After exchanging pleasantries, Fangzheng went straight to the point. “Zen Master Sunglow, please tell me something.”
“Abbot Fangzheng, feel free to ask. This Penniless Monk won’t hide it from you if he knows.”
Fangzheng thought for a moment before asking, “Southwest of this mountain, there’s a very wide river. What is its name?”
“That’s the Dong River. The river source begins in the Changbai mountain range and is formed from several tributaries. That spot you saw is where it’s at its widest. However it eventually joins the Songhua River. Abbot Fangzheng, why do you ask?” Zen Master Sunglow was somewhat puzzled.
Fangzheng asked again, “Did the Dong River flood in recent years?”
“Flood?” Zen Master Sunglow fell into deep thought before looking up after some time. “There haven’t been any floods in recent years. However about twenty years ago there was a flood. It swept away several villages. Back then, the government had given a precautionary alert and had moved the masses away, so the damages weren’t huge.”
“Did anyone drown?” pressed Fangzheng.
“There were many who did. There are people who do not heed the advice of others and enter the river to swim every year. It causes many people to pass away as a result. Amitabha.” Mid-sentence, Zen Master Sunglow could not help but give a Buddhist proclamation.
Fangzheng nodded. “Zen Master Sunglow, take a look at this.”
Fangzheng handed the pamphlet to Zen Master Sunglow before recounting what he had seen. Finally he asked, “Zen Master, do you have any impression of this person? If This Penniless Monk isn’t wrong, he likely lives somewhere nearby.”
However what left Fangzheng helpless was when Zen Master Sunglow shook his head. “This Penniless Monk usually spends time contemplating the Buddhist Dharma, so he seldom goes out. This Penniless Monk does not have an impression of the person you mentioned. Furthermore, news of how Patron Yuan Hai caused a stir has long spread; yet it appears no one knows him. Perhaps he never came to this monastery in the past. As for the girl in the portrait, This Penniless Monk has no impression of her either.”
Fangzheng felt a little stumped when he heard that. The most recent flood was twenty years ago. For it to be so long ago, there was no reason for Yuan Hai to continue searching for twenty years even if he had relatives who perished in that flood. Based on the math, Fangzheng guessed that Yuan Hai’s daughter had likely drowned while playing by the riverbank, but her body had never been found.
Therefore Yuan Hai was constantly entering the water to search for her while handing out pamphlets. This explanation seemed to make sense.
Fangzheng scratched his bald head when he came out of Zen Master Sunglow’s abbot quarters. He realized that the matter was quite troublesome. He knew little about Yuan Hai, and Yuan Hai could hardly express much. It was truly a problem.
At that moment, Red Boy ran over and pointed to the sky. “Master, look! It isn’t early anymore. Didn’t you promise to give me a good meal?”
Only then did Fangzheng recall that he had promised Red Boy yesterday about treating him to a proper Buddhist vegetarian meal. Fangzheng was interested to know if the little rascal would really enjoy such dishes with that picky palate of his. If he liked it, he could save quite a sizable amount of food for One Finger Monastery every year. Therefore Fangzheng smiled. “That’s simple. Let’s go. Time for a feast!”
With that said, Fangzheng could not help but laugh.
When they arrived at the vegetarian hall, there were already many monks present who were silently eating lunch.
Fangzheng let Red Boy take his seat and personally scooped two dishes, a bowl of soup, and a big bowl of rice for Red Boy. Then he set it in front of Red Boy with a beaming smile.
Red Boy said unhappily, “Master, don’t you know how capable I am? How can this bit of food be enough?”
With an air of extreme benevolence and affability, Fangzheng said, “Jingxin, eat it. If there’s not enough, I’ll get you more.”
Red Boy looked suspiciously at Fangzheng. “Master, that expression of yours reminds me of an animal.”
“An old fox.”
Red Boy looked at the empty void in front of Fangzheng and asked, “Master, why aren’t you eating?”
Fangzheng pressed his palms together. “Amitabha. There are still some rice balls in the meditation room. They will go bad if they aren’t eaten. It’d be a shame to let them go to waste. I’ll be eating the remaining rice balls. My dear disciple, quickly dig in. Once you are done, we can rest early.”
“Master, why can’t I believe what you just said?” Red Boy did not begin digging in.
Fangzheng was rendered speechless. Probably no one in the world was like him. Even his disciple did not trust him as a master.
However no matter what Red Boy said, he still had to eat. He was also curious. The dishes looked alright. The vegetables were green, and the rice was crystalline white. Did they taste that horrendous? Then Red Boy started to dig in
Fangzheng’s eyes lit up
Red Boy took a bite and found that the taste of the rice was still passable, but when he took a bite at the vegetables, Red Boy turned and ran out.
Fangzheng said indifferently, “Jingxin, wasting is an abhorrent act. If you were to waste one mouthful, I will be reciting scriptures the entire night.”
Red Boy came to a sudden halt and sat back down with a furious look. He glared at Fangzheng with puffed cheeks. “Master, did you do it on purpose? Is there any other master in the world like this? One that deliberately dupes his disciples?”
Fangzheng rolled his eyes. “I didn’t dupe you. You were the one clamoring to eat. If you had not reminded me, I would have forgotten. Alright, Jingxin, cut it out. Quickly eat it while it’s hot. Sleep early once you are done.”
“I” Red Boy really wished to curse, but when he considered the difference in strength, he decisively capitulated. He lowered his head and looked at the dishes in front of him. He wanted to cry!
“My dear disciple, I know you have a huge appetite. Should I get you more?” asked Fangzheng with a cheeky smile.
Red Boy hurriedly lowered his head to eat. Since he could not beat him or scold him, he might as well follow the adage that what somebody doesn’t see can’t hurt them.
Actually, the vegetarian meal wasn’t too unpalatable. It just tasted relatively nasty. It was akin to how people who were accustomed to eating wild, organic fish would find farmed fish unpalatable.
On the way back.
“My dear disciple, go slower!” Fangzheng had been jogging the entire way, but Red Boy had run even faster.
“No!” Red Boy shouted out without turning his head back.
“Slow down! You are not to go faster than me! Hehe, to think you are running faster and faster. I’m going to have scripture recital inspirations!” Fangzheng shouted through clenched teeth. Red Boy had been speeding up when he sped up. The darn kid ran really fast, and Fangzheng obviously knew what was on his mind! Red Boy was running back to finish all the rice balls! How could he allow that? Fangzheng was depending on those rice balls to pass his days!
“Master, can you not cheat me?” Red Boy walked behind Fangzheng with an aggrieved look as he shouted in indignation.
“No,” Fangzheng replied without any hesitation.
Red Boy looked at his master who was turning more thick-skinned by the day. He rolled his eyes and thought, “Why did Bodhisattva find me such an oddball master!? Other accomplished monks would ignore the mortal world to meditate over the Buddhist Dharma, or they would be gallivanting fake monks. But this monk in front of me He bemoans the state of the world better than anyone, but when he becomes a scoundrel, he’s worse than any brat.”