Looking up, the hall had three huge words written across it: “Heavenly Kings Hall!”
Fangzheng felt wistful. He was indeed in a large monastery. It looked much more impressive than his tiny monastery that only had one Ten Thousand Buddha Hall. Past the Heavenly Kings Hall, he turned around and saw a golden-armored general pressing his palms together against a demon-felling pestle. The statue was no stranger to Fangzheng. One Finger Monastery also had one. It was a Skanda. From the stance the Skanda had, Hongyan Monastery was run as a mid-ranged monastery. Traveling monks who came could get a day of free board and lodging.
Past the Heavenly Kings Hall was Hongyan Monastery’s main hall, the Mahavira Hall. Right at its entrance was a bronze-cast tripod that had lots of incense burning in it that reached the firmaments. On the tripod were written the words: “The country flourishes and people live in peace.”
Fangzheng did not enter the Mahavira Hall and instead entered the monks’ living quarters. He was headed to the abbot’s quarters.
Zen Master Hongyan was inside, waiting for Fangzheng. The moment Fangzheng stepped in, Zen Master Hongyan stood up and pressed his palms together. “Abbot Fangzheng, it must have been difficult for you to come all the way here.”
Fangzheng returned the bow. “Abbot Hongyan, you are too polite. It wasn’t that far, nor was it difficult.”
They exchanged pleasantries before taking their seats. Zen Master Hongyan smiled. “Abbot Fangzheng, it is the good fortune of my Hongyan Monastery that you have come.”
Fangzheng shook his head. “Zen Master Hongyan, you are embarrassing This Penniless Monk. This Penniless Monk has not read more than a hundred scriptures and experienced life for less than twenty years, so how can This Penniless Monk live up to your words? It is you who is famous. This Penniless Monk feels fortunate coming to Hongyan Monastery to learn how to setup a Dharma Assembly and be an abbot. From one such as yourself.”
“Heh heh, Venerable Fangzheng, you sure are polite. Back then, you crossed the river on a reed and engaged in Lotus Flower Conveyance. What you said benefited This Penniless Monk greatly. In terms of delivery and explanation of the scriptures, This Penniless Monk is far inferior to you,” admitted Zen Master Hongyan frankly.
Fangzheng smiled bitterly. He had nothing to do with the Lotus Flower Conveyance. It was all thanks to the System. Fangzheng suddenly had an ominous feeling…
As the saying goes, the good predictions don’t happen while the bad ones do.
Zen Master Hongyan wrung his hands. “This Penniless Monk wonders if he will be lucky enough to hear you deliver the scriptures tomorrow?
Fangzheng felt a string of curses run through his head. He wished he could accept the request, but last time was all thanks to the system!
Fangzheng shook his head decisively. “Zen Master Hongyan, This Penniless Monk cannot readily give sermons. Fate will determine the future. As Buddha said: “scriptures are not to be readily instructed.” If it’s easily instructed, it would be worthless.” Fangzheng was prepared to see Zen Master Hongyan look displeased.
However, Zen Master Hongyan appeared composed. Although there were hints of disappointment, it was mostly of understanding. He nodded. “This Penniless Monk was being greedy. Venerable Fangzheng, since you wish to learn how to organize a Dharma Assembly, let Hong Xiang show you around. Ask him if there’s anything you want to know. If Hong Xiang doesn’t know, This Penniless Monk can provide you with the answers.”
Fangzheng thanked him. He had come here precisely for that reason.
After bidding Zen Master Hongyan farewell and walking out of the abbot quarters, Fangzheng heaved a sigh of relief. Thankfully, Zen Master Hongyan was a reasonable man. If he encountered someone persistent, he was truly unsure how to face him.
Hong Xiang had been waiting outside all along. Zen Master Hongyan had likely instructed him beforehand. “Abbot Fangzheng, what do you wish to see? This Penniless Monk will bring you anywhere.”
“This Penniless Monk doesn’t know himself. Just tell me the details of your Dharma Assembly.”
Hong Xiang chuckled. “In fact, there isn’t a lot of detail in organizing a Dharma Assembly. The main thing is to follow the core idea of each Dharma Assembly’s theme. Some monasteries organize a Cundi Bodhisattva birthday Dharma Assembly that has religious conversion as their main theme. Then, their Dharma Assembly will revolve around the monk’s ordination ceremony and procession. And for our Dharma Assembly, it’s a Blessing Dharma Assembly. This Dharma Assembly is different from the Spring Welcoming Blessing Dharma Assembly. We are not the stars of the show but the devotees. If devotees pray for blessings, are kind and sincere, they would usually be recipients of good fortune.”
He opened a door and waved Fangzheng inside. “Next is to recite the scriptures at an appointed time. This is tradition and also a form of catharsis. The scriptures can cleanse the soul of the people and also bless the world with good fortune.”
He followed Fangzheng into the hallway. “In addition, we will provide vegetarian meals. Devotees can eat for free but they are not to take the food of the premises or waste it. Of course, if they were to eat and not offer any incense money, it would be equivalent to surviving on the kindness of the world. But if they were to donate some incense money, even if it were a cent, they would be providing for the world, gaining merit.”
He continued as they headed to their destination, wherever that may be. “Our Hongyan Monastery is different from other monasteries. We are not too particular about things. That is because from our point of view, a Dharma Assembly is an assembly to spread kindness as well as a gathering for believers. Once everyone is here, they can offer incense and pray for peaceful and blissful days. Therefore, our Dharma Assembly is less solemn and more lively.”
Fangzheng listened to Hong Xiang’s explanations as they walked. He understood the Hongyan Monastery’s Dharma Assemblies a bit better now. Just as Hong Xiang said, the Dharma Assembly was in fact a Buddhist festival, and what was one to do during a festival? Celebrate! Devotees with heart will come to the monastery to burn incense and pray for a blessing. There will be a handful of activities once there are more people. However, dancing and singing clearly do not match the solemn environment of a monastery. The reciting of scriptures and mass blessing become the best form of reciprocation. Then, there was the vegetarian meal.
Thinking of the vegetarian meal, Fangzheng could not help but feel a headache. It was very, very, very difficult for his One Finger Monastery to provide vegetarian meals… mainly because he was too poor.
Apart from that, Fangzheng also received a pleasant surprise in the evening. He saw the two brothers, Hong Qianxi and Hong Qianjie. They had changed into a new set of clothes and looked a lot better. They were running to and fro inside the monastery. Fangzheng recalled what the System had said. It seemed like it was possible for him to reward them. But how was he supposed to reward them? That was a problem… It was impossible for him to make them pregnant, right?
Fangzheng looked at the two before disappearing. Yet his white monk robes were too eye catching.
Hong Qianxi’s jaw dropped. “Brother, I… I think I saw Brother Water Ghost.”
Hong Qianjie jumped in frighr. “Bro, stop pulling my leg. This is a monastery. What kind of water ghost is fierce enough to dare enter a monastery?”
“Didn’t I tell you that the water ghost was a monk? Perhaps, it lives here,” said Hong Qianxi.
Hong Qianjie shuddered. “Stop it. I already have goosebumps. Although Brother Water Ghost is a good ghost, we are separated by life and death. It’s best we do not meet him. Let’s head to the Mahavira Hall. Buddha is consecrated there. It’s unlikely he can enter.”
Hong Qianxi nodded as the duo entered the Mahavira Hall. Three incarnations of Buddha were consecrated therethe past, present and future. The duo offered incense and prayed silently, “Brother Water Ghost saved us. Buddha, please allow him to be reincarnated…”
If Fangzheng heard that, various entities wondered what he would feel.