Yang Hua laughed out loud as he ran out. In a while, he brought out a massive bag.
And at that moment, Fangzheng had already received a sizable amount of paper money and incense. Monkey also held two bags. He kept scratching his head the entire way, completely puzzled. Why did the abbot want these things that could not be eaten?
Dog Song and company chatted casually with Fangzheng when they suddenly heard Yang Hua shout, “Make way! Make way! Venerable Fangzheng, I’m sponsoring anything you lack on the mountain!”
Dog Song immediately whistled and smiled. “Hey, Moneybags Yang is here. Venerable Fangzheng, as the saying goes, eat the rich. This fellow is a rich guy among the rich. It will be a waste if you don’t exploit him.”
Fangzheng chuckled, “This Penniless Monk wishes too. However, my master had a rule. Not much can be taken from each house. So it is doubtful that the rich can be exploited.”
Yang Hua directly stuffed the incense and paper money into Fangzheng’s hands. “How much is relative. In the past, my family was poor, so we gave lesser. But now, hehe…” Even he felt a little embarrassed continuing his sentence.
The surrounding villagers began kicking up a riot. They called him things like ‘Moneybags Yang’ or ‘Landlord Yang.’ Yang Hua blushed as he returned with a joking curse, “Hey, Venerable Fangzheng, I’m stewing chicken soup back at home. I need to rush back. I won’t be accompanying you. Ha…”
With that said, Yang Hua ran off. The crowd stirred once again. “He’s really at the level of a landlord. He’s having chicken soup in the morning. Doesn’t that mean he is going to stew a phoenix at night?”
Fangzheng was already accustomed to how the villagers teased each other. It was only words and no one meant any harm.
Yang Hua had not only given paper money and incense. The bottom was heavy and when he checked, Fangzheng realized that they were red apples, peaches, bananas and other fruits.
When Fangzheng saw this, he smiled faintly. He gave a Buddhist proclamation in the direction of Yang Hua.
Wang Yougui came over. He too held a large bag. When Fangzheng saw it, he shook his head. “Amitabha. Patron, there’s no need. There’s already enough. Any more would be a waste…”
“Take it since I decided on giving it. Why give me crap? I’m telling you that I’m not giving you these things for nothing,” Wang Yougui smiled. He stuffed the bag into Fangzheng’s hands. Fangzheng basically held one bag with every finger. Monkey was the same. The only thing left unscathed was his neck which could hang another two bags.
Fangzheng refused the donations others gave. With that much paper money, Fangzheng smiled wryly. “Old Dad One Finger, you have escaped poverty before I have. You are indeed the luckier one.”
“Venerable Fangzheng, keep the things well. When you have time tomorrow, do come down. Everyone will be honoring their ancestors tomorrow. All you need to do is recite a few lines of scriptures.”
Fangzheng thought about it and since it was not a difficult task, he agreed. In past years, the village would invite monks from Hongyan Monastery to help in the recital of scriptures. After all, Zen Master One Finger was old and it was not easy for him to scale the mountain. Although the scriptures were easily delivered, every family in the village had to be visited. It practically meant little rest from day to night. Even a strong monk would feel his back ache and throat hoarse after a day. Zen Master One Finger could not bear such tiresome work.
After agreeing to the villagers’ request, Fangzheng returned to the mountain with Monkey.
On the way, Monkey could not help but ask, “Abbot, what are we going to do with so much paper?”
“This is a human custom. It is also a way for the living to honor those who have departed. People require money to purchase items to live while alive. They believe that after departing, they would enter another world. Our ancestors would similarly need to spend money in the other world. And the paper money we are carrying are the currency of that other world. By burning the money, it’s a way of showing our filial piety towards them. By doing so, it’s firstly to honor our ancestors and to show filial piety. Secondly, it is also to entrust our thoughts,” explained Fangzheng patiently.
“But I saw many people giving you the very beautiful paper money. Why didn’t you want them?” Monkey was puzzled. The money were in golden ingots or tiny cars and clothes. They were clearly more beautiful.
Fangzheng smiled and shook his head. “Since time immemorial, paper money is the true currency of the netherworld. As for the beautiful paper money you mentioned, it is not the real currency of the netherworld. Instead, it should be considered fake currency. It is only something modern merchants have used to earn money. It only comes once a year. If the currency used to honor our ancestors is fake, any ancestor will be unhappy. The burning of such money might not bring good luck, instead, it might do the opposite. Of course, that is only something that commoners speak of. From my point of view, the burning of money is only a way of cherishing our ancestors. Efficacy depends on sincerity. If one is sincere, the ancestors will sense it. You have to let them see it and expressing that sincerity means to abide by the rules.”
“In that case, why don’t you tell them?” asked Monkey puzzled.
Fangzheng shook his head. “All of them know it. That’s why when they really do the burning, paper money is the staple while the rest are just auxiliary. They can be considered as tiny gifts or toys.”
Monkey looked at the incense in his hands and asked, “Then what about these?”
“Incense is used as the cell phone that mortals and ancestors use to communicate. By lighting an incense here, the ancestors on the other side will know we have arrived. Therefore, these are necessities. If we were to honor them but our ancestors do not know about it, wouldn’t it be for nothing?”
Monkey scratched his head. “It’s really complicated…”
“It’s indeed complicated but this is a rule that has been handed down since ancient times. Some people say that this is just building on superstition but they do not know that it is not merely superstition but a ritual that the ancients use, to infuse filial piety into our daily lives and ceremonies. Year after year, and generation after generation, they will inherit it. And the particular care when it comes to the honoring is a way to express our filial piety towards our ancestors. But it’s true meaning is to show it to our children and grandchildren. As the saying goes, an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. What sort of parents will result in what sort of children. By seeing their parents engage in acts of filial piety, the children will grow up to become filial as well. This is also a form of education. Of course, simply being filial to one’s ancestors is insufficient. Being filial to one’s living parents is more effective.” What Fangzheng was speaking of were things that Zen Master One Finger told him in the past. Fangzheng had always been perplexed. Zen Master One Finger was clearly a monk but he did not promote the supernatural. Instead, he would connect things to life and culture.
In the past, Fangzheng was lacking in knowledge and was simplistic in thought. He did not think too far but now, he could not help but recall Zen Master One Finger’s past. Was he really an ordinary wild monk in the mountains? What sort of past did he have?
He was destined never to have anyone answer these questions for him.
“If there’s a chance, it should be investigated,” mumbled Fangzheng inwardly.
As he returned up the mountain with Monkey, he put down the items he received that day. He warned the three animals sternly not to steal the fruits for eating. They were offerings for tomorrow and if they wanted to eat them, they could wait till tomorrow. The three animals nodded immediately, expressing their acknowledgment. Only then did Fangzheng return to the temple hall with ease of mind to recite his scriptures.