Sunday, July 5, 2009

Taoism - The End

The End

With the coming of the red tide, the recluses were driven from their

hermitages back into the world of dust to earn their living as best

they could. Rather than describe what little I know from hearsay of

this tragic dispersal of the Yellow Emperor's progeny after wellnigh

five thousand years, I shall relate a curious little story which reveals 

that, for two of them, the end was happy. It was told me by a young

lady in Singapore who had returned there from her university in

China at a time when the communists were completing their take-

over of the southern provinces.

The university, as you know, lies at no great distance from some

hills where there are many temples. While on a sightseeing trip

there, I fell under the spell of a very old Taoist and often used to

visit him at weekends. The red cadres who descended on the

province just before I left made no secret of what was in store for

hermits and for Buddhist monks and nuns.

'What will you do, Master?' I asked, weeping a little at the

thought of that poor old man being driven from where he had

lived happily almost half his life.

'You are sorry for me, Yi,' he answered. 'Why ? Wouldn't it be

laughable if a lifelong disciple of Lord Lao were to be afraid of

change ? I am too old to be put to work and these people care too

much for the look of things to let me starve in a neighbourhood

where so many poor folk have come to love me.'

'How will you live, Master ?'

'Stop weeping, little girl, and I will tell you. At my age, I can

see into the future much better than I can recall the past. When

they drive away the others, they will let us old and useless ones

stay on, living as best we can on what we manage to grow in our

vegetable garden. From kindness ? Not exactly. This place is too

poor and too remote for them to be in a hurry to use it for some

other purpose; and, as three or four of us are so very old, they will

look to death to relieve them of the problem of our disposal -

rightly so. The Vasty Gate Recluse and I propose to leave this

world together on the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival next

year. No, no! Be calm, little Yi. Do you suppose we shall hang

ourselves or swallow a liang or two of opium ? Preposterous! With

wine, incense and other things we intend to hide away, we shall

perform the festal rites as usual, walk up to the terrace to admire

the autumn moon and there sit down. Passing in meditation to the

very source of yin and yang, we shall plunge together into the

ocean of the void.'

Though he laughed so merrily, I burst out weeping again. Then

suddenly he said: 'Little Yi, are there herons in Singapore ?'

'Herons, Master? I - I - no, no, there are not.'

'Good. Rather than have you sad for us, we shall gladly postpone

eternal bliss for an hour or so. Be sure to remember what I am

going to say. Next year, at the hour of the boar on the night of the

festival, go to a high place and watch the sky just above the ocean

that surrounds your island. I have a great desire to see the sea by

moonlight, never having seen it in all my years. There we shall

meet and bid each other a joyous farewell.'

Thinking he was trying to comfort me, I nodded, but did not

take the words seriously. Then we said goodbye.

The following year when the festival came round, my father

took me to dine with my fiance's family in a flat overlooking the

sea. Although wishing in a sentimental way to do as the old man

had asked, I easily allowed myself to be dissuaded by my father's

'You cannot just walk out of a dinner party and go off into the

night by yourself. Whatever would the Huangs think of a girl who

behaved like that ?'

The meal started late and was a noisy, long-drawn-out affair.

We were still at table when the clock struck ten [mid-point of the

hour of the boar]. Suddenly I felt strangely dizzy and was advised

to go out on to the balcony of the flat, which faced directly on to 

the sea-shore. It was a lovely clear night with a brilliant moon

shining down upon small foam-capped waves. Presently two of

these foam-caps rose strangely into the air and sailed rapidly

towards me. I put this down to my giddiness until, all of a sudden,

I realised that what I had taken for foam-caps were two large

white herons! Flying very low, they came almost up to where I was

sitting and flew round and round uttering what I can only call very

happy-sounding cries, long-sustained and beautiful. While this

was happening, a sensation of extraordinary bliss made me tingle

from head to toe. Instantly I knew that my Taoist friend had not

only kept his promise, but had even touched me with something

of the ecstasy that would be his for ever in his union with the void!

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