The TAO in Everyday Life
The TAO is in every aspect of life: growing up; receiving education; seeking careers; getting married; raising children; connecting with others; staying healthy; growing old; and facing life challenges.
FOREVER YIN AND YANG
All About . . . .
This is a love story in ancient China, about a cock wedding with the presence of a cock instead of the bridegroom.
It is also a story of unrequited love, of murder and execution, of blood reincarnation, of death bringing back life leading to enlightenment. The story reflects TAO wisdom in love with no ego, as well as Nirvana, which is awakening to the ultimate truth of consciousness without being self-conscious.
This is the beginning chapter of the novel . . . .
THE FIRST DAY
(1)There was a man by the name of Fan-Chih who, having become a monk in his early years, returned home when his hair was white. On seeing him, the neighbors exclaimed at seeing a man of the past who was still alive. Fan-Chih said, ‘I may look like the man of the past, but I am not he.’ Seng Chao
Standing by a latticed window, the Woman looked up at the sky, an unbroken sheet of ghastly grey. The shades of evening drew on: dusk was deepened by a gathering gloom spun by the overcast sky; the hills beyond gradually lost the light reflected from the sky, now growing stark and black. Suddenly, everything beyond looked menacingly grim and dismally darkening.
Outside, a northerly wind was howling, and the trees were shrieking. Buffeted by the wind, those trees in the distance seemed to be shifting and surging back and forth in a continuous black mass. The wind would not let them rest-something about it might have called up all the evils of nature, now pounding fiercely upon them. The sound of breaking waves from a remote promontory now and then echoed the tumultuous upheaval of nature.
Pricking up her ears, the Woman cocked her head to one side, like an animal concentrating on a distant sound, and listened with much intensity. She was anticipating a different sound amidst a welter of discordant din. Once again, she listened intently. But all she could hear was only the confused booming of the wind and the trees, like a sea swelling from its depths.
There was, however, no sound of rain.
Early on, towards evening, the sky seemed to have been suffused with a strange light, like an ill-favored dusk-a dire presage of evils to come. Then, that strange light was quickly blotted out as thick, black clouds began to mass across the horizon until they hung threateningly low in the sky, which seemed to have darkened prematurely as if a storm was imminent. Later on, distant rumbles of thunder rattled, and streaks of lightning stretched across the blackened sky. Indeed, it had looked like rain.
But the rain never came. There was no sound of rain.
Thinking it might rain, the Woman had been standing by the window for some time, watching and waiting, wearing an anticipatory expression on her anxious face.
Now, darkness had thickened so much that she could hardly see what was beyond the window, although she was still straining her eyes. Outside, it was pitch black, almost like the inside of a coffin. In that blackness, there was an eerie emptiness-like life without its very essence, or the body inside the coffin.
Life had taught her not to anticipate anything: the past was gone, and the future was unknown; only the present was real. But now something inside her made her want to anticipate something, to believe something she so desired would happen soon. She waited and waited for it to happen. There was still no sign of rain. If only she could hear the sound of rain! As if the sound of rain alone would make the empty darkness outside assume a form. Disappointingly, the sound of rain just would not come, and the saturated sky still grudgingly withheld the rain; and the darkness beyond, without the rain, remained the same emptiness, the same void.
It then dawned on her that form was emptiness, and emptiness was form: in fact, form and emptiness were all one and the same; they complemented each other, just like life and death-their quasi difference was merely a thought of the mind. In a similar way, life existed and non-existed at the same time. How strange, and yet how true! Well, at least it was true for her: there were times she deeply felt the exuberance of life; there were other times she felt her non-existence, like a lifeless form with nothing inside of her-just emptiness.
“Please Buddha, let there be rain, please! O merciful Buddha! Buddha of mercy! I join my hands in prayer.”
She now began to pray with fervor she never knew she was capable of-it was like praying desperately for the spirit not to depart from the physical body of a dying person.
Perhaps she could explain the fervor and earnestness in her prayer. That afternoon, when she went to the temple, she had prayed for rain. For many months, a severe drought had ravaged the village. The ground, parched by the ever-scorching sun, had cracked up; crumbles of dry earth, readily picked up by the beating northerly wind in late autumn, had been whirling in volleys. Famine would stalk the village if the drought persisted.
In addition to praying for rain to relieve the drought in the village, she, of course, had also prayed for her husband's homecoming.
Her husband had been away from home for some months; she had heard no news of him, and she did not know what had happened to him. Naturally, she was worried and concerned. How she longed for his return! However, she was also aware of the emptiness of her deep longing that he might actually come back. If he had not come back all these months, why would he come back that evening? Still, her heart would buoy up with faint and inexpressible hope at the mere thought of rain. She reasoned that if Buddha would send rain, Buddha might also send her husband home. If Buddha would answer her one prayer, Buddha might just as well answer her the other prayer. Like most devoutly religious women, she would strive to seek the most auspicious augury amidst the emptiness of her hope and longing.
Now, in a state of eager expectancy, she looked up at the sky as though she earnestly believed Buddha would soon answer all her prayers at the temple early that afternoon. In fact, ever since she came back from the temple, she had now and then felt a strange throb deep within her. Like distant lightning, it had a moment of sharp intensity but then vanished quickly and without any trace; and yet that strange feeling, for all its transience, was sufficient to convince her that something was coming soon. The premonition was as real as life itself. Perhaps now she was looking for some divine signs to assure her that something would indeed materialize. It would rain. It had to rain. She wanted it to rain. If rain was coming soon, maybe, her husband would also be coming back too. She expected the comings. Then she remembered her mother once said that in life one should not expect any coming but embrace all the comings, no matter what they were that came along.
Suddenly, she heard a soft, spattering sound. Intuitively, she knew it was the sound of rain. Could that indeed be the divine sign that she was anticipating at the back of her mind? Once again, she strained her eyes and looked beyond the window.
Yes, it was raining outside; light threads of rain were falling finely at first. Then, it began to come down in torrents. A waft of wind suddenly sprinkled innumerable droplets of water on the windowpane, and the light inside then transformed them into a myriad of tiny silvery mirrors, now glittering against the black backdrop outside.
Almost in a trance, she began to peer into those tiny mirrors as if searching for something-maybe the ultimate truth of self. But what was that ultimate truth? Perhaps it was a revelation of her true self. Yes, she always wanted to know more about self-her “real” self-as if the more she understood it, the less discontent and disconcerted she would be. She always believed that she had an analytical mind, different from that of other women, which could probe into the enigma deep within her inner self. She believed that once she could find an explanation, the whole mystery of self would unravel itself, and all her life problems would then dissipate and dissolve into nothingness by themselves. And only if she could know her real self! Then, at that moment, she also remembered her mother often told her that she had no real self, and no true identity, because she was a woman.
Now, in those tiny mirrors, she had the illusion that she had stepped outside of her “self” and, by virtue of that, she could then look objectively at herself as though she were someone else.
For a moment or two, she thought she could actually see something swelling through those droplets of water, and she was anxiously anticipating enlightenment of some sort. However, one's real self is always beyond one's consciousness or comprehension; for that reason, the revelation of her true self was not forthcoming. Even at close proximity, she could see nothing but her own faces, floating ghost-like on those tiny mirrors, and they were of a depressing uniformity. Strangely, those reflections were all one and the same. Suddenly, it dawned on her that she might in fact-just as her mother had said-have no identity, no real self-everything was all oneness, and all emptiness. If that were true, then her search for the ultimate truth about her real self would be like walking into a wall on which someone had painted a door. It was all nothingness-a self-delusional illusion of the mind. She wondered if living, too, was no more than a self-delusion of the mind.
The splattering sound of rain awoke her from her momentary trance. Then, a feeling of joy, much like the first rays of the morning sun, began to surge out from her, for she knew the rain would betoken her husband’s homecoming. If Buddha had sent rain, Buddha would also send her husband home. That was only a logical deduction. Or was that just a hollow hope, another empty self-delusion-the kind of delusion that she often fostered in her half-dream world; the kind of delusion that made her meaningless existence seem more meaningful and less intolerable?
Almost immediately, she told herself: “I mustn’t even think what I am anticipating is a self-delusion and that it will never come true. He will come back soon enough, and then I shall be happy once again. It’s just that simple. Happiness is a very simple matter: as soon as he comes back, I shall be happy again. There can be no doubt about that. If only he would come back!"
Then, almost instantaneously, she began to ask herself: “Am I now dreaming again? Shall I go on dreaming my dream? Well, why not? What harm is there in dreaming, if it eases pain? What good is there in reality, if it blights hopes and makes me unhappy? I just want to be happy, and happiness is a simple thing-it is not a luxury in life, or is it?”
Suddenly, her eyes seemed to have caught the shadow of a man in the black masses beyond. Was it that the stirring of those dark shadows in the distance beyond had kept her surmising? She looked out the window once more, but now she could see nothing. There was nothing to be seen: everything was engulfed in darkness. It was all blackness, all emptiness. Perhaps just a moment ago a flash of lightning had conduced to the momentary illusion that someone was lurking in the dark shadows beyond. It was just her own imagination.
Now, the sound of rain seemed to have stopped now. Even the howl of wind had died down. A death-like silence began to reign, and it was most eerie. All were sounds but none could be heard, just as all were shapes but none could be seen. Perhaps everything in this world was nothing but emptiness after all. Yes, sheer emptiness! Nothingness! We came from nothingness and into nothingness we would all return. How dreary and how depressingly dismal! And yet how very true!
Anyway, it was just enough that it had rained, even though only for a very short while. The rain was a divine sign-she was now convinced-that her husband would be coming back soon. The short spell of rain was a harbinger of her husband’s homecoming. She was even more convinced as she recalled her brief encounter with her brother that very morning.
. . . . . Her brother, who was recently made a Buddhist monk, had been confining himself to the monastery for the past three years, so she seldom saw him, except once or twice a year when he came out of the monastery to visit his family. Knowing that he would be coming home to visit his family, she had gone back to her parents’ home that morning . . . . . .
On seeing you, he says, “Sister, I say, you look haggard and drawn. What’s the matter with you? I see, you don’t know the whereabouts of your husband, and that’s why you look so worried and distressed.”
You are quite surprised at his sharp perception, or perhaps at your own ineffective masking of your innermost thoughts. Maybe you always wear your heart on your sleeve, and he reads it like an open book.
“Since the last time I saw you, he still hasn’t come back, has he?” he says that more as a statement than as a question.
You tell him that your husband has been absent for some months and that you are beginning to despair and dishearten. You tell him that you are also beginning to believe maybe it is in your joss that you will spend the rest of your life without a husband.
He looks pathetically at you. “Sister, I tell you what. Believe in nothing.”
You give him a quizzical look, striving at the same time to fathom what he means by that.
“The eternal truth, that is, the higher sense truth, the ultimate truth, is to believe in nothing,” he goes on to explain and to elaborate. “Well, believing in nothing is actually believing in everything, which has neither form nor color but which is too ready to take any form or color. We came from nothing, and nothing is in fact everything in the origin of all things.
“I can see your thinking is too self-centered: you are too preoccupied with self-your delusional self. You are too concerned with why you have to suffer, why you are so unhappy, and why the world seems to be doing you injustice and the rest of it.
“Mother has been telling me about your marriage and your unhappiness presumably resulting from your husband’s prolonged absence and the fact that your marriage has never even been consummated. You are too attached to the notions of your own suffering. You are too concerned with self. It is essential for us to believe in nothing such that we do not attach ourselves to anything in this mundane world. All earthly things give us nothing but miseries. Remember, attachment to anything in this life is the fountainhead of all human miseries. On the other hand, if you attach to nothing, that is, believing in nothing, everything might assume a new form and a new color. Well, maybe this very evening your husband might even come home for all you know. He just might. So take my word for it: believing in nothing. You will be at peace with yourself when you do just that.”
You ask if that is what they teach him at the monastery.
“No, the ultimate truth of Nirvana is never to be taught nor sought. Nobody can ever teach you what Nirvana is, nor should you ever seek it. Buddha rightly says, ‘If you seek it, you will not find it; but in not seeking it, you will find it.’ That is the paradox, but also the ultimate truth. Do not look for an answer or a solution to your life problems. Do not fret; why worry about something, which is nothing after all, and which is only emptiness? Remember, believing in nothing is the maxim of life.”
. . . . . Her brother’s words, now echoing in her mind, seemed so propitious to her husband’s homecoming.
An indescribable smell of rain had filled the damp air, which now seemed to have taken on a snap of early spring, and there was even certain freshness about it. Perhaps it was the smell of life itself. Yes, life had come back all of a sudden. The rain must have brought back life to everything; it was the first time in months that it rained, and it must have infused an almost convincing life into the wilted grass and exhausted leaves as it washed away the dirt and dust that had clung to everything as if they were part of it. Now, all of a sudden, even she herself felt so much alive, yes, alive with the smell of life, alive with hope, the sustaining hope that she might soon be seeing her husband-something she had always prayed and longed for. Yes, her brother could have been right: her husband might come back that evening. He just might. Now, she was letting herself indulge in that hope, however faint and remote it might be.
The rain resumed.
Then she fancied she heard some faint footsteps followed by a creak at the backdoor in the kitchen as though a cat or some animal had been pawing against it in a floundering attempt to push it open. The sound was so slight, almost inaudible, and so unreal that she began to wonder if it had been a figment of her imagination, or if her ears had been deceiving her.
But, at that moment, the door gave way, falling open to a slit of blackness. It was the work of a rushing gust, bent on pushing its way in. She must have forgotten to bolt the backdoor in the kitchen. As she seldom used that door, she must have unwittingly left it unbolted for some time, and the gust just now must have pushed the door further open as it wedged its way in.
She had a momentary start of surprise when she seemed to see a shadow fall across the floor of the kitchen. With the door now standing ajar, she could hardly make out what that was. The shadow was still and shapeless, just like the shadow of death.
“Who’s there?” she ventured to ask as she slowly inched her way to the backdoor.
There was no reply.
Gingerly, she pushed the door further open.
On the threshold, there stood a tall figure crouching under an oil-paper umbrella. Water was dripping from the leaky umbrella, like long threads dangling from a broken spider web. The light from the kitchen now fell upon the figure and illuminated it. For a moment or two, it seemed to be shrouded in a haze of impossibility, almost like a non-existential being from a different world, a world out of this one.
She could see neither the face nor the upper half of the body, for the figure was stooping and the umbrella was held rather low, blocking most of the body. However, judging from the lower part of the body, she could tell that it was a man's: his big boots were heavy with slush and soil from the road.
“Who are you?” She was conscious of the hollowness of her voice.
The rain and the wind had stopped. All was still and silent.
Strangely enough, she did not feel any sense of apprehension. Rather, she seemed to have an inexplicable affinity for the man, who was now standing before her. Perhaps it was due to a strange communion brought on by a wave of silence that had suddenly rolled by.
Moreover, she seemed to have the uncanny feeling that they were the only two living people left alone in a dead and desolate world. Perhaps that strange feeling had accounted for her affinity for the man now standing in front of her. Only a short while ago, she had felt a surge of something like life brought on by the spell of rain, and now, all of a sudden, with this human form in front of her, ironically enough, everything around her seemed to have shrunk into such lifelessness-so dead and so empty. How swift and subtle was the transition! And how mutable and precarious life could be! Perhaps everything in life was impermanent because everything changed at every moment with that moment; or perhaps it would be more true to say that everything was permanent because everything at every moment remained with that very moment. There was, in fact, no change, only episodes of aspects of things, fostering the illusion of change. Maybe change in itself was but an illusion of the mind after all.
“Who are you?” she repeated her question, her voice softened without any trace of sharpness.
“I am your husband,” said a voice, cold and impassive, as if devoid of life.
Before she could breathe out a sigh of relief, a paroxysm of incredible joy struck her breasts. “Is that really you -- my husband? Or is it my imagination?” She still found it difficult to believe he was there and he had actually come back. She was still floundering in disbelief.
“Yes, I am he, your husband,” the Man said rather slowly, but emphatically. “I have come home.”
“So my prayers have really been answered!” She was all in a fluster, almost intoxicated with joy, although there was still a vestige of incredulity in her voice. “Mother-in-law!” she began to blurt out, turning her back and making for the door that separated the kitchen from the adjacent all-purpose room.
“Wait! Is my mother asleep?” he asked, his voice weak and measured.
“She’s taking her forty winks,” the Woman said, arresting her steps.
“Then don’t wake her!”
“But you’ve come home! I just can’t wait to tell her that. You know, all these months she has been praying for your return. Oh, I’m so glad you’ve come home at long last. I’m really too happy for words. It’s just too good to be true. Tell me that I’m not dreaming. This is real, isn’t it?”
But no sooner had the Woman saturated herself in happiness than her mouth fell open, letting out a suppressed scream.
For at that moment the Man, her husband, having raised his umbrella, lifted his head, and she could then see his face more vividly.
Seen in the clear light from the kitchen, her husband’s face, covered with a heavy growth of bristles around his flaccid mouth, was almost unrecognizably wasted and thin; his cheeks were sunken, their luster and resilience gone. He looked like a corpse.
Then, he consciously lowered his head again. With his head now drooping dejectedly, he stood there waiting, looking almost like a ghost from the underworld.
She stepped back, staggering, her eyes now staring agape. For some moments, she remained in shocked silence; the strangely cadaverous appearance of her husband had indeed unnerved and petrified her. Who would have thought that a man could have been so terribly transformed in so brief a period-it had been several months since she last saw him. What could possibly have happened to him in those months? It was with difficulty that she could bring herself to admit the identity of the man before her with that of her husband.
“What’s the matter? What’s wrong?” the Man asked, his voice thick with languor. Then he raised his head again, his hollow and sunken eyes looking askance at her.
“Nothing, nothing, really.” The Woman kept shaking her head. She knew well enough that her facial expression must have betrayed her.
“I look scary to you, don’t I?” he asked.
“No --no. It’s just that--” she broke off, at a loss for words.
She hesitated a moment before she could find her tongue again. “It’s just that I’d not seen you for quite some time, and I-I just got carried away by your unexpected return. You know, I wasn’t exactly expecting you. I thought --”
“You’re not lying, are you?”
“No, I would not dare! Why would I be?” Tears suffused her eyes, and she did not know why she was shedding those tears.
Somehow, the Man knew his wife was not speaking her mind: something was evidently bothering her.
“My looks scare you,” he now said with conviction. “You’re scared by my looks, aren’t you?”
“No,” she denied vehemently. “You-you just look different, that’s all.”
“Of course, I am different: I am not the man you used to know. I am not the man in the past. How could I be what I was? The present could never be the past, nor the past be the present.”
Looking obfuscated, she said in abstraction, “Anyway, I’m glad you’ve come home. Believe me, I really am.”
She was almost ready to let out a bleat of joy, but it was somehow held back by a stubborn second thought. To her, her husband was indeed different. She felt leaden with doubt. On the one hand, she could not bring herself to think that the man was really her husband. On the other hand, he was her husband, whose return she had been pining for all these months. Benumbed and confounded, she stood there, transfixed with doubt and disbelief.
Then the Man stepped inside, looking quite drenched, dripping all over the place.
“You’re soaked wet! Let me help you change into some dry clothing,” she said as she began putting her trembling fingers on his scarf, which was pulled up tight over his chin almost like a half-mask, partially eclipsing his pallid face.
“No!” he blurted out, flinching. His blood-shot eyes glared at her as though they could somehow hold her off. Suddenly, anger, real anger, seemed to be flashing menacingly from his eyes; he was filled with an unaccountable rage, a bestial fury that amazed and mystified her.
For a while, she was paralyzed with awe and bewilderment. She felt something very close to consternation and even fear perhaps, when her eyes met the flashing, fierce glare of her husband’s eyes. She knew that she should not have felt that way; after all, he was her husband. Tears once again welled up in her eyes, brimmed over into a glistening stream. She did not know if they were tears of joy or despair. At that moment, she was just bewildered and nonplussed. Perhaps she had really been carried away by her husband’s sudden return and his strange demeanor.
She stood there, cringing like a frightened kitten. She thought to herself: “It doesn’t have to be like this. Why does he treat me like this? What have I done to deserve this? No, I have done no wrong. It’s grossly unfair! I am still his wife, or am I not?"
Suddenly, she was struck by an unhappy memory as she remembered the past and her marriage. There was a strange sadness entangled with that sad memory. Then the depressing fear came back, the frightening conviction that he might not love her after all, and that he had never really wanted to marry her in the first place. Her heart plunged into a chasm of despair.
Pulling herself together, she stared at her husband. His cheeks were streaked with droplets of rainwater. For a while, those droplets of water looked like transparent pear-shaped pearls dangling precariously on his pallid cheeks. Perhaps his parlor had conduced to the momentary illusion that they were pearls. Somehow, she felt an urge to touch them to see if they were for real. However, she stopped short, like an animal frozen at bay. She was afraid to touch them, and she did not know the reason. She wanted to go nearer to him, and yet something invisible seemed to have come between them-an invisible barrier kept her back as though the air between them had now grown rigid and solid. Perhaps she feared that if she were so much as to touch him, her world would dissipate-the half-dream world, which she had always resigned herself to, the world which had held little reality for her, and the world which had afforded her contentment and happiness only of a false and delusive kind. They would all vanish into emptiness, into nothingness, just as a bubble would at the slight touch of a fingertip. Yes, she feared that the touch would implicate her abnegation of fidelity to her broken dream, and thus, inevitably, her ultimate return to the world of reality, to the world of impermanence.
Then, there was the sound of someone moving behind her.
“You’ll catch death,” the Woman said with a tinge of concern in her shaky voice. “Do let me help you off with your wet clothing," she insisted.
“No!” This time he was shouting at her. “Just leave me alone!”
He looked ugly in his anger. She fancied that she was looking into the face of an apparition, distorted by something sinister, which was slowly transforming the once handsome features of his face. With an imploring and despairing expression, she gazed at her husband, who now stood there silently and motionlessly.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized. “But leave me alone, please!" His tone had now softened considerably.
The Woman turned her head and saw the Old Lady, her mother-in-law, materialize at the doorway.
Devastation brought about by age showed on the Old Lady’s face: pouches sagged under her weary eyes; her cheeks were hollow and withered with anxieties; and the countless deep-set wrinkles around her trembling mouth looked like little gashes.
“Daughter-in-Law, what is it? I thought I heard you talking to someone just now. Who was it you were talking to?” The Old Lady’s glassy eyes were staring blankly; she was looking at neither of them.
“Mother-in-Law, he has just come back!” the Woman announced.
“What did you say?” The Old Lady seemed to be a little hard of hearing.
“He has come home at long last! He is here.”
“You mean my son -- your husband?”
“Yes, he’s right here.”
“Really?” The Old Lady’s face was suddenly lit up by an enlivening glow. A dark joy burst its bonds inside her, swelling up and floating in her glassy eyes.
“Mother, I have come home,” the Man said with the same impassivity as when he told his wife that he had come back.
“Son, when did you come back?”
“Just now,” he replied.
“Just now? Why didn’t I hear you come in? I wasn’t asleep. I was in the next room all along.”
He was silent.
“He came in through the backdoor,” the Woman explained.
“Oh!” There was a definite note of surprise in the Old Lady’s voice.
She was wondering why her son had come in through the backdoor. It was most unbecoming: only menial personnel would come in through the backdoor of a house-certainly not the master of the house. But at that moment there were already too many things on her mind, so she did not give much thought to such a matter of seemingly trivial irrelevance . . . . .
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