Wuneng Works Hard on Thorn Ridge
Sanzang Talks of Poetry in the Wood Immortals' Hermitage
The story has been told how the king of Jisai thanked Tang Sanzang and his three disciples for capturing the demons and pressed on them gold and jade, none of which they would accept. The king therefore told his aides to have made for each of them two suits of clothing like those they were wearing, two pairs of socks, two pairs of shoes and two belts. They were also provided with dry rations, and their passport was duly examined and returned. They were seen out of the city by a procession of carriages, the civil and military officials, the common people of the city and the monks of the Subdued Dragon Monastery. There was also loud music. After six or seven miles they took their leave of the king, to be accompanied for a further six or seven miles by everyone else. Then all the others turned back except the monks of the Subdued Dragon Monastery, who were still with them after twenty miles. Some of the monks wanted to accompany them to the Western Heaven and the others wanted to cultivate their conduct and wait on them.
Seeing that none of them was willing to turn back Monkey decided to use his powers. He pulled out thirty or forty of his hairs, blew on them with magic breath, shouted, "Change!" and turned them into ferocious striped tigers that leapt roaring about on the path ahead. Only then were the monks scared into going back. The Great Sage then led the master as he whipped his horse forward and they were soon far away.
At this the monks began to weep aloud, shouting, "Kind and honorable sirs, fate must be against us since you won't take us with you."
Let us tell not of the wailing monks but of how the master and his three disciples headed along the main path West for a while before Monkey took his hairs back. Once again the seasons were changing, and it was now the end of winter and the beginning of spring, neither hot nor cold. As they were making their way along without a care they saw a long ridge in front of them over which the road led. Sanzang reined in his horse to look. He saw that the ridge was overgrown with brambles and creepers. Although the line of the path could be made out there were brambles and thorns all over it. "How are we going to manage that path, disciples?" he asked.
"No problem," Monkey replied.
"But, disciple, the path is covered with thorns. We could only manage it by crawling on our bellies like snakes or insects. Your backs will be bent with walking, and I'll never be able to ride the horse."
"There's nothing to worry about, Master," Pig replied. "I'll clear the thorns away with my rake. It'll be just like gathering up kindling for the fire. Never mind about riding your horse−−I promise we could even get up there in a carrying−chair."
"You are very strong," the Tang Priest replied, "but it is a long way and it will be hard. I don't know where you'll find the energy to do that distance: goodness only knows how far it is."
"There's no need to guess," said Monkey. "I'll go and have a look." When he jumped up into the air he saw it stretching away endlessly. Indeed:
Vast was its size;
It was covered in mist and rain.
Soft was the carpet of grass on the path;
The mountain was covered in brilliant green. New leaves were sprouting in dense abundance, Fragrant creepers climbed all around.
When seen from afar no end was in sight;
From close to it seemed a mass of verdant cloud, Luxuriant, mysterious and green.
The winds soughed everywhere
As the ridge shone bright in the sunshine. There was pine and cypress and bamboo, Many a plum and willow, and mulberry too. Climbing figs coiled round ancient trees, While creepers entwined the weeping poplars, All twisted together like a frame,
Woven together in a bed.
Here the flowers made living brocade;
Far spread the scent of boundless blossom. Everyone's life has brambles and thorns.
But none are as tall as those in the West.
Having looked for a long time, Monkey brought his cloud down and said, "Master, it's a very long way."
"How far?" Sanzang asked.
"I can't see any end to it," Monkey replied. "There must be at least three hundred miles of it." "That's terrible," said Sanzang.
"Don't be miserable, Master," said Friar Sand with a laugh. "We know how to burn undergrowth. Set fire to it with a torch and all the thorns will be burned away. Then we'll be able to cross."
"Don't talk nonsense," Pig replied. "You can only clear the ground that way in November or later when the grass has withered and there are dead trees. The fire won't take otherwise. It'd never burn now, when everything's growing."
"Even if it did burn it would be terrifying," said Monkey. "Then how are we to get across?" Sanzang asked. "You'll just have to depend on me," said Pig with a grin.
The splendid idiot made a spell with his hands and said the words of it, leaned forward, and said, "Grow!" He grew two hundred feet tall, then waved the rake and shouted. "Change!" It became three hundred feet long. Then he strode forward and wielded the rake two−handed to clear the undergrowth from both sides of the path. "Come with me, Master," he said. Sanzang was delighted to whip the horse along and follow close behind while Friar Sand carried the luggage and Monkey used his cudgel to help clear the way. They did not let their hands rest for a moment all day long, and they had covered over thirty miles when near nightfall they came to an empty stretch of ground where a stone tablet stood in the middle of the path.
On the tablet the words THORN RIDGE were written large, and under them two lines of smaller writing read, "Two hundred and fifty miles of rampant thorns; few travelers have ever taken this road."
When Pig saw this he said with a laugh, "Let me add a couple more lines to that: 'Pig has always been good at removing thorns; he's cleared the roads right to the West.'" Sanzang then dismounted in a very good mood.
"Disciples," he said, "I've put you to a lot of trouble. Let's stop here for the night and carry on at first light tomorrow."
"Don't stop now, Master," said Pig with a smile. "It's a clear sky and we're in the mood. It's all right if we carry on all bloody night." The venerable elder had to accept his suggestion.
While Pig was working so hard in the lead all four of them pressed ahead without stopping for the night and another day until it was evening once more. In front−of them the trees and undergrowth were densely tangled and the wind could be heard rustling in the bamboos and soughing in the pines. Luckily they came to another patch of empty land where there stood an old temple outside whose gates pine and cypress formed a solid green shade, while peach and plum trees rivaled each other in beauty. Sanzang then dismounted and went with his three disciples to examine it. This is what they saw:
Before the cliff an ancient shrine stood by a cold stream; Desolation hung all around the hill.
White cranes in the thickets made the moon seem brighter; The green moss on the steps had been there for years.
The rustle of green bamboo seemed like human speech;
The remaining calls of the birds seemed expressions of grief. Dogs and hens never came, and few human souls;
Wild flowers and plants grew all over the wall.
"This place strikes me as very sinister," said Monkey. "Let's not stay here long."
"You're being overcautious, brother," remarked Friar Sand. "As this is deserted and I don't think there are any monsters, wild beasts or fiends, there's nothing to be afraid of." No sooner were the words out of his mouth than there was a gust of sinister wind and an old man emerged from the temple gateway. He wore a turban, a pale−coloured gown and grass sandals, and he held a crooked stick. He was accompanied by a devil servant with a blue face, terrible fangs, red whiskers and a red body who was carrying on his head a tray of cakes.
"Great Sage," said the old man as they both knelt down, "I am the local god of Thorn Ridge. As I knew you were coming but had nothing better to offer you I have prepared this tray of steamed cakes for your master. Do all have some. As there are no other houses for hundreds of miles I hope you will accept a few to stave off the pangs of hunger."
This was just what Pig wanted to hear: he went up and was just stretching out his hands to take a cake when Monkey, who had been taking a long, hard look at all this, shouted, "Stop! He's evil! Behave yourself!" He was now addressing the local god.
"You're no local god, trying to fool me like that. Take this!"
Seeing the ferocity of his attack, the local god turned round and transformed himself into a howling gust of negative wind that carried the venerable elder flying off through the air. Nobody knew where he had been taken. The Great Sage was desperate because he did not know where to look for the master, while Pig and Friar Sand stared at each other, pale with shock. Even the white horse was whinnying with fright. The three brother disciples and the horse were in utter confusion. They looked all around as far as they could see but without finding him.
We will not describe their search but tell how the old man and his devil servant carried Sanzang to a stone house that was wreathed in mist and gently set him down. Holding him by the hand and supporting him the old man said, "Don't be afraid, holy monk. We aren't bad people. I am the Eighteenth Lord of Thorn Ridge. I have asked you here on this cool, clear moonlit night to talk about poetry and pass the time in friendship." Only then did Sanzang calm down. When he took a careful look around this is what he saw:
From where the banks of cloud set out
Stood a pure house for immortals, a place To purify the self and refine elixir,
To plant groves of bamboo and grow one's flowers. Cranes often came to the emerald cliff,
And frogs called in the pool's blue waters.
This was a match for the cinnabar furnace on Mount Tiantai, And made one think of the sunsets at Mount Huashan.
Forget the vain effort of ploughing the clouds and fishing for the moon; Here there is admirable privacy and ease.
Sit here for long enough and your mind becomes sea−vast; The rising moon can be half seen through the gauzy curtains.
As Sanzang was looking around and noticing how brightly the moon and the stars were shining he heard the sound of voices saying, "The Eighteenth Lord has brought the holy monk here." Sanzang looked up and saw three old men. The nearest one was white−haired and distinguished; the second one's temples had a green gloss and he was full of vigor; and the third had a pure heart and blue−black hair.
Their faces and clothes were all different, and they all came to bow to Sanzang, who returned their courtesy, saying, "I have done nothing to deserve this great affection you are showing for me."
To this the Eighteenth Lord replied with a smile, "We have long heard, holy monk, of how you have found the Way and we've long been waiting for the good fortune of meeting you that we have enjoyed today. I hope that you will not be grudge the pearls of your wisdom, but will make yourself comfortable, sit and talk. Then we may learn about the true Dhyana teachings."
"May I ask the titles of the immortals?" Sanzang asked with a bow.
"The one with white hair," the Eighteenth Lord replied, "is known as the Lone Upright Lord; the one with green temples is Master Emptiness; and the one with a pure heart is the Ancient Cloud−toucher. My title is Energy."
"How old are you four venerable gentlemen?" Sanzang asked. To this the Lone Upright Lord replied,
"I am already a thousand years old;
I touch the sky and my leaves are always spring.
Elegant are my fragrant branches Shaped like dragons and snakes;
My shadow is broken into many parts; My body is covered in snow.
Since childhood I have stood firm and endured; Now I am happy to cultivate the True.
The birds and phoenixes that perch are not mere mortal ones; I am free and far from the dust of the normal world."
Master Emptiness spoke next with a smile:
"I've borne wind and frost for a thousand years, Strong in my tall body and the vigor of my limbs.
In the still of the night comes the sound of raindrops, And the shade spreads like a cloud in autumn sunlight. My gnarled roots have the secret of eternal life;
I have been given the art of never aging.
Storks stay here and dragons, not common creatures: I am green and full of life, as in immortals' land." Then the Ancient Cloud−toucher said with a smile,
"Over a thousand autumns have I passed in emptiness; Lofty is the view that grows ever purer.
Here there is no commotion, but eternal cool and calm; I am full of spirit and have seen much frost and snow. The seven worthies come to talk about the Way;
I sing and drink with my friends, the six men of leisure.
Lightly beating the jade and the gold
My nature is one with heaven; I roam with immortals."
Then Energy, the Eighteenth Lord, smiled as he said,
"My age is also over a thousand, I am hoary, pure and natural.
Rain and dew give admirable vigor;
I borrow the creative power of heaven and earth. Alone I flourish in ravines of wind and mist, Relaxed and at my ease through all four seasons. Under my green shade immortals stay
For chess and music and books on the Way."
"All four of you immortals have lived to most advanced ages." Sanzang said, "and the old gentleman Energy is over a thousand. You are ancient, you have found the Way, you are elegant and you are pure. Are you not the Four Brilliant Ones of Han times?"
"You flatter us too much," said the four old men. "We're not the Four Brilliant Ones: we're the four from deep in the mountains. May we ask, worthy monk, what your illustrious age is?" Sanzang put his hands together and replied,
"Forty years ago I left my mother's womb, Fated to disaster since before my birth.
Escaping with my life I floated in the waves
Until I reached Jinshan where I renewed my body. I nourished my nature and studied the sutras,
Sincere in worship of the Buddha, not wasting time. Now that His Majesty has sent me to the West,
I am deeply honoured by you ancient immortals."
The four ancients then praised him, saying, "Holy monk, you have followed the Buddha's teaching since you left your mother's womb. By cultivating your conduct from childhood you have become a lofty monk who has found the Way. We are very happy to see you and would like to ask you to teach us. Could you possibly tell us the rudiments of the Dhyana dharma? It would be a great comfort to us." When the venerable elder heard this he was not at all alarmed, and this is what he said to them:
"Dhyana is silence; the dharma is that which saves. Silent salvation can only come through enlightenment. Enlightenment is washing the mind and cleansing it of care, casting off the vulgar and leaving worldly dust. Human life is hard to obtain; it is hard to be born in the central lands; and the true dharma is hard to find. There is no greater good fortune than to have all three. The wonderful Way of perfect virtue is subtle and imperceptible. Only with it can the six sense−organs and the six forms of consciousness be swept away. Wisdom is this: there is no death and no life, no excess and no deficiency, emptiness and matter are all included, holy and secular both dismissed. It has mastered the tools of the Taoist faith and is aware of the methods of Sakyamuni. It casts the net of phenomena and smashes nirvana. Perception within perception is needed, enlightenment within enlightenment, then a dot of sacred light will protect everything. Light the raging fire to illuminate the Saha realm; it alone is revealed throughout the dharma world. Being utterly subtle it is firmer than ever: who crosses the pass of mystery through verbal persuasion? From the beginning I cultivated the Dhyana of great awareness: I was fated and determined to attain enlightenment."
The four elders listened with cocked ears and were filled with boundless joy. Each of them kowtowed and was converted to the truth, saying with bows of gratitude, "Holy monk, you are the very root of the enlightenment to be found through Dhyana meditation."
The Ancient Cloud−toucher said, "Dhyana may be silence, and the dharma may well save, but it is necessary for the nature to be settled and the mind sincere. If one is a true immortal of great awareness one has to sit in the Way of no−life. Our mysteries are very different."
"The Way is not fixed; its form and function are one. How is yours different?" Sanzang asked. To this the Ancient Cloud−toucher replied with a smile:
"We have been firm from birth: our forms and functions are different from yours. We were born in response to heaven and earth and grew through the rain and the dew. Proudly we laugh at wind and frost; we wear out the days and nights. Not one leaf withers, and all our branches are full of firm resolve. What I say has no emptiness about it, but you cling to your Sanskrit. The Way was China's in the first place and only later looked for more evidence in the West. You are wearing out your straw sandals for nothing: you don't know what you are looking for. You are like a stone lion cutting out its own heart, or a fox salivating so hard it digests the marrow of its own bones. If in your meditation you forget your roots you will pursue the Buddha's reward in vain. Your words are as tangled as the brambles on our Thorn Ridge and as confused as the creepers. How can we accept a gentleman such as you? How can one like you be approved and taught? You must reexamine your present state and find a life of freedom in stillness. Only then can you learn to raise water in a bottomless basket, and make the rootless iron−tree flower. On the peak of the Miraculous Treasure
my feet stand firm; I return to the assembly at Longhua.
When Sanzang heard this he kowtowed in thanks, and the Eighteenth Lord and the Lone Upright Lord helped him back to his feet, Master Emptiness said with a chuckle, "Cloud−toucher's remarks revealed things a little too clearly. Please get up, holy monk: you don't have to believe every word of it. We didn't intend to use the light of the moon for serious discussions. We should chant poems, feel free, and let ourselves relax."
"If we're going to recite poems," said Cloud−toucher with a smile, pointing towards the stone house, "why don't we go into the hermitage and drink some tea?"
Sanzang answered with a bow and went over to look at the hermitage, above which was written in large letters TREE IMMORTALS' HERMITAGE. They all then went inside and decided where to sit, whereupon the red devil servant appeared with a tray of China−root cakes and five bowls of fragrant tea. The four old men urged Sanzang to eat some cakes, but he was too suspicious to do so, and would not take any till the four old men had all eaten some: only then did he eat a couple. After they had drunk some tea it was cleared away. Sanzang then stole a careful look around and saw that everything was of a delicate and intricate beauty in the moonlight:
Where waters flowed beside the rocks,
And fragrant scents from the flowers curled, The scene was one of cultured peace,
Free from the dust of a lower world.
Sanzang took great pleasure in gazing on this sight: he felt happy, relaxed and exhilarated. He found himself saying a line of poetry: "The dhyana heart revolves in moonlike purity."
The couplet was completed by Energy, who said with a smile: "Poetic inspiration is fresher than the sky." To this Lone Upright added: "By grafting on each line embroidery grows."
Then Emptiness said: "Pearls come when naturally the writing flows."
Cloud−toucher continued: "The glory is now over: Six Dynasties disappear. The Songs are redivided to make distinctions clear."
"I shouldn't have let those silly words slip out just now," said Sanzang, "I was only rambling. Really, I am a beginner trying to show off in front of experts. Having heard you immortals talk in that fresh and free−ranging way I now know that you old gentlemen are true poets."
"Don't waste time in idle chat," said Energy. "A monk should take things through to the end. You started the verse, so why don't you finish it? Please do so at once."
"I can't," Sanzang replied. "It would be much better if you completed it for me, Eighteenth Lord."
"That's very nice of you, I must say!" commented Energy. "You started the verse so you can't refuse to finish it. It's wrong to be so stingy with your pearls." Sanzang then had no choice but to add a final couplet:
"Waiting for the tea lying pillowed in the breeze, Spring is in the voice now that the heart's at ease."
"I like 'Spring is in the voice now that the heart's at ease,'" said the Eighteenth Lord.
To this Lone Upright replied, "Energy, you have a deep understanding of poetry, and spend all your time savoring its delights. Why don't you compose another poem for us?"
The Eighteenth Lord generously did not refuse. "Very well then," he replied, "let's make up chain couplets. Each person has to start his couplet with the last word of the couplet before. I'll lead off:
Without spring's glory there would be no winter's death; Clouds come and mists depart as if existing not."
"Let me tack another couple more lines on," Master Emptiness said.
"Not any breath of wind to rock the spreading shade; Visitors enjoy the Wealth and Long Life picture."
Cloud−toucher now joined in with his couplet:
"Picture it like the strong old man of the Western hills, Pure as the hermit of the South, the heartless man."
Lone Upright added his two lines:
"The man is a roof−beam as he has side−leaves To build the office of the censorate."
When Sanzang heard all this he could only sigh and say, "Indeed, your superb poems have a noble spirit that rises up to the heavens. Despite my lack of talent I would like to add a couplet to that."
"Holy monk," said Lone Upright, "you are one who has found the Way and a man of great cultivation. You need not add another couplet. Instead you can give us a whole verse so that we can try as best we can to match the rhyme pattern." Sanzang had no choice but to recite the following regulated verse with a smile:
"Travelling West with my staff to visit the Dharma King
I seek the wonderful scriptures to spread them far and wide. The golden magic fungus blesses the poetry circle;
Under the trees is the scent of a thousand flowers.
One must go higher from the top of a hundred−foot pole, Leaving one's traces in ten regions' worlds.
Cultivate the jade image and majestic body: Before the gate of bliss is the monastery."
When the four old men had heard this they were full of high praise for it. "Although I'm stupid and untalented," the Eighteenth Lord said, "I'll take my courage in both hands and try to match your rhymes:
Vigorous and proud, I smile as king of the trees: Not ever the tree of heaven can match my fame.
A dragon and snake shadow for a thousand feet in the mountains; The spring has flowed for a thousand years with its amber fragrance. My spirit is at one with heaven and earth:
I gladly cover my traces in the wind and rain.
Now I am old I regret having no immortal bones And rely on China−root alone to maintain my years."
"That poem started off heroically, and the next couplet had some strength," said the Lone Upright Lord. "But the last line was too modest. Admirable! Most admirable! Let me try rhyming one too:
"I happily give a perch in the frost to the king of the birds; My talent is displayed before the Hall of Four Perfections. The pearly tassels of heavy dew obscure the green carpet; In the light breeze stone teeth crush chilly fragrance.
A delicate voice intones in the corridor at night;
Pale autumn shadows are put away in the ancient hall. I used to be offered for long life at the New Year;
In old age I stand proudly on the mountain."
"What a fine poem, what a fine poem," said Master Emptiness. "Truly, the moon was working together with heaven to write it. How could such a clumsy fool as I am hope to match its rhymes? But I must try to patch a few lines together: I don't want to waste this chance:"
"The timber of roofbeams is close to kings;
Its fame is spread in the Palace of Great Purity. The sunlit hall seems filled with azure blue; Green fragrance always pervades the dark wall. Strong, cold and ancient in my beauty,
My roots go down to the Underworld's nine springs. My spreading shade gives cover like cold clouds.
I don't compete in prettiness with flowers."
"You three gentlemen's poems," said Cloud−toucher, "are elegant and pure, like a whole sackful of embroidery and brocades being opened out. Although I have neither strength nor talent you three gentlemen have removed the block for me. If you insist I'll put a few lines of doggerel together. I hope they won't make you laugh:
In the bamboo grove I delight wise kings;
A hundred acres of me by the Wei brings fame.
My green skin is naturally marked by the tears of the Xiang Goddess; My scaly shoots pass on the scent of history.
My leaves will never change their color in frost;
The beauty of my misty twigs can never be concealed. Few have understood me since the death of Wang Huizhi;
Since ancient times I have been known through brush and ink.
"You venerable immortals have all composed poems like phoenixes breathing out pearls," Sanzang said. "There is nothing I can add. I am deeply moved by the great favour you have shown me. But it is late now and I do not know where my three disciples are waiting for me. I cannot stay any longer, and I must start finding my way back. I am profoundly grateful for your boundless love. Could you show me my way back?"
"Don't be so worried, holy monk," replied the four ancients, laughing. "An encounter like this is rare in a thousand years. The sky is fresh and clear, and the moon makes the night as bright as day. Relax and sit here for a little longer. At dawn we shall see you across the ridge. You will certainly meet your distinguished disciples."
As they were talking in came two serving maids in blue, each carrying a lantern of crimson silk. Behind them followed a fairy who was holding a sprig of apricot blossom as she greeted them with a smile. What did the fairy look like?
Her hair had the green of jade, Her face was pinker than rouge.
Her starry eyes were full of light and color; Her elegant eyebrows were like moth antennae.
She wore a red skirt with plum−blossom designs; And a light jacket of gray shot with red.
Her curved shoes were shaped like phoenix beaks, And her silk stockings were marked with mud.
This witch was as lovely as the woman on Tiantai, No less a beauty than the Zhou king's concubine.
"To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit, Apricot Fairy?" the old man asked as they bowed to her.
Returning their bows she replied, "I hear that you have a distinguished guest here and are exchanging poems with him. May I meet him?"
"Here he is," said the Eighteenth Lord, pointing him out. "You don't need to ask." Sanzang bowed to her but dared say nothing.
"Bring in the tea at once," she said. Two more serving girls in yellow, carried in a red lacquer tray on which were six fine porcelain tea−bowls with rare fruits in them and spoons lying across the top, as well as a copper−inlaid iron teapot in which was hot and fragrant tea. When the tea had been poured the woman showed glimpses of finger as delicate as spring onion shoots as she presented the porcelain bowls of it first to Sanzang and then to the four ancients. The last cup she kept for herself.
Only when Master Emptiness invited the Apricot Fairy to sit down did she do so. After they had drunk the tea she leant forward and said, "As you ancient immortals have been having so delightful an evening could you tell me some of the choicest lines you've composed?"
"Our stuff was just vulgar rubbish," Cloud−toucher replied. "But this holy monk's verses were truly superb examples of high Tang poetry."
"Please let me hear them if you will," the fairy said, whereupon the four ancients recited Sanzang's two poems and his exposition of the Dhyana dharma. The woman, whose face was all smiles, then said, "I'm completely untalented and shouldn't really be making a fool of myself like this, but hearing this wonderful lines is an opportunity too good to waste. Could I cobble together a verse in the second rhyme pattern?" She then recited these lines:
The Han Emperor Wu first made my name;
In Zhou times Confucius taught under my shade.
Dong Feng loved me so much he planted a wood of me; Sun Chu once offered my jelly in sacrifice.
Soft is my pink and rain−fed beauty;
The misty green is shown and yet concealed. When over−ripe I have a touch of sourness; Each year I fall beside the fields of wheat."
When the four ancients heard the poem they were all full of admiration for it. "How elegant it is," they said, "and how free of worldly dust. At the same time the lines have something of the awakening of spring in them. 'Soft is my pink and rain−fed beauty.' That's good. 'Soft is my pink and rain−fed beauty.'"
"You're too kind−−it quite alarms me," she replied. "The holy monk's lines that I heard just now were like brocade from the heart or embroidery in words. Could you be generous with your pearls and teach me one of those verses?" The Tang Priest dared not reply.
The woman was evidently falling for him and moving closer and closer, pressing herself against him and whispering to him, "Noble guest, let's make the most of this wonderful night for love. What are we waiting for? Life is short."
"The Apricot Fairy admires you completely, holy monk," said the Eighteenth Lord. "You must feel something for her. If you don't find her adorable you have very poor taste."
"The holy monk is a famous gentleman who has found the Way," said the Lone Upright Lord, "and he wouldn't possibly act in a way that was at all improper. It would be quite wrong of us to do things like that. To ruin his reputation and honour would be a very mean thing to do. If the Apricot Fairy is willing Cloud−toucher and the Eighteenth Lord can act as matchmakers while Master Emptiness and I act as the guarantors of the wedding. It would be excellent if they married."
Hearing this Sanzang turned pale with horror, jumped to his feet and shouted at the top of his voice, "You're all monsters, trying to lead me astray like that. There was nothing wrong with talking about the mysteries of the Way with well−honed arguments, but it's disgraceful of you to try to ruin a monk like me by using a woman as a bait." Seeing how angry Sanzang was they all bit their fingers in fear and said nothing more.
But the red devil servant exploded with thunderous fury, "You don't know how honoured you're being, monk. What's wrong with my sister? She's beautiful and charming. Her needlework aside, her gift for poetry alone would make her more than a match for you. What do you mean, trying to turn her down? You're making a terrible mistake. The Lone Upright Lord's idea was quite right. If you're not prepared to sleep with her on the quiet I'll marry the two of you properly."
Sanzang went paler still with shock. None of their arguments, however outrageous, had the slightest impact on him. "We've been talking to you very nicely, monk," the devil servant said, "but you don't pay the slightest attention. If we lose our tempers and start our rough, country way of doing things we'll drag you off and see to it that you can never be a monk any longer or ever marry a wife. After that your life will be pointless."
The venerable elder's heart remained as hard as metal or stone and he obdurately refused to do as they asked, wondering all the time where his disciples were looking for him. At the thought his tears flowed unquenchably. Smiling and sitting down next to him the woman produced a silk handkerchief from her emerald sleeve with which she wiped away his tears.
"Don't be so upset, noble guest," She said. "You and I are going to taste the pleasures of love." Sanzang jumped up and shouted at her to go away and would have left at once if they had not held him there by force. The row went on till daybreak.
Suddenly Sanzang heard a call of, "Master! Master! We can hear you. Where are you?" Monkey, Pig and Friar Sand had been searching everywhere all night, leading the white horse and carrying the baggage. They had gone through all the thorns and brambles without a moment's rest and by now had reached the Western side of the 250−mile−wide cloud−capped Thorn Ridge, This was the shout they gave when they heard Sanzang's angry yells. Sanzang broke free, rushed outside, and called, "Wukong, I'm here. Help! Help!" The four ancients, the devil servant, the woman and her maids all disappeared in a flash.
A moment later Pig and Friar Sand were there too. "How ever did you get here, Master?" they asked.
"Disciples," said Sanzang, clinging to Monkey, "I have put you to a lot of trouble. I was carried here by the old man who appeared last night and said he was a local deity bringing us vegetarian food−−the one you shouted at and were going to hit. He held my hand and helped me inside that door there, where I saw three old men who had come to meet me. They kept calling me 'holy monk' and talked in a very pure and elegant way. They were marvellous poets, and I matched some verses with them. Then at about midnight a beautiful woman came with lanterns to see me and made up a poem herself. She kept calling me 'noble guest'. She liked the look of me so much she wanted to sleep with me. That brought me to my senses. When I refused they offered to be matchmakers and guarantors, and to marry us. I swore not to agree and was just shouting at them and trying to get away when to my surprise you turned up. Although they were still dragging at my clothes they suddenly disappeared. It must have been because it was dawn and because they were frightened of you too."
"Did you ask them their names when you were talking about poetry?"
Monkey asked. "Yes," Sanzang replied, "I asked them their titles. The oldest was Energy, the Eighteenth Lord; the next oldest was the Lone Upright Lord; the third was Master Emptiness; and the fourth the Ancient Cloud−toucher. They called the woman Apricot Fairy."
"Where are they?" Pig asked, "where've they gone?"
"Where they have gone I don't know," Sanzang replied, "but where we talked about poetry was near here."
When the three disciples searched with their master they found a rock−face on which were carved the words "Tree Immortals' Hermitage."
"This is it," said Sanzang, and on looking carefully Brother Monkey saw a big juniper, an old cypress, an old pine and an old bamboo. Behind the bamboo was a red maple. When he took another look by the rock−face he saw an old apricot tree, two winter−flowering plums, and two osman−thuses.
"Did you see the evil spirits?" Monkey asked. "No," said Pig.
"It's just because you don't realize that those trees have become spirits," said Monkey. "How can you tell that the spirits were trees?" Pig asked.
"The Eighteenth lord is the pine," Monkey replied, "the Lone Upright Lord the cypress, Master Emptiness the juniper and the Ancient Cloud−toucher the bamboo. The maple there was the red devil and the Apricot Fairy that apricot tree."
When Pig heard this he ruthlessly hit with his rake and rooted with his snout to knock the plum, osmanthus, apricot and maple trees over, and as he did blood flowed from their roots. "Wuneng," said Sanzang, going up to him to check him, "don't harm any more of them. Although they have become spirits they did me no harm. Let's be on our way again."
"Don't be sorry for them, Master," said Monkey. "They'll do people a great deal of harm if we let them develop into big monsters." With that the idiot let fly with his rake and knocked pine, cypress, juniper ad bamboo all to the ground. Only then did he invite his master to remount and carry along the main route to the West.
If you don't know what happened as they pressed ahead, listen to the explanation in the next installment.