Sunday, June 19, 2016

Great Merchant - Dao Ming (Chapter 9 - Disciple of Parvati, Disciple of Bhaisajyaguru 4)

Jade Wing Sect, somewhere in the back mountains

“Ahhhh!” A small yelp of pain echoes sharply in the hills.

“Let go of him!” The girl moves to get the teenager off the young boy that’s laying face down on the floor, with his arm pulled straight behind his back.

“No, ah! No, Big Sister, it’s fine, it feels good. Ah!” The young boy explains in between yelps, with his arms being pulled alternately and his trapezius muscle being squeezed rhythmically between the switch.

“Don’t worry, Little Miss, my master was extremely thorough in his guidelines, I won’t harm him. If you don’t believe me, you can go ask the Sect Master.” Tong explains matter-of-factly as he grips the boy’s right shoulder and firmly applies pressure with his fingers as he drags his hand back towards the boy’s elbow.

“You leave my dad out of this! I’m saying, are you good enough to treat my brother?!”

“Oohhh…” The boy groans comfortably as he feels the flow of blood coursing through his arms and shoulders.

“Why don’t you ask him?” Tong taps the boy’s shoulder after letting go of his arm, to indicate that he’s done. Chunye in turn rolls his head on the soft grass before turning over to face the sky with a loose expression.

“Why does it feel so good, Big Brother Tong?” The boy asks without opening his eyes.

“Think of it like this, you use your Yang energy in exercise, so you body builds up a type of Yin. Your muscle is the same as well, certain aspects of Yang allows the creation of the muscles, while parts of Yin destroy it. So what we are doing is bringing out the bad Yin as soon as possible and recharge your Yang with Qi and massage, it’s also why you get more hungry the more you exercise. So when you are hungry, you feel good after eating, right? It’s the same thing.”

The boy opens his eyes and look up at the clouds drifting in the sky. “I don’t really get it… but wouldn’t Dad or Big Sis gets stronger too if you do the same for them?”

Tong’s face freezes at that question, before pulling back and ponders the question. “This… this is something Master Ye and Master Li came up with, so I don’t really know.”

“Oh.” The boy pull his lips to one side before returning his face to normal, letting the matter drop.

[T/N: This is the “I am thinking about it but I don’t get it or can really think about it” look, not a grimace or anything like that. The lip is slightly puckered, if you watched any asian dramas, it’s that look.]

“Alright, when you are done resting, go eat and take a nap. You can join your apprentice brothers for some light training in the afternoon.” Tong walks towards the wicker basket laying at the foot of a large tree.

“Okay! Will you be joining us?” Chunye asks hopefully.

“Haha, I’m an outsider, Chunye, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to be there.” He straps the basket to his back with ease before testing the tension of the strap by pushing it up and down with the hand behind his back.

“Oh.” The boy answers with slight disappointment.

“And where are you going?”

Tong can’t help but sigh. “You aren’t my steward, Little Miss. I’m doing what I need to be doing.”

[T/N: Steward is used in a slightly derogatory way]

The girl stomps her foot with a ‘Hmph’ and a pout, then quickly starts pulling the arms of the boy to get him up.

“See if I care!” Chunlei sticks her tongue out while pulling down her eyelid before storming off with her helpless brother as he gets dragged away.

“Mischievous and stubborn…” Tong shakes his head as he remembers his own misdeeds when he was younger, walking off into the semi-wilderness of the back mountains.

??? Monastery, Void Knowledge Hall(空識堂), 1st floor’s copyinging room

[T/N: 空識 sounds the same as 空色, which is a pretty important term in buddhism, not sure if it was intentional though, but I’m pretty sure.]

A simple, undecorated wooden building stands within a chaotic, untended garden next to a temple complex. The late morning sun streams into the crude, papered windows that line the building. Inside, monks of various ages are meditating upon, reading or copying the numerous scrolls stored within.

“Venerable Brother, what do these words mean?” Ming points to the complicated words on the bamboo scroll, set upon a table that’s been smoothed to an extreme through ages of use.

“Hm…? It eh…” The young-adult monk closes his eyes in concentration, while the teenager waits patiently for his response. “This means fecund, you might know it as fertile.”

[T/N: 饒沃 was the word used while 肥沃 was the explanation. Even if you don’t know chinese, you can tell that the first one is more complicated. The latter is the common term used by laymen while the former don’t see much use aside from older literature. Kinda had to make do with it in english.]

“Oh, thank you, Venerable Brother.” Ming continues reading the scroll carefully with a steady hand as to prevent himself from accidentally damaging it.

The slightly older monk nods before returning to his task, grinding the ink stone in circular motion over the dense, pitch black plate. Happy with the amount of ink pooled, he dips the boar-hair ink brush into it before copying the content of the old scroll in front of him onto the new scroll under his other hand.

In the six years since Ming has arrived, he has been reading here whenever he can, with intervals between each sessions shrinking noticeably as the work he provided had helped the monastery increasingly in procuring material for self-sustenance and maintenance. Like most other monasteries, the institution focuses on self reliance and services, while subsidized with donations. This particular monastery can be said to be far from the civilized world, built upon a far flung mountain range where learned men, pilgrims, noble warriors, and others would appear sporadically throughout the year, bearing wax goods and other practical goods as offerings. This has been a tradition for so long, that written records no longer exists, it is only through oral traditions that this fact is still known.

[E/N: Oral traditions last much, much longer than any other form of human communications]

“Why would anyone care about some monastery hidden away from the world?” is a thought that often appears in the mind of the apprentices that accompanied their masters to this small, desolate monastery. Many apprentices would complain, many would be sullen, even more would look down at the monks and the entirety of the monastery upon their arrival. The few that offered to do the mundane chores, those that paid more than just lip service, those that would cleanse their mind and body of the red dust with the dusts that line the scrolls and steles, they would see more than the written works stored in the hall.

[T/N: Red dust is referring to the desires and temptation of the mundane world.]

“‘Suffering’, suffering is the bondage from ignorance. To overcome suffering and seek the gate of Nirvana, knowledge is the necessary key.”
“Greatness can only come from the blood that supports you.”
“An eternity of change, an unchanging eternity.”
“To be ‘selfless’, one must become ‘selfish’.”
“Vegetable steam bun is life.”
“Wealth is wasted on the wealthy.”
“Anatta, all things are transient. There are no ‘self’ in all of existence. To wallow in the impermanent is to drown in suffering.”
“The chains of kinship prevents one from greatness.”
“Atman, all things have their ‘true self’. To know something, requires that something to be acknowledged and understood.”
“Life, is too short a journey. Death, is too long a rest.”

Hundreds upon hundreds of steles were left by past visitors, lining the unkempt garden, seemingly profound, seemingly nonsensical, seemingly contradictory to one another. The monastery would accept one stele from anyone that chiseled it within their complex; when they are done, they would be placed randomly in the garden where they are exposed to the elements and unmaintained by the monks. In addition, one written offering can be included in the Void Knowledge Hall, where monks stationed there would make copies upon copies of the work in the hall throughout the ages in a cycle, with the old copy ritualistically dismantled and burned, before their ashes are scattered upon the wind. That’s of course, assuming the copy survives long enough to the next cycle as no maintenance is provided against damage nor wear and tear. Both the stele and written offering can be accepted once per a lifetime. From the monastery’s point of view, the Void Knowledge Hall is viewed as a public service to be a repository of knowledge to help ease the suffering of man, as well as a form of mandala for the monks.

[T/N: From what I can gather, mandala is an aid to meditation. I’ll ramble later in the comments since I’m not sure of… a lot of things from my research, it was a fun read nevertheless.]

Some visitors see it as the best place to keep their legacy, as the location is likely to stand through the ages since no army could reach that desolate location nor would any country fight for it. Other scholars see it as an Immortal’s or a bodhisattva’s gift to be honoured, due to the inexplicable events that pop up. There were occasions where visitors would encounter one another, either en-route or at the monastery, only to find out they were from parts of the world the other party never knew existed, yet their journey time from their respective points of origin would make that impossible.

[T/N: Bodhisattva can be thought of as mortal trying to become a buddha due to their compassion for all sentient beings. Think of a cultivator in a typical CN trying to hit the next stage/become immortal/become a god, but instead of doing martial arts or whatever, he cultivates his mind/spirituality and knowledge instead.]

Inside the tranquil copying room, the monks continue their task of copying the scroll while muttering them quietly.


One of the monks suddenly drops his brush, his eyes closed and backs away from the table that he is working at, slowly collapsing to the floor. Ming, the local herbalist, the local bone doctor and the monk who assisted Ming in reading immediately get into action. Ming flies towards one of the walls where prayer mats are stacked, the locals removed the surrounding furniture and the monk reaches out with one hand before leaping off the floor to catch his falling colleague. Ming dashes right by and slides the prayer mat underneath the monk before running out the front door. The two locals look at one another after clearing out the area, sure that everything is out of the way. Unable to control themselves, they turn towards the table where the entranced monk was working and stare at the scroll that he was copying.


  1. Some rambling... cause there's quite a bit of symbolism in this chapter. Yeeeeah, I'm not sure how much of this I got right, so if any of you buddhist out there can help out with interpretation, feel free.

    Impermanence plays a huge part in buddhism. So the way the garden work out is... weird.
    See, one of the 3 major things in buddhism is "suffering", and one of the main thing buddha and bodhisattva tries to alleviate is suffering. In almost all the different sects, it's agreed upon that knowledge is the key to ease suffering. Cause if you know, you can be satisfied, you won't be scared, you won't be intimidated by uncertainty and the unknown. So knowledge plays a major part.

    So you have these steles, likely made from stone or wood, that sits out there in the elements to reflect impermanence. At the same time, knowledge is necessary for easing suffering, so placing the steles seems contradictory to me. If knowledge is necessary, then why isn't it perserved?

    Another way to look at it, is that there's something like fate/destiny in buddhism. I'm probably talking out of my ass at this part, so take it with a scoop of salt. I think it's another symbolic gesture to indicate that those fated to see, will see, those not fated, will just sit in the hall and read the stuff there. This is cause there's only one stele, and one written offering allowed. A book, a scroll, or whatever, can be written out in long form, with details and everything in it. But the stele is limited to only a few phrase, in short, I feel the stele is the distilled essence of those visitors, on what they find the most important in their respective lives. The written offering could be viewed as their legacy, while the stele could be viewed as the final accumulation of their life experience.

    Also, the written offering and the copying and destruction of it. This is why I think the symbolism is important here, it's repeated. The works are copied, but not cared for. Knowledge and impermanence appears again. Yet, why did it specifically mention mandala? Welllll, again, I'm not a buddhist, so I'm not sure how accurate this is. But in some traditions, I'm looking at the tibetan here, there's the practice of the sand mandala where they create these gorgeous geometric designs to represent the universe and the metaphysical. And then once they are done, they destroy the mandala in a ritual. It's too similar to how it was mentioned that the old copies were ritualistically destroyed. So even if this isn't a reference, I feel that it was at least inspired by the tibetan buddhism.

    So yeah, there's my eh... almost incoherent rant. Also, I'll have to tell the bad news to the author. This is definitely not gonna be able to stay up on any chinese site, if the censorship is as heavy in china as I'm led to believe. Tibet is a really, really touchy subject :\

  2. firstly i have only a little knowledge here so this is my opinion and understanding.

    As someone who likes psychology and science I'd say that letting the steles degrade is a form of distillation. word of wisdom inspire others to repeat/refine them thus ensuring there continuation while misguided/unhelpful words are washed out through time. (as a side note it's also practical as it saves space over time)

    As for the ritual burning of the old manuscripts from my LITTLE knowledge of mandalas that well they do serve as meditation tools. Mandalas also serve as a method to carry the desires/thoughts/feelings of the person who made it or for whom its made for. Here is where my knowledge falls short as I don't know 'what/where' the desires do/go my best guess would be that in this case its to carry the wisdom in the scroll and 'passively' add it into the worlds karma. (this last part is pure guess)

    Either way some food for thought and another way to look at the world the author brought into existence.


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