When Li Yundong returned to the camps fifteen minutes later, every single one of the pilgrims were on their feet, staring at him with frightful eyes . A few men had their rifles out while others were armed with hunting bows . Some of the women were hiding inside the foreigners' jeep . Relief spread across each of their faces when they saw that it was him .
Li Yundong strode past the crowd and stopped in front of Changbagela . "What's the matter? Y'all look like you've just seen a ghost . "
Changbagela seemed a little shaken . "There was a strange noise," he said . "We thought it was the wolves . "
"Oh no that was me," Li Yundong said . "I was…"
Was what? Blowing shit up? Deforesting?
"Training . " Li Yundong cleared his throat . "I was training . "
The colors returned to Changbagela's countenance . "So there were no wolves?" Changbagela looked at him reverently . "Or did you take care of the wolves as part of your training?"
Li Yundong laughed . "No . There were no wolves . " Li Yundong turned and waved at the men with weapons . "Y'all can relax . "
Changbagela sighed and waved to his followers . "Alright, settle down, people . There are no wolves, so we're safe . Return to your tents and get some rest . "
There was a collective sigh, and then the crowd began to disperse .
"Changbagela," Li Yundong said when he saw that Changbagela was about to leave . "May I have a word in private?"
From the corner of his eyes, Li Yundong saw Meiduo staring at him curiously . She was still holding the shoes he had returned to her earlier this morning .
"Sure . Follow me . "
Li Yundong followed Changbagela until they reached the inside of Changbagela's tent . Li Yundong declined the glass of water that Changbagela had offered him and took a seat at one corner of the large tent .
Changbagela lowered himself across from him and arranged himself into a meditative posture . "So . Are you going to tell me who you really are?"
Li Yundong raised his gaze sharply .
Changbagela just smiled at him . "I know there's something special about you . Are you perhaps…" His brows rose just a tad . "A Cultivator?"
Li Yundong held Changbagela's gaze for a moment, then hung his head . "Yes . "
Changbagela pressed his palms together . "Amitabha… Perhaps there is some truth after all in the saying that you're the reincarnation of Mahakala…"
Li Yundong rubbed the back of his neck . "Yeah… That's what I wanted to talk to you about…" Li Yundong dropped his hand and stared into Changbagela's eyes . "Everyone kept calling me by that name . Why is that?"
Changbagela took a sip of tea . "How much do you know about Mahakala?"
Li Yundong shook his head . "Not much . I just know that it's the name of a deity that your people worship . "
Changbagela nodded . "Mahakala is actually a Sanskrit term . We Tibetans call him Nagpo Chenpo, which means Great Black One; or Gonpo, which means protector . "
"Who, or what, does he protect?" Li Yundong asked .
"Everything related to Buddha and Buddha's teachings . "
Li Yundong frowned . "Everything… as in…"
"The worshippers . Temples . Scriptures . Everything . " Changbagela smiled . "That's why Mahakala was bequeathed the title, the Dharma Protector . "
"Wow . That's a lot to protect…"
Changbagela shrugged . "He is a protector after all . It's in his nature . "
Li Yundong nodded, but said nothing .
"Now I have a question," Changbagela said all of a sudden .
Li Yundong regarded the old man for a moment, then nodded . "Fire away . "
"What happened earlier? I mean before you ran off on your own . " Changbagela paused as though he was trying to choose his words carefully . "You mentioned something about a code?"
"Oh . That . Well, it's just…" Li Yundong shrugged . "I realized that a part of the Mahamudra Tantra held a coded message, that's all . "
Changbagela smiled . "Ah . So you had an epiphany then?"
Li Yundong cleared his throat . "Well… Sort of…"
"And did you find your answer?"
Li Yundong nodded resolutely . "Yes . " Pretty sure the fallen trees and broken twigs could attest to that .
Changbagela chuckled . "Maybe it was the right call to give the book to you after all . " Changbagela suddenly looked towards him . "Did you know that you uttered Mahakala's other name during your epiphany?"
Li Yundong could feel his eyes widening . "Seriously? Did I?"
Changbagela chuckled . "My hearing might have declined with age, but I'm quite sure I heard your say Mahavairocana . "
"Oh, yeah . I did say that…"
"May I ask why you mentioned that name?" Changbagela paused for a moment . "It had something to do with that epiphany you had, am I right?"
Li Yundong nodded . "Yes . I realized something about one of Mahavairocana's hand signs . "
Changbagela had a thoughtful look on his face .
"Which hand sign, if you don't mind me asking? Well, you did mention it just now, but you were mumbling to yourself, so I couldn't catch what you were saying . "
"Um… The Intelligent Fist . "
Changbagela's eyes widened just a tad . "Ah… The Intelligent Fist… Now I see…" He chuckled . "No wonder you asked me about the mantra . "
Li Yundong sat up straighter and shifted closer to Changbagela .
Li Yundong cleared his throat . "Hypothetically speaking…"
Changbagela laughed, his eyes shone with amusement . "Oh, so we're speaking in hypotheticals now, eh? Fine . Go on, then . "
Li Yundong smirked, then continued, "Hypothetically speaking, if these hand signs contain the secrets to some hidden powers, what would they be?"
Changbagela chuckled .
"Then I shall tell you, my friend, that according to Vajrayana Buddhism, each hand sign does indeed hold the secrets to unlock a unique divine power . "
"What kind of divine power?"
"According to Vajrayana Buddhism, these hand signs—or mudras—can be split into three categories . The combative, Ganges, and tantric mudras . The Intelligent Fist mudra belongs to the third category since it requires a mantra . "
"What kind of divine power does the Intelligent Fist mudra give then?"
Changbagela smiled . "Patience, young man . "
Li Yundong blushed . "Sorry . "
"The combative mudras, as its name implies, mostly deal physical damage when used . Ganges is the name of a river that originates in the Himalayas and flows southeast across the Ganges Valley . " Changbagela smiled . "And as you know, a river nourishes and cleans . It washes away undesirable things . It is a source of life, you see?"
Understanding washed over Li Yundong . "So the Ganges mudras has healing abilities?"
Changbagela nodded . "Not all of them though . Some can be used to end disasters . Others can be used as a form of blessing . "
"And the last category?"
"Ah . The tantric mudras are special . " Changbagela shot him a pointed look . "They are protective in nature . "
"Like a shield?"
"Some, yes . But not all of them are shields . "
"What things can they protect their user against?"
"A wide range of things," Changbagela said . "It repels physical objects . It purifies evil and repels demonic aura, etc . "
So that's what the Intelligent Fist mudra does . . . The fallen trees must be the effect of the physical repulsion .
"All these are, of course, hypothetical and have no basis in reality…"
Li Yundong raised his gaze and saw Changbagela staring at him with his brows raised .
Li Yundong laughed . "Of course . These are all hypothetical . " Suddenly, Li Yundong stopped laughing and gave Changbagela a serious look . "Suppose that if, in this hypothetical scenario, a Buddhist lama were to give away a precious text containing these secrets… Would the he face dire consequences for doing so?"
Changbagela smiled casually . "Who knows?"
"But the lama would've been accused of giving away the temple's secrets . "
Changbagela smirked . "Ah . But these hypothetical secrets are so obscure that very little people can unveil them . " Changbagela's smirk turned into a grin . "And if anyone do manage to unveil these secrets, then there isn't a single doubt in my mind that the text is in the right hands . "
Li Yundong pondered Changbagela's words silently .
"Now I have another question . "
Li Yundong stared at Changbagela for a moment . "Are we still talking in hypotheticals?"
Changbagela laughed . "No . "
Li Yundong smiled . "Go ahead, sir . "
"You always seemed a little defensive whenever we call you Mahakala . " Changbagela paused for a moment . "Why is that?"
Li Yundong sighed . "I had…" How the heck was he supposed to explain Ishvara and his personal god? "Well… I had a vision of some sort . "
Changbagela leaned forward slightly . "A vision?"
"Yeah… Sort of like a dream, where I was this omnipotent god with six arms and three faces . "
Changbagela stroked his beard . "Hmm…"
"Anyway . " Li Yundong waved his hand a few times . "It creeped me out a little when you guys described Mahakala to me . Coz you said six arms and three faces, which is exactly what I saw in the vision . " He chuckled . "Maybe it's all just a coincidence . "
Li Yundong looked at Changbagela, taken aback by his skeptical tone . "I mean, yeah . I'm a Cultivator, but I'm not an all-powerful Buddhist deity . "
In fact, he was a complete nobody before Su Chan came into his life, before the Renyuan Jindan .
"You have an aptitude for martial arts, don't you? You have good battle instincts . You're a natural warrior . You anger easily and tend to settle things with your fists . . . "
"And I have no doubt that you are a great cook too . You know your way around the kitchen and enjoy serving food to others . Also, you have a great desire to protect the poor and the weak . " Changbagela raised his brows . "And let me guess, it angers you greatly whenever you see injustice?"
Li Yundong gaped at the old man . "How did you…"
Changbagela pressed his palms together . "Amitabha . . . All the traits I mentioned belonged to Mahakala . In fact, ancient Buddhist texts described Mahakala as the god of battle, the Lord of the Kitchen, and the Lord of Justice . " Changbagela smiled . "I do not think it is a mere coincidence that you happen to have those traits too, Zhenren Li . "
Li Yundong sat there wordlessly, staring down at the tent's tarpaulin flooring .
After what felt like forever, Changbagela broke the silence .
"Your difficulty lies in the fact that your mind is filled with assumptions about yourself, Zhenren Li . "
Li Yundong looked up from the tarpaulin .
Changbagela smiled . "The mind is a beautiful servant, but a dangerous master . Your assumptions will eventually become a leash through which your mind controls you . Cut the leash . Be the master of your own mind . Discover, not assume . Perhaps then the truth about yourself shall reveal itself to you . "
Li Yundong smiled and nodded . "You're a wise man, Changbagela . "
Changbagela shook his head . "Not a wise man, Zhenren Li . But a peaceful man . "
Li Yundong wondered what Changbagela meant by that . He chuckled . Buddhist monks . Always speaking in riddles .
Li Yundong rose to his feet . "This has been really enlightening, Changbagela . Thank you . "
Changbagela pressed his palms together and bowed .
"Good night," Li Yundong said, then walked out of the tent .
After leaving Changbagela's tent, Li Yundong grabbed his backpack and headed towards the brook to take a bath . He had gone longer without one, but he figured he should make full use of the clean water from the brook before he leave the camp tomorrow morning . On the way to the brook, he passed by a few women who greeted him in Tibetan . He answered the greetings with polite nods and smiles before hurrying off .
The brook was empty when he arrived, which was perfect . This wouldn't take long anyway—ten minutes tops, he figured .
He found a rock near the far end of the brook and lowered his backpack onto it .
Then, he pulled out a clean towel from his backpack and began stripping off his clothes . A minute later, he stood in the brook and began to wash the dirt and grime off his body . The sky was clear tonight, and the moonlight was ample enough that he could make out the state of his skin .
He smiled when he began to wonder what Su Chan would think if she saw him now . Surely, his princess would start making fun of him for his lack of hygiene . But of course, she was more than welcome to help him in the personal hygiene department . He certainly wouldn't mind a backrub .
His thoughts about Su Chan ended when he heard a rustling sound behind him . He froze .
"Who's there?!" he yelled and turned around to face the intruder .
He wasn't expecting to see Meiduo standing there without a single stitch on .
Li Yundong gasped and covered his eyes . "What the hell?!"
Then, he scrambled out of the brook and ran towards the rock where he placed his backpack . He grabbed his towel and wrapped himself in it . When he was done, he looked up and, much to his horror, saw a naked Meiduo walking towards him . He gasped and quickly turned around .
"For God's sake, Meiduo! Put some clothes on!"
"Why won't you look at me, Brother Li?" Meiduo said . "Don't you find me beautiful?"
"Come on! Meiduo! Stop messing around!"
"I'm not messing around, Brother Li…"
Li Yundong took a deep breath . "Alright, look . Why don't you put on some clothes on first, and then we'll talk, okay?"
More rustling of grass sounded .
"You like me, don't you?"
"Wha— I never said…" Li Yundong uncovered his eyes, but cursed when he saw that Meiduo was still naked . Dammit! Li Yundong scanned the ground until he saw a Tibetan traditional robe lying on the grass several feet away . He ran over and picked up the robe from the ground, then threw the robe around Meiduo's shoulders .
Meiduo reached up and tried to wrap her arms around his neck .
Li Yundong pushed her hands away and stepped back . "Stop this, Meiduo… You shouldn't be doing this… I—"
"Why not!" Meiduo's eyes were filled with tears now . "Why won't you look at me like you did this morning?"
"What? This morning—" Li Yundong froze . This morning he had mistaken Meiduo for Su Chan and ended up hugging her . Oh God . He had made such a mess of things .
"Listen . About this morning, I can explain—"
"You looked at me with so much love, Brother Li . Why won't you look at me like that again?"
Li Yundong sighed and sat down on the rock . "Because my heart already belongs to another woman . "
Li Yundong ran a hand through his hair . "I'm already in love with someone else . "
"But this morning… You…" Meiduo gasped . "Y- You thought… You thought I was her this morning…"
Li Yundong nodded . "I was having a dream about her . When I woke up, I mistook you for her . I… I'm sorry . "
Silence passed between them . When Li Yundong couldn't stand the awkwardness anymore, he opened his mouth to speak .
"Are you married?"
Li Yundong stared at Meiduo, stunned . Moments later, he regained his composure . "No . I'm not married . I have a girlfriend . "
Meiduo burst into tears and sobbed into her hands .
Li Yundong sighed and stood up from the rock . He walked over and slowly guided Meiduo to the rock .
"Sit," he said . "Let me tell you a story . "