The young monk was slightly taken aback as he watched Fangzheng’s departing figure. The corners of his mouth curled into a smile.
Fangzheng took his seat and whatever happened next had nothing to do with him. Baiyun Monastery’s Zen Master Baiyun went up to the platform and gave his opening speech. The grand Spring Welcoming Blessing Dharma Assembly officially began!
Flower petals were thrown, holy water was sprinkled, and there were scripture recitals…
By the time all was said and done, it was already noon. Afterwards the monastery held a vegetarian banquet.
Tables were set up outside the monastery and there was a constant stream of devotees that came for their meals. The Mahavira Hall, Guan Yin Hall and Arhat Hall were experiencing a surge in incense offerings! One could see a column of smoke rising up into the firmaments from far away. The rich incense offerings and the grand scale of things left Fangzheng faltering. He secretly resolved, “In the future, One Finger Monastery must be able to host such a grand Dharma Assembly… No, it has to be a Dharma Assembly of an even greater scale!”
Around three in the afternoon, the grand Spring Welcoming Blessing Dharma Assembly finally came to an end. The tired devotees began to leave.
Past four in the afternoon, Baiyun Monastery finally closed its doors. However, all the monks remained behind.
Fangzheng was still unsure of what was happening and was planning to ask about the situation. He noticed that there was a look of excitement shimmering in the eyes of numerous monks. The serious look they had was in no way lesser than during the Dharma Assembly.
“Is there still another program?” wondered Fangzheng.
At that moment, Zen Master Hongyan came to Fangzheng’s side and sat down cross-legged. He smiled, “Abbot Fangzheng, is there anything you are curious about?”
Zen Master Hongyan had made a perfect appearance. Fangzheng’s mind was filled with questions as he quickly asked, “Abbot Hongyan, from the look in everyone’s eyes, is there still another event? Also, why did Baiyun Monastery close its doors when it’s still not yet dark?”
Zen Master Hongyan’s smile grew, “The Spring Welcoming Blessing Dharma Assembly has been held for many years. The blessing is one aspect of it but at the same time it is also an opportunity for various monasteries to exchange knowledge and wisdom. After blessing the world, it’s time for us to mingle. That is why the doors were closed. From the moment the doors are closed there are only monks in the entire monastery.”
Fangzheng was enlightened. So that was what was happening. He raised his brows, “Then what happens during the exchange? Is it casual mingling or is there something else?”
“There will be a debate on the Buddhist Dharma. Everyone will offer their insights and learn from the various different manners of understanding. This way with a hundred schools of thought contending, it will result in a hundred flowers blossoming. Clashes between different ideas will result in deeper understanding. This is also what Zen Master Baiyun wants to see. However… this also leads to certain negativity. Many monasteries believe that they should offer brand new insights at the exchange so as to outshine everyone else. This way they can become famous and improve their monastery’s reputation. Therefore, the original intent that drove the exchange over the past two years has changed. People have begun ranking the various monasteries. Furthermore, every year’s debate is not purely a debate on the Buddhist Dharma but a ranking dispute. Sigh… Zen Master Baiyun did not expect this either. Now it has become a custom that is nearly impossible to put a stop to.”
Fangzheng looked at Zen Master Hongyan with wide eyes. He never expected that there would be such secular contentions even among Buddhists. It did not upset Fangzheng. It was normal for there to be contention whenever humans were involved. Getting humans to give up on conflict was analogous to war. Everyone knew that war was awful but it could not be denied that war was what advanced humanity! Many kinds of technology created for the general populace were originally meant to serve the war effort. It was same with the Buddhist schools of thought. If no one engaged in any contention and relied on their own insights, the lack of a clash of ideas and the motivation that came from comparison probably made it impossible for most people to meditate over the Zen in peace.
Of course, this was only Fangzheng’s personal belief. It was not necessarily the right one but at least he believed it to be so. He did not share his thoughts with Zen Master Hongyan. He was bound to be refuted if he voiced it and Fangzheng did not wish to debate with Zen Master Hongyan on such matters.
Noticing how Fangzheng remained silent, Zen Master Hongyan believed that Fangzheng agreed with him. He shook his head, “Let’s not talk about this. Let’s continue talking about what will happen next. After the exchange, the final program on the agenda would be a sermon delivered by a Buddhist acolyte. Every year Zen Master Baiyun would choose the most excellent monk from a few young talents from the various monasteries. A disciple below the age of twenty will come forward to represent all the young disciples and preach the Dharma. It’s a form of nurturing the younger disciples. But now, those who are given the chance have become a rookie king. Once that person is chosen it represents a monastery’s elevation. This was also not something we originally expected.”
Fangzheng shook his head. Without a doubt Zen Master Baiyun and Zen Master Hongyan were truly accomplished monks. They did not crave for personal fame and gain. All they wanted was to make the Buddhist Dharma shine but unfortunately they did not understand present-day society and the human mind. Such a debate was a form of competition, any competition meant there were winners and losers. If there was either winning or losing, rankings were definite. Therefore, it was inevitable that the situation developed into its present state.
Once again, Fangzheng kept his thoughts to himself.
Zen Master Baiyun went up to give a speech before it went straight to the highlight, the debate!
Following that, abbots of the various monasteries went onstage. They explained the Buddhist Dharma as they understood it and people began refuting them. The abbots of the various monasteries engaged in a war of words…
Fangzheng had not read a lot of scriptures. He did not understand most of what the abbots were describing. It felt like he was listening to intelligible words. With so many people around Fangzheng finally gave up listening after a while and let his mind wander.
The debate between the abbots ended two hours later. An amiable plump monk became first as he left the stage joyfully.
Zen Master Baiyun went up the stage and said a few perfunctory words before getting to the point, “Everyone, it’s time for a Buddhist acolyte to preach the Dharma. This year, only one person registered. He’s none other than Venerable Yi Xing from Golden Bamboo Convent. This Penniless Monk has long heard of Venerable Yi Xing’s attainments in the Buddhist Dharma. Everyone probably knows who he is.”
Everyone looked at Yi Xing. He had a modest expression as he held his palms together. He bowed in return.
Fangzheng traced the gazes of everyone and was stunned. Wasn’t this the young monk that had asked him questions before? How could a young monk who was unsure of the differences between a monastery and convent be well-versed in the Buddhist Dharma, so much so that he was one of the recent talents?
Fangzheng suddenly realized that something was amiss. Was it true that he did not know or was he deliberately asking to probe him? But why was he probing him? Fangzheng had only been standing on the sidelines. All he wanted was to broaden his horizons before returning home.
Just as Fangzheng’s mind wandered, not knowing what everyone was talking about, Zen Master Baiyun suddenly called out Fangzheng’s name. “Abbot Fangzheng?”
Fangzheng was taken aback as he looked up and subconsciously asked, “What?”