Translator: CKtalon Editor: CKtalon
Fangzheng was left at a loss and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. What the heck! He had seen people act scoundrelly to defer on their debts, but this was the first time he was seeing someone act scoundrelly to give him a gift.
Helpless, Fangzheng could only thank him and choose two bundles of yellow paper money, a few candlesticks, and some nails before bidding him farewell.
His final stop was Wang Yougui’s place. The moment he entered, he saw that Wang Yougui was busy. Dog Song, Lame Ma, Accountant Yang Ping and his brother, Yang Hua, Secretary Tan Juguo, Jiang Zhou, Fan Qing, Qiu Xiaoye, and Guan Xiangfeng were all chatting in the yard too.
Upon seeing Fangzheng, everyone immediately got up.
Wang Yougui smiled. “Abbot Fangzheng, you came just in time. We were discussing something. How big do you think the offering platform should be? In the past, our village was small so we did it haphazardly. Now that we have money this year, we can’t keep that going, right? At the very least we should make it the most beautiful one among all the villages in the area, right?”
Fangzheng shook his head helplessly. “Honoring your ancestors does not need a grand stage. Honoring your ancestors is just like praying to Buddha. Sincerity is more important than anything. As a simple example, Patron Tan, do you wish for the kind of filial piety where your grandchildren buy you a mansion and fancy cars but do not come back even once a year?”
Tan Juguo immediately shook his head. “I’d rather those brats come back for no apparent reason to chat with me so that I can scold them. I can even give them money!”
Fangzheng nodded. “It’s the same with our ancestors. It’s not easy for them to make the trip back. They wish to see us being sincerely filial, not a pile of food and tall platforms. With them gone, what’s the point of these material goods?”
Wang Yougui said, “If it’s bigger, our ancestors will rub off some of our glory, right?”
“That’s what you think. Have you seen what it’s like in hell?” returned Fangzheng with a question.
Wang Yougui was left silent.
Fangzheng continued. “This Penniless Monk has not been there either. The living do not know what the conditions are like in hell. To view the world of the deceased with the viewpoints of the living is like letting an elephant wear a pair of shoes you find comfortable. Would it find the shoes comfortable? Since you do not know, why don’t you use your sincerity and real emotions to show your filial piety towards them. Be it in the world of the living or the deceased, there are certain things of which the value does not change. One of those things is true emotion.”
Everyone was enlightened.
Jiang Zhou said, “Despite my old age, this is the first time I’m hearing such a theory. The masters or rich people I encounter in the city can’t wait to burn vast riches to showcase their filial piety. Now that I think of it, they are not really being filial, but just showing off.”
Guan Xiangfeng added an example too. “I’ve met a baller before who burned ten Ferraris! Now that I think of it, he was quite a retard.”
Fangzheng smiled. “No matter how much one burns, one is only adding to the air pollution to flaunt one’s wealth, doing nothing but kicking up a stink. Perhaps it might raise the prestige of the living, but what about their ancestors? If their sincerity is lacking, it’s pointless no matter how many treasures they burn. They are ultimately unfilial. If the ancestors were to know of this in hell, they would probably end up being mocked.”
With that said, Fangzheng paused. “It’s unknown if the mortal world has spirits and souls, but since ancient times, we have honored our ancestors. It’s a way to pass down the virtue of filial piety. If honoring our ancestors is done solely to flaunt our wealth, we will lose the cultural virtue of filial piety. Families will then lose their cultural heritage. Without this heritage, no matter how much money one has, without the morals to back it up, everyone will eventually fail and drown.”
When all of them heard his sentence, they went into deep thought and nodded in unison.
Jiang Zhou sighed. “Venerable Fangzheng, what you said should be said in a classroom.”
Fangzheng shook his head. “How can This Penniless Monk be shameless enough to share this little bit in a lecture? Those who know this know it better than me. As for those who are not in the know, This Penniless Monk’s words might not be useful to them either.”
Everyone fell deep into thought again.
The topic had been diverted. Since the offering platform did not need to be too extravagant, things were simple. Everyone brought the materials to the village entrance and began building an offering platform. Fangzheng helped out, and Jiang Zhou assisted him too. Through everyone’s combined efforts, a simple Buddhistic offering platform that exuded a spartan feeling all over was completed.
Although everyone called it the offering platform, it was in fact known as the Lone Alms Platform. There was a spot on it for a monk to sit. In front of the monk’s seat was a figurine of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva who redeemed the evil ghosts in hell. Beneath the figurine were plates of items such as rice and peaches made out of flour. At the same time, the Lone Alms Platform had three plaques and soul beckoning banners. Fangzheng separately inserted a blue, red, and green triangular flag into every offering, and he wrote key words like ‘Yulanpen Ritual’ and ‘Opening of the Door of Nirvana’. With that, the Lone Alms Platform was set up.
An image flashed in Fangzheng’s mind when he saw the readied Lone Alms Platform. Zen Master One Finger had once said that One Finger Village had not been very particular about things early on. All they used to do was simply burn some paper money, and that was all there was to it. The current particularities were from the south, but Zen Master One Finger had kept a mum on who exactly had spread the customs. But the Yulanpen Festival was celebrated only by the few villages around Mt. One Finger. Furthermore, Zen Master One Finger would always bring Fangzheng along with him to these villages to preside over the rituals. The villages that Zen Master One Finger did not visit were not very particular about things. From the looks of it, the particularities were likely a result of Zen Master One Finger.
After the Lone Alms Platform was readied, there was a need to begin the ceremony. First, Fangzheng had to give a Buddhist sermon. As he faced the Buddhist altar, he recited the scriptures like the Great Compassion Sutra, the Ten Small Sutras, and the Heart Sutra. Although Fangzheng was clueless about these in the past, he had read them on the Internet thanks to modern-day technology. He had memorized them before as well, so he was familiar with them.
Then he wrote a text to seek guidance from Buddha and Bodhisattva, asking them to show mercy to the world.
Then Fangzheng began the soul beckoning ceremony. He read from the piece written on yellow paper to welcome spirits into the altar before reciting the Heart Sutra, the Sutra of Rebirth to the Pure Land, and the Three Truths. Finally, the merit owner who organized the Yalanpen assembly, Wang Yougui, used a red-inked brush to dab on a notice, indicating the end of the opening assembly.
The rites after the opening assembly basically amounted to the Buddhist version of Mass. Typically, they would follow the rites as laid out in the Compassionate Water Repentance scripture. However, as Fangzheng lacked manpower, he could not hold a grand ceremony; therefore he did a simple recital, ending with the recital of the Buddhist Repentance Verses. During the ceremony, there was also the presentation of offerings and a simple sharing of vegetarian food before the end of the Mass.
It was simple because of one main reason. If they truly followed the Compassionate Water Repentance scripture, it would be a miracle if Fangzheng could finish One Finger Village that night. He could forget about the other villages, since the ceremony was very complicated and troublesome if all the rites were followed.
Of course, the lack of manpower could not be fixed. Fangzheng was helpless about it.
After setting up the Lone Alms Platform, Wang Yougui drove Fangzheng and Monkey on his motorcycle to the nearby villages. Lone Alms Platforms were set up in each village and by the time they returned to One Finger Village, it was already evening. As there were too many villages to visit and time was tight, Fangzheng and Monkey ate a little vegetarian food since the sun had already set. They shouted at the top of the mountain and the next moment, bell chimes sounded. The Yulanpen Festival had begun!
With the bell sounding, people came out of their homes and inserted an incense stick at their doors. The families who were better off inserted more incense sticks. This practice was known as Butian, which symbolized the offering of the Five Grains. From afar, the village seemed to be blanketed in a layer of smoke. There were coruscating dots of light all over the village, which made it seem like a dream. It was as though heaven and earth had been overturned with the village twinkling like the stars in a night sky.
Following that, offering items of all sizes were taken out and placed on an offering table to honor the ancestors.
Monkey held a huge basket of offerings and followed behind Fangzheng to the Lone Alms Platform. Fangzheng took out the offerings and scattered them around. This was the beginning of a Buddhist ritual known as Blazing Mouth. The scattered offerings were given to the wandering ghosts to alleviate their banal auras, a sacrifice to the dead.
Following that, Fangzheng went up the platform and sat at the monk’s seat. In front of him was a plaque which had names written on it. The number of plaques did not matter; just one would do. Fangzheng had just started with the Blazing Mouth proceedings, so regardless of the number of ghosts, they were all honored together. He soon began reciting the scriptures.
After he finished the scriptures, the Blazing Mouth came to an end. Fangzheng got up and left the sacrificial platform. He nodded at the villagers before they went to the riverside.
Each person held a lotus lantern. They lit the candles on them and placed them into the river. As the lanterns went down the river, the lanterns quickly extinguished. However, the crowd rejoiced over it instead of being angry.
Monkey was confused when he saw this as he asked softly, “Master, Why are they so happy that their lanterns have extinguished?”
“Humans have their roads, while ghosts have their outcomes. Humans take the path of light, while ghosts take the path of darkness. The ancients believe that it’s hard for there to be light underwater and that the darkness and moisture of it resemble hell. Therefore they believe the river is the path of darkness, which is the ghostly path. Today, as the ghosts are travelling, it could be easy for them to lose their way. If they cannot return to hell, they will become wandering ghosts that haunt the area. Therefore by releasing water lanterns, it helps them illuminate the path and guides them back to hell. Certain places will even prepare spirit boats and spirit houses. Spirit boats can even ferry the souls to hell. As for spirit houses, they allow the ghosts to have a residence in hell. However, we do not have the conditions to make those, so we did not make them.
As for the reason why they were happy with the extinguished lanterns, that is because it indicates that a spirit has been sent off,” explained Fangzheng softly.
Monkey was enlightened, but there were still many questions in his eyes.
By releasing the water lanterns to send off the souls, it also meant that the grand Yulanpen Festival was over. Fangzheng hurriedly sat on a motorcycle and rushed to the other villages. After making his rounds, it was already nearly dawn by the time he returned. As they walked back up the mountain, Monkey finally asked a question that had plagued him. “Master, you said that there are ghosts in our hearts. So then do you actually not believe that there are ghosts in this world? If so, why do you participate in the Yulanpen Festival? Since there are no ghosts, why waste so much time and effort? What’s the point of wasting all this manpower and money? It feels pointless and like a waste of food.”
Fangzheng shook his head. “As I said before, you should not view things superficially. You have to see the effects of events. It’s true I do not believe in ghosts, but I also say that there’s a ghost in everyone’s heart. Some ghosts need to be repressed and offered sacrifices else they will come out to wreak havoc.”
“I don’t understand,” Monkey decisively shook his head as he spoke his mind.
Fangzheng rolled his eyes. “Then, let’s get straight to the point. Money in this world is easy to earn, but without morals, there’s nothing left! Without morals, no matter how much money you have, it will only mean trouble! On the contrary, no matter how poor a person of good moral character is, it will reduce the animosity in this world and increase its warmth. Be it this ceremony or the honoring of ancestors during Tomb-Sweeping Day, it is all to remind everyone to be filial to their parents. Among all the virtues, filial piety ranks first. If a person is filial, they will not be incorrigibly bad no matter how bad they become. Perhaps the effect of such festivals is to make the evil repent. It can also destroy evils before they become menacing. It warns children and people who just had evil thoughts come to them. By teaching them to be filial from a young age, they will still be filial when they grow up. No matter how bad they are, they will still be redeemable. Do you understand it now?”