Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Chapter 179 - Secular Prayer Hall


Morning bell, evening drum, day after day, almost never-ending.

Every day, seemed exactly like the previous day, some days were dry and dull, some were peaceful, indistinct years, long or short, it was all in the human heart.

In a blink, Ghost Li had stayed in Tian Yin Temple for many days, listening to the early morning bells and low deep evening drums, somewhere in the temple the bells tolled promptly everyday, quietly spending the days. Somehow, in just a few days time, he seemed already accustomed to this unusual environment, everyday he was taciturn, just staring blankly.

He was in the prime of his youth, his body in excellent condition, although heavily injured but firstly he was young, secondly, his cultivation was deep, in addition Tian Yin Temple was particularly generous with him, whatever good medicine they had they were not stingy, using it on him as they pleased. With Tian Yin Temple’s reputation and position, the good medicine in the temple, naturally compared against the world it would be high-grade medicine, the medication’s efficacy quickly came into effect, the wounds on his body, healed really fast.

Just a few days, he was already able to get down and walked with effort, however when he was walking, his chest was still in pain and so in a few steps, he was panting non-stopped. But even if it was so, it made those who visited him, FaXiang etc, happy and delighted, praising that they had never seen someone who recovered that fast, most likely less than a month’s time, he would be fully recovered.

Ghost Li on most days got along with them briefly, occasionally chatted, both parties avoided talking about their opposite roles, almost right now in FaXiang and the rest of the Tian Yin Temple monks’ eyes, Ghost Li was only an ordinary person that they were treating out of goodwill, and not them facing opprobrium, forcefully snatched the Evil sect evildoer from Qing Yun sect’s hands. And Ghost Li no longer asked Tian Yin Temple the question on why they saved him.

The days passed by leisurely, Ghost Li day by day recovered, these few days, he was able to walk more easily, sometimes when the morning bell and evening drum tolled, he would take a chair, opened the window, sat by the window and listened attentively, it was almost as if this bell and drum in Tian Yin Temple, to him, had a special pleasing appeal.

While he was recuperating, Tian Yin Temple monks only FaXiang and FaShan came often to visit him, the other monks almost never came, let alone PuHong Master and the other Pu generation level of masters. And because for the sake of recuperation, Ghost Li also never left the room. Other than occasionally opening the window to gaze outside, appearing before him, was only a small courtyard, red walls glazed tiles and only a few short trees planted.

Just that to Ghost Li, such a simple and ordinary small yard, was actually a sense of familiarity that had not been felt for a long time, from the day he opened the window, although he did not revealed it but in his heart, he immediately liked this place.

Listening to the bell in the morning, the drum in the evening, such quiet and leisurely time, only for a short period of time, it had already made him reluctant to let go, intoxicated.

Who knew, in his heart, the most extravagant hope once, was to live such peaceful days only…

Mount Meru, Tian Yin Temple, among that vast extensive temple, shrines and pavilions, that small courtyard in an unfamiliar secluded corner, living like that, living, living…

[Zhi ya!] The wooden door was pushed opened, FaXiang walked in alone, swept his gaze around and then onto Ghost Li who was lying on the bed. Ghost Li’s eyes were closed, not knowing if he was asleep.

FaXiang smiled, turned and closed the door, he asked Ghost Li, “How do you feel today, does your chest still hurts?”

Ghost Li’s body moved and he slowly opened his eyes, glanced at FaXiang, indifferently said, “You ask this question each time you come, don’t you get tired of it?”

FaXiang smiled and shook his head, his eyes moved and he walked to the other wall, before that painting with Guanyin Bodhisattva, took three sticks of incense from the altar, lighted it up with the candle placed beside and then inserted into that copper incense burner.

Faint smoke curled upwards, diffusing into the air, that painting of Guanyin Bodhisattva suddenly seemed indistinct, the air also gradually infused with faint fragrance of incense.

FaXiang clasped his palms together, prayed three times to the Guanyin Bodhisattva painting then turned around and looked at Ghost Li for a long while, suddenly said, “Aren’t you coming over to pray?”

Ghost Li was stunned, couldn’t help but turn to look at the painting, Guanyin Bodhisattva in that painting was benevolent, dignified beautiful, a pair of discerning slender eyes lightly gazing into the distance, almost like watching the living things and mortals in the world, this moment, also benevolently watching himself.

His heart moved but then he sneered, “What do I pray to her for, if she is indeed spiritual, in the past I have prayed earnestly to Heaven and the various deities and Buddhas countless of times, I don’t see them being merciful!”

FaXiang looked at him for a long time, Ghost Li did not shrink away, the sneer was still on his lips, not showing any signs of backing away or regret. After a long while, FaXiang heaved a long sigh, turned over, bowed his head low and prayed to Guanyin Bodhisattva himself, softly muttering something, inaudible.

Ghost Li watched from behind, continued to sneer.

FaXiang paid his respect, turned, the benevolence expression on his face slowly disappeared, replacing with calmness and a smile, said, “I see that you are looking better today, and recently your body have mostly recovered, why don’t we go out!’

Ghost Li looked nonplussed by that statement, said, “Out, to where?”

FaXiang smiled and said, “To where you wish to go, to see who you wish to see.”

Ghost Li frowned and then raised his eyebrows and said, “Why, don’t tell me PuHong Master he…”

FaXiang nodded and said, “It is, teacher heard that you have recovered, is extremely delighted, asked that I come over today and see, if you are not feeling weary, you can meet him. I wonder what do you think?”

Ghost Li watched FaXiang for a long time, suddenly smiled and said, “Good, good, good, I waited for a very long time for this day, of course I want to see him, regardless whether my body has recovered, even if it was that day with severe injuries, if only he was willing, even if I have to crawl I will also crawl to see him.”

FaXiang clasped his palms together, “Patron overstated, please follow me.”

After speaking, he led the way, walked first to the door, opened and walked out.

Ghost Li followed next, however when he was about to walk out of the room, for some reason, he turned back suddenly and glanced at that Guanyin Bodhisattva painting on the wall, in the curling tendrils of smoke, Guanyin Bodhisattva merciful brows and kind eyes, slightly holding a smile, seemed to be watching him too.

Ghost Li’s brows frowned, snorted, immediately turned, never turned back again, walked straight on, leaving the faint incense fragrance, in that empty room behind him, gently drifting.

Walking out of the courtyard, a path about two zhang long, four chi wide, lined with red walls, about the height of two humans, green glazed tiles covered the top, the end of the passageway was a round arched door, walking near the arched door, he indistinctly heard sounds outside.

The sounds were rather weird, at first it seemed to be monks chanting the scriptures inside the temple but in it were mixed with other strange sounds, some were unexpected to appear here, like women from the villages gathering to chat, or believers performing a Buddha ceremony loudly, there were even faint crying sounds of children.

These strange sounds, how would it appear at Tian Yin Temple which was known as one of the world’s three Good Faction great sects?

Ghost Li’s mind was surprised and bewildered, looked towards FaXiang but saw his expression unchanged, continued to lead the way, heading towards the arched door and walked out. Ghost Li frowned, composed himself and also walked out.

Outside, it suddenly opened to a wide clearing, white jade like stone, levelled and paved as the ground, stone steps layer upon layer, nine forming into a group, connected up to a main hall of a Buddhist temple containing the main image of veneration DaXiong, a total of eighty one steps. And among the carved balustrades and jade steps, the temple halls towered imposingly, extremely high, before the temple thirteen enormous great stone pillars rose to the sky, their heights exceeding ten zhang, the temple roof was splendour and dazzling, eight roof ridges distributed equally above, carved into dragon heads, before each dragon-head-upturned eaves ridge, ten auspicious animals were carved on it, their demeanours different and lifelike. (Note 1)

And the different carvings in the temple were magnificent and exquisite, surpassing mortals’ imagination, not what an ordinary person could make. Behind the main hall, both sides, front, were lofty temple buildings one after another, between them public squares or winding small paths connected them, some directly connected together, piling up one after another, an extremely grand sight.

Just that although the architecture was magnificent and imposing, and indeed made one marvelled at ceaselessly but at this moment, the most shocking thing to Ghost Li was not these, instead on the Buddhist dignified sacred grounds, there were numerous commoners traversing, countless holding incense sticks, kneeling praying, stairs public squares, inside and out the temple halls, joss sticks and candles inconceivably burning at its peak.  

Such a big Tian Yin Temple, holding a lofty position among the world’s Good Faction, was like a secular ordinary temple, opened to numerous secular commoners to offer incense and worship Buddha.

Ghost Li never imagined this, he finally understood the jumble of strange sounds but this before him, made him even more confused. Growing up at Qing Yun Hill since young, he had long accustomed to the so-called immortal home style, celestial mountains celestial environment, originally only cultivated Taoists could possess it. On Qing Yun Hill, where had he once seen an ordinary commoner come up to offer incense and beseech for their wishes?

Ghost Li looked towards FaXiang, asked in shock, “This…”

FaXiang smiled and said, “Today happens to be first of the month therefore there are much more people. Although our temple has many believers but on usual days there are not that many people, just that every first and fifteen, the surrounding nearby commoners for several hundred miles, have the tradition of coming over to pray to Buddha.” (Note two)   

Ghost Li shook his head, hesitated for a moment, eventually still asked, “No, I find it strange, why would you all allow commoners to come in and offer incense to Buddha?”

FaXiang seemed to expect this question from Ghost Li, nodded his head, gestured him to walk to a direction and then led Ghost Li towards the back of the main hall, speaking while walking, “Actually in the past Tian Yin Temple, like Qing Yun sect and the other great sects, did not open up to the secular world, just that my teacher PuHong Master after taking over as the abbot, together with three other teacher uncles comprehended the Buddha truth, made a big wish to Buddha, said: Buddha is the people’s Buddha, not one’s own Buddha. And so decided to open the door to receive the commoners.”

Speaking till here, FaXiang stopped, turned and pointed to that innumerable stairs towards the great hall, said, “Did you see that long stairs of flight?”

Ghost Li nodded, said, “Why?”

FaXiang clasped his hands together, said, “That was one of the teacher uncles who saw that the mountain road was precipitous, although the commoners wanted to worship Buddha but many were weak and in poor health, had difficulty getting around and couldn’t come up the mountain to redeem their vows, in the end used remarkable powers, with his own strength, used ten years of work, on the precipitous mountain road opened up this Buddha sea level road, did such boundless beneficence charitable deed.”

Ghost Li was filled with deep veneration, his expression also turned solemn, said, “There is actually such remarkable senior, may I know his title?”

FaXiang glanced at him, unexpectedly was silent for a moment, quietly said, “That teacher uncle title was PuZhi, had already passed away for several years.”

Ghost Li’s body abruptly froze, ‘PuZhi’ these two words were like a shock of thunder in a clear sky, hit the back of his head, shook his heart and mind into pieces.

FaXiang saw Ghost Li’s indefinite expression, a sudden sad, a sudden hatred, sighed long, quietly said, “Forget it, let’s go, abbot is still waiting for us!”

Ghost Li woodenly followed FaXiang, his initial light footsteps, right now had turned heavy. After walking for several zhang, he suddenly turned back, his expression complex, saw from far the crowd bustling about, countless people traversing that flight of stairs, elder, men, women, children, each with a devout expression walking up the stairs, their lips chanting Buddha names, as if walking past that road, they would be nearer to Buddha.

Ghost Li’s expression was complicated, a pair of hands clenching into fists and slowly releasing, after a long while, eventually he slowly turned his head back, walked ahead. FaXiang who was waiting in front with his palms clasped together and chanting, did not say much.

The two of them walked off, leaving this silent road of Buddha and the innumerable believers, behind them, in the secular world.

Here was the mortal world, and not immortal home Buddha realm.

Walking past the main hall, there was a long cluster of temple buildings and halls at the back, Tian Yin Temple was after all a famous great sect, its imposing facade was incomparable to an ordinary temple. FaXiang led Ghost Li to the back, did not stop at any of the temple buildings, continued to head to the rear of the mountain.

Ghost Li only followed behind FaXiang, taciturn, his face revealed his heavy thoughts, the surrounding magnificent and exquisite architectures, he turned a blind eye to it.

Just that at the end, FaXiang brought him out of Tian Yin Temple back door, walked to a small mountain path heading towards Mount Meru, Ghost Li frowned, said, “Why, PuHong Master is not in the temple?”

FaXiang nodded, said, “That’s right, although our temple is opened to the secular world, it is an act of boundless beneficence but monks after all need peace and quiet, teacher and a few teacher uncles are all people who prefer peace, have always stay in a small temple at the summit, we usually refer to it as ‘Little Tian Yin Temple’.” Speaking, he smiled, revealed two rows of white teeth.

Ghost Li nodded silently, did not speak anymore, followed FaXiang towards Mount Meru summit.

Mount Meru although was not that towering into the clouds like Qing Yun sect TongTian Peak but it was definitely not low. They were already at mid-mountain when they came out from Tian Yin Temple, walking up they walked for a total of one hour before reaching Little Tian Yin Temple inscribed board.

Looking from the outside, Little Tian Yin Temple was really little, at most sanjinyuanzi [translator’s note: Two Chinese quadrangles residence with an additional smaller courtyard and rooms behind the main building], it was really far off from that grand Tian Yin Temple at mid-mountain, however here it was away from the secular world, the surroundings were dark green pine trees and tall bamboos, densely forming a forest, when the mountain breeze blew past, pine trees moved and the bamboos swayed, an inexplicable feeling of quiet, seclusion and elegant, compared to the bustling below, it was another flavour.

Ghost Li had just recovered from a serious injury, after walking so much, his forehead was already sweating slightly, he stopped to rest temporarily, turning his head back to look, saw the flourishing incense smoke from Tian Yin Temple, threadlike drifting up, even at such distance, he could see clearly, the indistinct human hubbub, an indescribable devotion and solemn feeling.

Ghost Li gazed for a while, staring in a daze, not knowing what he was thinking, after a long time he turned over, FaXiang nodded, brought him into Little Tian Yin Temple.

Here was much simpler, both of them passed through the middle prayer hall, turned right and made two turns and it was three meditation rooms. FaXiang walked up, facing the middle room entrance, loudly said, “Teacher, Zhang Xiao Fan patron is already here.”

An aged and kindly voice immediately rang out, “Please come in!”

FaXiang turned his head back, made a please gesture to Ghost Li, Ghost Li hesitated a moment then headed to that room, saw FaXiang instead stopped outside, did not look like he was entering with him.

Walking into the meditation room, Ghost Li glanced around, the room was simple and unadorned, the furnishings were almost exactly like the room he had. And the current world’s Good Faction giant pillar, Tian Yin Temple in-charge abbot PuHong Master, sitting cross-legged on the meditation bed, his hand holding a string of prayer beads, his face smiling and looking at him.

“You are here.” PuHong Master’s voice was calm, smiling.

For some reason, facing this holy monk, Ghost Li’s wavering feelings, very quickly calmed down, he inhaled deeply, nodded and said, “Yes.”

PuHong Master carefully assessed him, from top to bottom looked carefully, his eyes twinkling with strange benevolence and glimmer, the prayer beads in his hand also rotated gently, after a long time, he said, “You should have questions for me?”

Ghost Li immediately nodded, “That’s right, I am puzzled, why would Tian Yin Temple risk falling out with Qing Yun sect and save me, and, why did you all…”

He asked in a hurry, he was also speaking extremely fast but he was only halfway when he stopped involuntarily, PuHong Master stretched out his right hand in mid-air, preventing him from continuing.

Ghost Li was perplexed, looked at PuHong Master, PuHong Master bowed his head and chanted, came down from the bed, stood up, facing Ghost Li, said, “Before you ask me, I will first bring you to see someone!”

Ghost Li was stunned, said, “See someone, who is it?”

PuHong did not answer, only walked out, slowly speaking, “This person wanted to see you for a very long time, and I know, you too very much want to see him.”

Ghost Li was shocked but subconsciously followed, for some reason, his palms sweated, his heartbeat suddenly quickened, as if before him, there was something that made him fear.

FaXiang had been sitting quietly outside the meditation room, saw in such a short time PuHong Master was already leading Ghost Li out of the room, his expression did not change, only stepped back, stood aside. PuHong Master glanced at him, nodded, did not speak and led Ghost Li to another direction, that was in the sanjinyuanzi, the last courtyard, backfacing a mountain wall.

Note 1: The upturned eaves in the temple building carved with auspicious animals, were a unique architecture regulation in ancient China, it contained extremely fine segregation rules, for the numbers from emperor to officials to ordinary households, all had detailed specification, not allowed to overstep the boundaries, if not it would be a crime of disrespect, enough to sentence one to death and exterminate the clan. The architecture of having ten auspicious animals on the roof, since ancient times, there was only one place in the entire China, it was Imperial Palace Hall of Supreme Harmony, in the world it was only one. Here is fiction, everyone just read it with amusement.

Note 2: First and fifteenth of the month offering incense and praying to Buddha, the extensive spread of Buddhism in China was rather prevalent, it was known as religious services, or Buddhist rituals, from Beijing Lama Temple until the south Fujian village’s small temple, most were like that. From young watched maternal grandmother offered incense until older, until now it was still like that, when I wrote it, when I thought about this, I couldn’t help but sigh with feelings.

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