"Fangzheng, don't try any fancy talk. Tell me honestly, how was this temple renovated? Where did you get the money for the renovation?" Yang Ping was a trained accountant, so he naturally knew how poor One Finger Temple was. He also knew that renovations cost a great sum of money. Furthermore, he knew that Fangzheng was a poor student. He did not have money. One Finger was even poorer, having supported Fangzheng's studies. He knew that something was amiss, for the temple to be suddenly renovated.
Wang Yougui added, "Fangzheng, you have to explain this matter clearly. It's not that I covet anything of yours. It's just that this whole thing is suspicious. I'm afraid someone is up to no good at your expense."
Tan Juguo did not say much, but the worry in his eyes said enough.
Fangzheng replied with a smile, "Treasurer Yang, Uncle Wang, Grandpa Tan, you are over thinking things. I actually need to thank you for all of this."
"Thank us?" The trio was left dumbfounded.
Fangzheng looked at Yang Ping and said, "A few days ago, Brother Yang gave me the government document. With that, I officially became One Finger Temple's abbot. That night, Buddha came to me, and he said that I have been a good person for my past ten lives. As a result, he could satisfy a reasonable wish of mine in this life."
"I told him that I wanted Grandpa One Finger to be revived. Buddha refused, telling me that Grandpa had gone to the Western Paradise as a Buddha and was no longer a part of this world."
"Upon hearing that my grandpa has become a Buddha, I definitely did not want to pull him back to suffer tribulations. Therefore, I changed my request to having Buddha renovate the temple. Buddha told me to clean the temple in exchange for the renovation. The next day, I cleaned until the temple was spotless. I never expected Buddha to truly show his powers. After that, all sorts of construction sounds were heard and the temple transformed into its present state."
Fangzheng spoke half-truths. He had changed the System into Buddha, and had hidden a few details. That wasn't considered lying, right...?
At least, the System did not appear to punish him, so he felt at ease.
Upon hearing Fangzheng's explanation, Yang Ping, Wang Yougui, and Tan Juguo exchanged looks. It would have been far-fetched for them to believe him. Ever since the country's reforms, superstitions were no longer truly believed. However, if they refused to believe the story, then there was still no logical explanation for the temple's sudden change. It was not capable for humans to do that!
In the end, the trio silently accepted Fangzheng's explanation. It was not like there was a better one.
Tan Juguo said, "Fangzheng, keep this to yourself. Don't let others hear of it. If they ask, just say that the village provided the money for renovations. Leave the rest of the explanations to us."
Yang Ping pouted and said, "Secretary Tan, what era is this? Demons and ghosts are not to be believed in but Buddha is permitted? Although I believe in dialectical materialism, I do not object to the beliefs of others."
"What nonsense." Wang Yougui glared at Yang Ping before changing the topic of conversation, "Fangzheng, what delicacy are you making in the back kitchen? Why does it smell so good?"
Fangzheng said with a smile, "I..." Upon saying that, Fangzheng faltered slightly, realizing that he could no longer use the word 'I.' Hence, he changed his phrasing, "It's paddy rice planted by This Penniless Monk."
"Heh heh...You rascal. You are even beginning to speak like a monk. Sure, you are the abbot so it's only right. About the rice, scoop a bowl for me. I want to try it." Wang Yougui rebuked him with a joking tone.
After he said that, Wang Yougui prepared himself for the meal.
Yang Ping hurriedly said, "Me too. I want to eat as well! Oh right, give Uncle Tan a bowl too!"
The trio looked at Fangzheng intently. There was no way around it. The fragrance the rice emanated was too alluring. It whetted their appetites and made their stomachs groan. They felt unease from not eating.
However, Fangzheng shook his head and said, "No can do."
"What?" Wang Yougui turned anxious as he exclaimed, "Fangzheng, what's our relationship? Back when you were in school, you lived at my place. You probably ate quite a lot! You have eaten so many big bowls of mine, but you can't even give me a single bowl of yours?"
Yang Ping was also displeased as he grunted in support. "It's fine if I can't have any. But Uncle Tan has helped you greatly in the past. Yet, he can't even get a bowl of rice from you?"
After Fangzheng thought for a moment, he pointed at the temple and said, "Everyone, don't be agitated. Look at my temple. Is there something different about it, compared to other large temples?"
Yang Ping took a good look but could not figure it out. He shook his head and said, "There's nothing different. Isn't it just a place to worship Bodhisattva?"
Tan Juguo suddenly said, "Kid, I thought that going to school would make you more flexible. Who knew that you would be as stubborn as that old monk, One Finger? Seriously, why didn't you learn the good instead of this..." Although Tan Juguo was admonishing him, it was in a jovial tone. Clearly, he wasn't angry.
"Uncle Tan, what are you talking about? I don't understand," asked Yang Ping.
Tan Juguo said, "This temple is a small temple. The Skanda at the entrance has the demon-felling pestle held towards the ground. It communicates that his temple is too small to give food and lodging. It's a rule that he cannot break. In the old days, One Finger rejected many requests to stay, resulting in him offending quite a number of people."
When Wang Yougui heard that, he said earnestly but gravely, "Fangzheng, although upholding principles is important, one has to be flexible as well. If you want to develop this temple, you cannot be inflexible in present-day society."
Fangzheng placed his palms together flat and said with a bow, "Amitabha, thank you, Uncle Wang, for your advice. However, This Penniless Monk now follows the Buddhist way of life so the precepts have to be followed. How can This Penniless Monk wantonly violate them?"
Yang Ping said impatiently, "So, all said and done, you just aren't giving us any rice? If you aren't giving me anything to eat, I'll just refuse to leave!" Yang Ping was truly hungry. He had skipped breakfast in order to scale the mountain. Now, having whiffed the pleasant fragrance, his stomach was about to revolt. It took up most of his mental processes.
Wang Yougui looked helplessly at Fangzheng. Tan Juguo did not speak a word but he made clear his intentions. He too wanted to eat!
Fangzheng smiled wryly and silently asked the System. "Can debts of gratitude from the past be returned today?"
"Cause from the past, an effect of today. Ingratitude leads to karma, gratitude severs karma."
Fangzheng understood and said with a slight smile, "In that case, let's make it clear. Today's meal is a repayment of my gratitude. You can eat but you cannot seek food from me in the future or I really will be breaking the rules. Of course, if the temple expands to the point where it can host people, then This Penniless Monk will welcome you if you are willing to come."
"That's more like it. Cut the crap and quickly serve the rice!" Wang Yougui was delighted as he beamed happily.
Fangzheng returned to the kitchen just in time for the rice to be ready.
He opened up the lid, and white steam swirled up. The aroma from the rice emanated and the plain fragrance turned richer. It was as though there were sweets in the air, making every whiff feel sweet!
Everyone subconsciously gulped a mouthful of saliva as they stretched their necks out. They could not wait for it.
At that moment, Fangzheng sadly discovered that he had only cooked a single person's share! How was he to split it?
Wang Yougui noticed that Fangzheng was in a daze and pressed him. "Fangzheng, what are you doing? Hurry up. I'm about to die from the thought of eating!"