Great Mao Peak, Jiuxiao-Wanfu Palace.
The temple was constructed during the Western Han Dynasty and dedicated to worshipping Mao Ying, the True Lord Great Mao. The temple was known as Shenghu Temple in the Yuan Dynasty and during the Wanli period of the Ming Dynasty, palaces and halls were constructed by imperial order and it was given the name Jiuxiao-Wanfu Palace 1 by the emperor. Right now, in a meditation room in the inner court, Wu Songbai, the abbot of the Maoshan Sect, was sitting by the table enthralled by the Taoist scripture in his hand.
Footsteps came in from the courtyard, and shortly stopped outside his door. A voice said, "Abbot, they have arrived at the town."
"Hm, tell Jingyi to greet the guests and get a vegetarian meal ready," instructed Wu Songbai.
The man outside did not move, but said hesitantly, "Abbot, they are not exactly ordinary guests. Shall we make some special arrangements?"
"Special arrangements? You mean like opening up the mountain gate and having your abbot welcoming them in person, while the masters wait in lines together with a volley of heavenly music?" Wu Songbai teased.
The man was lost for words.
"That's it, then. Go get prepared."
The man retreated as told, while Wu Songbai shook his head and went back to his reading.
A couple of days ago, a message came from Phoenix Mountain, saying they were going to come here for a visit. The entire Maoshan Sect went all jittery at the notice and Wu Songbai was the only one completely unaffected.
Despite being a fellow member of the "Three Mountains of Talisman" alongside the Way of the Celestial Masters, comparing to the latter, the Maoshan Sect had gone through some pretty miserable plights. During the Japanese invasion, the mountain used to be a revolutionary base, which was unfortunately wiped out by the enemy troops. The mountain was torched and the three palaces and five temples were almost burnt to the ground. After the modern state was established, Zhengyi was at an disadvantage because of its particular attributes and the Maoshan Sect was the one of the most disadvantaged branches of the school.
Ghost-catching, ghost-nursing, corpse-refining, and corpse-walking—what did those skills promote if not superstition!
Hence, the sect had been hit hard by official suppression, so much so that for a couple of decades, it was on the verge of extinction. It was thanks to the previous abbots, who, through swallowing the humiliation and bearing the heavy load, managed to preserve some heritage with all their effort.
Later, even with the official permission of the freedom of religion and the restoration of the prestige of the Celestial Master Temple, the Maoshan Sect kept a low profile, focusing on nothing but cultivating in a reclusive manner.
It was also during this period that a lot of charlatans roamed the country in the name of Maoshan disciples, deceiving and beguiling the common people...
It was probably due to such experience that the atmosphere of Maoshan significantly differed from the other sects. Take Zhang Jintong as an example. Being the leader of Zhengyi, he was too entangled in the secular affairs and had made a habit of caring for personal gains, so that in terms of disposition and tolerance, Wu Songbai had surpassed him in both aspects.
"This must be what the immortals' dwellings look like!"
Slowly ascending along the mountain trail, Gu Yu savored the forest of grotesque stones, deep and serene karst caves, and the interweaving ravines and creeks enshrouded in the white mist. He couldn't help but be amazed by the scene.
"The world talks about Maoshan as the Taoist treasure place, yet they have ignored its delicate natural beauty. The mountain is as beautiful as the Five Mountains or any other famous ones out there," added Jingyi with a smile.
The man was in his twenties and very amicable. He was also Wu Songbai's own pupil, only that he was not as well-endowed as Chao Kongtu and was not selected for Qiyun.
"You're right. The two aspect brings out the best in each other," Gu Yu chimed in.
Xiaozhai rolled her eyes at the conversation and could not be bothered to join in. Xiaojin was burning with impatience beside them, wishing she could activate the Void-arranging Technique and fly herself up. Sensing her anxiety, Xiaozhai held her sister by the shoulder, gesturing her to stay put.
You heard it right. There was something special about this trip, for Little Soap had tagged along—her own mother was concerned and no one could deny the request of a filial child.
Hence, the three came together, leaving Long Qiu behind in Shengtian. Since Yang Qing was taken care of by the Evil-dispelling Dan at the moment, everything should be fine for the time being.
An hour later, they arrived at Jiuxiao-Wanfu Palace.
The magnificent palace was built into the side of the mountain, overlooking Maoshan Town from above. It contained four tiers of halls: the first tier was the Hall of Spiritual Officials, the second the scripture depository, the third the Taiyuan Hall with Yingxu Monastery on the east and Yihu Monastery on the west, and the fourth tier consisted of the Elevating Platform and the Hall of Two Saints.
The Elevating Platform was also known as the Ascending Flatform. Legend had it that Mao Ying flew up to heaven here on the back of a crane. The Hall of the Two Saints was where Mao Ying's parents were worshipped, with the dormitory and living room on the east wing and Yiyun Building on the west, in which the "Four Treasures of the Mountain" were displayed—namely the jade seal, jade tablet, jade tally, and jade inkstone; all four were old treasures of the Song Dynasty.
They walked along the Hall of Spiritual Officials into the temple. When passing a small square, Gu Yu couldn't help but turn to look at a middle-aged woman sweeping the floor.
She wore simple clothes and looked miserable and sad, which made her stand out from the surroundings.
"Is she a laywoman of the temple?" asked Gu Yu.
"She's from a wealthy family in Maoshan Town. A few days ago was her deceased father-in-law's seventh day ceremony and somehow her younger son was infected by an evil energy. The child was no longer fit to be raised at home, so after some discussion with one of our junior brothers, they decided to send the boy here to live. The mother could not part herself from the child and abandoned the comfort of her home to live here on the mountain with him. She offered to help with cleaning the houses," explained Jingyi.
"How is the child doing?" asked Xiaozhai.
"It was actually nothing serious, only that he is still very young and finds it hard to adjust. Abbot said weal and woe always walk together, so what would become of him is completely in the hands of fate."
The couple nodded. After giving the woman another look, they continued walking.
Before long, Jingyi led them to the entrance of the living room, where he cupped his hands and left. The three walked in on their own and found the room empty. Moments later, a round-faced old priest walked out from behind a folding screen.
This first impression was so much better than Zhang Jintong once gave them. The three saluted at once. "Senior Wu Songbai, I presume?"
"Haha, do sit down!"
Wu Songbai gestured with his hand, hinting at them to skip all the pleasantries. He then took the host seat and looked the three up and down in an undisguised manner, then complimented, "The reputation is well-deserved—such a talented couple... this young friend is also exceedingly capable. That's very impressive."
The last part was about Little Soap.
While her sister and brother-in-law were going to return the compliment, Xiaojin could hold back no longer. She blurted out, "Senior, my mother was possessed by a ghost and we're here to find a way to save her. Please help us!"
"Possessed by a ghost? What are the symptoms?"
"It's almost like schizophrenia: she's afraid of light, shouting all the time, and very, very hungry. When we found her, she had been eating for a day and a night, but her stomach was completely fine!"
"That's it?" asked the abbot.
Xiaojin was dazed for a second. It almost sounded like the problem was not serious enough for the abbot to treat. She answered, "Yes, that's all! Senior, could you cure her?"
"Don't worry. It's nothing serious." Wu Songbai bragged a little casually, then after a pause, he chuckled. "You have arrived at the right time. It's about time for lunch and I had a vegetarian meal specially prepared. Come, let's talk over lunch."
With that, he rose to his feet and led them quickly towards the dining hall.
Gu Yu and Xiaozhai were amazed as well. That was a very peculiar old man—his airs of a master were very convincing.
It was indeed a vegetarian meal: greens, tofu, steamed twisted rolls, steamed buns, and a bowl of sliced cucumber soup.
The outer room was a canteen and the inner one a private dining room, where the four sat down around a table. Wu Songbai picked up his chopsticks and explained, "Today is the fast day, so no meat. Sorry about that."
"That's ok. We don't really eat much meat, either," said Gu Yu.
"There's no 'either'. I love my meat."
The old priest picked up a piece of tofu and stuffed the whole thing into his mouth, apparently not happy with the food at all.
The couple liked his temperament a lot. All three then began to eat as well. The dishes were delicious and before they knew it, half of the food was gone.
"Senior, I see that you were not surprised when we mentioned a person being possessed by a ghost earlier. Surely it doesn't mean that you have seen a ghost already?" asked Gu Yu.
"No, I haven't. But I know they would show up sooner or later."
"Oh? How so?" asked Xiaojin.
"Do you know what a ghost is?" asked Wu Songbai.
"It's the soul of a dead person?" Xiaojin said with uncertainty.
"Roughly, yes. But according to Taoist concepts, all mortal men have three hun and seven po 2 , which in entirety is known as 'mind'. The hun and po of a living person are integrated into one. Of course, sometimes they do wander off. For instance, infants will cry, scream, or fall into convulsions when they are frightened; some might even fall into mental illnesses. It is because infants' hun and po have not broken into each other well enough, rendering them scattered easily."
Wiping his mouth, Wu Songbai went on, "So, why do people die? There are two reasons: the vital essence of the physical body wanes and the mind and soul can longer hold together. After a person dies, their mind, or soul, will remain intact for seven days before it breaks apart.
The so-called ghost usually falls into two categories—the newly-turned ones who have been dead for less than seven days and the wandering souls more than seven days old. The former still holds the memory of when they were alive, while the latter becomes an incomplete being—it either has minimal intelligence or none at all.
In spite of the fact that they walk the same earth as we do, we are worlds apart from them. We don't interfere with one another and to communicate with them is very difficult. Only through some ritualistic procedure—such as the 'seventh day ceremony' practiced by the common folk, or an evocation ceremony by a Taoist priest—could we see them.
Of course, there is another kind known as the 'wronged ghosts'.
Those who died from burning, drowning, burying alive, hunger, flogging, suicide by false charge, etc. are all wronged souls. Such ghosts are so filled with resentment and obsession that their scattered souls will stick to an object that was the important when they were alive, and remain there for many years on end. If some living person happens to disturb or offend the object, the wronged souls do not forgive easily. The one your mother ran into was probably a hungry ghost."
Gu Yu considered it with a frown, then asked, "Senior, do you think ghosts still existed during the period when the spiritual essence dried up?"
"I think they did, because the human soul could not disappear into nothing. If there is the soul, there is the ghost, only that the length of their existence might be shortened. For instance, the seven days could have turned into one day, or they broke apart as soon as one died," replied Wu Songbai after some hesitation.
"Then where do the scattered hun and po go? Into the the six great divisions in the wheel of karma?" asked Little Soap, who had been listening with a slack jaw.
Wu Songbai gave her an odd look, than glanced at the parents, who did not look back, apparently quite ashamed of the kid.
He understood right away, but still explained, "Hell and samsara are all Buddhist concepts. In Taoism, there is only the ascending into heaven and becoming an immortal, which all take place in this life. Samsara does not apply to us. Although there is the book 'The Classic of Elderly Lord's Nihilism Natural Origin' talking about the five divisions of the wheel of reincarnation, it was obviously the result of a Buddhism brainwash, so it doesn't count. However, our Taoism has a corresponding theory. According to the Book of Transformations, 'All things equal one thing and all minds equal one mind. That is how Dao works.'
Everything in this universe is transformed from Dao, making them an entirety.
Once the hun and po of a person breaks down, it will recombine with other scattered hun and po, forming a new soul, which is a new life. The human hun and po can even transform into animal's and vice versa."
"Senior!" At those words, Xiaozhai suddenly asked, "If we know where a person's three hun and seven po have gone to, is it possible to wake up the memory of her 'previous life' with some method?"
"Well…" Wu Songbai gave it a thought and said, "Theoretically, yes. But one has to be exceedingly capable to do that. In the sense that they could see through the truth of life and death, master all the remarkable abilities there are, are able to integrate with all energy and familiar with all forms—someone Priest Sanfeng would call…"
"Work it this way gives you mortal men and the other way around gives you immortals. Have fun playing around in between!" Gu Yu chimed in.
"Hahaha! Exactly!" The old priest broke into a laughter.
The four talked for long in the dining room on the subject of ghost and reincarnation.
Despite being not yet a man of the innate state, Wu Songbai was a remarkably knowledgeable man whose insight put Gu Yu and Xiaozhai to shame. However, the old priest was a free and easy spirit who defied trivial conventions, which made him a very likeable person.
Of course, in the end, he still carried out a little charade. "We men of Maoshan will not evade from the task of dispelling a ghost. However, I am too old for such a job. My pupil will help you instead."TL/N: meaning "blessing from the highest heavens" TL/N: basically, these are two components of a soul. There is a whole complicated explanation about the soul dualism concept (and a wiki page "hun and po" to go with it).