jian clasped his hands and quickly made a sign of respect before answering,
“Even though your unworthy nephew enjoys a profound relationship with your family, such manners are obligatory.”
Ren Tai Kung held Pang Jian’s hands and led him into the inner hall and shouted along the way,
“Old peace maker3, our worthy nephew is here!”
A servant girl had reported to Mrs. Ren and she was already emerging from the inner apartments. Because Mrs. Ren had no son, she always treated Pang Jian as though he was one and loved him dearly. You could see smiles beaming from her face from afar,
“What great wind of good fortune blew you here, my worthy nephew? Why a month has passed so quickly already. Why didn’t you come to see these two old biddies?”
Pang Jian gave an accompanying laugh and answered,
“My dear aunt, this unworthy nephew had too much work recently and could not come to pay his respects. Surely you must be in great health. Is my Peach Blossom sister hale and hearty as well?”
The old lady replied,
“Indeed, we are.”
With that the two old biddies led Pang Jian into the inner apartments4. The servants had already been told to prepare a feast. Just then, Peach Blossom who had wakened early, finished her toiletry and makeup and came to bid her parents a good morning5. Thus she was able to pay her respects to Pang Jian also. Old Mrs. Ren then bade her daughter to sit by her side. After servant girls served tea, old Mrs. Ren then lamented,
“My worthy nephew, your uncle, sister and I had always thought of you growing up in our family. So honest and thrifty you are. Time passes so quickly and suddenly here we are over fifty years of age.”
Pang Jian said,
“Your unworthy nephew has always been in receipt of great love and kindness from you. Our deep relationship is akin to pulse and body. Nary a day passed that I did not long to come and pay my respects. Unfortunately, too many official businesses intervened, vying for my attention. Once when things are settled…”
As he finished talking, Pang Jian sobbed. The husband and wife thought the tears were meant for their advancing years arriving too quickly and tried to soothe him,
“Our dear nephew, you need not be like this”
Pang Jian explained,
“This unworthy nephew of yours could not help seeing how my uncle and aunt have grown in years and is unable to serve them personally any more. My heart could bear it no longer.”
Ren Tai Kung and wife became sad6 also and commented,
“My worthy nephew, please say no more of such ill-foreboding words. Although we are high in our age, our health is still great. We can still be together for a few more years longer.”
Pang Jian shook his head tearfully,
“You two grandees will have much longevity but as for your nephew, after today, he’ll no longer able to see you two in your august ages!”
With those words, Pang Jian broke down in great sobs.
Both Ren Tai Kung and wife asked excitedly,
“Why my worthy nephew! You are in the prime of your life, how can you say such ill-omened words?”
Soon servant girls brought a trough of goosefoot spinach7. Ren Tai Kung took his proper seating and told Peach Blossom,
“My daughter. Brother Pang is not an outsider. When you were small, too numerous to count, he carried you around. Stay and eat with us8.”
Pang Jian sat across Ren Tai Kung, letting wife and daughter sit at their sides. After pouring a cup of wine for Pang Jian, Ren Tai Kung announced,
“My dear nephew, please open your chest and drink heartily in merriment!”
Pang Jian took over the cup but put it down and explained,
“Today your nephew didn’t come for a drink but to see my uncle, aunt and sister to express my token of affection and open thoughts. How can I be in a mood for such festivity?”
“My dear nephew, I detected melancholy in your face as you entered. Your earlier conversation didn’t make much sense, now your words are even more mysterious. What’s really going on?”
On questioning, more tears flowed and Pang Jian could not contain himself anymore and blurted out,
“Your unworthy nephew is going to die tonight at the fourth watch! Because I was thinking about the kindness you two had always showered on me that I came to pay my last respects to you two grandees. After this you both will see me no more!”
Both husband and wife gasped at once and asked,
“Why such words? You are always in good health. How can you die tonight?”
Pang Jian then proceeded to relate what Lord Chou had foretold about his fate. Both Ren Tai Kung and wife remarked,
“So t’is the reason. This prediction of Lord Chou may not come true!”
Peach Blossom had already seen how vexed and perplexed Pang Jian was with the prediction that she could not contain herself any more and blurted out as well,
“Big brother, your little sister knows a thing or two on divination. Please give me your eight characters and let me have a go at it!”
Ren Tai Kung chimed in and said,
“I remember them.”
As soon as Peach blossom had the information, her thumb began touching her jade finger tips and was thoroughly awed,
“This Lord Chou is really something! Such accurate prediction of his!”
Peach Blossom was deep in thought and her parents asked impatiently,
“My daughter, is the prediction that truly accurate?”
“It’s all too true! Precisely on the fourth watch of tonight, he will vomit blood and die.”
Both Ren Tai Kung and wife began to cry,
“Is there really no nope?”
Peach Blossom lowered her head in silence and after awhile replied reluctantly,
“Yes there is but the method is too elaborate.”
Ren Tai Kung and wife both exclaimed,
“Elaborate preparation should be of no importance. Please give face to your parents by saving brother Pang!”
“This method is meant only for the concerned ears, please follow me to the backyard garden and I shall explain the way.”
Pang Jian followed her into the backyard. As he enjoyed such a close friendship with the family and was treated like a nephew, there was no breach of propriety in being alone together in the backyard with Peach Blossom. So the two old biddies continued their feast in the inner apartments. Peach Blossom bade Pang Jian sit under the small backyard pavilion and asked,
“Is there not a temple of the Three Officials in the city9?”
“Yes indeed, there is such a temple. Always a busy place filled with incense smoke.”
“Your little sister had divined that tonight is the fifteenth of the seventh lunar month for the Victory Gathering10. T’is the time when the Star Lord of the Big Dipper presents himself to the Jade Emperor. He shall return at the second watch. In this temple he will preside over the cycle of comings and goings of mortals on this earth. Quickly prepare some good incense, seven cups of pure water and seven fighting lanterns11. Purify yourself through a ritual bath and put on clean clothes. Everything must be prepared by dusk. Start praying earnestly by reciting the grand title of ‘Great Sage, Northern Star; Lord of all Beginning’ continuously. When the second watch approaches, hide under the offering table and wait. Also, here’s a pouch of precious wonders.”
Quickly she took out a golden knot12 from a brocade chest and handed it to Pang Jian along with a scroll containing the incantation of Divine Light.
“Don’t be afraid when the Star Lord is descending into the temple. Wait until your name is called and recite this incantation under the table. Take out the golden knot and while striking it, beg for longevity from the Star Lord. He will then grant your wish. This golden knot and incantation are their nemesis. As you strike and recite the incantation, fear will grow in their hearts and pain will throb in their heads. You may then leave and retire for the night. I guarantee there will be no more problems. If Lord Chou interrogates, you must never give my name out. Take heed and quickly prepare the rituals.”
Pang Jian was overjoyed when he heard the solution,
“My little sister, you are my great benefactor! Once things are settled, I’ll come and kowtow for all the help you have given me!”
With those words, he left the garden quickly and bade Ren Tai Kung and wife farewell,
“Your unworthy nephew dares not disclose my life-saving solution. I have to leave quickly for my preparations!”
“We shan’t delay you any longer and when things blow over, come quickly to avoid unnecessary worries!”
“Of course I will! Of course I will!”
That night, following the instructions, Pang Jian purified himself and was carried13 to the Temple of the Three Officials. He ordered the temple acolytes in charge of the incense,
“Let no one enter here tonight!”
Alone in the temple, he burnt incense and recited the title of the Star Lord of the Big Dipper unceasingly. At the second watch, Pang Jian heard the sound of wind blowing. It must be about time and quickly he hid under the offering table. Soon a gust of wondrous fragrance leapt into his nostrils and he heard someone remark,
“Such nice offerings, I wonder who prepared them? How did they know that we, the Gods, would be descending here, and they have cleaned the place so meticulously? After a while, names were called out. Each and everyone could be distinctively heard when suddenly,
With that someone in the hall answered,
“Longevity at Fifty years of age. Tonight on the fourth watch, vomit blood and die!”
When Pang Jian heard the words great fear grew in his heart.
Please read the next chapter to see how Pang Jian fared.
1. 陰功 or陰德are anonymous or secret merits. These deeds are made to accumulate merits for the next life. For example, building a bridge across a river so that lives would not be lost when traveling by boat. Chinese believe that life is to be born and die in an endless cycle until their souls are pure enough to enter heaven. Embracing Buddhism is the way to end this endless cycle. To die and be reborn are the greatest pains.
This is a story I heard from my grandmother,
A virtuous man who throughout his life did good deeds would go straight to hell should he commit a sin before his death. However, someone who does evil all his life will go to heaven merely by performing a virtuous deed before his death. The reason is that the virtuous man knows the difference between good and evil and yet he committed the sin. Therefore he is truly an evil person. On the other hand, the erstwhile sinner realizes his error and repents… This is the difference between western and eastern laws. In the west, ignorance is no excuse for the law, while in the East, those not in-the-know should not be punished (不知者不知罪). In the philosophy of Legalism, laws must be made most severely and broadcast clearly so that people are aware of them and have no excuse in not knowing the existence of such laws. Only when the mentally handicapped are accused of crimes are they handled in a Legalistic manner by Western laws.
2. The five elements of metal, fire, water, earth and wood. In Chinese astrology, the hours of one’s birth can influence one’s life. Time intervals of one’s birth hours can be represented by a particular element.
3. 安人 – an old term of respect for the mother-in-law or the elderly mistress of the house. It literally means a person of peace. When the wife ages, it was assumed that she would be at peace on seeing her family filled with sons, daughters and daughters-in-law owing that she had fulfilled her responsibilities as a wife and mother.
In rich and large families, as matriarch of the family, she holds the absolute power in the household while the husband attends to external affairs, no different from the roles of the emperor and empress. She maintains peace and harmony in the family so that the males can concentrate on external affairs. Hence I prefer to translate the term as ‘peace maker’ rather than ‘the contented one’.
4. There are three main sections to a traditional Chinese household, the outer hall to receive guests of honour and strangers, and to conduct official business. The inner hall serves as a place for relatives or very close friends. Inner apartments are the innermost sanctums where the family lives. Only extremely close friends or relatives may enter. In some rooms such as the room of the married son, the father is denied entry to avoid any suspicion between him and the daughter-in-law. In my family, this is the place where the TV set was hidden in the clothes closet so that our grandfather did not notice its existence. This was because he considered TV immoral until he himself got one after having been chided by one of his girl friends, a BOAC stewardess, that such a modern man like him did not own any modern appliances!
5. 請安 – to inquire peace. In old Chinese rich households, daughters and sons are given separate rooms. They are expected to present tea to the parents each morning and inquire about their health (as in having a peaceful night of sleep) as a sign of filial respect. In days of old, for one’s birthday and if the parents are still alive, a cup of tea is presented to them as a filial act of thanks for their upbringing instead of expecting presents! Of course there will be the usual red packet of money for good luck.
6. The actual words used were, 心酸 – the heart becoming sour. A very different connotation in English.
7. Chenopodium Album used in culinary or medicinal uses such as a laxative.
8. In the old days, dinners are eaten separately by the sexes when entertaining guests. For official entertaining or banquets, no female family member is present, only courtesans and geishas are allowed. Unless guests are considered close relatives that both sexes may dine together.
9. Of course with her powers, Peach Blossom should know if such a temple existed. However etiquette demands that she should ask felicitously. This is because as an unmarried maid of any standing, she is not allowed anywhere outside the house and hence should have no such general knowledge.
10. Chung Yuan (中元). This occurs on the fifteenth of the seventh lunar month. In the old days, Taoists celebrate this day as a vegetarian day. As this story occurs during the Shang Dynasty, Buddhism had not yet found its way to China until the 7th century or so. Hence it must be a Taoist ritual. In Buddhism it was celebrated as the Ullambana, a transliteration of the Sanskrit word meaning “deliverance from suffering,” and specifically refers to the salvation of anguished souls in Hell. This concept originates from the story of “Mulien Saves His Mother from Hades.”
The protagonist Mulien learns that his mother’s ghost is being tortured in Hades through starvation and hanging. He embarks on a grueling journey to the underworld bringing food to ease her hunger. When he finally succeeds in finding his mother, Mulien offers the food to her but erupts into flames before she is able to eat. Despairing, he begs Sakymuni to show him a way to bring salvation to his mother. Buddha told him that the past sins of the mother are too great for him alone to save her. He must find ten monks to pray together on the 15th day of the seventh moon. On heeding Sakymuni’s instructions, Mulien began a ritual Buddhist fast and chanted the sutras until finally he succeeded in releasing his mother from hell. This legend has been passed down through the ages and it is celebrated today on Chung Yuan by Buddhists around the world, holding ceremonies of charity so that famished ghosts may cross over to salvation. Also this date of the 15th day of the seventh moon has become an occasion for teaching the virtues of filial piety.
It is also a folk sacrificial custom and rite for departed members of the family.
11. 鬥燈 – Fighting lanterns, used for praying good luck.
12. 繫子: A knotted string that is attached to objects. In this case a bag or a pouch. Hence another name for a pouch.
13. Most probably Pang Jian was carried in a litter to the temple to prevent clothes being dirtied or to avoid unnecessary perspiration, a sign of uncleanliness.