Many years ago.
A small boat. The True Buddha sat at the fore, while Jing Lin stood in the rear. The boat glided across the lotus pond, leaving a trail of ripples in its wake. Water mist permeated the air, and Jing Lin reached out to hold the milky-white mist in his palms. He raised and lowered his head, unable to tell if he was up in the sky or on the water.
Amid the intersecting reflections of the lotuses, the True Buddha sat upright and gazed at him with a smile as he chanted the sutra in a slow murmur.
Jing Lin was merely eight years of age. Half of the cassock he was wrapped in trailed beside his feet. He used his hands to catch the mist, and the mist dispersed among his fingers again like an illusory dream.
“What is the Way?” Jing Lin’s palms were damp. He uneasily clutched them tightly and innocently put them behind his back as he looked at the True Buddha. “Revered One, what is the Way?”
“It’s the mist in your palms.” The True Buddha answered. “The flowers before your eyes.”
Jing Lin said, “Then it’s something that cannot be grasped. I don’t want it.”
The True Buddha lowered his fingers to touch the pond water and said, “The Great Way is formless. Even if you don’t want it, it will still come looking for you.”
The water mist moistened Jing Lin’s eyes, making them dark and bright. He clasped his fingers together behind him and said stubbornly, “… I don’t want it.”
The True Buddha smiled and said, “Alright.”
Jing Lin asked again, “If I go with you, then I’ll be a monk too? I can’t eat meat anymore?”
The True Buddha scrutinized him and said, “That’s right.”
Jing Lin found the expression in his eyes affectionate. He looked as though he had plenty to say, yet he was, at the same time, a man of few words. It was as if he was content to just look at Jing Lin from afar, from across the fog, across the mountains.
Jing Lin was not afraid. He threw out his chest and mustered up enough courage to say, “But I, I want to eat meat…”
The True Buddha said, “You are different from all in the world.”
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Jing Lin hung his head down and said, “I’m human.”
The True Buddha turned his head to look at the scattering herons and startled cranes among the vast expanse of water. The sky suddenly darkened, and a gust of wind tore past them. Reflected on the water surface was the shadow of a gargantuan creature that cut an imposing presence so intimidating that it made one shiver as it roamed past.
The True Buddha said, “Look at this sky.”
Jing Lin raised his head. The mist was all blown away by the gust of wind. He widened his eyes, his bright, clear eyes reflecting a figure so majestic and massive that it caused his jaws to drop a little.
“It’s a dragon.” Jing Lin could not help but let out a laugh. He raised both of his arms, and that ill-fitting robe and sleeves went flapping in the wind. Under this mammoth shadow, he seemed to be also riding along this wind and soaring in the boundless sky.
“You are going to learn how to be a person.” The True Buddha said, “And so does he. Desire is fleeting, yet it’s also eternally never-changing. Jing Lin, when you see him roaming the horizons, desire will bloom in you. Eventually, you will follow your heart and embark on a bumpy path. You are both variables of Heaven and Earth. Someday, you will understand that ‘wanting’ in itself is suffering.”
Jing Lin took two steps in pursuit on the boat and swayed as he watched canglong spring up and disappeared. With his head still raised, he asked, “What is suffering?”
“It’s what makes one human.” The True Buddha answered.
“Has the Revered One experienced suffering too?” Jing Lin asked out of curiosity.
The True Buddha closed his eyes without answering, and the boat continued on its forward journey. He sat idly among the interweaving sky and water, as if he was inviolable and free of desires. But when he opened his eyes, those light gray betrayed a thousand kinds of doubt and agony.
“I…” The True Buddha paused in dazed silence.
A brocade carp leaped out of the water with a “plop”, messing up the ripples. Even when he sat to the end of the pond that day, he never answered Jing Lin’s question.
◈ ◈ ◈
“I am Heaven and Earth.”
The flashback shattered thunderously. Jing Lin kneeled beneath the throne with his hands bound. He said, “This is a joke.”
The True Buddha sat high up on the throne, using the face Lord Jiutian habitually used. When he propped up his head, he could see all of Jing Lin’s past with one eye. On hearing Jing Lin, he laughed and said, “Wherever you come from is wherever you will head for. Father knows.”
“You know where I come from.” Jing Lin instantly looked up. “You are not the Revered One.”
“I am.” Of the pair of the True Buddha’s eyes, one was black, and one, gray. Benevolence and callousness co-existed on the same one face. He was like a blend of black and white. Even each smile was poles apart.
“You’ve stood in the world for millennia.” Jing Lin said. “Have you ever experienced suffering?”
“Humans live when I open my eyes, and perish when I close them. The life and death of all living creatures in Heaven and Earth lay in just a snap of my fingers. I can observe the pasts of all in the world with one eye, and discern the futures of all in the world with the other. No one can hide their true selves before me. The sufferings of the world lie in my mouth. I’ve tasted suffering, and I understand it far more than you do.”
“If you are Heaven and Earth.” Jing Lin asked, “Why raised me?”
The black eye of the True Buddha was cold and detached, yet his gray eye slowly began to close. He stared at Jing Lin with one eye and said in a heartless tone, “I’ve never wanted to raise you. You are the most damnedest thing in this world. That blade of yours has been a calamity ever since you were born. You can kill humans, and you can kill deities too.” As he spoke, his gray eye, brimming with guilt, quivered open. His voice became gentle too. “That’s a lie. I should have raised you properly. Jing Lin, Jing Lin…”
Jing Lin noticed the strangeness and said, “Who exactly are…”
The black eye suddenly revealed a tint of coldness, and the True Buddha let out an odd laugh that increasingly grew louder. He said, “I am your father.”
“You are Lord Jiutian.” Jing Lin furrowed his brows.
“No.” The True Buddha’s gray eye closed again. He reached down and, under the swaying of the pearls on his crown, said cruelly, “I said, I am your father.”
The color suddenly drained from Jing Lin’s face.
The True Buddha bent his finger to trace Jing Lin’s facial features in the air and said, pleased, “You are the son born of a deity—a child begotten from a union of desires. You bear such a striking resemblance to your mother. She repeatedly avoided you, and you didn’t even notice it. My good Jing Lin, you were born to be my sword. It’s all thanks to me that you could live and grow to this day. My son, my son. Of all of you brothers, the only one I love and value is you.”
Jing Lin suddenly began to struggle violently, and the Sanskrit scripts glowed. Only the confrontation between two men existed in this empty hall. Jing Lin felt his blood run cold. For a moment, his mind went blank, then he suddenly lowered his head and coughed out blood.
“I once made my way to the capital while begging for alms as a commoner monk.” The True Buddha coldly retracted his hand and looked down upon Jing Lin from above. “It was the fourth lunar month, on a day at the height of spring with fragrant blooming flowers all around. Sailing on the river was a boat ferrying a beauty on it. Your mother, barefooted with a flower branch in hand, seduced me into plunging into the secular world, and so we had you. Her divine body was honorable; she was not meant to bear an object from the secular world. How laughable that she could not bear to give you up and willfully insisted on giving birth to you. Once she did, she knew you were different. You are the origin of all calamities in Heaven and Earth.”
With his forehead pressed against the smooth, polished floor, Jing Lin said in a hoarse voice, “Nonsense!”
“You harbor a sword in your heart; that is a fate destined to be lonely.” The True Buddha lifted his foot to crush down on Jing Lin’s shoulder and said in a frosty voice, “I’m the one who gave you that Lotus of Compassion in your palm. Your presence in this world is a constant reminder of my sin of succumbing to lust. Desire befuddles the heart. Indeed, the one who obstructs me from my great undertaking is you. You are naturally born to kill your father! What a waste of all the love and care I’ve put in nurturing you. You are not the least bit grateful!”
The True Buddha suddenly stepped down on Jing Lin’s shoulder blades, causing him to knock his head at his feet. His black eye was both indulgent and wild, cunning and cryptic.
“Oh, how you deserve to die. You deserve to die!”
Jing Lin’s forehead banged onto the ground. Even his knees were trembling from holding up against the massive pressure on his back.
“Do you know how you survived?” The True Buddha bent his head down and said sinisterly, “The two prayer beads that were pledges of love. You ate it, and that was the life that I bestowed upon you! You should have died a clean death. But she just had to help you tide over it once—not only that, she even helped that dragon. For you, she turned against me. She turned that prayer bead into ‘life’. That darn woman! I’m the one who should have been her entire world. She seduced me thus, and yet she betrayed me thus. Tell me, isn’t this all your fault?”
The stabbing pain in Jing Lin’s back was intense. The head slam had opened up a gaping wound on his forehead, leaving messy streaks of vivid red blood on the ground. He said nothing, as if his heart had already been thrown into turmoil.
The True Buddha took pleasure in the way Jing Lin endured it all in silence. His stomps grew even more brutal, and he watched Jing Lin choke on the blood he would not let spill. The True Buddha irritably kicked Jing Lin over, then lifted a finger to weigh infinite pressure down upon him.
The chains around Jing Lin’s body rattled loudly, and both his elbows slammed hard onto the ground, yet his shoulders and back were still straightened and holding up to the pressure. The weight of this load was like a mountain that wanted to crush down on him until he lay sprawled on the ground in submission. But he gulped down the blood in his throat and held on, propping himself up against the ground on which droplets of sweat and blood were dripping.
“What a pathetic life you’ve been living this lifetime.” The True Buddha circled around Jing Lin and said, “You killed your father, killed your brothers, killed countless others, and even entrusted all your desires to a dragon.”
He flipped Jing Lin over with his toe.
“I originally thought that you would live with your desires severed so that you could become a killing machine for Heaven and Earth. I never expected that you would rather engage in illicit sexual relations with a dragon instead. Indulging in lust is the most shameless of all, and abandoning yourself to love is the greatest mistake of all. What are you exactly? You aren’t human, and you are no longer a sword. You’ve become a worthless piece of garbage. Even if I want to take pity on you now, I can’t find a reason to.”
The chain was suddenly yanked as the True Buddha hauled Jing Lin up.
“Your only use now is to make a name for yourself. I’ll summon the Three Realms to jointly put you – the freak who killed his father – on trial. From then on, monuments will be erected everywhere in this world to mark your infamy. You deserve to die under the watchful gazes of all in this world.”
The backs of Jing Lin’s palms were crisscrossed with slashes. He could not cover the blood from gushing forth, and he cut a sorry sight with the footprints on his body. He was no longer the Lord Linsong who resided high up in the clouds.
“Your mother is dead.” The True Buddha melancholically tightened the chains around Jing Lin. “Who can save you this time?”
Jing Lin could not catch his breath, but his feet suddenly sprang up in a kick. The chains formed out of Sanskrit scripts between his wrists caught around the True Buddha’s neck. The moment the True Buddha bent over, Jing Lin flung him over to the ground and twisted the chains tightly around his neck, both sides wanting the other dead.
The True Buddha looked to be in pain. Jing Lin hissed, “I was born without a father!”
The True Buddha had been strangled until he turned red in the face. Jing Lin gasped, feeling as in the tension in a certain part of his body had already collapsed as insanity and ruthlessness ran neck to neck with one another. His fingertips trembled as he swiftly pressed the True Buddha’s face down onto the ground and snapped, “Where is Cang Ji?”
A choke escaped from the True Buddha’s throat as he clawed at his throat and said nothing.
LIANYIN @ CANGJI.NET
Jing Lin jerked him up and slammed him down again. As if he was on the verge of losing control, he asked, “Who is my mother?”
The True Buddha did not utter a single word, just as Jing Lin had done so earlier. The sudden sound of heavy smashing resounded through in this empty hall. Blood was oozing out between Jing Lin’s teeth. Right this moment, he was like a wolf, a jackal, all that was vicious in this world.
The True Buddha suddenly propped himself up. The pain on his face instantly turned into madness. He burst out laughing and said to Jing Lin, “You were born without a father? Look at yourself right now. You are clearly me! These eyes of yours are no longer what they once were. You are evil. You are the source of all desires to kill!”
Jing Lin’s grip loosened; in the blink of an eye, the True Buddha was already standing behind him.
“The ruthlessness you have deeply hidden away has already broken free of its dam. Your desire to kill is teeming. Your Way has already completely disintegrated. You aren’t even worthy to be a deity.” The True Buddha leaned into his ear and ridiculed him softly, “My son, have you still not recognized yourself for what you truly are? Look at yourself. How are you Lord Linsong?”
Jing Lin swiftly looked back, as if everything that had happened earlier was an illusion. He stared at the True Buddha, and unexpectedly said in a steady voice, “You are not the True Buddha. You are Lord Jiutian.”
That gray eye opened, and the True Buddha looked as if he wanted to throw him a smile. But this was forced back the very next moment, and his expression turned irascible and icy.
With a lightning move of his hand, Lord Jiutian threw him a slap and said irritably, “Shut up! I’m the True Buddha!”
With his head tilted to the side, Jing Lin spat out blood and said with a scornful smile, “I already know what you are.”