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Episode 190: Firefly

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It is the end of summer and start of fall. Today I want to share a romantic belief in ancient China. It is called FuCaoWeiYing 腐草为萤, meaning decaying grass become fireflies.

In the book Book of Rites 礼记from the Warring States period 战国时期, a collection of texts describing the social forms, administration, and ceremonial rites of the Zhou dynasty 周朝 around 2000 years ago, it says decaying grass become fireflies.

 

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In the book YiZhouShu 逸周书, a compendium of Chinese historical documents about the Western Zhou period 西周 between the 1045 BC to 771 BC, it says, on the day of DaShu 大暑,decaying grass become fireflies. The traditional Chinese calendar divide a year into 24 solar terms. DaShu is the 12th solar term and usually begins around July 23rd and ends around August 7th. If the decaying grass doesn’t become fireflies, there wouldn’t be a harvest that year.

 

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It is not hard to think why ancient Chinese though fireflies are the reincarnation of grass since fireflies are found in marshes or in wet, wooded areas where their larvae have abundant sources of food. But I am amazed by the idea that grass decays during the long humid and hot summer while fireflies emerged from the death as a continuation of life lightening up the nights. After 20 days of life span, the fireflies will be burred and wait for the reborn in the coming year.

 

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Mentioned:

礼记Book of Rites

逸周书 YiZhouShu

Episode 189: Koan 1 – The Simplest Thing

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A Koan 公案 is a story, dialogue, question or statement which is used in Zen practice. Today we will start a new series in our podcast of koans.

I am not a Buddhist, and by no means I understand the world or have more life experiences than anyone who is listening. But hopefully by sharing these koans we can all have some inspirations and understand ourselves better.

The koan today is from the book The Jingde Record of the Transmission of the Lamp 景德传灯录, a work consisting of biographies of Zen patriarchs and Buddhist monks from the Song dynasty in the year 1004.

The dialogue is between Vinaya Master YouYuan 有源律师(Vinaya Master are masters that focuses on the discipline and precepts. )and Zen Master DaZhuHuiHai 大珠慧海禅师 from the Tang dynasty 唐朝.

 

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Vinaya Master YouYuan asked, “monks practice Zen. Do they work hard?”

Zen Master DaZhuHuiHai said, “working hard.”

Vinaya Master YouYuan asked, “how?”

Zen Master DaZhuHuiHai said, “they eat when they are hungry and sleep when they feel sleepy.”

Vinaya Master YouYuan asked, “every human being is like this. How do you call this working hard?”

Zen Master DaZhuHuiHai said, “it’s different?”

Vinaya Master YouYuan asked, “what’s the difference?”

Zen Master DaZhuHuiHai said, “people don’t actually eat when they eat. They think a lot of things in their heads. People don’t sleep when they sleep. They struggle. That’s the difference.”

 

Mentioned:

景德传灯录 The Jingde Record of the Transmission of the Lamp

Episode 188: Nested Relationships

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The philosopher Kant writes, “Space is not something objective and real, nor a substance, nor an accident, nor a relation; instead, it is subjective and ideal, and originates from the mind’s nature in accord with a stable law as a scheme, as it were, for coordinating everything sensed externally.”

Today we will talk about an interesting story and think about space. This story is from the book XuQiXieJi 续齐谐记 from the Southern dynasty 南朝 by the author Wu Jun 吴均 between the year 469~520. The story line is based on a Buddhism story from the Buddhism script JiuZaPiYuJing 旧杂 譬喻经from India.

In the book, it says there was once a man named Xu Yan 许彦 from the place called Yang Xian 阳羡. One day when traveling on his way in the Mountain SuiAn 绥安, he ran into a young scholar around the age of 17 or 18. The young scholar lied near the road and told him that his feet hurt very much. He asked Xu Yan if he could be carried in his goose cage. Thinking it was a joke, Xu Yan let the young scholar enter the goose cage he brought as he wished. Surprisingly, the young scholar went into the cage and fit in the cage without a problem. He sit together with two geese that didn’t get bothered by this intruder. In addition, the cage did not change the shape and the Xu Yan did not feel any change of the weight of the cage.

 

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After a while, they stopped at a tree to take a break. The young scholar came out of the cage and said to Xu Yan, “I will prepare a meal to pay back the favor of your kindness”. Xu Yan said, “that would be great.” Then the scholar brought out a bronze container from his mouth. The copper container has many delicious dishes. It was an amazing feast indeed.

After several drinks, the young scholar said to Xu Yan, “there is a lady who is with me. Can I invite her to join us now?” Xu Yan replied, “sure!” Then the young scholar brought out a beautiful girl from his mouth. The pretty girl was around 15~16 years old, well-dressed. She joined them at the table.

Soon the young scholar got drunk and fell asleep. This girl said Xu Yan, “although he is my husband, I am not happy with him. I have a lover. Since my husband is asleep, can I let my lover to join us. Would you please keep it secret?” Xu Yan replied, “OK!”

Then the girl brought out a man from her mouth. The man was around 23~24 years old and was smart and handsome, with whom Xu Yan had nice conversations.

After a while, the young scholar was about to awake, the girl brought out an embroidered screen from her mouth to hide the young man from her husband’s view. Then the young scholar and the girl went to rest together.

On the other side of the screen, the young man who was from the girl’s mouth said to Xu Yan, “it is true that the girl and I both have feelings for each other. But we are not excursive. I have another girlfriend. Can I ask her to join us now? Please keep the secret.” Xu Yan replied, “OK.” So the young man brought out a lady from his mouth, who was about 20 years old. The three of them drank together and had a wonderful time.

When hearing the sound from the other side of the screen that the couple were getting up, the young man swallowed back the woman he brought out from mouth. At this time the young scholar’s wife came out of the curtain and swallowed back the young man she brought out from her mouth.

The young scholar was now up. He said, “I am sorry that I took a long nap. You must feel bored this whole time. It’s getting late. We need to say good-bye. ” He swallowed back the lady he brought out of his mouth along with all the dishes and food wares. He left a bronze plate as a gift to Xu Yan and said, “this is for our great memories.”

After many years, Xu Yan gave the bronze plate to his friend as a gift who later found out it was made 400 hundreds years ago.

Mentioned:

续齐谐记 XuQiXieJi

旧杂譬喻经 JiuZaPiYuJing

Episode 187: Du Zichun – part 3

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Finally, a jailer reported to the King of Hell that Du Zichun had completed the course of suffering. The King said, “This wretch, so cunning, is unfit to be a man. Let him be born a woman in the next life!” So Du Zichun reincarnated to the next life as a girl in the family Wang Quan 王劝. Du Zichuan was born with diseases and took pills every day. She was “accidentally” fell into the fire place and other accidents. But he never uttered a word.

Soon, she grew up to be a woman of surpassing beauty. People regarded her as a mute girl for which she had suffered insults and sexual harassment. Du Zichun kept silence. There was a scholar from the same county named Lu Gui 卢珪, who heard of her beauty and became an admirer. Lu proposed through a matchmaker, but her family declined on grounds of her muteness. Lu Gui replied, “if a wife is able and virtuous, what need is there for speech.” Du Zichun’s family finally gave their consent.

For several years the couple had an enviably loving relationship. Du Zichun then gave birth to a child, who was an intelligent boy. When the boy was two years old, Lu Gui was holding the child in his arms and talked to Du Zichun. She never made a sound. He flew into a rage, saying, “in olden times, Minister Jia 贾’s wife would not smile, for she despised her husband. Even so, she made up for the regret one day while watching him shooting pheasants. After all, I am not as noble as the minister, but how come my knowledge is not compared with pheasants shooting? A man is despised by his wife. What’s the need of having a kid with this kind of wife?” He grabbed the boy’s feet, and bashed his head against a rock. It smashed instantly, splashing blood. Unable to hold back her love for the child the momentarily, Du Zichun slipped an involuntary cry, “Ugh!”

Before the sound died out, Du Zichun found himself sitting in the yard of the same place with the Taoist master in front of him. It was almost dawn. He saw the purple flames of the furnace leaped up and burned through the roof. The entire house was ablaze. The Taoist master sighed, “Look what you got me into.” He threw Du Zichun into the pot of water and the fire was burned out.

The Taoist master said, “you have put behind you all emotions including joy, anger, pity, fear, loathing, and lust. The one feeling you have not yet mastered is love. If you had not uttered that sound, my elixir would have been ready, and you would have ascended into heaven as an immortal by now. How very rare are those with the true makings of an immortal! I can try smelting the elixir again, and there is yet room for you in this world. Take heart and do your utmost!” The Taoist master pointed out to him the distant road back. Du Zichun climbed to the top of the platform to have a look. The furnace had cracked open, exposing an iron rod inside, several feet long, the thickness of a man’s arm. The Taoist took off his robe and proceeded to scrape it with a knife.

After returning home, ashamed of having broken the vow, Du Zichun decided to make amends by volunteering for another effort. But when he reached the Cloud Tower Peak, he could not find even the slightest trace of the Taoist master.

 

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We have talked in our podcast that to be an immortal in Taoism or a Buddha in Chinese Buddism, everyone has a chance. Emptiness is the ultimate nature of things and it is essential to dissipate suffering. Some people think Du Zichun is a humanist in terms of denial of Buddhism and Taosim in order to acclaim fraternity in the world. Some people think the story is about love is the source of trouble and through purification of love and desire can the Proper Way be realized. Some people think contrasting desire and practice of asceticism misinterprets the significance of Buddhism and Taoism because Buddhism and Taoism help heal suffering caused by desire and emotions.

So what is the Japanese version of the story like by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa ? Most of parts are similar. When Du Zichun was in the Hell,he made a sound when the he saw his mother were tortured. And he was back to the reality, he wasn’t even blamed by the master but appraised that how he felt for his parents should be honored. But he didn’t became an immortal since he failed and realized how he appreciate a normal life.

 

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In the Japanese version, he failed because he saw his parents instead of his child. Some people think this might be due the personal experience of the author Ryūnosuke Akutagawa that his mother had a mental illness shortly after his birth, so he was adopted and raised by his uncle. Also the ending was the quite opposite and I don’t know if it is due to Buddhism in Japan is more secularized it in China.

 

Mentioned:

玄怪录 XuanGuaiLu

 

Episode 186: Du Zichun – part 2

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The third time Du Zichun holding millions cash in hands, he thought to himself, “Everytime when I had nothing, none of my friends or relatives cared to talk with me. Yet this elderly gentleman has been so generous for three times. What should I do to deserve these money?”

He told the old man,“I’ve learned my lessons. I can live on my own. Moreover, there are orphans and widows needed help. Through charity, I shall redeem my past faults. I am profoundly indebted to you for this most gracious favor. When I finish what I am to do, I shall faithfully follow your every bidding.” The old man said,“ Quite right! When you have done your missions, come meet me at the twin juniper trees by the Temple of LaoZi, 老君府 on the ZhongYuan Festival 中元节 of the coming year.” We have talked about ZhongYuan Festival in our Ep. 76 Ghost Festival.

Du Zichun came to the city YangZhou 扬州 and bought hundreds acres of land and built houses for orphans and widows. For his friends and relatives, he returned with favors by distributing the money to the ones that helped him before and revenged of those who treated him with hatred.

Having done all this, Du Zichun went on the appointed day and found the old man whistling in the shade of the juniper trees. Together they set out to ascend the Cloud Tower Peak 云台峰 in the Hua Mountains 华山. They went for miles and arrived at a place where the houses and rooms were holy. It was canopied high above by multicolored clouds and graced by gliding cranes. In the main hall, in the middle of which stood an elixir furnace, more than nine feet tall. Its purplish flames burned brightly, lighting up the windows. Nine female Taoist attendants stood around the furnace forming a circle. Black Dragon and White Tiger were on watch of the furnace.

It was getting dark. The old man reappeared as a holy Taoist in a yellow cap and a yellow cape. He handed Du Zichun three white-stone pills and a goblet of wine, and told him to finish them off quickly. Then he took a tiger’s hide and pu it down near the inner west wall, and sit on it facing the east. The Taosit master warned Du Zichun, “be sure not to say anything. Whatever you are about to see- deities, evil demons, ghosts, fierce beasts, the under world, or your loved ones being tied up suffering great pain—are NOT REAL. Just stay silent and still, and remain calm and fear nothing. No harm will ever come to you. Remember what I told you!” With that, he departed.

Du Zichun looked into the courtyard and saw nothing but a huge pot filled with water. As soon as the Taoist master left, there suddenly appeared a plethora of banners, flags, spears, and armored men outside. Thousands of mounted soldiers filled up the valley. An august personage, addressed as the Great General— exceeding 10 feet in height, along with his ride, in dazzling golden armor, burst into the hall with several hundred soldiers with weapons. They shouted, “Who are you?How dare you not make way for the Great General?” They even pointed the sword on his neck and asked his name. Du Zichun kept silence. The solders got irritated and shouted, “kill him!” Du Zichun kept silence. The general stormed out in a most violent rage with his army.
After a moment, here came ferocious tigers, venomous dragons, lions, thousands of pythons and scorpions appeared. Roaring and snarling, they approached to Du Zichun. Some even jumped on his head. Du Zichun kep silence. After a while they dispersed.

 

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Suddenly thunderstorms came and lightning piercing a darkened sky. Surrounded all sides by rolling spheres of fire and electric flashes, Du Zichun could hardly open his eyes. In a brief moment the courtyard was flooded. In an instant the flood reached where Du Zichun was, but he sat erect and paid no attention. A moment later the General returned with the Ox-head and Horse- face 牛头马面, the two guardians of hell that we talked about in our Ep.12 the Underworld and demons。 They set a large cauldron of boiling water in front of Du Zichun, and threatened him with long spear. An order was made, “tell us your name and you will be set free. Otherwise we will throw you into the boiling water.” Du Zichun kept silence.

So they seized his wife and pointed at her, “tell us your name and we will spare her.” Still, Du Zichun kept silence. His wife was in turn tortured in front of him by wipping, boiling, burning, suffering excruciating pain that far exceeded human endurance. His wife screamed, “true, I am clumsy and not pretty, not a match to a gentleman like you but I have been your humble wife for more than ten years. I am now being seized by these demons, and suffering unbearable pain. I don’t expect you to get down on your knees. But it takes merely a word from you to save my life.”She cursed and swore. Du Zichun kept silence.

The General said, “This wretched one has witchcraft and must not be allowed to live on in the world.” He ordered demons to decapitated Du Zichun. After the execution, Du Zichun’s ghost was led to the King of Hell 阎王that we have talked about in Ep. 12 the Underworld. The King of Hell said, “Is this not the sorcerer from the Cloud Tower Peak? Arrest him and send him to jail.” Thus Du Zichun experienced all the various forms of torture had to offer: being fried in the boiling oil, burned, grinded in the mill, the hill of knives. But keeping in mind the Taoist master’s injunction, he found all this somehow endurable and kept silence.

 

Mentioned:

玄怪录 XuanGuaiLu