The Garden of Delight
THE morning dawned in splendour and the home of Li Wang Ho was filled with ordered bustle. Hurrying but soft-footed servants ran about in all directions, for soon the Silver Lady would commence her journey towards the Capital at the command of her Imperial Lover. A resplendent sedan-chair, gorgeously bedecked with rich silks, banners and flowers stood ready waiting at the Gate for her. Apart from her own carriers and servants there was a glittering escort of soldiers with their officers—sent by the Emperor for her honour and protection—astride fiery horses. Fierce runners, dressed in the Imperial colours, stood ready with their staves and whips, and presently they would advance with loud and threatening shouts to clear the ways of all the lesser ones, that none might block the roads and live!
There were sedan-chairs also for Glowing Rose, Ying Po Ching and Shu Tong, and each of the four chairs was accompanied by a special troop of soldiers carrying banners and weapons. The chair of Silver Lotus had sixteen carriers, and those of the others eight each.
At the head of the troops was the chair of a Marshal, and that important person wore a golden fish on his scarlet robe, the fish being the insignia of his office.
A throng of silent onlookers stood by as near as they dared, and not a whisper was heard from them.
Now came the moment when the travellers entered their chairs, and the whole procession went forward at rapid pace; whilst the soldiers and runners shouted out loudly as they ran.
The road led partly along the side of a great canal, and, as it was yet early, the travellers could see the circles of shadow, cast by the high-arched bridges; this was a fortunate omen, for these circles of shadow are good-luck rings and bring excellent fortune if you see them or pass through them in a boat.
Walled villages and towns were passed one after another, and outside each could be seen the protecting shrine which keeps them safe from all bad influences, material and spiritual.
At last the magnificent Palaces, Temples, Pagodas and other buildings of the Capital loomed in the distance. But the procession now followed a road that led away from all this, and finally arrived at a marvellously carved and decorated Gate, piercing a high, crenelated wall which had many watchtowers placed at short distances apart; each tower being full of armed sentries.
Here the chairs halted, and Silver Lotus descended from her own sedan-chair and entered through the Gate into the grounds of the Palace, called "The Garden of Delight." She waited for a moment when she was half way through the Gate and waved a goodbye to Glowing Rose and her friends who were then taken away towards the Capital.
And now the Silver Maiden slowly strolled through the lovely gardens, followed for a short distance by respectful and discreet attendants, until at last she crossed a high wooden bridge, shaped like the Moon in her first quarter, which spanned a laughing, glittering stream, joyfully glistening between its flower-laden banks. The attendants stopped while she crossed, remaining on guard on the other side, and Silver Lotus was now alone amidst the colourful beauties which surrounded her on every side.
It was so glorious in that Imperial Garden that it seemed to her a Benediction from the Lords of Life themselves which had taken shape in the forms of the fragrant flowers, trees, shrubs and grasses; as if in answer to the solemn Sacrifices to Heaven performed by the Emperor upon the summit of Mount T'ai in Shan-Tung. Nothing on earth could have been lovelier than this Paradise of all the finest and best in Nature's floral and arboreal realms. It reminded her of the graceful little poem she had once read in one of Li Wang Ho's ancient manuscripts in which it was said that:
The Flowers of Eden
The Pomegranates' flowers bloom
Lies shining in the Sun.
Bedecked with glistening drops of rain,
And in the Sun the insects zoom
From bloom to bloom—
So like those flowers that on the loom
Of Eden's floral Tapestry in sleep have lain
Since that fell WORD which spoke the doom
Of the first human pair. In vain
They seek re-entry, but the twain
Are banished to the outer gloom
Where neither Rose nor Lily bloom.
But every day they may regain
Their Bliss for one short shining Hour
When on sweet Charity's rosy Bower
Another blossom comes to flower
In shape of kindly deed, that's done
In name of Him, the Lord of Power;
And all of Eden's blooms rise up and greet the Sun!
A number of porcelain pagodas could be seen through the trees; and gate-houses, artificial mounts and monumental lakes and fountains, glistening in the sun-rays. Bamboos contrasted their light-green foliage against the flowers and darker shaded pines. There were high and flat-roofed summer-houses, and many cosy nooks and arbours gladdened the eyes; and there were gay running and leaping rivulets, with the brilliant artemisia flowering in splendidly coloured profusion. There were several chrysanthemum beds, which in autumn would give delight with their manifold hues; in spring the peach and apricot would vie with each other in beauty, and in winter the plum-blossoms would spread their dainty and graceful white flowerets. The rhododendrons were present in all their rare and choice varieties, and their glorious masses of blooms would usher in the time of summer.
Willows swayed in the soft wind, and many sweet-smelling shrubs scented the air with their aroma.
The purple swallows darted swiftly upon the light breeze and sailed daintily through the branches of the trees or soared after invisible insects above. Orioles flashed and twittered amid the green shadows in the denser clumps, very busy on the affairs of family life.
There were several Halls, dedicated to the Elements, with windows shaped like the Moon. Palms dreamed in silence, their drooping fronds spreading cool patches of shade.
Before magnificent statues the peonies glowed in all colours, and lichi were seen in great abundance, covering their branches with the luscious fruit within their hard and prickly brown shells.
Not only were the Four Seasons represented by their charming messengers in the shape of all these plants, but even at the time of the eight festivals the Garden of Delight presented an ever entrancing picture; as if eternal spring had taken up its abode there—never to forsake it again.
When Silver Lotus reached one of the larger lakes, she could see the golden and silver carp below the rippling wavelets which were nearly covered with floating red petals; and perfumed breezes wafted slowly across from the flowers on the opposite side.
The constant contrast of all shades of green against the lovely colours of the flowers brought back to her memory a saying of the Master Li Wang Ho, who once had stated that: "Although the rose is beautiful, it needs the background of its leaves before its beauty can be fully realised."
How true this was; and how grateful was she that in her own case—though she realised it in true humility of spirit—her beauty would have been a vapid thing of but a short season's duration had it not been for the Master's teachings, which had awakened a greater and spiritual beauty within herself, shining outwardly from her inner being, and of such a nature that it never could fade away. Not only that—but it would radiate from her always; no matter what age she should reach before her Ancestors called her home. Such is the true and only beauty in a human being; the rest is dross.
Around her lay spread the marvellous glory of Nature. The velvet moss and flower-embroidered turf in emerald glow; the star-like jasmine close entwined; the eyes of the violet, like those of fairies; the golden sunflowers and rich narcissi, still bedecked with tiny drops of diamantine dew; the snow-pure lilies, unblemished as the garments of angels; could aught be fairer anywhere?
Thus, lost in dreams, the Silver Maiden awaited the coming of her Golden Lover . . . .
In the meanwhile Glowing Rose, Ying Po Ching and Shu Tong had been taken to the Capital and the home of the Officer who had so kindly invited them to stay with him for a while.
When they arrived at the house they found that all had been made ready for them, and they were conducted to their respective apartments, or guest-halls within the Gardens of the Officer's dwelling place. The master of the house himself was on duty at the Imperial Court, but he had left word that his guests were to dress in their ceremonial Court-robes as he would presently return home and take them to the Palace for a very special purpose. All did as requested, and when the Officer returned they were ready to follow him; and so, entering the sedan-chairs once more, they proceeded to their destination.
Silver Lotus was watching the play of some butterflies above a clump of rose-bushes when she suddenly heard a slight rustling behind her. Turning round, she beheld the Emperor in his golden Robes of State and with a glad little cry she ran towards him.
"My Belovéd," said he, "I thank you for coming in this unceremonious manner; but I loved it thus, and I know that you do too. Is all well?"
"It is," she replied, trembling slightly. "I am here to obey your commands, my Lord."
Taking each other by the hand they strolled slowly towards the magnificent building that could be seen in the near distance.
They did not speak, but the manner in which they regarded one another was sufficient.
When they were near the Palace a sudden circular wind rose up and scattered high upon the air the thousands of fragrant blossoms which covered the lawns and ground; and like a rain of heavenly benedictions and fluttering like a vast host of brilliant butterflies they descended upon the pair, as if the Divine Lords of Nature bestowed upon them a perfumed Blessing and wished them joy.
They entered through a gate-way, inlaid with golden designs and jewels, and passed through a series of magnificent rooms.
Everywhere the richest treasures were displayed in profusion.
Golden carpets, two inches thick, woven of the finest silken velvet covered the floors. Within the velvet were embroidered the loveliest designs in coloured silks. Carved pillars and beams with masterly paintings upon them were seen in every room and passage. In the distance could be heard soft music, so sweetly tuneful that it seemed as if it came from Heaven. An incense so wonderful that it cannot be described pervaded the whole interior, and the music seemed to come gradually nearer, whilst at the same time the subdued hum of conversation could be heard.
Passing through another great room the Emperor and Silver Lotus walked through a doorway and stepped out upon a veranda.
Descending from this they found themselves within a private courtyard in which none but the Son of Heaven ever entered.
There were within it a number of richly beplumed birds; peacocks displaying their beauties, and storks and cranes standing about in dignified attitudes, whilst on golden stands were cages containing small exotic birds, or larger ones with long wavy tails, and some with tails like a lyre.
Here, in ornamental tubs of finely decorated porcelain grew the hortensia flowers which confer eternal life; also flowers of the Sacred Cloud and those called Fu-Sang. They bloomed in such luxuriance that it dazzled the eyes; and they never faded.
The two lovers crossed this domain of splendour, and, opening a small golden door, entered within.
For a few moments Silver Lotus was utterly confused by the scintillating scene she now beheld, but the Emperor drew her forward, and, seating himself upon a golden throne, indicated with a wave of his hand another throne beside him upon which the Maiden sat down.
The great Throne Hall was filled with a large multitude of great nobles, seated on carved chairs over which tiger-skins had been thrown. They were dressed in splendid uniforms or in Court gowns on which dragons were embroidered in gold wire. Exquisite maidens dressed in the fashion of the Imperial Court stood in rows, and servants were in attendance, holding handkerchiefs and fans with which to refresh the guests.
When the Emperor entered, all the courtiers stood up and then knelt in front of the throne. Gongs were beaten and bells rang as His Majesty received their homage. Clouds of incense rose up, and the great ceremonial fans waved to and fro. Then came a loud cracking of whips and there was silence.
The courtiers made the prescribed five salutations and kowtowed three times before His Sacred Majesty.
Then an Official rose up and spoke on behalf of the Emperor, so that his words might reach the farthest corners of the Empire.
"Having reigned alone for a number of most eventful years," the Official said, "and, having with the Help of Heaven built up this Realm to a degree of greatness and power such as it has never known before, and having built Temples, Palaces, Public and other Buildings of such beauty as never could have been conceived previously, and having also freed my peoples from the slavery of the Feudal Lords, and the ignorance of wrong traditions and teachings, We now enter upon a new period of Splendour, when it will be Our happiness and the glory of our Peoples to have beside Us a Lady ripe in all the virtues of Wisdom, Charity and Goodness, besides possessing the utmost personal charm and beauty, who will aid Us in Our many undertakings with her good and wise counsel and cherish Our lonely hours with the happiness of Her dear Presence. We therefore pray to the Sons of Light to guide Us both in all We shall do or not do, and that the Good Fortune Heaven has bestowed on Us hitherto may continue and be shared by all."
The Official stood back, and now came forward from amongst the High Officials, one whose ceremonial boots trod the floor with dignified pride, and whose sleeves waved in the breeze created by the Great Fans. This was the Chancellor of the Empire and Minister of the Left, together with many other titles, and a great personal friend of the Son of Heaven.
"May Your Sacred Majesty live for ever," he cried. "We kowtow before the Son of Heaven in greatest humility and awe. Your Majesty has truly said that You have raised this Realm to such Greatness as it has never known. You have conquered all our most dreaded and ferocious enemies. You have given Peace and Prosperity to this Land, and all the harvests have been plentiful.
"The Lords of Heaven have observed Your Majesty's conduct and approved of your titanic labours. The Upper Realms have blest You, and all Your Peoples have shared in those Blessings. The peoples from all other lands now come and bow before Your Throne and pay rich Tribute. Your Golden Palace reaches to the sky, Your Fame rises to Heaven, and Your Capital of Jade is the Wonder of the World and can never be equalled. How happy are we all to share these unique felicities! Never have the relations between the throne and the People been so perfect, and the Graciousness of Your Majesty is beyond expression.
"But now a still greater happiness and glory awaits us—who share all Your good fortune with You—in the shape of this fair, wise, and sweet Lady, the Silver Lotus, hallowed Name, and we all rejoice and pray that You and Your Lady may be spared as long as the great Mountains shall last, and that the Light of the Sun, Moon and Stars may shine upon you Both always—and so on us all.
"We offer Your Majesty and our new Empress our most humble congratulations and praise."
The previous Official now stepped forward again and made known the Emperor's reply as follows.
"You, my beloved Friend and Minister, having spoken on behalf of all, have made Us happy with your well-omened praises. Your loyalty, fidelity, and above all your friendship is fully appreciated and We are content. We now pronounce a general amnesty throughout the Empire, and special rewards will be distributed to all who have served Us well."
The Emperor then waved His arms, and he and Silver Lotus withdrew.
When they were alone in their private apartments he drew the Silver Lady towards Him and whispered: "Are you content, belovéd?"
"Content, my very dear Husband," she sighed as she sank into his arms.
In the town of Ping-Liang Fu the Master Li Wang Ho was alone in one of the upper rooms of his house, overlooking the King-Ho River. He had sat there for some hours in deep meditation, and now, as night was falling, he returned from the Middle Heavens where his spirit had floated, drifting like an evanescent nebulosity across the inner expanses of the serene celestial oceans of divine Æther, swinging up deliciously to the highest realms of supreme felicity . . . . unknown to ordinary mortals.
Re-grouping his spiritual faculties, so that they should be able to engage the manifested corporealities of this lower plane once more, he breathed a deep sigh and turned towards the cabinet of jade in which were kept clean sheets of writing paper, ink-slabs and brushes. After preparing his materials he sat down at his ornamental writing table, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, ivory and gold, depicting mystic symbols, painted birds and flowers upon rich black lacquer, the whole supported on silver feet.
Wielding his brush with deft, decided strokes, he commenced to write down the visions he had beheld in the dwelling-place of the Gods and some of their wise Teachings; a record for students in ages to come, and a friendly guiding Lamp, lighting up the doubts to which mankind is ever prone. Today these sacred sheets still exist in all their original beauty and splendour; kept reverently by the successors of the personages we have met in this story; a holy inheritance, to last for as long as there is one left who seeks the Light of Truth. They form a basis for this simple tale of life in the Celestial Empire of 2,160 years ago. May these records be preserved until the last human being has overcome the snares of life and beheld Heaven in all its divine Glory under the Jade Emperor.
As the Master has said: "To pray to the Gods for Light and then light up a candle in the hope of thus discovering Truth is blasphemy," so can it be truly said that he who has the privilege of reading some of the wise words of the Master, and then turns to the lighter literature of the pleasure-seeker in search of a cheap thrill, hoping thus to learn further wisdom, is just as inept.
The Master wrote: "The White Wisdom of the Gods is truly the Light; and the black sins of the evil-doers are the darkness of Ignorance; but even black sins can become still more unclean when the sinner has the Light offered to him and then spurns it with a diabolical sneer.
"It is said that 'words can make a deeper wound than silence can heal.' If this be true of words that wound, then the virtue of words that bring balm to the smitten soul is above all riches and splendour.
"When we have lost the blessings of our ancestral home and shiver amid the cold blasts of No-love among strangers, we begin to value the inner warmth of true affection (although such is seldom blatantly demonstrated) which radiates from those whom we love and who love us in return."
"But how shall we weak men realise such truths in time to prevent error? As the Master has said: 'Judgement is easier than Justice,' and for this reason he has laid down the rule about judging others; placing it among the seven mortal sins.
"He has further said that: 'To have complete Wisdom is to present an unruffled countenance under all extremities of joy and disaster, but the acquisition of true Wisdom is necessarily of slow growth. We cannot force the seed to develop quicker by continually digging it up in order to watch its progress. Therefore we must wait patiently for Wisdom to grow within our minds by opening our hearts to the warm rays that are ever shining in the effulgence of our Souls; listening carefully all the time for the occasional whisper of love and enlightenment that may travel along one of these rays and illumine us with some Holy Precept.'
"It is, alas, too true that to those who will not hear, a loving word is as useless as the singing of a multitude of Angels before the Evil One; but it is also true that Fate will force them one day to listen . . . . but then the teachings will be very severe and the path long and steep and full of ruts and pitfalls. Therefore: practise virtue every moment of the day, for its voice is louder than the voice of a roaring tiger, and it will be heard by the Spirits of divine Light and Love.
"The Lords of Destiny place our feet on neutral ground from which three roads radiate. One leads to wilful sin; one to dull ignorance; and one to intelligent knowledge, leading to Sage-hood in the end—if we will. Which way shall we go? Only we can decide—but after the decision Fate takes a hand and rewards us at the end of the road according to the direction we have taken. And the choice should not be too difficult for us; for the wise do not stoop to dig in the earth, breaking their fingernails searching for an occasional worm wherewith to assuage their pangs of hunger, when the branches of Heaven's Benevolence are laden with luscious fruit, to which we have only to stretch out a hand in order to pluck it and satisfy ourselves. Nor is he who stands idle between worm and fruit, gaining neither the material nor the spiritual, the one who shall gain entrance to the Land of Ever-growing Delight.
"Truly, we can see by the Sun in which direction lies the road to our goal, but it is only by means of our weary feet that we can reach it. Dreaming about this will not forward us one furlong; for in dreams we may amass the greatest riches and soar to power, but in the waking state it is sometimes very difficult to find sufficient cash for a night's lodging in a mud-hovel!
"We must act; live according to the rules of the wise, or according to the words of the pilot within the cabin of our hearts.
"But it is not sufficient to act when we are led in this manner, or driven; for even the seed of the lowly thistle may be blown up to heaven by a gust of wind—but it must inevitably fall down to earth again, however slowly; for there is no merit in being carried.
"We must strive mentally and spiritually of our own accord, and rise by our own volition. That is the only way in which to storm the Gate and gain Entrance among the Heavenly Ones!
"Let it be well remembered that one cannot live forever by ignoring the fact that all have to pass on at some time.
"Prepare then for this inevitable event by storing your mind with all the arcane lore it is possible to acquire by your own and others' efforts.
"Remember too that is it possible for one determined person to fight his way through a wall of flame, whilst ten are running to a ditch with buckets . . . . only to find it dry! So that they perish in the end. And if you do not succeed at once in scaling the heights, you should bear in mind that he who fails to become a king need not remain a scavenger.
"Dwell in the purity of Peace, so that your Inner Self shall be ONE with God. For as outer cleanliness is the symbol of a pure mind, so shall Inner Purity be the emblem of the highest Man can conceive, thus enabling him to perceive his Immaculate Creator.
"And, finally, remember that when it seems to you that the way to Heaven is too steep and too far, that even an ant may climb to the top of a mighty oak; although a mouse will have to perform many great deeds before he will be regarded with the same respect as the tiger!"
During the hours that Li Wang Ho remained at his task, the Singing Nightingale had wandered about from room to room, or had roamed forlornly within the gardens where Silver Lotus had taken farewell on the previous night of all she loved so dearly. The lad felt utterly lost and miserable without the company of his two benefactors, and at last he sat down and gave vent to his sorrow in:
Singing Nightingale's Lament
Thou art gone, O Silver Moon of Inspiration,
And all the heavens droop with grief;
And sadness reigns within the Hall of Yellow Rose,
Which does forsaken lie in desolation.
I cry all day and night for Thee without relief,
A memory of thy sweet beauty all I can enclose
Within my heart; which in my bosom throbs
In vain I look within thy mirror, to see
If still a shadow of thy dearness does remain;
Alas! there's nought but emptiness,
And no reflections ever more will shine
From that poor surface, which has died
Since Thou art gone; nor does the sea
Of tears I shed for Thee in vain—
Which digs deep furrows of distress
Along my cheeks—produce a sign
Upon that glass, that once was glorified
WITH THY REFLECTION.
I roam within the gardens, stilled,
In which thy happy voice did ring
So sweet, and gladdened all the air.
I search in sorrow every lane
On which a golden flower, filled
With radiance, did spring so fair
On every spot thy dainty foot has trod.
But now it seems that they have taken wing,
To all the world thy glory to proclaim;
And in despair I raise my voice to God;
I DROWN IN BITTER TEARS.
Sometimes I hope that all thy beauty,
Engraved upon my heart,
May yet reflect upon that surface, smooth.
And on my breast I carry
That silver-covered glass;
That once again with tears I'll see
Thee in thy counterpart
Within the Mirror. And perchance thou 'lt tarry
Just a little while and stay to soothe
My lonely heart. Alas—
MY LOVE—I MISS THEE SO!
Folding up his Manuscript, after carefully drying it, the lad sobbed and went to his room to sleep, and dream within a higher wakefulness.
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