Lord Tang

Popular Chinese belief often combined Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, worshipping figures from each equally. This account includes a Taoist deity known as Wenchang, also hailed as the Supreme Lord, who was supposed to be in charge of scholars' destinies.

Lord Tang, given name Pin, earned his doctorate in the year xin chou [1661 AD]. He was suffering from a chronic illness. Suddenly he felt a hot steam in his lower parts that gradually ascended. When it reached his thighs, his legs were dead; when it reached his waist, his thighs were also dead; when it reached his heart, the death of that organ was most difficult.

   All the trivial and long-forgotten things since childhood came flooding back, wave after wave. For each good deed, his heart would be quiet and peaceful; for each bad deed, he would feel agitated and upset, like oil seething in a cauldron, an unbearable condition that words cannot describe. He still recalled that when he was seven or eight years old, he once found some sparrow chicks and killed them – just for this one thing boiling blood surged through his heart for the length of a mealtime before passing.

   Not until his whole life’s actions one by one had swept by did he feel the hot steam wisp by wisp pass through his throat and enter his brain, before emerging from his crown and rising up like kitchen smoke. After many hours, his soul finally left its orifice and abandoned its mortal shell.

   Uncertain, with nowhere to turn, he drifted aimlessly around the country roads. A giant approached, about a full eight feet tall, picked him up and tucked him in its sleeve. Inside the sleeve there were so many people, shoulders and thighs pressed together, so uncomfortable and suffocating that it was almost intolerable.

   His lordship suddenly thought that only the Buddha can dispel adversity, so he declared the name of Buddha and after speaking it three or four times, he floated down from the sleeve. The giant tucked him in again. He was taken in and fell out three times and then the giant left him.

   Standing there alone, his lordship hesitated, not knowing where was best to go. He recalled that the Buddha was in the Western Paradise, so he went west. Before long, at the side of the road he saw a monk sitting cross-legged and he hurried over to bow and ask him the way. The monk said, “The records of each scholar’s life and death are in the charge of Wenchang and Confucius. Your name must be deleted in both places and then you can proceed elsewhere.”

   His lordship asked where they dwelt. The monk showed him the way and he headed there at once. Soon he reached a Confucian temple, where he saw Confucius sitting, facing south. He bowed and prayed as before. Confucius said, “The removal of your name still needs the Supreme Lord.” Then he pointed out the route.

   Again his lordship hurried there. He saw a palace like a royal dwelling. Bowing down to enter, he indeed found a deity like the image of the Supreme Lord passed down through the generations. He prostrated himself and prayed. The Supreme Lord checked his name and said, “Your heart is honest. I declare that you can return to life. However, your mortal flesh has decayed. No one except the Bodhisattva can help.” Then he pointed the way and told him to hurry.

   His lordship did as he was told. Presently he saw a dense wood of tall bamboo and a magnificent hall. Entering, he saw her dignified appearance, her hair coiled up and her golden visage like the full moon. In her vase willow was immersed and mist hung over her green jade jewellery. His lordship respectfully kowtowed and explained what the Supreme Lord had said.

   The Bodhisattva felt it difficult. His lordship begged piteously and incessantly. To the side an elder stated, “The Bodhisattva has great powers to bestow. She can scoop up the soil to make flesh and snap off willow to make bones.”

   The Bodhisattva promptly did as requested, breaking off a willow branch and pouring out water from the vase, mixing the pure soil to make clay and moulding it onto the frame. She sent a boy to escort him to his bier and press it together with his body. Within the coffin he groaned and moved, and suddenly his illness was cured. His household gathered in astonishment and helped him out of the coffin. They calculated he had already stopped breathing for seven days.