"The precepts are essential to Quanzhen and have been passed down in our sect of thousands of years. We currently have the 'primary ten true precepts', the 'intermediate three hundred commandments', and the 'heavenly commandments of the completion of three altars'. According to the doctrines of our forefathers, one would only be considered a proper priest after the headdress ceremony and only after the initiation program will a priest become a precept follower; one will gradually move up the Taoist rank in a proper order after that. Nevertheless, we are guided by a new government policy now and you are our first class of intern disciples. Today, we will be studying the 'primary ten true precepts'."
Inside the scripture hall sat the twenty-four little ones, who had their legs crossed and their backs ramrod straight. Priest Huihe stood at the front, teaching the morning class.
"The first precept: one must be loyal to your lord, obey your parents, and be kind and trustworthy. Spare no effort in serving your lord and parents with the utmost sincerity.
The second precept: one must not attempt malicious or insidious deeds, but should accumulate merits by relieving all living creatures from their distress.
The third precept: one must not kill animals for food, but should extend their kindness to even the insects.
The fourth precept: one must not engage in lewd and lascivious behavior, which would lead to the corruption of the vital Qi and stain the spiritual essence. One should be discreet and stay away from such unwanted offense.
The ninth precept: one must not keep company of unworthy persons and walk among ill-reputed places. One should look up to those more virtuous and dwell in refined and nonaggressive locations.
The tenth precept: one must not indulge themselves in frivolous conduct or flippant behaviour, but should be prudent, reserved, and always value morality above anything else."
He read through the ten precepts first, then explained each one in turn.
Precepts were the code of conduct for monks/nuns/priests. Essentially, they were no different from the " five stresses and four points of beauty 1 " or the " Eight Honors and Eight Shames 2 ", only that they read more awkwardly.
The kids had all attended primary school before coming here and some were old enough to be middle school students. Hence, they did not find the class too abstruse and thought it similar to the session of appreciating ancient prose in their Chinese classes.
Xu Ziying's followed Huihe attentively, apparently hanging to his every word. However, every now and then, she would steal a glance sideways to where He He was sitting.
Ever since the first day of their arriving at the temple, or more precisely, ever since that little girl uttered that earth-shaking question, an odd feeling had been nagging at Xu Ziying.
One example of the things that had been bothering her was that Priest Huihe himself had ordered He He's seat to be moved from the last row to the first.
What did that mean? Well, it was a dagger in the slackers' heart! Such treatment had almost sealed He He's place as the curve wrecker, which alone was enough to make Xu Ziying set her alarm.
"In all of the ten thousand holy classics, loyalty and filial piety are emphasized as the first priorities. One should serve their lord and carry out the lord's command diligently so as to return the lord's favor and protection. One should also cultivate their moral character, act prudently, and attend upon their parents, so as to show their gratitude for the love and care received from childhood…" Huihe finished explaining the first precept and asked, "Any question?"
"Priest!" Hardly had his voice faded away before He He responded, "You said we must be loyal to our lord and obey our parents, but there are no more emperors now. Whom should we be loyal to?"
"Well, we might no longer have kings or emperors, but we worship the gods, wish a long-lasting good fortune for our nation, dispel evil and harm, and persuade the people to do good deeds. All of these are demonstrations of our loyalty as Taoist priests." Huihe smiled.
"I see… Thank you, Priest!"
He He did not really understand those words, but she kept them firmly in her mind all the same.
Another quarter of an hour of teaching and the morning class was over. The kids filed out running, heading for the canteen for their breakfast.
Before she realized, He He had been here for three days.
Considering their young age, Taiqing Palace did not give them too full a schedule. They got up at six thirty in the morning, morning class started at seven, and breakfast was at seven fifty, followed by three sessions of academic courses.
Afternoons were mostly dedicated to physical training. They were taught two sets of fist movements, which was slightly more advanced than that "First National Fitness Program for Primary and Secondary School Students".
After that came supper and the evening class. The period from eight o'clock onwards was free time of their own.
The Taoist classics the temple taught them were rather plain and they were not required to sit in meditation. Children of their age would have a hard time sitting still for an hour, let alone getting their mind into the right state.
He He found the life here not too bad. She was not particularly smart, but there was a certain tenacity about her. She had also realized that this place would not be her destination, for "the forest of ten directions" was not qualified to take in disciples, being merely a place for initiation and rudimentary training.
They would take their lessons in Taiqing Palace for three years so as to lay their foundations. Only when one was deemed to have a firm Taoist mind and excellent natural endowments would they be recommended to other descendant temples.
Descendant temples pretty much included all the temples and palaces out there—the ones that were passed down from one generation of masters to the next. Only there would one be officially taken in by a master, receive the headdress ceremony, and become a priest of Quanzhen.
"Do you have any f**king idea who I am?"
"Why should I care? I only smudged you clothes. Why did you swear at me?"
"Because I want to. And I want to kick the s*it out of you…"
He He had just finished her breakfast and was going to her academic classes when she heard the row outside. The children would not miss such a show and all ran out to see.
Lin Junlong and Shao Yangming stood in the middle of the courtyard, both flushing with anger.
Shao Yangming was from a business family that had some connections. Lin Junlong, on the other hand, had crossed paths with Gu Yu once—he was none other than that middle school classmate of Fang Qing.
After failing his high school entrance examination, the boy went to Shengtian and worked in his uncle's car wash, earning a wage of a couple of hundred every month. It went on for more than half a year when an accident happened to the car wash and the place was shut down. He then stayed in Shengtian and muddled around.
Then Taiqing Palace started recruiting this year. Lin Junlong was taken over by god-knows-what idea, or maybe he only wanted that 1600-yuan monthly allowance, and signed up for the initiation.
He had always been estranged from his parents, who were no saints to begin with and agreed to his decision without any hesitation.
Hence, the two kids that were both somehow related to Phoenix Mountain were miraculously brought to one place.
The squabble did not last for long when a hush fell over the crowd. Priest Fangchengzi arrived at the scene. As the Inspector, he was in charge of discipline supervision. His face darkened as he asked, "What have we here?"
There was some more silence before Lin Junlong answered, "I smudged his robe at breakfast and he swore at me. We then shouted at each other."
"Making a scene in the public has affected the rest of the students and as fellow classmates, you failed to forgive and tolerate each other. The fault is in you both." Fangchengzi was swift with his verdict. "Tonight you will each transcribe fifty copies of the 'primary ten true precepts' and hand them in to me tomorrow."
Lin Junlong bowed at the command obediently.
Shao Yangming would not have it. The spoiled and pampered kid had an unruly and wilful character. He had been brewing his grudge for being forced to come here for days. All the discipline and the absence of meat for the past three days only aggravated his temper.
"Why would I do that? You really think you're something, don't you? I can buy this goddamn temple if I wanted! Fifty copies my a*s!" he shouted at the top of his voice.
Fangchengzi frowned and did not speak to the boy. He then gave order to a young priest. "Inform his family. Tell them to come and collect the boy."
"Yes!" the young priest answered.
Blood drained from the arrogant brat's face right away. He had never expected the priests here to be so resolute. His old man would probably kill him for being kicked out. Weeping, he tried to apologize, but the ship had long sailed.
"Now, go back to your classroom, please. No gawking!"
Fangchengzi shooed the crowd away and left promptly, leaving the pale-faced Shao Yangming alone in the yard.
The rest of the kids that watched this each formed their own ideas. Those from affluent families thought it a reminder to never be arrogant, whereas the less well-off ones found the outcome utterly satisfying.
When individuals formed into a group, one type of psychology became inevitable—that was to compare with others.
Be those individuals adults or children, be their environment that of a school, a company, or a dinner party, one could not help but make comparisons, even if it was just a passing nice car.
It was human nature.
The mere few days were more than enough for the twenty-four little disciples to figure out the situation. Children nowadays were very precocious and valued wealth and family background even more than adults did.
Among the twelve boys and twelve girls, eight were from government officials' families, nine had a business background, while the rest seven were from normal or poor families.
Although their activities were based on their individual dormitory as a unit, the kids had naturally divided into two factions. He He, who did nothing but studying diligently, was the only exception.
The seven days passed in a heartbeat.
The parents waited eagerly outside the scripture hall, their faces anxious and expectant. Xu Lei was among them. Unlike the others, she stilled hoped against He He's staying here and spending the rest of her life as a priestess.
Inside, twenty-three children sat neatly on the praying mats and the thirteen priests and priestesses sat in the front in a row like the first day.
"Seven days have passed and your adaptation period is over. It is time to announce the decisions." Huayang roamed his eyes around the room. "I will be calling your names in turn and offering each one some comments. Whether you will stay or not will be a decision made by us both."
He took over a stack of files. His tranquil face revealed nothing, but deep down, he was growing uneasy. The Taoist community had been waning for centuries and an opportunity had finally come along. With the recovery of the spiritual essence and the support of the government, everything was on their side.
Taiqing Palace was the first temple to complete the adaptation training and every eye was on them! This group of children had very limited talent and on average were mediocre at most. Luckily, there was a hidden gem among them.
The thought brought his eyes in a certain pupil's direction. He gave the one an indifferent glance and began to speak in an unhurried voice, "Xu Ziying: classics study, Grade A; physical training, Grade B; natural endowment, Excellent. The student obeys the rules, fulfills her duties diligently, and is cordial towards her fellow classmates. The overall grade is Excellent."
"Thank you, Abbot!"
Xu Ziying was elated at the words and expressed her gratitude with a kowtow.
Huayang then asked, "Are you willing to stay?"
"Hoho, good. Starting from today, you are officially an intern disciple."
It was gratifying news for Huayang and the rest of the twelve priests also found it spirit-lifting. The overall quality of Xu Ziying was promising and the girl had shown her potential. She would be a pupil worth training.
He then moved on the the next one. "Lin Junlong: classics study, Grade C; physical training, Grade A; natural endowment, Good… Are you willing to stay?"
"I am!" Lin Junlong replied immediately.
It went on like so for the next dozen kids. Most received an overall grade of Good and most gave yes as an answer. Three had performed rather poorly. Before they could say anything, Huayang had persuaded them to withdraw.
The Taoist community was not formed by idiots. They would not take someone who was obviously talentless.
Finally, when Huayang picked up the last file, all eyes fell on He He, those of the thirteen priests especially keen. Policies could be flexible. Even if the girl declined, they would think of ways to make her stay.
"He He, classics study, Grade A; physical training, Grade A; natural endowment, Exceptional… overall grade, Exceptional."
After that, Huayang fought back the tumult of emotions rising inside and asked, "Are you willing to stay!"
Her eyes glassy, He He neither spoke nor moved. Somehow, the question she asked seven days ago came back to her.
"I want to bring back the dead and become immortal. Is that possible?"
"I can give you no answer to that question… however, since 4700 years ago, our fellow cultivators have been blazing their way through all manners of obstacles and all the mountains in the world could not stop them from trying; countless forefathers have searched up and down the world for the Great Dao, but remained empty-handed at their deathbed… all they have ever pursued, was immorality."
He He faced her palms towards the ceiling with the back of her hands flat on the floor; she prostrated before the masters.
"I am!"TL/N: the five stresses are decorum, manners, hygiene, discipline, and morals; the four points of beauty are beauty of the mind, of the language, of the behavior, and of the environment. They were part of a policy established in the 80s in China as an attempt to move away from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution era. TL/N: A set of moral concepts developed by a former General Secretary of China in 2006.