Zen Master Baozhi (418 – 514 AD) was a monk renowned for his miraculous gifts, such as second sight and the ability to appear in more than one place at a time. The mention of his statue in the monastery at the beginning of this account sets the scene for the mystical events that transpire.
Meng Longtan of Jiangxi was staying in the capital with a Master of Letters named Zhu. They happened upon a monastery with a shrine-hall and meditation rooms, none of which were very spacious. Just one old monk was lodging within. Seeing the visitors enter, he straightened his robes and came out to meet them, then took them for a look around.
In the hall there was a statue of Zen Master Baozhi. On both side walls were exquisite murals with truly lifelike figures. On the east wall was a painting of “The Heavenly Maidens Scattering Flowers”, including one maiden with loose hair, who was toying with a flower and smiling, her cherry lips poised to move, her glances stirring.
Zhu gazed for a long time, unaware that his mind was drifting into nothing, becoming lost in a trance. Suddenly his body was transported as if riding on mist, right into the wall. He saw ring upon ring of palaces and pavilions far beyond this world. An old monk was delivering a sermon on a platform, surrounded by a huge audience, all draped in Buddhist robes. Zhu mingled in amongst them.
After a moment, someone seemed to be tugging furtively at his sleeve. He turned to look – it was the maiden with loose hair. She walked away with an inviting smile and Zhu followed her at once. Passing by a winding balustrade, she entered a small chamber. Zhu hung back, not daring to approach.
The girl turned her head and raised the flower in her hand, beckoning to him from a distance. At that, he rushed over to her. The room was empty with no one else there. He swiftly embraced her and, as she didn’t object, proceeded to make love to her. When they were done, she closed the door and left, urging him not even to cough. That night she came again, and so it went for two days.
The girl’s companions sensed what was happening and together searched until they found the scholar. “A little man is already growing in your belly,” they teased the girl. “How come you still have long hair like a virgin?”
They all held out hairpins and earrings, and forced her to put her hair up in a coil. The girl kept bashfully silent. One of the maidens said, “Sisters, if we stay too long, I’m afraid someone won’t be happy.” The group left, laughing.
The scholar looked at the girl – with her tresses coiled up high and dangling down in ringlets, she was even more stunning than when her hair was loose. Looking around to check no one was there, they sank into debauchery. Her musky fragrance drove him wild and sent him into ecstasy.
Suddenly they heard the heavy clatter of leather boots and the clanging of chains and fetters, followed by a clamour of quarrelling voices. The girl jumped up in alarm and peeked outside with the scholar. They saw an officer in golden armour, his face as black as pitch, wielding chains and a bludgeon, all the maidens gathered around him. The officer was saying, “All present?”
The maidens replied, “All present.”
The officer said, “If anyone’s concealing a mortal, turn them in now and don’t bring trouble on yourselves.”
Again they said in unison, “No one is.”
The officer swivelled round and stared like a hawk, evidently intending to make a search. Terrified, her face ashen, the girl said to Zhu desperately, “Quick, hide under the bed.” Then she opened a small door in the wall and abruptly escaped.
Zhu lay on the floor, hardly daring to breathe. Soon he heard the sound of boots entering the room then leaving again. Before long the din receded and he became a little calmer. However, there were still voices discussing the affair outside the door. Zhu cringed there for so long that he felt a ringing in his ears and a burning in his eyes. He couldn’t bear it any longer, but all he could do was listen quietly and wait for the girl to return. He couldn’t even remember where he had come from.
Meanwhile, in the hall, Meng Longtan, puzzled by Zhu’s sudden disappearance, asked where he was. The monk said with a laugh, “He’s gone to listen to a sermon.”
“Where?” demanded Meng.
“Not far,” said the monk. A moment later he tapped on the wall and called out, “Benefactor Zhu! Why are you taking so long?”
Soon a picture of Zhu appeared in the mural, standing still, his ear cocked, as if listening carefully. Again the monk called, “Your travel companion has been waiting a long time.” At that, Zhu floated down from the wall and stood there numbly, his eyes glazed, his legs unsteady.
Astounded, Meng slowly questioned him – while he was lying there under the bed, Zhu had heard a thunderous knocking, so he had come out of the room to listen. Together they scrutinized the flower maiden – her hair was no longer hanging loose but was coiled up high on her head.
Zhu bowed in shock before the old monk and asked him how it had happened. The monk laughed and said, “Illusions spring from the human mind – how could a poor monk explain it?”
Zhu was demoralized and deflated, Meng staggered and struck dumb. They rose at once, descended the stairway and left.
The Cryptohistorian says: “Illusions spring from the human mind” – those words make sense. From a wanton mind spring indecent thoughts; from an indecent mind a state of fear. Buddha made it clear for the ignorant that all the creations of illusion are merely the movements of the human mind. The old monk did his best, but sadly there’s no sign that they were enlightened by his words and became hermits in the mountains.