Judging from everyone's usual habits, they deemed the first incense offering a nice idea, but it was not something that needed to be snatched. After all, not many people had gone to Hongyan Monastery in the past few years to vie for the first incense offering. Most of them stayed at home, releasing fireworks, eating dumplings, and watching the Spring Festival Gala.
Since he was now aware of everyone's intention, Fangzheng knew how to handle the situation. He held his palms together and gave a Buddhist proclamation, "Amitabha. Patrons, there is no need to snatch. In fact, the concept of snatching the first incense offering doesn't exist at all. No temple will promote it. The first incense offering was something promoted in recent years by commoners. It is actually of little meaning. If one has to talk about the first incense offering, I believe it refers to the first incense a person offers in a new year. This incense will not change because you are the second, third, or even the last person to offer. It is ultimately your first incense offering. Efficacy depends on sincerity. Fighting to be first is of little meaning. As long as one is pious, Buddha will naturally watch over you and bless you."
When everyone heard him, they exchanged looks. There was actually another explanation?
At that moment, a villager yelled, "Venerable Fangzheng, that's not right. Venerable Wu Ming said that the first incense offering is very important."
"That's right. Venerable Wu Ming said that snatching the first incense offering in the new year brings great merit. It will bless us with peace and riches!"
"Venerable Wu Ming did say that. He just mentioned the merits of the first incense offering to me."
Upon hearing this, many people looked at Wu Ming. He grumbled inwardly. He never expected to be betrayed that quickly. He obviously knew what Fangzheng meant. It was something Master Hongyan had emphasized many times. He also prohibited monks to promote the idea of a first incense offering. However, Master Hongyan was advanced in his years. He seldom dealt with external matters much. Furthermore, it had become a tradition among the commoners. They vied for the first incense offering, and it would not be right for him to chase them out. As such, it was left unchecked.
Now, Fangzheng had not done anything wrong correcting them. After all, they were family. It was also the first time the first incense offering became an issue.
However, Wu Ming was feeling upset and happy at the same time. He was upset because he had been betrayed. For that, he had to consider his response. But he was happy because the young monk was bad at management. The first incense offering was an excellent way to attract incense offerings. Yet, he had rejected it. Was he dumb? It was clearly a good thing to have an idiot as a competitor.
Wu Ming was quick-witted and knew that he could not dodge the problem. He took a step forward and held his palms together. He said, "Amitabha. This Penniless Monk did say that."
With that said, everyone fell silent as they looked at Fangzheng and Wu Ming. The villagers did not know the merits and demerits of the first incense offering. However, Wu Ming and Fangzheng were both monks. It was likely they each had their explanations. It was just a matter of who would win. They would listen to the person who won.
Fangzheng knitted his brows. The first incense offering was the first incense offering a person offered. Why had it become something that should be vied for by everyone? Wasn't this instigating the masses with lies? Wasn't it a scam? Despite feeling unhappy, Fangzheng held his palms together and returned the bow, "Venerable One, might I know which temple you hail from?"
Wu Ming lifted his head slightly and said with a smile, "This Penniless Monk hails from Hongyan Monastery. It's probably been more than a decade. Venerable Fangzheng, we are about the same in terms of seniority. However, This Penniless Monk entered Buddhism earlier than you. You would have to address me as senior brother."
Fangzheng rolled his eyes and cursed inwardly, "Darn it, this old fellow is trying to take advantage of me! Fine, I'll dance with you if you want to!"
Hence, Fangzheng smiled even more brilliantly. He said with a chuckle, "Venerable Wu Ming, what position do you hold in Hongyan Monastery? This Penniless Monk is currently abbot of One Finger Temple."
With that said, Wu Ming's smile froze. He did hold quite a position in Hongyan Monastery, but Hongyan Monastery was only a medium sized temple. It would be embarrassing if he mentioned his position. Fangzheng's One Finger Temple might be small, but he was the abbot! If he went over to Hongyan Monastery, he would be at the same level as Zen Master Hongyan! Such a comparison instantly left Wu Ming inferior.
Wu Ming said with a faint smile, "As monks, it is pointless talking about these trivial matters. Venerable Fangzheng, the first incense offering is of utmost importance. Why do you describe it so mildly? Could it be that this first incense offering has been prepared for someone else?"
Fangzheng finally understood what was happening. Wu Ming was clearly here to cause trouble! Upon realizing this, Fangzheng no longer remained polite. He straightened his back and hung his hands to the side! His eyes sparkled. With the augmentation of the temple and Dharmic forces, as well as the solemnity gained from the Dragon Buddha Epistle, his bearing was simultaneously enhanced by the White Lunar Monk Robe! At that instant, Fangzheng appeared to become taller in everyone's eyes. His body seemed to coruscate with Buddhist light. It made everyone feel pleasant and pious the moment they took a glance at him!
Wu Ming felt it even more acutely. Fangzheng's aura rushed straight at him. With him feeling suffering from his guilty conscience, he immediately broke out a cold sweat under the pressure!
Fangzheng scoffed coldly and said, "Venerable Wu Ming, it would have been fine if you did not mention the matter. Since you have mentioned it, This Penniless Monk has to ask you a question."
"Please ask." Wu Ming was certain that his rhetorical skill would be superior to a young, ignorant monk. He was fearless!
Fangzheng said unyieldingly, "Did your master teach you such Buddhist qualities? Or will you admit your crime of warping the true values of Buddhism?!" Fangzheng's voice became louder. Towards the end, his reprimand sounded like the angry bellow of Buddha. His eyes glared at Wu Ming as his aura increased!
An immense aura inundated Wu Ming as he felt his legs go limp. His lips trembled, and he was too stunned to say any of the words he had prepared!
Fangzheng continued, "In front of Buddha and in front of the temple hall, you have spoken nonsense and distorted the facts in this temple. You have warped the true teachings of Buddhism. You have tricked the populace into snatching the first incense offering. Are you aware of your sins?!"
Each crime was listed one after another, with each word louder than the one before it. Each word produced a stronger aura than the other! It left Wu Ming staggering as his feet turned limp. He subconsciously held Yang Ping to his side.
When Yang Ping saw this, he frowned. Wu Ming's reaction was obvious. Immediately, he felt a sense of disgust!
Fangzheng continued, "The mountain path is narrow, and the temple is small. There is only one temple hall! You instigated so many patrons to vie for the first incense offering. If something happened, causing a stampede, what would you have done? Buddha wants incense offerings but not human lives! Human lives are sacred. Yet, here you are paying no heed to them. What are you up to?!"
Fangzheng questioned again and again as Wu Ming's lips trembled. He was at a loss for words.
When the villagers heard that, they were abruptly enlightened.
A woman yelled, "This bastard even got me to lift up my child to snatch the first offering. If things turned messy, wouldn't my child be in danger?"
"I'm already this old, yet he got me to squeeze forward. He said stuff like obtaining the first incense offering being able to bring me peace! This punk is up to no good!"
"I thought he was a venerable monk, but he is actually a contemptuous wolf!"
With the masses agitated, countless people began blaming Wu Ming. His expression turned more grotesque, but he knew that this was not the moment to shrink back. If not, his reputation would completely suffer! If it became known to his monastery, he would be shamed. He would no longer stand a chance at becoming the monastery's abbot.
Therefore, Wu Ming withstood the pressure and shouted, "Fangzheng, don't you slander me. The importance of the first incense offering is known by everyone! Do you not know? Besides, as long as there's an incense offering, there is a first and a last. You said that the first incense offering isn't important. Then, tell me. Who will do the honors? Or are you telling me that you have already arranged for someone to offer the first incense? According to what I know, some unscrupulous monasteries will secretly sell the first incense offering. Heh heh..."