Taoist of Mount Lao
Located on the coastline of the Shandong Peninsula, Mount Lao is considered one of the birthplaces of religious Taoism with many legends of Taoist immortals being found there and numerous Taoist temples. One immortal mentioned in this account is the Moon Goddess in Chinese mythology, Chang’er, who was banished to the moon for stealing the elixir of immortality and lives in the Palace of the Moon.
In our county there was a scholar named Wang, the seventh son of an eminent family. He admired Taoism when young and, hearing that Mount Lao abounded with immortals, travelled there to pursue his studies. As he climbed one peak, he came upon a secluded temple. A Taoist was sitting on a reed mat, white hair hanging down to his shoulders, but with a radiant, transcendent air. Wang kowtowed and talked with him – his logic was subtle and profound. Wang asked to be taught by him.
The Taoist said, “I’m afraid you’re pampered and can’t work hard.”
“I can,” Wang replied.
The Taoist’s followers were numerous and they assembled at dusk. Wang bowed to each of them then settled in the temple. At dawn, the Taoist called Wang out, gave him an axe and told him to follow the others to gather firewood. Wang did as he was instructed. After a month, his hands and feet were covered in calluses and, unable to bear the pain, he secretly resolved to go home.
He returned one evening to find two men drinking with his master. The sun had set, but no lamps or candles had yet been lit. Instead, the master cut some paper in the shape of a mirror and pasted it on the wall. At once, moonlight filled the room, illuminating every speck.
The acolytes ran here and there at the men’s command. One guest said, “The pleasure of this splendid night should belong to all.” And he took a pot of wine from the table, handing it to the acolytes to share and urging them to drink their fill.
Wang thought to himself: how can one pot of wine go round even seven or eight people? So they all rushed for cups and bowls, competing to down their drinks first, afraid that the pot would be finished. But as they poured cup after cup, in fact the wine was no less. Wang marvelled at this.
Soon one guest said, “We have the gift of brilliant moonlight, but here we are drinking so quietly. Why not call Chang’er to come?” And he tossed a chopstick into the moon.
A beautiful lady appeared from the light. At first not even a foot tall, by the time she reached the ground she was of human height. Her slender waist and graceful neck swayed to the rhythm of the “Dance of the Rainbow Skirt”. Following that she sang:
Shall I return,
Or be confined in the Palace of the Moon?”
Her voice was clear and melodious, pure as a flute. When the song was over, she rose with a twirl and skipped onto the table. In the blink of an eye, she had become a chopstick again. The three men laughed loudly.
Again one guest spoke. “This has been the most wonderful night, but I can’t take too much wine. Could we have a last drink in the moon palace?”
The three men on their mats moved slowly into the moon. Everyone could see the three of them sitting in the moon drinking, their features clearly visible, like a reflection in a mirror. After a while, the moon gradually went dark. An acolyte lit a candle – the Taoist was sat alone, the guests had vanished. On the table leftovers of the feast remained. The moon on the wall was nothing but a paper disc.
The Taoist asked them, “Have you drunk enough?”
“We have,” they said.
“In that case, you’d better get to bed, and don’t be late for wood gathering.”
They promised and retired. Silently enthralled, Wang shelved his intention of returning home.
After another month, he couldn’t put up with the pain anymore. Even worse, the Taoist hadn’t taught him any magic at all. Unwilling to wait any longer, he quit, saying, “I came hundreds of miles to receive your divine instruction – even if I can’t learn the secret of immortality, at least a little knowledge might satisfy my desire to learn. I’ve spent two or three months now just going out early to get firewood and coming back late. At home I never experienced such hardship.”
The Taoist laughed and said, “I always said you couldn’t work hard and so it’s proved. Tomorrow morning I’ll send you on your way.”
Wang said, “I’ve worked for so many days – if master could just impart some small trick, my coming here would not be a total loss.”
“What magic do you want to learn?” asked the Taoist.
Wang said, “I often notice when you go somewhere, walls cannot stop you – that magic alone would be enough.”
The Taoist laughed and agreed. Then he taught him a spell, told him to recite the whole thing and called out, “Go through!”
Facing the wall, Wang didn’t dare walk into it. Again the Taoist said, “Try to go through.” So Wang walked slowly into the wall, but was blocked by it.
The Taoist said, “Lower your head and charge through it – don’t hesitate!”
So Wang took several steps back from the wall and ran into it. When he came to the wall, it was as if there was nothing there; turning to look, he found himself already beyond the wall. Delighted, he went back in to give his thanks.
The Taoist said, “After you return, you must maintain your purity, otherwise it won’t work.” Then he gave Wang some money for his journey and sent him home.
Reaching home, Wang boasted that he had met an immortal and now no solid wall could stop him. His wife didn’t believe him. To show what he could do, Wang stood several feet from a wall and ran at it – his head hit the brick wall and he toppled over. His wife helped him up and examined him – a mound was rising on his forehead like a goose egg. She mocked him. Ashamed and furious, Wang called the old Taoist nothing but a conman.
The Cryptohistorian says: No one who hears of this affair can help laughing out loud. But they don’t realize just how many people like Scholar Wang there are in the world. Nowadays there are some boors who love the poison of flattery and fear the medicine of truth, so some boil-sucking hemorrhoid-lickers tell them what they want to hear, advocating the use of threats and violence. They cajole them, saying, “Carry out these tactics and nothing can stand in your way.” At the first try it might have some small effect. So, thinking everything can be dealt with that way, they don’t stop until their heads hit a brick wall and they fall over backwards.