Explore a mysterious tale of illusions, compassion, and enlightenment in this narrative about the power of the human mind.
Meng Longtan, a native of Jiangxi, and a scholar surnamed Zhu, were staying in the capital together. One day, they happened to enter a temple. Inside the temple, the halls and monk’s quarters were not very spacious, and there was only an old monk temporarily staying there. When the old monk saw that they had entered, he tidied up his clothes and went to welcome them, leading them to tour various parts of the temple. In the center of the Buddhist hall, there was a statue of the eminent monk Baozhi. Delicate and exquisite murals adorned the walls on both sides, and the figures in the paintings were vividly portrayed. On the eastern wall, there was a group of celestial maidens scattering flowers, among them was a young woman with disheveled hair, holding a flower in her hand and smiling. Her cherry-like lips seemed as if they were about to speak, and her affectionate eyes appeared to be overflowing with emotions.
Scholar Zhu gazed at the young woman for a long time, unknowingly drifting into a trance, lost in his wandering thoughts. Suddenly, his body seemed to float and soar, as if riding on clouds and mists, and he flew to the wall. He saw multiple layers of halls and pavilions, unlike the earthly world. An old monk was seated high up, lecturing on Buddhist scriptures, and many monks in monastic robes surrounded him, listening attentively. Scholar Zhu also stood among these people. After a while, he felt as if someone was discreetly tugging at his robe. He turned around and saw that it was the disheveled young woman. She smiled at him and then turned and left. Scholar Zhu followed her. They walked through a winding corridor and saw the young woman entering a small room. Scholar Zhu hesitated to go further. The young woman turned back, raised the flower in her hand, and gestured to him from a distance. Scholar Zhu quickened his pace and entered the small room with the young woman. The room was quiet and empty. He approached and embraced the young woman, who offered little resistance, and the two of them shared affection like a married couple. After the matter was concluded, the young woman closed the door and left, instructing Scholar Zhu not to cough or make any noise. She returned in the evening, and this continued for two days.
The women companions discovered this affair and all came searching for Scholar Zhu. They teased the young woman, saying, “Your belly is already so big, do you still want to wear your hair down and pretend to be a young maiden?” They brought hairpins and earrings and urged her to style her hair into a woman’s bun. The young woman blushed and couldn’t say a word. One of her companions said, “Sisters, let’s not linger here too long; we might upset someone.” With playful laughter, the women companions all left. Scholar Zhu looked at the young woman again and saw that she had a high, cloud-like bun on her head, adorned with dangling phoenix hairpins. She looked even more beautiful and captivating than when her hair was loose. Seeing no one around, he slowly became intimate with the young woman again, feeling a fragrance like orchids and musk permeating his senses. As the two were deeply engrossed in their joyous moment, suddenly they heard the urgent and sharp sounds of leather boots and the clang of chains, followed by a tumultuous commotion. Startled, the young woman sat up from the bed, and Scholar Zhu discreetly looked outside with her. They saw a messenger clad in golden armor, with a dark complexion, carrying chains and a large hammer, surrounded by celestial maidens. The messenger asked, “Is everyone here?” The celestial maidens replied, “They’re all here.” The messenger said, “If anyone is harboring a mortal from the mortal realm, report it immediately, don’t create trouble for yourselves.” The celestial maidens responded in unison, “There is no one.” The messenger then turned around, scanning the area like an old eagle, as if he were searching for something. The young woman was very frightened, her face as pale as death, and she anxiously said to Scholar Zhu, “Quickly hide under the bed.” She opened a small door on the wall and hastily escaped. Scholar Zhu crawled under the bed, not daring to make a sound. After a while, the sound of leather boots gradually entered the room and then receded. It wasn’t long before the noisy voices outside gradually faded away. Scholar Zhu felt a bit more at ease, but there were always people coming and going outside the door. He hid restlessly for a long time, feeling as though cicadas were chirping in his ears, and stars were flashing before his eyes. The situation was truly unbearable. However, he could only wait in silence for the young woman to return, unable to recall where he had come from.
At this moment, Meng Longtan was in the main hall and noticed that Scholar Zhu had disappeared in the blink of an eye. He inquired with suspicion to the old monk. The old monk smiled and said, “He went to listen to the scriptures and Dharma.” Meng Longtan asked, “Where is he?” The old monk replied, “Not far away.” After a while, the old monk flicked the wall with his finger and called out loudly, “Master Zhu, why have you been traveling for so long and not returned?” At that moment, the portrait of Scholar Zhu on the mural appeared, standing quietly, with his ear turned as if he had heard something. The old monk called out again, saying, “Your companions have been waiting for you for a long time.” So, Scholar Zhu descended from the wall in a floating manner, disheartened and bewildered, standing there with weakened limbs and a dumbfounded expression. Meng Longtan was greatly surprised and slowly inquired about what had happened. He learned that Scholar Zhu had been hiding under the bed and had suddenly heard a thunderous knocking sound, so he had ventured outside to investigate and returned to the mortal world. Everyone then went to see the young girl in the mural who was picking flowers. They noticed that she had coiled her hair into a bun, no longer the girl with disheveled hair. Scholar Zhu, perplexed, paid his respects to the old monk and asked him for an explanation. The old monk smiled and said, “Illusions are created in the minds of people. How could I, a humble monk, know?” At this point, Scholar Zhu felt a sense of frustration and was unable to comprehend the situation. Meng Longtan, after hearing this, secretly marveled and felt uneasy. The two of them then took their leave, descended the steps one by one, and walked out of the temple.
The chronicler of strange tales said: All illusions are created by the human mind itself. This is similar to what a person of the Way might say. When a person harbors lustful thoughts, they give rise to lewd scenarios; when they have contemptuous thoughts, they generate terrifying situations. Bodhisattvas, in order to enlighten ignorant individuals, allow them to experience various illusions. These illusions all originate from the person’s own mind. The compassionate monks diligently advise, but sadly, the ignorant ones do not fully awaken after listening to the monks’ words and do not embark on the path of meditation in the mountains and forests.