Episode 192: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Earth

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I am always interested in stories when people didn’t have enough scientific knowledge and amazed by their interpretation and imagination of the world. Today we will talk about a story of the world under the earth.

The story is from the book What The Master Would Not Discuss 子不语, a collection of supernatural stories compiled by Yuan Mei 袁枚 during the Qing dynasty 清朝 published in 1788. It says, based on one theory, the earth and the sky was like an egg. The sky is the egg shell and the earth is like the egg yolk. When the egg yolk and egg white were separated, the sky and the earth were separated. But no matter what, people can never get out of the egg hell. Based on the theory of 33 days 三十三天学说 in Taoism, this person is outside of the realm of the sky, the earth and the human beings and would wonder around in the illusion.




In the place of QinChong 秦中, in the northwestern China today, the crust is thick and earthquakes happened a lot. Sometimes, a whole village would be in ruins. When earthquakes happened, sometimes water from underground would be pumped up high into the air and sometimes you could see sparks and smoke. Sometimes, the crack would be closed. But if people fell into the underground, they never were seen and nobody knew where they went.




In the year 1646, there was a earthquake in the this place. A family of Dong 董 were all swallowed by the earth and everyone believed they were dead. Shockingly, after 9 days, a person crawled from the underground. His face was covered by dust and his clothes stuck on his skin. The villagers were startled and asked, “who are you? How did you crawl from the underground?” The person was weak and replied, “I am Dong Yu 董遇 from the family Dong.” The villagers looked closely and recognized him. They remembered that Dong Yu learned some special skills since he was a child and he could hold his breath under the water for really long time. They were all curious about what happened to him.




Here is what he said, “ when I first fell in the crack, I felt like I lost gravity. After a whole day, we saw water underneath and kept falling. It felt like I was flying or floating which was pretty comfortable and I was even talking with my families. When we fell into the groundwater, all my families drowned. I held my breath into the water for thousands of miles until I swam out of the water and reached somewhere dry. Everything around was yellow and it was getting brighter. I looked around. I saw the sky was under my feet. I could hear people talking. I realized this where the sky outside of the egg shell sky. If I keep falling, either I would fall in the heaven in the second layer that would be great. If I fall on the roofs of people’s houses, would they think I am an immortal? Both scenarios are not bad. So I tried hard to fall. But my body was floating due the the heavy wind underneath. I was floating in the air for a whole and met a giant who yelled at me, “how did you get here? This is the bounty of the two layers of sky. Even ancient gods and saints couldn’t pass here. Don’t be daydreaming. Go back to your world before the crack is closed. Otherwise, when the crack is closed, the earth is thousands of miles. You could swim through the water but not earth. You will be doomed.”




I was about to ask something when beams of gold light from far away almost blinded me and I felt like I was going to melt. The giant slapped my back and said, “run! The sun is coming! You would be burned into asked.” I was too scared and using the push from the giant, I held my breath and flew back upwards. Now I am back”



子不语 What The Master Would Not Discuss

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.



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.



玄怪录 XuanGuaiLu

Episode 122: Journey To The West 4 – Awoke To The Truth

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Today we will keep talking about stories from the book Journey to the West 西游记. Last time in Episode 120, we talked about the Monkey King didn’t want to learn anything that his master Patriarch Subodhi suggested and the reason he came all the way here was to learn the way to immortality. His master Subodhi seemed to get annoyed by him and struck the monkey over the head three times. Then he left the room dismissing the whole room of audience and lock the door behind him.

What would you do now if you are the monkey king? Keep trying to persuade the master to teach the way to immortality that you wishful or leave the place you traveled for and stayed for years and figure out other ways. Or…

The other pupils turned upon the monkey king after the master slapped the door, “do you think that is the way to behave? The master offered to teach you and you were arguing with him instead of being thankful. ” They all got angry and scolded him. But the monkey was not upset at all. The reason is that he was smart enough to understand the secret signs from the master.

What are the signs? The master struck his head for three times meaning the monkey king was given an appointment at the third time 三更. In ancient China, the time system is different from today using hours and minutes. The three time was between the 11: 00 pm to 1:00 am. By leaving the room with his hands folded back meaning he was wanted in the inner apartments. By locking the door meant he was to come round by the back door. I know these sound a little confusing to you. Actually you can find many similar scenarios in ancient Chinese literature about subtle signs. It is part of the Chinese culture and even today people believe in sometimes it is the best way not to express too obvious in many aspects and that’s the beauty of the communication.


The monkey waited and waited for the rest of the day. As the dusk came, he went to his sleeping place and pretended to be sleeping. There was no watchman and the monkey counted his breaths to estimate the time. When it was about the time, he got up quietly and went around the back door. It was half open and the monkey said to himself, “the master certainly will give me instructions. ”

So he crept into his master’s room and went straight to his bed and bowed without making any sound until the master Subodhi woke up and stretched his legs saying, “Hard, very hard! The Way is most secret. Never handle the golden elixir like a toy. He who to unworthy ears entrusts the dark truths. To no purpose works his jaws and talks his tongue try. ”

“Master I have been keeling here for a while. ” The master heard the sound in the darkness and shouted, “you wretched monkey! What are you doing here? Go back to sleep in your quarter. ” The monkey replied, “at the lecture today, you promised me to give me instructions .That’s why I am here.” The Patriarch was really glad to hear that and thought, “this creature is no doubt born by the pure essences of Heaven and Earth. Otherwise he would never understand my secret signs.” The monkey kept saying, “we are alone here and nobody could here us. Take pity upon me and teach me the way of immortality. I shall never forget your kindness. ” The Patriarch said, “come here and listen carefully.

To spare and tend the vital powers,this and nothing else

Is sum and total of all magic, secret and profane.

All is comprised in these three, spirit, breath and soul

Guard them closely, screen them well, let there be no leak.

Store them within the frame.

That is all that can be learnt, and all that can be taught

I would have you mark the tortoise and snake, locked in tight embrace.

Locked in tight embrace, the vital powers are strong;

Even in the midst of fierce flames the golden lotus may be planted

The Five Elements compounded and transposed, and put to new use.

When that is done, be which you please, Buddha or Immortal.”

The monkey carefully committed them to memory and humbly thanked the Patriarch and left the back door. A pale light was just coming into the sky. He returned quietly to his sleeping place.



西游记 Journey to the West

Episode 108: The Destined

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In our past stories, many of them are related with the topic off destiny. Greatly influenced by the Buddhism and Taoism, Chinese people like to believe things happening for a reason and the reason is always the destiny. Today I want to share an interesting story about fortune telling.

This story is from the book called ChuJingShuSheLingMo 锄经书舍零墨 from the Qin dynasty 清朝. It says there was a man named Ma JingLiu 马敬六. One of Mr. Ma’s hobbies is learning I Ching 易经 and fortune telling. I Ching is also knon as Book of Changes, one of the oldest Chinese classics from the Western Zhou period 西周 around 3000 years ago originally used as a divination manual. The well-known hexagram 卦 and Ying Yang is from this book. From a broader perspective, it has influenced philosophy, religion, medicine, astronomy, music, art , literature, martial arts and etc throughout Chinese history. Today if you want to know about FengShui 风水, you definitely to learn about this book. But I am not sure how many people really understand the book.


This Mr. Ma liked to study the book and do fortunetelling. One time, he and his teacher named Tang ChaiXi 唐柴溪 Mr. Tang went to attend the Imperial Examination together in the capital. If you want to know more about Imperial Examination, please check out our episode 43. Before they left home, Mr. Ma conducted a fortunetelling for both of them and said, “sir, we can both get a great ranking. And you will be the first place in the exam. ”

On the day of reveling the results, the names were posted however Mr. Tang’s name wasn’t even on it. Other people laughed at Mr. Ma. Mr. Ma was still so sure about his fortunetelling. The next day, Mr. Tang’s name came out as the first place.

One day, Mr. Ma visited his friend. His friend felt like testing his skills of fortunetelling and covered something underneath with a cup and let Mr. Ma to guess what it was. After a while, Mr. Ma said, “it is made of bamboo and is shorter than two inches. The inside is hollow and the top of the head is red.” His friend laughed and said, “it is a bamboo made brush pen cover. You are right but the head of it is not red.” They moved away the cup and found the top was actually red. One of Mr. Ma’s friend’s students painted it that he didn’t know himself when he covered it up.


Although Mr. Ma got a great ranking in the Imperial Examinations, he didn’t want to work in the government. He stayed at home reading and kept studying I Ching. He sometimes did experiences to see how accuracy his fortunetelling skills were. One day, he predicated one of his china would be broken. He was curious if and how would it happen. So he put the china on the table and just watched it.

He watched it for hours until his wife came to ask him to eat lunch. He was staring at the china and ignored anything happening. Seeing her husband not giving any responses because of a piece of china, she was irritated. She grabbed the china and threw it on the floor. Mr. Ma saw it and laughed and nodded, “oh that’s how it was broken. The fortunetelling is so true. So true.”



易经 I Ching

锄经书舍零墨 ChuJingShuSheLingMo

Episode 107: The Mad Monk

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Today we will talk about one of my favorite people in the Chinese folklore, a crazy monk, who always got drunk and ate meat that violate Buddhist monastic rules in Chinese Buddhism. It seems like he was even hardly qualified as a Buddhist monk, however, he was a real master. In folklore, people call him Ji Gong 济公, and also known as “Zen Master DaoJi 道济 禅师”.


His stories in folklore started getting popular since the end of the Southern Song dynasty and have been retold and developed especially during the Ming dynasty 明朝 and Qing dynasty 清朝. There were a few books about his stories from the Qing dynasty 清朝. He is mentioned in many Buddhist koans 公案. Koan is a story, dialogue, question, or statement used in Zen practice to provoke the “great doubt” and test a principle’s progress in Zen practice. They are really interesting and we will definitely talk about them in the future.


Ji Gong lived from the year 1130 ~ 1209 during the Southern Song dynasty 南宋 and was born in the province of ZheJiang 浙江. His original name was Li XiuYuan 李修缘. His grandfather married the daughter of the Emperor TaiZhong of Song 宋太宗 and had a high position in the government. His father Li MaoChun 李茂春 was a military adviser. So he was born with a silver spoon. But the image of Ji Gong looks like a homeless person wearing shabby monastic clothes and shoes.


His family believed in Buddhism for generations and he was greatly influenced by Buddhism and Taoism when growing up. After the death of his parents, he went to the Temple GuoQing 国清寺 and was mentored by the famous Zen Master HuiYuan 慧远禅师. Later in his life, he stayed at the Temple LinYin 灵隐 寺 in the place HangZhou, where you can still visit today. Beautiful place.


When I mentioned earlier about the monastic rules that consuming alcohol and meat is forbidden in Buddhism, I was only talking about the Chinese Buddhism. Because like Christianity, Buddhism has different branches as well. For example, in Japanese Buddhism, monks can drink and get married which are against the rules in Chinese Buddhism.


Ji Gong unlike other Buddhist monks, he ate meat and drank wine. He seemed never paying attention to what he was wearing since his robes were worn out and dirty. Sometimes he talked nonsense. He seldom meditate like other monks. When other monks were studying, he would hang outside probably watching cricket fighting or drinking alcohol. Some monks caught him and told Master HuiYuan, Ji Gong’s mentor, who never criticized him but said, “considering how massive the ways towards Buddhism, how can it not tolerant a mad monk”. So people sometimes call Ji Gong the “mad monk”.


According to some myths and folklore, Ji Gong had supernatural powers and was believed as the incarnate of the Taming Dragon Arhat 降龙罗汉, one of the Eighteen Arhats in Buddhism. Because it says the moment he was born, the statue of the Taming Dragon Arhat fell down in the Temple GuoQing and he was the incarnate of the Arhat. He traveled from place to place to help the poor and treat the sick since he knew Chinese medicine. He also fought against injustice. He is knowledgeable and a great poet even though most people don’t really know about.


Ji Gong wrote a lot of marvelous poems about his understanding of the world and Buddhism. There is a famous poem well-known from a book about Ji Gong although I don’t think it was really said by Ji Gong. It says, “ 酒肉穿肠过 , 佛祖心中留” meaning alcohol and meat only goes through my intestine while the Buddha stays in my heart. People sometimes use it as an excuse when they are not following the rules. However, most people don’t know the whole poem. The next sentence after that one is “世人若学我,如同 进 魔道”, meaning if normal people follow what I do, they can easily fall into the dark side.


The Zen Master YinGuang 印光法师from the 19th century explained this poem and said, Ji Gong was truly a master that he did a lot of unbelievable things. He tried to hide his virtues by consuming alcohol and meat to make stupid people think he was crazy and violate the rules. Otherwise, he might hardly live in this world. When the real Buddha shows up in the world, supernatural power can never be used but principles and morals to act as a normal person. If supernatural power is used, the Buddha can never show up in the world. Only acting like a crazy person in this world, supernatural power can be used. Although consuming the meat, the Buddha can spit out the alive. If normal people like us eat meat, we can’t even spit out the same meat. Why are we learning from Ji Gong to eat meat? The Buddha drinks alcohol and can deliver woods from the well. If normal people like us drink alcohol, we can’t even deliver water from the well. Why are we learning from Ji Gong to drink alcohol?


These two cases are both stories about Ji Gong. We will talk about in our future episodes.