Myths and Legends of China

Page: 145

Hsüan Chuang, the Master

The origin of this priest was as follows: In the reign of the Emperor T’ai Tsung of the T’ang dynasty, Ch’ên Kuang-jui, a graduate of Hai Chou, in his examination for the doctor’s degree came out as chuang yüan, first on the list. Wên Chiao (also named Man-t’ang Chiao), the daughter of the minister Yin K’ai-shan, meeting the young academician, fell in love with him, and married him. Several days after the wedding the Emperor appointed Ch’ên Kuang-jui Governor of Chiang Chou (modern Chên-chiang Fu), in Kiangsu. After a short visit to his native town he started to take up his post. His old mother and his wife accompanied him. When they reached Hung Chou his mother fell sick and they were forced to stay for a time at the Inn of Ten Thousand Flowers, kept by one Liu Hsiao-êrh. Days passed; the sickness did not leave her, and as the time for her son to take over the seals of office was drawing near, he had to proceed without her.

The Released Carp

Before his departure he noticed a fisherman holding in his hand a fine carp; this he bought for a small sum to give to his mother. Suddenly he noticed that the fish had a very extraordinary look, and, changing his mind, he let it go in the waters of the Hung Chiang, afterward telling his mother what he had done. She congratulated him on his action, and assured him that the good deed would not go unrewarded.

The Chuang Yüan Murdered

Ch’ên Kuang-jui re-entered his boat with his wife and a servant. They were stopped by the chief waterman, Page 337Liu Hung, and his assistant. Struck with the great beauty of Ch’ên Kuang-jui’s wife, the former planned a crime which he carried out with the help of his assistant. At the dead of night he took the boat to a retired spot, killed Ch’ên and his servant, threw their bodies into the river, seized his official documents of title and the woman he coveted, passed himself off as the real chuang yüan, and took possession of the magistracy of Chiang Chou. The widow, who was with child, had two alternatives—silence or death. Meantime she chose the former. Before she gave birth to her child, T’ai-po Chin-hsing, the Spirit of the South Pole Star, appeared to her, and said he had been sent by Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, to present her with a son whose fame would fill the Empire. “Above all,” he added, “take every precaution lest Liu Hung kill the child, for he will certainly do so if he can.” When the child was born the mother, during the absence of Liu Hung, determined to expose it rather than see it slain. Accordingly she wrapped it up carefully in a shirt, and carried it to the bank of the Blue River. She then bit her finger, and with the blood wrote a short note stating the child’s origin, and hid it in its breast. Moreover, she bit off the infant’s left little toe, as an indelible mark of identity. No sooner had this been done than a gust of wind blew a large plank to the river’s edge. The poor mother tied her infant firmly to this plank and abandoned it to the mercy of the waves. The waif was carried to the shore of the isle of Chin Shan, on which stands the famous monastery of Chin-shan Ssŭ, near Chinkiang. The cries of the infant attracted the attention of an old monk named Chang Lao, who rescued it and gave it the name of Chiang Liu, ‘Waif of the River.’ He reared it with Page 338much care, and treasured the note its mother had written with her blood. The child grew up, and Chang Lao made him a priest, naming him Hsüan Chuang on the day of his taking the vows. When he was eighteen years of age, having one day quarrelled with another priest, who had cursed him and reproached him with having neither father nor mother, he, much hurt, went to his protector Chang Lao. The latter said to him: “The time has come to reveal to you your origin.” He then told him all, showed him the note, and made him promise to avenge his assassinated father. To this end he was made a roving priest, went to the official Court, and eventually got into touch with his mother, who was still living with the prefect Liu Hung. The letter placed in his bosom, and the shirt in which he had been wrapped, easily proved the truth of his statements. The mother, happy at having found her son, promised to go and see him at Chin Shan. In order to do this, she pretended to be sick, and told Liu Hung that formerly, when still young, she had taken a vow which she had not yet been able to fulfil. Liu Hung himself helped her to do so by sending a large gift of money to the priests, and allowed her to go with her servants to perform her devotions at Chin-shan Ssŭ. On this second visit, during which she could speak more freely with her son, she wished to see for herself the wound she had made on his foot. This removed the last shadow of doubt.

Hsüan Chuang finds his Grandmother

She told Hsüan Chuang that he must first of all go to Hung Chou and find his grandmother, formerly left at the Inn of Ten Thousand Flowers, and then on to Ch’ang-an to take to her father Yin K’ai-shan a letter, Page 339putting him in possession of the chief facts concerning Liu Hung, and praying him to avenge her.

She gave him a stick of incense to take to her mother-in-law. The old lady lived the life of a beggar in a wretched hovel near the city gate, and had become blind from weeping. The priest told her of the tragic death of her son, then touched her eyes with the stick of incense, and her sight was restored. “And I,” she exclaimed, “have so often accused my son of ingratitude, believing him to be still alive!” He took her back to the Inn of Ten Thousand Flowers and settled the account, then hastened to the palace of Yin K’ai-shan. Having obtained an audience, he showed the minister the letter, and informed him of all that had taken place.

The Murderer Executed

The following day a report was presented to the Emperor, who gave orders for the immediate arrest and execution of the murderer of Ch’ên Kuang-jui.

Yin K’ai-shan went with all haste to Chên-chiang, where he arrived during the night, surrounded the official residence, and seized the culprit, whom he sent to the place where he had committed the murder. His heart and liver were torn out and sacrificed to the victim.

The Carp’s Gratitude

Now it happened that Ch’ên Kuang-jui was not dead after all. The carp released by him was in fact no other than Lung Wang, the God of the River, who had been going through his kingdom in that guise and had been caught in the fisherman’s net. On learning that his rescuer had been cast into the river, Lung Wang had Page 340saved him, and appointed him an officer of his Court. On that day, when his son, wife, and father-in-law were sacrificing the heart of his assassin to his manes on the river-bank, Lung Wang ordered that he return to earth. His body suddenly appeared on the surface of the water, floated to the bank, revived, and came out full of life and health. The happiness of the family reunited under such unexpected circumstances may well be imagined. Ch’ên Kuang-jui returned with his father-in-law to Chên-chiang, where he took up his official post, eighteen years after his nomination to it.

Hsüan Chuang became the Emperor’s favourite priest. He was held in great respect at the capital, and had innumerable honours bestowed upon him, and in the end was chosen for the journey to the Western Paradise, where Buddha in person handed him the sacred books of Buddhism.

Pai Ma, the White Horse

When he left the capital, Hsüan Chuang had been presented by the Emperor with a white horse to carry him on his long pilgrimage. One day, when he reached Shê-p’an Shan, near a torrent, a dragon emerged from the deep river-bed and devoured both the horse and its saddle. Sun tried in vain to find the dragon, and at last had to seek the aid of Kuan Yin.

Now Yü Lung San T’ai-tzŭ, son of Ao Jun, Dragonking of the Western Sea, having burnt a precious pearl on the roof of his father’s palace, was denounced to Yü Huang, who had him beaten with three hundred blows and suspended in the air. He was awaiting death when Kuan Yin passed on her way to China. The unfortunate dragon requested the goddess to have pity on him, whereupon Page 341she prevailed upon Yü Huang to spare his life on condition that he served as steed for her pilgrim on the expedition to the Western Paradise. The dragon was handed over to Kuan Yin, who showed him the deep pool in which he was to dwell while awaiting the arrival of the priest. It was this dragon who had devoured Hsüan Chuang’s horse, and Kuan Yin now bade him change himself into a horse of the same colour to carry the priest to his destination. He had the honour of bearing on his back the sacred books that Buddha gave to T’ai Tsung’s deputy, and the first Buddhist temple built at the capital bore the name of Pai-ma Miao, ‘Temple of the White Horse.’