WITHIN a short time the procession reached the walled town or city of Ping-Liang Fu and entered through one of its Gates, flanked with towers painted in brilliant reds and greens and blues.
They had to slow down as the streets were full of various traders. There were the barbers with their portable shops, attending their customers. There were girls selling hot water to wash your face for a few cash, and supplying soap and towels. Numerous sedan-chair carriers ran on their busy errands; there were also fortune-tellers—who can tell from your face and other characteristics in which hour you were born and what fate has in store for you; your ability to pay much or little having no small influence on the good or bad influences they predict! There were letter-writers, who paint the most beautiful epistles "for those who have not the necessary leisure to demean themselves by doing these lowly tasks!" Also cooks, shouting out the names of their delicacies in humorous or other ways and extolling the virtues of their soups, lovely golden noodles, hot chestnuts, grain porridge, toffee apples, pork dumplings with sour-sweet sauces, buns of all sorts and delicious soft pastries; rice prepared in all sorts of quaint and original ways; bean curds; stuffed dates and a variety of other delights. There were street singers and musicians, singing songs melodious or shrill, dolorous or merry, about love and war and other varieties of human activity, according to the immortal texts or of their own invention; and also many people hurrying to and fro on their own business of life.
At intervals the procession had to pass through vermilion painted gates, which shut off the various districts; and so, winding their way through the narrow streets and alleyways, they arrived at last at the home of Li Wang Ho.
They entered the Hall of the Yellow Rose and found the venerable Master in deep meditation in his appointed place as host, floating in spirit in the Middle Zones, and they waited respectfully until he should once again descend to the lower levels and become conscious of their unworthy selves. So they sat down in their places as guests, together with a number of disciples who were regarding the Master with respectful awe and in deep silence. Meanwhile the visitors had leisure to admire, as they had done often before, the furnishings of the magnificent apartment in which they were all foregathered.
There were lovely bronzes on golden tripods, Imperial Seals in glass cabinets, jade incense-burners, and a variety of rare antiquities. The walls were adorned with the stuffed bodies of exotic beasts and birds, so life-like that one expected them to walk or fly away at any moment. There were pictures of the phoenix, bird of happy omen, and of the unicorn, the animal which is always a symbol of Wisdom, and is to be found wherever a Sage dwells or is expected. There was furniture of deeply carved rosewood, and ornaments of clear green jade abounded, whilst the roof rose up in easy grace and was painted with fairy scenes and fabulous animals in gay colours. In a golden shrine stood an exquisite statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. The porcelain tiles and inlaid floor shone with cleanliness, and a most majestic green and red dragon was seen on the gleaming tiles, writhing across a wild ocean in pursuit of the golden ball of Life. Carved screens of wood, bronze and porcelain stood about and divided the Hall of the Yellow Rose into sections. The rest of the house was divided in the usual apartments according to the generally adopted Chinese plan, so that a stranger on a visit always knows exactly which apartment is the one he should enter on different occasions.
Amongst those present when our group of friends arrived, was the new disciple we have heard of before. He was known as Lu-shun, and it cannot be truthfully averred that he was of a dignified and prepossessing countenance. He had the facial expression of one who often becomes the prey of very inelegant thoughts, or who becomes lost in deep reveries of a most uninviting order. He seemed restless and impatient at the dignified and respectful silence of all the other worthy disciples, and he was continually shuffling one of his limbs, or giving way to his unpolished thoughts by windy sniffs and sandpaper-like rasps within himself. He tried to hold a whispering conversation with his neighbours on either side, but they replied with a deep sense of no-enthusiasm and remained silent.
At last the Master stirred slightly and gradually he came forth out of His exalted meditations and gazed in silence at the group surrounding him.
All kowtowed the required number of times, and the Sage replied suitably.
Then he spoke, and his voice was sonorous as a golden gong.
"Peace be upon you all, for the mind that dwelleth in Peace liveth for ever," he said.
Like a bursting dam, which cannot contain the swollen spate of angry waters within its boundaries any longer, Lu-shun, in an attitude of no-respect exploded: "When one is pursued by the malignant and incredible effrontery of an enemy who exaggerates all things in the most unendurable manner—like one who says that the one-foot-deep pond has waves fifteen feet high—how shall one suitably exterminate such a gasp-taking liar, Master Li Wang Ho?"
"One should be of humble demeanour in the presence of such a one," replied the Master; "for humility is a rare Wisdom, and only the few who have it understand it. Those who do not understand it are perplexed by it in a most agreeable manner; and the humble one goes away smiling."
"Ha, Ha, Ha," laughed the divertingly ignorant Lu-shun most unbecomingly and with an entire absence of graceful mirth, his laughter sounding like the cracking of a reluctant nut, "humility indeed, and to an enemy?"
"Yes," replied the Sage, "He who remains humble under all circumstances governs not only himself, but also those of less wit; for the highest form of government is self-control."
Lu-shun was as reckless as a dry twig that walks into the fire and argued again: "Do you mean, then, that one should let an enemy do as he likes, and meet all his insults with undignified humility? This seems like cowardice to me; unworthy of a man of action."
"The truly wise achieve all by non-action," replied the Master.
"How can that be?" asked Lu-shun, greatly astonished.
"Because action destroys that which is. Non-action is building with Spirit. Every act committed by any being changes something that was before—or was not. This change, due to action, therefore alters a previous condition. It is no longer the same. Something has been destroyed by action. Or it may have called something into being that was not visible before; in such case it destroys—by filling it up—an open space, which is now occupied by something, and its spaciousness is lost, or gone elsewhere. By non-action we can build spiritual conditions with the aid of the Spirit; Spirit being the true actuality to which nothing can be added, nor can anything be taken away from it. Yet can we use this same Spirit to create in spirit without destroying anything that was before. But we can build only with Spirit by non-action, as Spirit is that which cannot act, or be actuated in a material sense."
This should have silenced the inefficient Lu-shun; but that frozen-brained person was still so wrapped up in the imaginary wrongs done to him by his enemy, that with inspiring vehemence he said: "May the Hounds of Hell rise up and bite him from behind; may the Demon Tigers descend from the Snow Mountains and scratch him in front; and may the great Guardian Dragons of the Empire's Borders surround him and burn him with their fiery breath!"
The other chaste disciples were becoming profoundly deflated of all pleasurable and lofty feelings on account of the inelegant habits and sayings of the non-eminent Lu-shun; things that were completely at variance with their own usually impassive contemplations of the well-bred and graceful contents of their well-ordered inner beings.
One of them said: "No refined person could find intelligent gratification in such a ferocious and indiscriminating appetite for uncultivated language!"
"His lack of courteous polish makes of him a person of unendurable deficience," added another.
"His attainments are altogether too feeble to tolerate his offensive and indiscreet presence," said a third newcomer.
"Yes," exclaimed a fourth, "and all this in front of the Master!"
"May the Great Comet fall down from heaven and lash you all with his poisonous tail!" added Lu-shun with accomplished perseverance.
"Some unresourceful individuals are so deficient in tact that they cannot converse with an unsuspecting rabbit without mentioning that a venomous and starving serpent is waiting behind to devour it," said another of the disciples.
Silver Lotus and her friends had been a silent but amused audience at this interplay of non-intelligent repartee, whilst the Sage had listened with his eyes half closed, looking deep within the personalities of the speakers.
He now said quietly: "He who displays his virtues possesses none; and he who claims to be superior in wit, polish, manners and understanding when comparing himself with others not so refined is less than the hog, who is entirely devoid of wit, polish, or good manners."
The new disciples hung their heads; for although Lu-shun had behaved like one descended from a race of unmannerly ape-worshippers, they knew that they too had been lacking in dignity and tolerance by permitting their feelings to obtain the mastery.
Lu-shun, on the other hand, was overwhelmed with gratified confusion at what he thought was a great compliment to himself when Li Wang Ho rebuked the others. His countenance wore an expression of dignified satisfaction, for he presumed that the Sage had upheld him in his raging at the enemy.
The Master—however—observed the condition of his mind, and turning to Lu-shun he said pointedly: "Self-righteousness is but moral and spiritual flatulence, my Son; just as hypocrisy is the sanctimonious mask of pious perfidy."
But the undaunted and completely obtuse Lu-shun replied with a complete absence of highly refined understanding: "As I provide food for my own mouth, I expect it to say only that which pleases ME!!" At this the whole gathering burst out in loud laughter, but Li Wang Ho answered: "This proves that you believe that there is such a thing as Free-Will. But I want you to understand that Free-Will is an illusion of the senses. The Great Laws hold everything in thrall, my Son. This is not Fatalism, but Fact. Therefore: obey the Laws of the Gods. In your own case you are continually offending against the Law which prohibits Hatred, also against the Laws of Love, Humility and Etiquette, which are man-made laws—it is true—but inspired by the refined feelings of the more sensitive and kind sorts of human beings. As such they also have their origin in the Laws of the Gods, and every one should strive to attain to a certain amount of polite behaviour. You should open your mind to the good influences instead of the violent ones as you seem to be doing now. And when you open your mind thus, it will have the same effect as that which occurs in some of our Temples, where the doors are opened on the first and fifteenth days of each month, so that the little ghosts can run away. In your case these little ghosts are wicked little demons to whom you have offered a dwelling-place within yourself on account of your intemperate thoughts. Remember that the Realms of Light and Darkness are so far apart that each has its own sun and moon. But the sun and the moon of the dark regions shed lurid lights which destroy, whilst those of the Light—or the Celestial Realms—give Life. Remember too how the owl—the Symbol of Night—calls to his mate in the dark. At that dread call all the little creatures shiver with fright, for they know it as the voice of silent death which comes on soundless wings. Is it your ambition to attune to the realms of Death and Night—or with Life and Light?"
This time Lu-shun was silent and shuffled about in unease. And not only that, but the dignified and kindly manner of the Sage illuminated the minds of all, whilst some of the newer disciples exhibited an engaging display of the most polished bewilderment.
"It is a distinguished privilege to be allowed to follow in your elegant footsteps, O learnéd one," said one of the new Pupils. They were now all under the magnetic influence of Li Wang Ho, who found himself surrounded by a discriminating and intelligent assembly of students who followed his intellectual accomplishments with dignified emotions, and he was paid many estimable compliments which he accepted with tolerant good humour.
"We should always be charitable in our thoughts and actions towards all beings," continued Li Wang Ho; "acts of charity are the repayments of old debts—or else insurance premiums for the future."
"Do we acquire true merit, dear Master, when we are charitable?" asked a new disciple.
"The acquisition of merit is as useless a dream as everything else," replied the Sage; "for who shall estimate merit except the wise? who know that it is but a dream!"
"Is it then impossible to know Truth?" asked Silver Lotus.
"Nature is the Great Veil that conceals Truth, my child. In Nature all things are good and all things bad. Therefore to be good or bad is to be natural. This is one Truth. The Great Truths are so simple that no earthly intellect can fully understand them."
"Then," exclaimed Lu-shun triumphantly, "there was no reason to be ashamed of my bad attitude—for I was but natural!"
"No, my Son," replied the Sage, "you have again mislaid the high-minded intentions I could read within your inner thoughts a few moments ago. Hatred is a form of mental suicide; for he who hates expends his Vital Essences and weakens his intellect. A wise man never hates, but only pities the doer of evil. Thus he gathers strength in his wisdom from the forces expended by his opponents in their evil acts and thoughts, and his mental and vital powers increase according to the strength of his forbearance. Remember also that he who gives way to spite ensures for himself an everlasting Dwelling-Place in the Nether Regions amongst his own kin. Then he will learn what true Spite really is."
But Lu-shun, resplendent in his tiger-like tenacity of will and purpose rejoindered: "Is it not better to be a hammer than an anvil?"
"This is a truly owlish saying," replied the Sage; "and he who follows the call of the owl dwelleth in the darkness of ignorance—as I hinted at before."
"Yet," replied the pugnacious Lu-shun, "One should never be too humble, for he who turns himself into bran will be eaten by the rabbits."
Li Wang Ho smiled at this and said: "All men are Fools, and fools only have wisdom if they know they are fools. The rest are still fools—only more so: for they do not know it. On the other hand when a fool in his foolishness is happy it is cruel to make him wise before the appointed time. Better a happy Fool than a miserable Sage."
Lu-shun struggled painfully to revive the little intellect he had, in order to find a telling answer to this, but he failed to qualify in a most discreditable manner, to the utmost amusement of all those assembled.
Is it not true that he who expects a mud-hovel to be the home of a great noble betrays the greatest insincerity? For the same reason one could not expect a noble intellect to dwell within the poor shell of clay in which dwelled the mind of the insignificant Lu-shun!
Glowing Rose asked teasingly: "What is true happiness, dear Teacher?"
"A vain man resembles a blind peacock who has lost all his feathers but still struts about proudly in the nakedness of his ugliness and the lack of decent covering for his ineptitude . . . . which, being blind, he cannot discern. The stupid regard him with scorn; the wise behold him with a smile.
"But he knows neither scorn nor smile in the blindness of his vanity—and stalks along with vapid mien.
"This is true happiness," replied the Sage with a merry twinkle in his eye.
"And Ambition?" asked Celestial Melody.
"Ambition is the straw which sinks the drowning swimmer in the Ocean of Life," replied Li Wang Ho.
"Furthermore: Moderation in all things is the keynote of true Happiness."
"What is the use of worrying about all these things?" said Lu-shun, who had found his voice again at last. "When a person dies all is over and done with; it is the same as if a light were blown out; no one knows where he has gone to and all speculation about him is useless and has come to an end, as has the dead one himself."
The Sage replied: "He who knows the profundities of true Wisdom is truly enlightened and will endure for ever in that Darkness of Death which is the true Light."
"In that case he would be equal to the Gods themselves," said Lu-shun sneeringly.
"Whatsoever is said of Supreme Deity—that it is not. Whatsoever is said of the Creators—that is in Man," replied Li Wang Ho.
"There is a total and utterly inelegant absence of all refined thought in this person's incapable make-up," said Hibiscus indignantly.
"Yes," cried Wisteria, "and he is possessed of a sublime and quite unnatural ineptitude indeed, dear Master."
"It is difficult, my dear disciples, to gauge the secrets of the Within—whether of Man or anything else. An artist may portray the body of a fierce Dragon; but we do not see its bones or sinews. Likewise it is not easy to discern what the worthy and entertaining Lu-shun contains within himself; nor is he to be blamed for his words of no-wisdom: they do not matter; being like the pallid shapes and wavering flowers we see in the mist; they do not endure."
"Perhaps his head is filled with honourable sawdust, so that his wooden thoughts can neither leave nor enter it," said one of the new pupils, forgetting the Master's previous admonishment.
"The wise hide their tongues within their hearts," said Li Wang Ho, "and the stupid carry their hearts upon their tongues. To upbraid a foolish person is greater foolishness still, for it is like the Buddha of clay preaching to the Buddha of mud. It is as much waste of time as battering in an open door, and so it is waste of time if those not yet rich in diligent wisdom try to improve those who have an abundance of indifferent sense."
The new pupil stood rebuked, and a sense of shame weighed him down like a dragon-dream.
Lu-shun looked sneeringly at the circle of thoughtful and accomplished countenances with an entire absence of distinguished consideration and respect.
"It is said that the Planets are the eyes of the Heavenly Lords," said the Sage; "no wonder they twinkle when beholding the follies of Man."
"Can it be true, dear Master," asked Heart's Delight, "that the Gods are sometimes too indulgent with persons who have an abundance of self-importance?"
"Perhaps the reason for that one's deficiency in respect-aiding qualities is," observed Moonbeam, eyeing Lu-shun with an entire absence of goodwill—in spite of the Master's words—"that his spirit is wandering in the Middle Air in a condition of no-wit; for he seems to be as full of the most contemptible malignity as Hell is full of Foreign White Devils."
Ying Po Ching, coming to a conclusion which was not repulsive to his inner feelings, said: "If the unworthy Lu-shun were present in any other refined and polished company but this one in which he has now the gratifying honour to represent a non-intelligent particle, and if the person who now speaks were of a disposition of erudite ferocity—which unfortunately he is not on account of the Wisdom-creating Precepts of our Master—I would have him slowly introduced into the thousand-portalled dwelling-place of eternal delight by means of a blunt and saw-like dagger."
It was a very engaging, though tentative, offer, but full of unpropitious omens so far as Lu-shun was concerned, so with many unexpected and highly polished excuses he hastily declined the inestimable honour of having the lingering felicity of being slowly cut into a thousand quivering pieces in this most agreeable manner. His hitherto obtuse mind now became filled with the most un-obtuse and refined gladness in enjoying the Teachings of the Master and the elegant company of the others, to which his nimble tongue—driven by a wholesome fear—gave adequate expression. In some such manner it is often possible to instil belated Wisdom into a seemingly slow-thinking mental instrument—such as Lu-shun's—by the delicate and gentle touch of suggestive authority. The conversation ran on smoother lines from now on, and no more undignified and indecorous errors were committed, whilst all were filled with the sunshine of intellectual joy of Li Wang Ho's Wisdom.
Li Ho-Lu now asked the following question for the benefit of the new disciples.
"What is the Principle, dear Master, that brings the greatest Freedom?"
"It is the mind without desires that has found the greatest Freedom," replied the Sage. "The mind that fears and worries brings on its own destruction. Only the mind without fear, strife and desire—the mind that has no wish for possessions, and the owner of which possesses nothing—can give freely; for, being without such flaws and blemishes, it is so clear and transparent that all the good gifts of the Gods can flow through it in an uninterrupted stream to those who have need of such things. All possessions, such as wealth and honour (though very agreeable to the weak and earthly understanding of most—and who is without weaknesses whilst in the flesh?), are impediments to the Higher Mind. The only possession of any real value is courage—for in this is both Faith and Wisdom. He who adds to riches will truly lose them. He who gives freely is truly rich. And he who is satisfied is the most wealthy.
"Further—knowing that all realizations of the material senses are but illusions which have no actual existence, and that we can only interpret conditions according to our own wisdom and attunement with them—why not attune only to Light, Life and Love . . . . and forget the rest? Thus we shall have complete freedom from all material complexities."
"But is it not also advisable to study the Book of Rites—the Lî Kî—so that we shall never clash with the material Precepts of ancient Ceremonies and Institutions, and live peacefully and honoured by all?" asked Shu Tong, the Magistrate.
"Of course," replied the Sage, "for so long as we belong to the Community of Shadows in this lower region, it is wise to act our parts in the shadow-drama without creating unnecessary friction with the other shadows, who seem to be as substantial as we seem to be ourselves, if friction between shadows be not a barren play of meaningless words.
"But always remember too that Kingship, Wealth and High Positions are for the young souls only. To them those shadowy things are valuable, as by the right use they make of them they will be elevated to non-possession in their next lives, or degraded to still higher positions . . . . until the lesson is learnt properly and they become free of all such dreams."
"And what about Science?" asked Lai Pao.
"All sciences are the Shovels with which inquisitive men turn over the mud of materialism, my Son."
"And are the Arts to be classified in the same manner?" asked Chu Shi-Nien.
"All great Arts are the Voices of the Gods," the Sage replied.
"And how do we approach the Gods?" asked Silver Lotus.
"When a man kneels down to worship he worships the lower, inferior Spirits. If he wishes to adore the Higher he must stand upright and look up."
"Is this the reason why we kneel and kowtow to the Great Ones on this earth?" asked Moonbeam.
"Precisely," replied the Sage drily.
"How can we know our best friends?" asked Lu-shun.
"The three friends of Winter are the Bamboo, the Plum and the Pine. The three friends of Man are Love, Wisdom and Forgiveness," replied Li Wang Ho.
"This is a Truth which even this lowly person can now appreciate," said Lu-shun.
All smiled at this, for they had not yet forgotten how Lu-shun had suddenly acquired this more chastened state of perception. But Li Wang Ho gave Lu-shun a look of benevolent encouragement and said: "Bend to the storm, and you shall be made straight, my Son."
Lu-shun knelt at the feet of the Master, which, remembering what the Sage had just said about the act of kneeling down, raised intelligent looks of refined amusement on the faces of all the others, and, after the Master had told him kindly to resume his place amongst the rest, Lu-shun said: "If all things on earth are but shadows, dreams and illusions, how shall we cope with these puzzling conditions?"
To this the Master answered:
"Happiness is an Illusion.
"Sorrow is an Illusion.
"Better be deluded by the first in this and the next Spheres."
"Are all these illusions really needed?" asked a disciple.
"Nature is the Mirror of Creative Will," said the Sage; "it reflects the successes as well as the failures of our Makers under God."
"This is a very complicated saying," replied the disciple; "How shall we interpret it intelligently?"
"To the simple of mind all things are great; and all true greatness lies in simplicity. Therefore the real Sage ignores the great things of earth and finds most virtue in the simple," answered Li Wang Ho, stretching out a hand in blessing.
And now the Master clapped his hands, and serving maidens entered with refreshments for the guests. They brought in fragrant cups of tea, made with boiling water out of snow—and this makes tea in the greatest perfection—and cool olive wine in jade goblets, candied fruit, rosy-faced apples—the symbol of Peace, and white eggs—the symbol of long life, and also red eggs—the symbol of happiness; and all were charitably and agreeably occupied for a while, until the time of parting arrived.
Night was falling; and underneath the turquoise bowl of heaven the guests entered their sedan-chairs in order to be carried to their elegant and distinguished homes.
Time had passed with engaging speed and celerity, and after the many farewells and expressions of gratitude had been spoken, they all departed in the silence of the night, a silence which was broken only by the watchman's rattles, which resound from dusk to dawn and say: "Beware, Robbers! I am Here!"
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