Chen Jin blushed red with embarrassment as he fell silent.
Wu Ming said with a smile, "Chen Jin does have a point. But clearly, it's a waste of time if we were to descend the mountain at this point. Since everyone is here, we might as well head to One Finger Temple."
Once that was said, Wang Yougui, Yang Ping, and Chen Jin were taken aback. The trio was puzzled as to what Wu Ming was up to.
Wu Ming said, "Patron Wang, Patron Yang, don't be mistaken. Holding all the young and elderly in mind, This Penniless Monk rushed here to help. As for where people head for the first incense offering, it's the same everywhere. We are honoring Buddha, not a particular temple or a person. It all depends on one's sincerity no matter where it is."
Wang Yougui and Yang Ping were relieved when they heard that. The mood immediately turned less awkward. As the group proceeded up the mountain, they also became much warmer.
At the same time, Wu Ming's words were spread among the villagers. They had a good impression of him to begin with since he was the monk they had interacted with the most. Now that they heard what Wu Ming had said, they felt that he was impressive. He was enlightened with Buddhist characteristics.
The group of people continued up the mountain with Wu Ming walking from front to back. He helped the elderly and took care of the children. Wang Yougui approved of his actions, "Wu Ming's heart is in the right place."
However, he did not know that as Wu Ming walked among the crowd, he would often whisper to the villagers.
"Patron, are you here to vie for the first incense?"
"Look at me. How is that possible? I'm just here to join in the fun."
"That won't do. The first incense offering is extremely important. If you succeed at getting it, it can turn your luck for the better. You will definitely have a smooth year ahead. Your children and grandchildren will prosper and enjoy peace."
"Of course! This Penniless Monk is a monk from Hongyan Monastery. A monk doesn't lie, so how can it be a lie?"
"Then I should really consider vying for it. What if I succeed?"
"Female Patron, are you here to snatch the first incense?"
"Ah? That's right! But it will be quite difficult."
"Let the child snatch it. Carry your child high. When everyone is trying to seize the opportunity, just push the child forward and you will get it. Shh, this is experience gained from all the first incense offerings at Hongyan Monastery over the years. Make sure you don't spread it. Don't tell others that This Penniless Monk was the one who told you."
Wang Yougui was chatting with Tan Juguo and did not know that Wu Ming was spreading the importance of snatching the first incense offering. He assured everyone that snatching the chance of offering the first incense was necessary.
At this moment...
"Be careful! A wild dog on the loose!"
Wu Ming's furious voice was suddenly heard from up ahead along with a wolf's sad whimper.
When Wang Yougui and company rushed over to check the situation, they saw Wu Ming carry a child. Not far away, Lone Wolf was looking at Wu Ming with his head lowered. He had signs of soil on his fur. Clearly, Wu Ming had just thrown a chunk of soil at him.
After Lone Wolf was certain that he did not recognize Wu Ming, he immediately howled.
Fangzheng happened to hear him, but he ignored him.
Wang Yougui knitted his brows and pulled Wu Ming back, "This is a wolf of the mountain. It's not fierce and very nice."
Wu Ming looked enlightened as he said, "I see. This Penniless Monk was being rash. Please forgive me."
As the saying goes, ignorance was not to be blamed. Since Wu Ming had said so, what else could Wang Yougui say? All he could do was let the matter rest since Wu Ming was only doing it to protect the child.
Instead, Tan Juguo, who saw this, narrowed his eyes. The deep look in his eyes made it impossible to tell what he was thinking.
Meanwhile, as a result of the delay, Fangzheng finished reciting his sutra, and he came out to investigate the matter.
He saw that a large group of people had arrived outside his temple! Fangzheng was somewhat taken aback. What was going on? Had Buddha manifested Himself, to give him a scare out of fun by gathering so many people here?
Fangzheng took a careful look and realized that they were all villagers from the foot of the mountain! Wang Yougui's family, Tan Juguo's family, Yang Ping's family, Yang Hua's family, Tan Yong, Tan Ming, and Dog Song were all there! There were also children running everywhere. It was quite a bustling scene. However, who was that bald donkey standing beside Wang Yougui? He looked kind but did not have any kindness in his eyes.
"Pui! We are all baldies, so why should we be bitter against each other. Take no offense at a child's babble. Let it pass like the wind," Fangzheng quickly corrected himself in his mind.
However, before Fangzheng collected his thoughts to ask about the situation, someone suddenly shouted, "Charge! Grab that first incense offering!"
Fangzheng saw hundreds of people charge at him. If not for them being all smiles, Fangzheng would have believed that he was being robbed! Fangzheng did not dare say a word as he sidestepped and dodged, afraid of being trampled to death.
The crowd charged into the temple as they began making their way to the temple hall.
When Wang Yougui saw this, he was appalled. One Finger Temple was not big and trouble was abound if everyone forced their way in! Wang Yougui yelled, "All of you stop! Stop! It's not yet midnight. What's the rush!?"
The village chief's yell calmed everyone down. However, everyone still seemed zealous. Everyone was speaking, and it was chaotic. There was still someone shouting, egging them on to snatch the first incense.
Soon, Wang Yougui was unable to hold back the villagers who were still fired up.
"Amitabha!" at that moment, an extremely confident Buddhist proclamation sounded. It was very loud, instantly drowning out all the voices!
Following that, Fangzheng waved his hand and exerted his strength. He parted the crowd and came to the temple hall's entrance. He finally understood why everyone was there. If this continued, something bad would happen. Therefore, he had stormed forward after his shout!
Fangzheng stood in front of the temple hall, his White Lunar Monk Robe making him look extremely eye-catching under the moonlight. That bald head of his was sparkling! He looked stern and had a mighty bearing without the need to flare up in anger!
Fangzheng's past deeds had made the villagers recognize his status as abbot. Now that Fangzheng was there, it calmed the crowd down.
Following that, Tan Juguo came over. As he stood there, his authority as the old village secretary immediately caused the stir to die down.
When Fangzheng saw this, he heaved a sigh of relief. "Patron, what's going on?" Fangzheng was somewhat taken aback. This was the first time he was seeing the villagers rush up the mountain during the new year's! In previous years, there was only Fangzheng and Zen Master One Finger. It would be as desolate as it could be.
"Venerable Fangzheng, here's the situation. It's almost the new year and everyone wants to pray for good luck in the upcoming year by offering the first incense stick. We agreed before coming up the mountain to line up. No one was to do anything rash. But in the end... Sigh, these good-for-nothings," said Wang Yougui with a rebuking smile.
Fangzheng was stunned. The first incense offering? Fangzheng would have nearly forgotten the matter if not for Wang Yougui! It was not only limited to One Finger Temple. Many monasteries had the belief of offering the first incense stick. It was more apparent in larger monasteries. During the new year, people would rush to offer the first incense. Some people would even line up and sell their spots to earn some money from it.
However, Fangzheng never expected people to bring this practice of snatching the first incense offering to One Finger Temple! That was new. At the same time, he was somewhat excited and satisfied. One Finger Temple finally resembled a temple!
Fangzheng obviously did not know that the crowd would not have been that eager under ordinary circumstances. However, with Yang Hua and company before them succeeding with every wish, the Laba Congee that cured them of their ills, as well as the clarity of mind they received after bathing Buddha, everyone was convinced of One Finger Temple's efficacy. This resulted in today's grand occasion!